This is our ultimate guide on how to keep bugs away while camping.
Whether you’re camping out in the backcountry or in your backyard, bugs can really suck…pun intended.
It seems like no matter how long or how little time you spend outside, they’ll quickly make themselves known.
Thankfully, your camping trips don’t have to be intolerable! There are actually a lot of little life hacks to get rid of those flying pests.
We’ve compiled a list of 30 ways to keep bugs away while camping. Hopefully, these tips help make your camping trip even more fun and bug-free.
Choose a dry campsite
Before we get into anything crazy, one of the simplest things you can do to prevent being bugged is choosing a dry campsite. Avoid camping in any area that resembles a bog or a swamp.
See, there are a lot of bugs that reproduce in water, including dragonflies and mayflies. But the most infamous of the bunch are mosquitos. These guys love hanging around anywhere with water.
So even though that pond or lakeside campsite may be super picturesque, be warned that camping there could be an invitation for mosquito bites.
In fact, any amount of standing water could indicate a hoard of nearby mosquitos. That’s why it’s important to check your campsite for stray puddles.
Traditional bug spray and creams
These products do a decent job at repelling bugs, but the harsh chemicals aren’t ideal for use on skin. This is especially true for young children (who have a tendency to stick their hands in their mouths!) and those with sensitive skin.
If you’re lucky, then these traditional sprays will work just fine.
Just remember you may need to consider alternatives if you develop skin irritations or if you’re in a particularly buggy area.
Alternative or homemade bug sprays
For as many traditional bug repelling products available on the market, there’s an equal amount of chemical-free alternatives emerging.
A lot of these products are plant-based, so their primary ingredients are essential oil blends and other natural ingredients. These could include lemon eucalyptus, citronella, or lavender.
Another interesting alternative is to simply make your own bug spray. Three-quarters vinegar combined with one quarter dish soap helps keep flies off of horses.
Be advised that although this method does work, it’s not that strong. Thus, you’ll have to frequently re-apply the mix.
Rub on essential oils
The sheer amount of essential oils that help repel bugs is worthy of a list all its own.
For brevity’s sake, citronella, rosemary, lavender, sage, and peppermint are all excellent choices.
They can be purchased in small bottles from an increasing number of pharmacies and even grocery stores – especially those with a focus on organic and natural products.
We recommend keeping one of these palm-sized bottles in a handy pocket for re-applying as needed.
Remember, essential oils are incredibly concentrated. It’s usually advised to distill them with a little water before applying to the skin.
And don’t forget to keep your hands away from your eyes, because they’ll sting like crazy if you get oil in them!
Rubbing yourself with citrus, onion, garlic, or mint
Yes, I’m literally talking about rubbing raw produce on your body.
Seriously! Take an onion, lemon, orange, garlic, or mint leaves and rub them on your clothes and skin.
This hack can work with any natural bug-repeller, so if you prefer the smell of rosemary to onion, for example (who wouldn’t?) then you can of course use that instead.
As you may have guessed, afterwards you’ll smell very strongly of your product of choice. So consider your camping buddies’ noses before you opt for a head of garlic!
Mosquito head nets
Although this isn’t protection for your entire body, mosquito head nets can be a lifesaver.
Mosquito head nets are like wearing a screen room on your head. You can still see and breathe perfectly fine, but you can do so in bug-free comfort.
Plus, “mosquito” may be in their name, but they’re amazing at warding off gnats and flies. You know…those awful pests who like to divebomb and buzz around your face without even biting you. Ugh.
If you really wanted to go hardcore, there are mesh shirts and even suits available. These provide the full-body coverage that the head nets can’t.
Wearable oil diffuser
Imagine those large-ish cylinders you see at the home goods stores that emit fragrant mists into the air.
That’s the idea behind wearable oil diffusers: they’re smaller, more portable versions of their larger cousins, often fashioned as lanyard necklaces or clip-ons.
Diffusers slowly release the oil fragrance to keep the bugs away. They don’t emit it in bursts of mist.
You fill them with a small amount (usually only a few tablespoons) of water, then add in a few drops of an essential oil of choice. Place the diffuser around your neck for a portable bug-protection method.
Bug repelling bracelets
Essentially, these are wristbands that are most often treated with citronella or other essential oils.
The big draw to these wristbands is that you don’t need to rub the oils directly on your skin. Because of this, they’re ideal for those with skin sensitivities.
Some of the more expensive bracelets are electronic/ultrasonic. These release high-frequency soundwaves that ward off bugs.
However, either of these bracelets should be used in conjunction with other methods. One small bracelet on your wrist won’t offer much bug protection for your entire body.
Bug repelling laundry detergent or additives
Did you know that your anti-bug crusade can begin in your laundry machine?
Originally designed to kill or deter bedbugs, these special detergents can be used to infuse a bug barrier straight into your clothes.
Or if you’re really attached to your current detergent, there are a few bug-repelling liquid laundry additives you can mix in with your next load.
Pre-treat clothes with permethrin
If you want long-lasting bug prevention for your clothes and gear, consider grabbing a can or bottle of permethrin.
This chemical is safe for use on clothes, and it can last for up to 30 cycles in the washing machine.
It’s especially ideal for preventing ticks, which can sometimes crawl onto you via your boots, socks, or other clothing.
Remember that this will leave your skin open for bites, so consider an additional bug-blocking method to be used simultaneously.
Ingesting garlic capsules
Did you ever eat a particularly strong-tasting meal, and then you could smell it on your skin a few hours later?
That’s the concept behind ingesting garlic capsules. Easily available at your local pharmacy, take a few of these to send bugs packing.
Basically, the smell of the garlic will come out of your skin’s pores as you digest the capsule. This will make you smell less appetizing to bugs…but also to your human companions too!
Start a campfire
Building a campfire is one of the simplest and most common ways to keep the bugs away. Not to mention, having a campfire is kind of a staple of a great camping trip.
Just like us, bugs – especially mosquitoes – really don’t like smoke.
By the way, if you’ve never started your own fire before, it’s actually quite easy! We tell you all about it in our article on how to build a campfire.
For even more bug-proofing, consider tossing a handful of common herbs into your fire. This makes the smoke even less appealing to the more determined pests.
For example, try sage and rosemary. Not only do they keep bugs at bay, but they also smell nice too!
Burning tiki torches are a personal favorite of mine, especially for backyard or car camping.
They burn citronella, which smells amazing. But more importantly, the smell acts as a force field to keep bugs away.
For best results, we recommend buying several torches and arranging them in a circle around your campsite.
Mosquito coils are small, spiral shaped objects that are imbued with a variety of substances and then slowly burned.
Some contain insecticides to kill bugs on contact, while others contain more natural ingredients like citronella.
Similar to tiki torches, burning a mosquito coil emits a smoke that mosquitoes dislike.
They’re an incredibly affordable way to deal with mosquitos, even coming in multiple packs.
However, it’s not the healthiest to breathe in the smoke from these coils. As such, they make a good temporary bug-repelling solution, but shouldn’t be your only long-term method.
If you want to turn bug prevention into target practice, consider a salt gun.
A company called Bug-A-Salt developed a plastic shotgun that fires a few spoonfuls of salt. The basic idea is similar to using a fly swatter: you have to aim and actually hit it in order to kill the bug.
It’s effective against flies, bees, and even cockroaches. But some pests, like gnats, might be too small to accurately hit.
Insect foggers look like undersized leafblowers. Except instead of blowing away leaves, they emit a chemical fog that kills bugs on contact.
When the fog dissipates, the effects linger in such a way that they’re safe for people while remaining unattractive to pests.
Insect foggers make a handy pre-planning measure as well. For instance, if you know where the bugs are originating, you can spray the fogger there to kill them before they start attacking.
Electronic bug repeller
An electronic bug repeller is a small device that emits ultrasonic waves that keep bugs away.
The soundwaves are inaudible to humans, and they don’t involve the use of any toxic chemicals.
There’s been mixed feedback as to this method’s effectiveness, so we recommend using it in conjunction with another method.
Often resembling a lantern, bug zappers have an internal light that attracts bugs, then electrifies them on contact.
Hanging up a few of these will effectively manage the bugs around your campsite, punctuated by the occasional zapping sound.
Battery powered bug repelling diffusers
Bug repelling diffusers are similar to wearable essential oil diffusers. They’re often a lot larger, but still quite portable.
Pop in a few batteries, drop in some essential oil, and sit back and relax as the mist emits from the diffuser.
Cover your food with a plastic dome to keep bugs off and reduce the odors that attract them in the first place.
However, a lot of food covers marketed for camping are unfortunately made of mesh. This will certainly keep the bugs off your dinner, but it’ll do nothing for managing the yummy smells.
If you have nothing else on hand, a large plastic bowl will work nicely.
Avoid sweet smelling soap
Yep, bugs seem to like you when you’re sweaty and smell awful, and they also like you when you smell sweet!
Though it may feel like a lose-lose scenario, there is evidence that bugs are attracted to sweet-smelling fragrances.
So consider this your excuse for skipping your bath, and leave the sweet smelling soap and lotion at home.
This is a weird one, but insects seem to really gravitate towards beer. Some people speculate that bugs are most likely attracted to the glycol and fermenting yeasts that are in beer.
Try to avoid drinking a lot of it if you can. At the very least, keep the bottles or cans covered. Otherwise, you might start seeing bugs gathering for their equivalent of happy hour.
Interestingly enough, some studies indicate mosquitoes are extra attracted to people who just ate bananas.
It’s not really clear why mosquitoes prefer bananas, or what your skin excretes or smells like that so excites them.
Regardless, avoid bananas if you can help it…even though they provide that extra potassium hit!
Avoid wearing very bright or very dark colors
Wearing bright yellow anything is a sure invitation for bees and wasps. They may think you’re a tasty flower, and as such, they’re drawn to you.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, mosquitoes love dark tones. This means they’ll go nuts for you if you’re wearing black, navy blue, or a dark green.
Instead, aim for more neutral colors. Tans, creams, and whites are usually pretty safe bets.
To learn more about this weird color phenomenon, check out our article on what color attracts the fewest bugs.
Clean up ALL food from the campsite (beverages and trash too!)
You’d be surprised, but keeping your campsite tidy makes a world of difference when it comes to managing bugs.
Keep all your beverages sealed, especially the sweet ones like juices or soda. Put away all food, or keep it covered if it must stay outside.
Don’t forget your trash either. Bugs love the smell of pungent food, and they’ll come flocking if you leave food wrappers, containers and dirty napkins strewn about.
Throw coffee grounds in stagnant water to kill mosquito larvae
Here’s an interesting life hack: instead of tossing your morning coffee grounds in the dirt, sprinkle a handful of them into stray puddles.
While this is perfectly safe for us, it’s toxic to mosquito larvae.
In fact, mosquitoes (and other insects too) generally dislike the strong smell of coffee grounds. So feel free to burn them to add a coffee smell to your fire while also repelling the bugs!
Sprinkle diatomaceous earth
Diatomaceous earth is a naturally occurring, sedimentary rock which is ground into a fine powder.
It dries out an insect’s exoskeleton on contact, which kills them. Thankfully though, it’s non-toxic to humans.
This is another personal favorite of mine. I sprinkle a spoonful of it in my houseplants to manage the gnats that love to crawl around in the dirt.
For your trip, bring a bag of it and sprinkle gently around and in your campsite.
Stuff pieces of cloth in zipper gaps
Unfortunately, some tents aren’t the best at being perfectly sealed off from bugs.
The most common entry point is the place where the three zippers meet. Sometimes, these zippers create a tiny gap where a determined bug could slip inside.
To remedy this, try stuffing a wad of toilet paper (or whatever fabric you have on hand) into the zipper gap.
Use bug repelling bulbs (does not attract bugs like regular bulbs)
Consider swapping the bulbs in your camping lanterns for bug repelling bulbs. These special yellow compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs don’t attract bugs the same way that standard bulbs do.
So grab a few of these for your campsite to reduce the chance of your nightlights being swarmed by all sorts of gross pests.
We hope this list has helped show you that your next camping trip doesn’t have to be plagued by pests.
In actuality, we’ve seen that there are plenty of ways to keep the bugs away (rhyme intended!).
Just remember that any one of these tips on their own likely won’t be enough. You’ll probably have to use several methods at once.
Experiment with some (or all!) of them until you find the right combination that works for you.