How to keep bugs away during camping and backpacking

how to keep bugs away during camping

Camping in the wilderness away from the hustle-bustle of urban life can be a lot of fun. But there is a different type of hustle-bustle that you should plan to handle in order to make it a truly enjoyable experience. Wilderness provides a perfect ecosystem for all types of bugs and creepy crawlers to survive and flourish. And if you do not plan properly, your outdoor trip can become painful instead of outright fun.

Thankfully, there are a bunch of simple arrangements that you can make and tips and tricks you can follow to ensure that the bugs do not spoil your trip. In this article, we would share some specific tips and tricks that you can follow to keep you and your family protected from these buzzing insects and creepy crawlers.

Common types of Bugs and Insects

Before we delve into some of the tips and tricks to follow, let us briefly look at some of the common types of bugs and insects you would generally encounter in the wilderness. Many of these insects are more prevalent in specific seasons, climates and regions, but it is good to be aware of them:


Mosquitoes are probably the most common and most irritable bugs you would encounter during your camping trips. Nothing is more irritating than having to manage an itchy bite or the whining noise in your ears. Mosquitoes can also do more harm than mere skin irritation as they can carry viruses of many vector-borne diseases such as dengue, malaria, yellow fever and Zika fever. Mosquito infestation is generally seasonal and more prominent during summers and during rains. Moreover, mosquitoes are more active during dusk and dawn timeframe.


Flies and Midges (No-See-Ums)

Flies are also major irritants, though their infestation is more seasonal, climate and location dependent. Most fly species that you may encounter in the wilderness are like house flies and do not bite humans. But there are deer and horse flies, black flies and biting midges/sandflies require human blood for reproduction. Their bites can cause skin irritation and can be especially harmful in case of open wounds and skin ruptures.

flies and midges


Along with the mosquitoes, ticks are the most hated insects around the world. Ticks strive in moist and shady environments, something that is prevalent in the wilderness. Among humans, ticks can cause Lyme disease and spotted fever. Ticks are generally attached to grass and bushes and do not crawl, jump or fly fast enough to get attached to the human skin. However, they can get attached to a pet dog or cat’s coat and can transmit from such pets to humans. They are especially harmful to dogs and other pets and can cause serious skin issues if left untreated.



Ants, especially the red fire ants are more prevalent in the Southern states and something to worry about if you happen to cross their path. Such ants are aggressive in nature and have a sting which can cause searing pain in kids and adults.


Wasps, Bees, and Hornets

Wasps, bees, and hornets are generally harmless unless provoked and would avoid contact with humans. Their stings are however more painful and the irritation continues for a long time. Moreover, some people have serious allergic reactions to such stings and can lead to major emergency if not handled immediately. The principle of if you seem them, avoid them and carrying emergency allergy medicines in your first aid kit is the best defense against such insects.

wasps honeybees and hornets

Chiggers and other insects

Chiggers are juvenile forms of mite and small enough to be barely visible to naked eye. They are most commonly found in forests, grassy fields, and moist climates. Chigger bites can cause intense itching and bumps/blisters on the skin.

Bug protection for humans

Now that we have briefly discussed the most common types of bugs that we would encounter on a camping or backpacking trip, let us look at some of the best ways to keep them at bay. We will first look at some precautionary measures and then look at some protective solutions we can use.

Precautionary Measures

Follow the following precautionary measures to minimize exposure to mosquitoes, flies, ticks and other insects.

  • Damp areas and standing water is a favorable breeding ground for all kinds of mosquitoes and other insects. Try to set up a campsite that is at a reasonable distance from shores or river banks. For rainy weather, elevated areas that provide a downhill slope for any accumulated water to drain are perfect.
  • To prevent insects and bugs from raiding your tent, keep the tent fly and any inner doors zipped and shut at all times. If your tent does not have an inner mesh, you can consider getting a bug net for protection, especially if you are camping with babies or children.
  • If you are using a tarp or hammock for shelter, consider getting a mozzy netting or a Hammock bug net. You can check some options to buy in our article on hammocks.
  • To prevent exposure of your skin to bug-bites, wear long-sleeved shirts and long trousers. In next section, we will look at some additional ways on how you can treat your clothing and gear for repelling bugs.
  • Some fragrances have a tendency of attracting bugs. Moreover, they can make insect repellents less effective. Try to avoid wearing deodorants or perfumes with a discernible smell. To manage perspiration, use a limited amount of odorless antiperspirant if desired.
  • Open food and garbage attract bugs, especially flies. Keeping the food covered and waste properly disposed-off is always a good idea to keep these insects from raiding your campsite.
  • Lights act as natural magnets for flying insects. So, if you are going to use a camping lantern, keep it at a distance away from the tent door. Such lanterns can also help the insects directed away from your tent.
  • If you are planning to have a campfire, consider adding a stash of Sage or Citronella leaves to the fire. These act as natural insect repellents and help in keeping the bugs away. You can also burn some mosquito coils, repellent sticks or candles around the campfire.
  • Since insects like mosquitoes and midges are more active during dusk and dawn, take special care while venturing out during these times. And if you have to, wear protective long sleeves and hoodies to keep minimal skin exposed to the bugs and apply suitable skin protecting sprays or lotions (discussed later in the article).
  • If you have serious allergies against insect bites, especially against bee or wasp stings, carry some anti-histamine tablets or other anti-allergy medicines in your first-aid kit at all times.

Bug Protection: Gear and Clothing

Sawyer Products SP657 Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent Trigger Spray, 24-Ounce

Now that we have looked at some precautionary measures for protecting against bugs, let us look at some ways to prevent being bitten by bugs through protective clothing.

Permethrin is an invisible, odorless, pesticide-grade spray that when applied to the clothing, can make it insect repellent. Permethrin was originally developed by the US Military to protect soldiers from bugs, and since has been made commercially available through several products and pre-treated clothing lines. Permethrin is effective against ticks, mosquitoes, chiggers and a bunch of other insects. It not only repels them but also kills them when they come in contact with a Permethrin treated surface.

Pre-treated clothing items under the trade names such as InsectShield and BugsAway are already available in the market. These clothing items are pre-treated with Permethrin, making them repel ticks, mosquitoes and other insects and can retain bug repellent properties anywhere from 6 to 50 washes if handled properly (gentle hand or machine wash).

If you do not have pre-treated items, you can spray your normal outdoor gear such as backpacks, tents and hammocks and your outdoor clothes with Permethrin to make them bug repellent. Such clothing and gear can provide protection for up to 6 weeks or a total of 5 to 6 washes.

Some of the most popular Permethrin sprays available in the market that can be used to treat clothes are listed below:

And if you want to save some money and are confident in your skills, you can use the soaking method (soaking is better than spraying) to treat your clothing with Permethrin. Check out the SectionHiker’s post on how you can do this.

There is one limitation of Permethrin. Pesticide-grade permethrin is toxic to cats when wet, as it affects their central nervous system (this is also the reason why tick and flea treatments for dogs should not be used on cats). The cats can be around permethrin-treated fabrics once the application has dried. So, you would have to be a little careful while applying Permethrin on your gear if you have felines around the house.

Bug Protection: Skin

 How to keep bugs away during camping - Repel 100 Insect Repellent, 4 oz. Pump Spray, Single Bottle

Treating your clothing with Permethrin repellent provides ample protection to the body covered by the clothing. However, to protect your exposed body parts such as hands, neck, and face, you would need to look at applying topical lotions and sprays on the skin. Such repellents work for all types of insects except the stinging insects such as bees, hornets, and wasps.

There are three broad options to consider. You can also check out the Search Tool made available by EPA to find the best repellent for protection against mosquitoes or ticks or both.

  • DEET: Since its development in 1946, DEET has been the most widely used insect repellent. It is available in concentrations ranging from 10% to as high as 98% (commercially 100% DEET). The 98% DEET provides a protection for up to 10 hours. Some latest “controlled-release” sprays claim to be capable of providing protection for up to 12 hours. DEET is available in form of sprays, lotions and even bracelets.
    DEET has been registered with EPA for a long time, evaluated by many studies and is endorsed for topical use for adults, kids (avoid a concentration of more than 30% with kids). DEET provides protection against mosquitoes, black flies, and ticks.
    The major drawback associated with DEET is that it is greasy and emits a distinctive, sometimes unpleasant odor. Moreover, it is chemically active in dissolving certain synthetic materials such as plastic and vinyl. Still, it remains the de-facto standard for bug protection sprays.
    Some of the best DEET sprays and lotions available in the market are listed below:
  • Picaridin: Picaridin was originally developed in Europe in 1998 and is available in the US since 2005. It is available in the concentration ranging from 7% to 20%, with the 20% concentration solution capable of providing protection for up to 8 hours.
    Picaridin is registered with EPA and is safe to use with adults and kids. It has a lot of distinctive advantages over DEET. It is odorless, non-greasy and does not dissolve synthetic materials such as plastics or vinyl. It has also been found to be equally effective on mosquitoes and more effective on flies and no-see-ums. However, when it comes to ticks, DEET is considerably more effective than Picaridin.
    Some of the most popular Picaridin sprays available in the market are listed below:
  • Natural repellents: Certain plant oils have also found to be effective against insects especially mosquitoes and flies. These include Citronella oil, Neem oil and Lemon Eucalyptus Oil. Of these, the chemically-synthesized Lemon Eucalyptus Oil (and not the natural eucalyptus oil) is registered with EPA and considered effective for up to 6 hours.
    Most natural repellents are not as effective as their chemical counterparts, but the major advantage with these have is that they have minimal long-term side-effects, though they may sometimes cause skin irritation in some people.
    Some of the most popular natural-oil based repellents are listed below:

Bug Protection: Lanterns and Lights

Thermacell Trailblazer Mosquito Repellent LED Camping Lantern; 300 Lumens Provide 50-Hour Runtime; Creates 15-Foot Zone of Protection from Mosquitoes; DEET-Free and Flameless; Best Camping Gear

In addition to the protection by treating the gear and clothing as well as applying topical sprays and lotions, here are some innovative products available in the market that can be effective in keeping bugs, especially mosquitoes, away during camping and backpacking.

These include Thermacell lanterns – the most effective and efficient portable mosquito repellers and Off! Mosquito lamps. Such lanterns and bulbs can provide protection against mosquitoes for a radius of 15 – 50 feet for 5-8 hours and also act as a light source.

Some of the best options that you can look at are:

Bug Protection: Miscellaneous

How to keep bugs away during camping - Repel Citronella Triple Wick Candle, 20-Ounce

Some other bug repellent solutions include mosquito coils, insect-repellent candles, ultrasonic bug-repellers, bug-zappers, bracelets and patches. These solutions may provide some relief from mosquitoes and flies, but are generally not as effective as the fabric treatment and topical solutions that we discussed above. So rely on them only if you are expecting a moderate infestation of bugs.

Bug Protection: A special note on stinging insects

FMI Brands Inc. Original Get Lost Wasp Natural and Safe Non-Toxic Hanging Wasp Deterrent - for Wasps Hornets Yellowjackets, 2-Pack Effective Eco-Friendly Decoy Repellent

As mentioned above, the insect repellents and their active ingredients that we discussed above are not very effective against stinging insects such as wasps, hornets, and bees. Considering that these insects do not engage with humans unless provoked, you can safely avoid their threat by picking a site which is away from them. Another ethical way (wasps and bees are essential parts of the ecosystem, so using an insect killer is not a good idea unless there is infestation) to deal with them is to use a fake wasp nest, though such a solution is more popular in patios and backyards.

Bug Protection: After bite

Kirkland Signature Maximum Strength Hydrocortisone Cream 1% with Aloe, 2-ounce (pack of 4)

Despite following all the precautions, there is a strong chance that you would still get bitten by insects occasionally, especially mosquitoes. If that happens, the best solution is to avoid itching severely and let the bump settle down. You can also apply some ice, hand sanitizer or aloe-vera cream on it to minimize the itching.

If these remedies do not help, applying a Calamine or OTC Hydrocortisone cream can reduce the skin irritation. You can also check out some after bite itch erasers that work well with insect bites and stings.

Bug protection for dogs

Bayer Seresto Flea and Tick Collar for Large Dog- from 7 weeks onwards or over 18 lb, 8 Month Protection

If you plan to take your dog with you on your camping or hiking trip, you would have to consider bug protection for your furry friend as well. Fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes are the major bug-irritants for dogs. Ticks especially can spread pathogens that can lead to serious health issues with dogs.

Before we discuss some of the remedial actions, it is worthwhile to mention that most human bug sprays would neither work nor should be used on pets, unless they are natural solutions such as Citronella or Neem Oil. You need pet specific solutions such as topical medications, shampoos and dog collars. Topical medications such as Bayer K9 Advantix II are long-term solutions, while shampoos and dog collars such as Seresto Collars work immediately. There are even some natural mosquito repellents for dogs such as Vet’s Best Repellent to spray on your beloved pet.

Final thoughts on how to keep bugs away during camping and backpacking

Wilderness exploration can be a lot more fun if you can manage to keep bugs and insects away from yourself and your family. In this article, we looked at exactly what we need to do to ensure exactly that.

We looked at the preparations that we can make, the precautions that we can undertake and the preventive items that we can rely on to keep buzzing insects and creepy crawlers from ruining the trip. We hope that you found this article useful. For more tips and tricks, check out our article on taking care of your skin while camping.

We hope that this article would help you prepare well for the fight against bugs during your next outdoor trip. Do let us know your feedback by commenting below. Until next time, stay safe and enjoy the wilderness!

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