How to Keep Bugs Away While Camping and Out of Your Tent

September 16, 2022

17 Tips for Keeping Bugs Away While Camping This Summer

There’s nothing quite like a camping trip. No matter how technologically advanced we become, people still love to get out and enjoy the great outdoors — it’s the perfect way to escape and unwind from the stresses of modern life. Families often go camping to reconnect with each other and give everyone a chance to unplug. Others love the idea of a secluded hideaway where your cares and troubles can’t find you. No matter what the reason or the occasion, camping is an affordable retreat that gets you connected with what’s important — having fun, appreciating the beauty of nature and making memories with family and friends.

Unfortunately, being in nature means you’re not alone. Wild and untamed, the outdoors can be a tricky place to maneuver, especially when it comes to its smallest inhabitants — bugs. However, don’t let these little critters scare you away from an unforgettable vacation. There are tons of ways you can keep bugs away while camping. Below are methods that many campers have used successfully to give themselves some bug-free camping time.

Prepare in Advance to Avoid Getting Bugged

If bugs bug you, you are not alone. Even the word “bugs” conjures up a lot of unpleasant imagery — buzzing, swarming, creeping, crawling. In fact, some people hate the little guys so much they allow these pests to keep them away from outdoor adventures entirely. Since the outdoors is where they live, there’s no surefire way to avoid bugs entirely when you head outside. However, you can educate yourself and learn what to expect, and how to minimize incidents with these creepy-crawly creatures.

Insects are a widespread issue for all campers, especially during the warmer months. There are many bugs you may potentially come in contact with during your camping trip, including:

  • Mosquitoes
  • Flies
  • Bees
  • Spiders
  • Ants
  • And more

The insect that most people direct their wrath at is the mosquito. These tiny insects are the antagonists of any good camping vacation. The bites of female mosquitoes leave annoying, itchy bumps.

There are ways to keep mosquitoes and other bugs at bay. Not only will this prevent these pesky critters from leaving behind itchy bites or swarming around your food, but it will also keep you and your family safe — remember, some mosquitoes and other biting insects carry disease. Don’t let bugs bug you when there’s a way to fight back.

17 Ways to Keep Bugs Away While You’re Camping

Whether it’s flies, bees or especially mosquitoes, bugs don’t have to ruin your camping trip. Here are some tips and tricks to keep mosquitoes far away from you and your campsite. Many of these methods are only appropriate for outdoor activities, like camping, and others are natural methods you can implement into your daily life, as well. When thinking about which bug-prevention method is right for you, be sure to consider a few things unique to your situation — such as whether they’re appropriate for kids, sensitive skin or allergies.

Whether you’re a newbie camper or a seasoned veteran, one — or many — of these techniques is sure to work for you. Although you can’t control these small intruders, there may be a way to win the war on bugs. Here are 17 ideas you can try for keeping bugs away from you and your campsite.

Hiker applying mosquito repellent on the leg skin in the forest.

1. Traditional Bug Sprays or Creams

One of the most useful techniques used to keep bugs off is conventional bug sprays or creams. The most common ingredient in these is called DEET. In fact, the more DEET an insect repellent has, the more effective it is. Some campers don’t like DEET-based sprays or creams for an assortment of reasons, such as the smell, potential for skin or eye irritation and a number of other reasons.

Despite these objections, these repellents work. So, even if you use it as a last line of defense, it’s a good idea to keep some traditional bug spray handy just in case the mosquitoes get out of hand.

Make sure that your bug-spray or cream is waterproof, too. Also, it’s best to spray repellent on your clothes and avoid direct skin contact if possible. Apply it to your clothes, shoes and hat in the morning before you get dressed, and be sure to avoid breathing any in.

2. Homemade Essential Oil Repellent

With the rise in popularity of essential oils, these concentrated herb or plant extracts are easier than ever to come by. In fact, you may already have some around the house. There are many different essential oils with bug-repelling properties that offer a natural alternative to the heavy chemicals in traditional bug sprays. Although you can apply essential oil-based concoctions directly to the skin, it’s better to spray it on your clothes, especially if you have sensitive skin.

When making your essential oil bug spray, use 10 to 20 drops of any of the following:

  • Thyme
  • Eucalyptus
  • Cedarwood
  • Sage
  • Catnip
  • Geranium
  • Lemongrass
  • Rosemary
  • Tea Tree
  • Cajeput
  • Lavender
  • Mint
  • Basil
  • Citronella
  • Clove

Mix these in a spray bottle along with a tablespoon of rubbing alcohol, half a cup of natural witch hazel and half a cup of water. Give your bottle a good shake before spraying, as the oil and water mixture will always tend to separate. This concoction offers a natural way to keep those critters away while you’re camping. Depending on which oils you use, you may enjoy the scent, too.

3. Vinegar

This solution is not necessarily for those who have a strong sense of smell or hate the aroma of vinegar. But, you can use both white vinegar and apple cider vinegar as natural bug repellents. Insects are not particularly fond of the overpowering scent. You can spray it on your skin, around your tent and around the campsite to deter mosquitoes and other bugs from taking up residence.

You can also make a natural bug spray with vinegar by sealing a few tablespoons of dried lavender, sage, mint, rosemary and thyme in a glass container with 32 ounces of vinegar for two to three weeks. Give it a good shake every day, then drain the herbs when it’s ready. Fair warning — it stinks. It also needs to be diluted with water before you can use it on your skin.

4. Bug-Repelling Bracelets

If you can’t stand spraying or applying anything to your body or clothing, then a bug-repelling bracelet is an excellent option. You can wear these on your wrist or, if you prefer, fasten it to something nearby. It emits bug-repelling chemicals into the air around you creating a shield. This is a good option for kids, as the little guys shouldn’t use DEET sprays, and most kids don’t have the patience for you to spray them down, anyway.

5. Bug-Repelling Diffusers and Coils

Some well-known bug-repellent companies now sell diffusers which emit a pesticide called metofluthrin. These work as long as 12 hours and are marketed to provide as much as 84 to 100 percent protection against mosquitoes. The diffuser includes a battery-operated fan that spreads the chemical around a small area. Just put one of these in areas where you and your camping companions are congregating for an instant bug shield.

Similar to diffusers, pyrethrum-infused coils emit a powerful mosquito-repelling scent, along with smoke. Bugs will hate finding a few of these coils scattered around your campsite.

Closeup of a person cutting white onion on a wooden cutting board.

6. Foods That Little Buggers Hate

Believe it or not, mosquitoes and other insects hate the smell of certain foods we love to eat. Onions, garlic and citrus fruits like lemons and oranges are good foods to keep handy while you’re camping. Bugs can’t stand the smell of these potent produce items.

Unfortunately, you would have to eat a lot of these for them to start working from the inside out. But you can rub your skin with garlic, onions and even citrus peels, so the bugs won’t come for a visit. It may leave you smelling like a salad, but it’s a natural and simple bug-repellent. However, it doesn’t hurt to include onions and garlic in your cooking while you’re in the great outdoors, as the smell will fill the air with its anti-bug fragrance.

7. Garlic Capsules

If you’re not interested in rubbing pungent garlic all over yourself, there may be an easier way to attain it’s natural bug-repelling affects. Take garlic capsules during your camping vacation. This will cause the scent to secrete from your pores and repel nearby insects. Be aware, it may also repel nearby humans, too.

8. Hydration

There are many reasons to stay hydrated while camping. Extreme heat can quickly lead to dehydration, which could put an early end to your camping adventure. But there’s more than one reason keeping a water bottle on hand could keep you happier and healthier. On hot summer days and during a hike, it’s easier to get overheated and sweat if you’re not hydrated. Insects tend to be attracted to hot, sweaty skin. So, if you feel yourself beginning to sweat, take a cold, refreshing swig of water.

Mint in small basket on natural wooden background.

9. Mint

Spearmint, peppermint or any member of the mint family are effective and natural repellents of pests. While we find their scent crisp and refreshing, bugs can’t stand it. There are tons of ways to keep the smell of mint around you and your campsite, such as by:

  • Keeping a few potted mint plants around, especially in communal areas
  • Popping strong breath mints in your mouth from time to time
  • Using extra mint toothpaste or mouthwash
  • Pouring some mint mouthwash into a spray bottle and using it around the campsite or on yourself

10. Fresh and Dried Herbs

You don’t have to stick to essential oils when looking for natural bug deterrents — you can also use fresh and dried herbs to keep the critters away. There are several options, but some of the most effective herbs are sage, rosemary, eucalyptus and, as mentioned before, mint. There are two ways to use these plants to detract bugs from coming around:

  • Burn them in your campfire, as the smoke and the scent combined will drive away the bugs
  • Rub it in on your skin for a quick, natural bug-repelling solution

11. Candles, Lanterns and Campfires

Many people don’t realize one of the first things we do when we go camping is an excellent way to keep the insects away — the all-important campfire. It’s for more than just hot dogs and s’mores. The smoke campfires produce can repel mosquitoes, flies and other bugs we’d rather keep away. However, any tiki torch or candle producing a little smoke will have a similar effect.

If you’re looking for more lighting that keeps the bugs away, it doesn’t get better than the citronella candle. The smell these pungent lights produce will have the bugs heading for the hills. You can purchase citronella tea lights and keep them in jelly jars scattered around the campsite. They are an excellent source of light and will help to keep your site bug free as well.

Another investment you can make is a set of lanterns that also operate as insect-repellents. An-installed cartridge allows these lanterns to release a chemical which bugs hate, keeping them well away from the lantern’s vicinity.

Two hikers taking a photo against a rugged mountain backgrop.

12. Clothes With Coverage

Mosquitoes are mainly active during the dawn and dusk hours. So, be sure to wear long sleeves and pants — especially in the morning and evening — to avoid getting bug bites during these prime times. Even with this added protection, mosquitoes are sometimes able to bite through clothing. Plus, if it’s unusually hot, long clothes will make the weather harder to bear.

That’s where insect-repellent clothing comes in handy. A few outdoor companies sell clothing that’s infused with insect repellent in the fabric, allowing you to avoid sticky sprays and creams with the same useful results.

Another tip — avoid wearing dark clothing, especially blue. One study found that mosquitoes were especially attracted to the color blue. Khaki or green clothing are better choices.

13. Fragrance-Free Bodycare Products

Although you don’t have to go unwashed for the entirety of your camping trip, the use of hygiene products or toiletries that are overly fragrant may draw some unwanted guests. It turns out, the bugs like the smell of some of these items as much as you do. That’s why it’s better to avoid perfumed:

  • Soap
  • Shampoo
  • Aftershave
  • Deodorant
  • Hair care products
  • Colognes, body sprays and perfumes

That doesn’t mean you have to go au naturale the whole time, though. Consider investing in natural toiletries that are unscented and don’t have infused chemical or artificial fragrances.

14. A Clean Campsite

A clean campsite is a safe campsite — humans aren’t the only ones who enjoy free meals. Bugs and other wild animals love the smell of your food and are looking for an opportunity to grab a snack. That’s why it’s crucial to keep your campsite as clean as possible. Open containers of food and unwashed dishes left unattended or overnight are just an open invitation for these creatures. Here are some things to keep in mind which will help keep things neat and tidy:

  • Properly dispose of or store food in a large plastic container with a secure lid immediately after use
  • Don’t leave trash uncovered or let it accumulate, and dispose of it at a designated trash receptacle as soon as possible
  • Wipe down your campsite’s table as soon as you arrive and after each meal
  • Wash any dishes right after you finish eating
  • Before you leave your campsite or go to bed, make sure there are no traces of food left behind

Young woman zipping the screen to her tent at a KOA campground.

15. A Tent That Zips Closed

There’s nothing more infuriating than hearing the faint buzz of a fly or mosquito and not being able to find it. You don’t want that to happen to you at night in your tent, where the dark prevents you from launching a counter-attack. It’s best to create a bug-free environment within your sleeping quarters by zipping up the door. Although this may be harder for younger campers to remember, be sure to close that tent flap or shut the cabin door every time you enter and exit your abode.

16. Screen Rooms and Netting

If you’re desperately in need of a haven free from bugs, you may want to consider bringing a screen room or mosquito netting. A screen room is a large tent or canopy with screened-in walls that let you see outside, allow the cool breezes to blow through and keep unwanted pests out. You could also make your own screen room by mounting mosquito netting either onto poles or to nearby trees. Although these methods take a little more effort, they may be a perfect solution for those who can’t stand the sight or sound of bugs.

Beat the Bugs When You Book Your Next Camping Trip

When you choose to camp at KOA, you’re saying “yes” to an exciting outdoor adventure. From campground activities to convenient amenities, KOA has everything you need to have a fun-filled camping experience.

One of the best parts of choosing KOA is the clean campsites. A clean site is far less likely to attract those unwanted insects you’re trying to avoid. Whether you choose a Camping Cabin, a Tent Site or one of our full-hookup RV Sites, you’ll find beautiful surroundings and clean lodging options that won’t disappoint.

If you and your family are ready to enjoy an outdoor adventure, make a reservation at a KOA campground today!

About the Author: Kampgrounds of America

Kampgrounds of America is the largest system of open-to-the-public campgrounds in the world, with over 500 locations across the United States and Canada. Founded in Billings, MT in 1962, KOA’s family of campground brands – KOA Journey, KOA Holiday and KOA Resort – today serve more than a million camping families each year. KOA is dedicated to “connecting people to the outdoors and each other” by providing people with a variety of camping experiences and the information they need to make the most of their camping trip. Read more of their camping and travel resources by visiting

Enjoy a Greater Slice of the Great Outdoors

Discover even more room to enjoy outdoor living with a KOA Patio Site®. These spacious sites offer your very own patio equipped with outdoor furniture and the perfect place for a fire. Wake up and enjoy a cup of coffee with the sunrise and spend an evening relaxing with family and friends.

Learn More