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15 Natural Ways To Keep Bugs Away When Camping

Camping should be a time to unwind and relax, to be carefree. Oh yeah, what about all the bugs? Nobody wants to get bitten or stung while enjoying the great outdoors. Not only are bugs just annoying, but they can leave you itching for days, making your camping trip miserable. 

How do you get rid of bugs while camping?

There are actually several ways to naturally repel bugs. You don’t have to spray yourself with a can of chemicals. This post will give you 15 different natural alternatives to keep bugs and mosquitos away while camping.

Start a campfire with dried sage or rosemary

Add a bundle of dried sage or rosemary to your campfire. Most bugs, but especially mosquitos, hate the smell of sage and rosemary. So just toss a bundle of dried sage or rosemary into your campfire and let the smoke do the rest. 

Campfire with sage to keep bugs away

To make it last even longer, you can wrap the dried herbs up in some aluminum foil. Then poke a bunch of holes in the foils and get it a little wet. Then just toss this in the fire, and it will release the smell for several hours. 

The benefit of smelling like your campfire is that you now smell like the herbs. In addition, this will add a layer of protection to your clothes. 

Creams and lotions

There are many natural lotions and creams on the market that may be more appealing to some campers as a way to repel bugs. If the idea of making your own essential oil spray is too Martha Stewart for you, a lotion may be a better option. 

You can find a variety of natural bug repellent creams and lotions at most pharmacies and even some grocery stores. Children usually like sprays better than lotions; they are easier to apply. The lotions tend to be less smelly, though, so pick your battle. 

Use of essential oils

Several essential oils naturally repel bugs, including mosquitos. You can put essential oils directly on your skin, or you can easily make a spray. The spray goes a long way and can also be used on your clothes. 

I made lice repellent spray for my kids when they were little and went to summer camps. I would braid my daughter’s hair and hose it down with tea tree oil spray. I simply bought a little jar of tea oil, mixed it with water, and put it in a spray bottle.

Man using essential oil spray to keep bugs away in the wilderness

To get the most out of essential oil spray, you need to do a little more than just add water. Add 2 ounces of distilled water, 1.5 ounces of vodka or witch hazel, 30-50 drops of essential oil. Give the bottle a good shake before spraying; the ingredients tend to separate. 

Depending on the bugs you are trying to repel, you can mix a few different oils. The best bug repelling essential oils are rosemary, thyme, citronella, tea tree, and peppermint. 

Other essential oils that deserve praise are lemon eucalyptus oil, lavender, cinnamon, sage, cedarwood, and clove. Peppermint oil is by far the smell most hated by bugs. I have asked them, and they told me so. 

Vinegar spray on your tent

Bugs absolutely hate the smell of vinegar, so do I. However, this is a great trick to keep bugs away from your tent. I also spray our camp chairs with vinegar spray.

Mix one part apple cider vinegar (or regular white vinegar) to one part of water and place in a spray bottle. You will go through quite a bit of this, so get the big bottles from a big box store and take 2-3 on your camping trip. 

Massage with onions

You heard it right, but who would actually do this? If you cut open an onion and rub it on your skin, you will repel bugs. But, unfortunately, you also will repel humans. This is a desperate move and not one I have or will ever try. But it is a real option, so it was mentioned. 

Avoid scented toiletries

Bugs love our deodorants and nice-smelling lotions. Get some unscented deodorant just for camping, and avoid bringing all your Bath and Body Works yummy stuff. If you want to repel bugs, don’t smell like it’s date night. 

Scented toiletries on a window sill

Of course, if you rub yourself with onions, as I mentioned above, no amount of deodorant will help you anyways. So you might be one lonely camper. 

Don’t break a sweat

That’s right, bugs love our sweaty bodies. Bugs are attracted to the smell of human sweat. So, be lazy, don’t do any pull-ups on nearby branches trying to impress your friends. You will only impress the bugs. Mostly kidding.

If you go hiking, be sure to bring along some of your essential oil bug sprays. You can add a new layer of protection as needed. 

Long pants and long sleeves

This seems like a no-brainer but can be easily overlooked. Don’t encourage bugs to bother you by brandishing your naked arms and legs. You are prime picking at that point. 

If you can tolerate it, also tuck your pants into your socks. This look is very stylish and will be sure to turn heads at the campsite. 

Unfortunately, most bugs can bite you through your clothes, but if you can, make it a little more challenging for them by covering up.

Keep your tent tightly zipped

I can think of several times I had spider bites after sleeping in our tent. I am terrified of spiders, so I am constantly zipping up the tent. Somehow those 8 legged monsters find me anyway. 

Just try to remember to keep your tent zipped up at all times. Use the mesh windows to ventilate during the day if you need to. Hopefully, the mesh in your tent keeps out no-see-ums. Also, be sure to spray your tent with vinegar spray, especially the entrance. See the above for more details about the use of vinegar.

Use screen rooms during the day 

Fully enclosed screen rooms are an easy way to keep away bugs and mosquitos during the day while camping. Screen rooms come in large sizes, with enough space for the family to hang out. 

Look for a screen room that will keep out no-see-ums too. These bugs are super annoying and tiny. They can quickly get into many spaces. 

Screen rooms allow you and your family to just relax, play some board games or just read without the nagging bugs. Screen rooms are lightweight and affordable and would be a good addition to your camping gear. 

Take out the trash

Bugs and all animals will be attracted to the smells of your campsite. Be sure to keep it as clean as possible. Don’t leave food out or anything that had food on it. For example, a chopping block with a fresh and juicy piece of fruit is a bug buffet. 

Snack and candy wrappers are very appealing to bugs. Make sure your kids are putting their trash in the garbage. Take your garbage to the dumpster as much as possible during the day. 

Be sure to put away all your food into the coolers or vehicle at night. And don’t leave any garbage out at night. Bugs are annoying, but bears and critters can do real damage. 

Have a “no food in the tent” rule. This can be challenging with kids, but scare them with spider stories if you have to. 

In addition to the trash, it’s a good idea to remove any extra leaves or debris in your campsite. Piles of leaves are a great breeding ground for bugs, so just separate and or move piles of debris away from your campsite. 

Coffee grounds in standing water

I was so excited when I learned about this; I do this at home in my planters. Sprinkle some coffee grounds into any nearby puddles of standing water. 

Coffee grounds are great for plants but kill mosquitoes and their larvae. If there are any areas of stagnant water around your campsite, just add some coffee grounds. And here I thought coffee grounds were just used in hippy granola gardening. 

Mosquito coils

Mosquito coils are made of mosquito-repelling incense and are shaped like a coil. They are small, less than 7 or 8 inches in diameter, and can be made with various materials. Some are made with chemicals, so be sure to look for ones made with sandalwood or citronella.  

Mosquito coil burning is a natural way to keep bugs away

Mosquito coils need to be suspended in the air by either a metal stand or hanging. Light the outer end of the coil, and you can enjoy a bug-free space for up to 8 hours, sometimes more. 

Position coils about 10 feet away from each other if you use several coils. Mosquito coils emit smoke, so the wind can be a factor in their effectiveness. However, they are small, portable, and affordable and are another natural way to repel mosquitos. 

Battery operated diffusers

Battery-operated diffusers are also an option for repelling bugs. These do tend to work better in smaller spaces. Unfortunately, they aren’t as effective outside. But if you are desperate and looking to try something new, give it a shot.

Battery-operated diffusers can be a little pricey, usually around $50. Simply pour water into the fill line of the diffuser, add 5-7 drops of essential oil, and set to 4-8 hours of mist. 

Each diffuser will be different, so read the instructions first. Some excellent mosquito-repelling essential oils are peppermint, citronella, lemon eucalyptus, tea tree, and catnip oil. Try a variety to see what works best.   

Natural bug zappers 

Bug zappers come in all types and sizes, and some are even made with all-natural materials. They also are handy around the campsite as a lantern. In addition, these bug zappers are chemical and pesticide-free

Some bug zappers use batteries, and others can be charged with a USB charger. In addition, they usually come with a hook for hanging or just sitting on a flat surface.

You can even find bug zappers that are safe to use inside a tent. Then you have a nice glowing lantern too. Bug zappers kill several different kinds of bugs, but we love that they attract pesky mosquitoes. 

FAQ’S

What repels bugs naturally?

Several essential oils naturally repel bugs. These include rosemary, thyme, citronella, tea tree, peppermint, lemon eucalyptus oil, lavender, cinnamon, sage, cedarwood, and clove. You can put essential oils directly on your skin, or you can easily make a spray. 

What smell do all bugs hate?

Peppermint, all bugs hate it.

How do you get rid of mosquitoes in a tent?

Several all-natural bug zappers are safe to use inside a tent, plus you get the bonus of a lantern. Some of these bug zappers are battery-operated, others you will need to charge with a USB charger. We also recommend spraying the outside of your tent (especially the entrance) with vinegar spray. Put one part vinegar and one part water in a spray bottle and spray your tent down. 

Time to bug out

As you can see, there are many natural methods to keep bugs away while camping. Of course, not every method will work for everyone, but hopefully, you will find something that works for you. 

You may need to try out several different methods or use a combination of them. I would recommend testing some out before you go out camping. Mainly test out the essential oils. You don’t want to take something that smells so bad you cannot deal with it. 

Just about anywhere you go camping, you will encounter bugs. If you are properly prepared, you can minimize bug bites. Understand, though, that it is impossible to avoid all bugs.

Be sure to bring bug bite ointment and an antihistamine if the bites are too bothersome. Hopefully, we gave you some great options so you can get out there and brave the wilderness. So grab your sprays, oils, herbs, and head out, and as always, camp s’more worry less. 

Steve and Kris
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Steve and Kris are avid campers, outdoor lovers, and founders of Camp S'more Worry Less. When they are not camping, they enjoy other outdoor activities, including fishing, kayaking, and hiking with their family. Read more.

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