Summer is camping season, but guess what? It’s also bug season. If you’re looking for the best ways to keep mosquitos away while camping, you’ve come to the right place.
We all know that the most obvious way to keep mosquitos away is to cover our bodies in a thick, tacky, stinky layer of DEET repellent. But who really wants to do that? It’s not foolproof—and it comes off when you sweat or when you go swimming.
Although DEET is safe to use and has a relatively minimal impact on the environment, Ross and I both avoid using it whenever possible because well, we think it’s icky. And isn’t that enough of a good reason?
We certainly do carry a small bottle of Deep Woods OFF! when we go camping in the summer, but we use it very sparingly—or in desperate situations.
Besides totally not loving being caked in the stuff and having to smell the strong scent until it wears off, it’s heavy to carry multiple bottles and gets expensive if you go through them quick.
We’ve found better ways to deal with the mosquitos. Here are our best tips.
1. Avoid camping at the height of “bug season” whenever possible
Mosquitos are most active in warm weather, which typically runs from late spring through early fall. In most regions of the northern hemisphere, this usually includes May to October. The warmer the early spring or late fall, the earlier or later they’ll be out and ready to bite.
One of the best ways to keep mosquitos away while camping is to not camp at all when they’re at their worst. Here in Ontario, we typically expect the mosquitos to start coming out mid- to late-May depending on how warm it is. Peak bug season is June and July—including black flies, horseflies, and deer flies.
August and September can still be buggy, but we tend to notice a significant reduction compared to June and July, which is why we like to plan more camping trips during the later part of the summer and early fall. With that said, theres’s never any guarantee that we’ll dodge the swarms since it’s often very dependent on weather conditions and location, which is why it’s best to be prepared anyway.
If you’re willing to give up the heat of the summer for cooler and perhaps less predictable weather, we highly recommend it for the lack of bugs. Besides, spring and fall can be some of the best times to go camping and enjoy the outdoors without the summer crowds.
2. Don’t book your campsite near a marsh, pond, or bog
Another one of the best ways to keep mosquitos away while camping is to try and avoid booking your campsite near any standing water, if you can. Mosquitos love laying their eggs in these areas, which means there will probably be more of them buzzing around.
If you’re frontcountry camping, this probably won’t be a problem since you’ll be surrounded by other campsites, but in the backcountry, it’s best to plan ahead and check your map for swampy areas (refer to your map’s legend to pinpoint these).
You’ll probably be fine by a lake or river due to the flowing water and potentially windier conditions, but we recommend setting up camp at least 100 metres away from the water’s edge to further decrease your chances of attracting mosquitos. If you can find a campsite on high ground, that’s even better.
3. Cover up with long-sleeved shirts and pants
If you’re not keen on using DEET or another mosquito repellent, one of the best ways to keep mosquitos away while camping is to cover up with a long-sleeved and pants. Mosquitos are less likely to bite exposed skin, so by wearing clothes that cover as much of your body as possible, you’ll be less attractive to them.
This might not be the most practical solution if you’re going to be hot and sweaty, but it’s a best practice that’s embraced by the most seasoned campers and outdoor enthusiasts. The trick is to wear clothing made of light, breathable, and moisture-wicking material like polyester or nylon to keep cool and avoid getting too uncomfortable if you do sweat.
If you think you won’t need long sleeves and pants on a camping trip because it will be so hot, think again. You’ll need them just to protect you from the mosquitos. Consider this a fair warning!
4. Wear loose-fitting, light-coloured clothing
Speaking of wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants, it’s important to make sure that they fit loosely. Not only will this help you stay cool, but it’ll also make it harder for mosquitos to bite you since they’ll have a much harder time penetrating loose-fitting clothing.
Ladies, this means no yoga pants. I practically live in yoga pants all year round, but when I go camping, I wear the biggest, frumpiest, loosest fitting pair of pants that I own. I’ve suffered too many mosquito bites on my legs from wearing form-fitted yoga pants far too many times, and I’m officially over it.
As for the colour of your clothing, light colours like white, cream, or beige are best since they’re less attractive to mosquitos (they’re more attracted to darker colours like black and blue). I also wear black yoga pants all the time, so you can guess how well that went when I wore them camping.
5. Wear a bug net over your head
If you’re really serious about wanting to keep mosquitos from your neck, ears, and face away while camping, you can invest in a bug net and wear it over your head. This will totally enclose the area and protect every inch of exposed skin.
Most bug nets come with a hood that will help keep the net in place while you’re wearing it, but they also often come with an elastic band that goes around your neck for extra protection. You can even find bug nets that come with a brim, which is great for keeping the sun off your face and out of your eyes.
The major downside of bug nets is that they can affect your visibility. I find that when I’m in a forested area under thick tree cover, it looks very dark. Or when I’m canoeing and looking out for landmarks off in the distance, I can’t quite make out those subtle details because I’ve got netting in the way.
Besides that, they’re great for camping trips when mosquitoes are especially bad or if you’re spending a lot of time in areas near standing water. They’re also pretty cheap to buy!
6. Get a mesh bug jacket or suit
If you want to go above and beyond the regular head net, you can get a mesh bug jacket that covers your whole upper body, or a suit that you can even wear over your lower body. I personally don’t think a full suit is necessary if you have the right pants, but Ross and I definitely both own mesh jackets.
These are essentially just like regular jackets, but they’re made out of a fine mesh material that will keep mosquitos away while allowing you to move freely and breathe easily. They certainly don’t look very fashionable, but they get the job done, and they’re super easy to throw over your head when you’re wearing a T-shirt or tank top.
Most bug jackets and and suits also include a hood and mesh face covering, which you can wear optionally by zipping or unzipping the mesh part from the hood. We never go summer camping without ours.
7. Know what time of day the bugs will be their worst
Another thing to keep in mind when trying to avoid mosquito bites while camping is that different times of the day will be worse than others. Mosquitos are typically most active at dawn and dusk, so if you can plan ahead to cover up before it’s too late, you’ll have a much better chance of avoiding bites.
We tend to find that right after dusk, once most of the light is gone, the mosquito swarms are absolutely insane. It’s that awkward time when campers often find themselves back at camp trying to start their campfire and prepare dinner, completely distracted with what they’re doing.
I’d recommend layering up before the sun sets, if possible. If you don’t, you might be in for a rude awakening.
8. Stay close to the campfire
Believe it or not, one of the the best ways to keep mosquitos away while camping is to stay close to the campfire—ideally a big ripping one. The smoke and heat from the fire will help keep you from getting bit, so make sure you’re taking advantage of that and staying within close proximity.
Although smoke doesn’t exactly repel mosquitos, it will certainly prevent them from being able to smell you. Just be sure not to stand directly in the smoke since it’s not healthy to breathe in.
9. Get a screen tent for your campsite
If you don’t want to resort to hiding in your sleep tent or car for hours on end just to avoid the mosquitos, you might want to consider investing in a screen tent so you can still feel like you’re enjoying the outdoors. These tents are essentially just mesh screens with a tent rooftop that you can set up over your dining area.
The nice thing about screen tents is that you can still feel the breeze and see your surroundings when you’re in them. When the bugs get bad, just zip up the screens and enjoy a snack, a game, or the scenery until it’s safe to go out again.
Screen tents come in all shapes and sizes, but they’re usually best for frontcountry camping or backcountry basecamping. On a backpacking or canoe camping trip where every ounce counts, this might be one thing to consider sacrificing due to the extra weight it involves carrying. You’d be better off sticking to the mesh suit or going inside your sleep tent.
10. Upgrade to mosquito-repellent clothing
If you’re really serious about avoiding mosquito bites while camping, you might want to consider investing in some mosquito-repellent clothing. Yes, it’s a thing.
These types of clothing are treated with special chemicals like permethrin that help to ward off mosquitos and other biting insects. The best part is that you’d never know that these clothes were treated—they’re completely odourless and the treatment lasts through a number of washes, so you don’t have to worry about it wearing off.
It’s certainly not a must if you’re already wearing loose-fitting, light-coloured clothing, but it can be a nice extra layer of protection if you know that the bugs are going to be bad. Ross and I both have Insect Shield® pants that we wear in bug season and in known swampy areas, which we pair with our mesh bug jackets.
11. DO NOT use any citronella products or natural bug repellent products
This final tip might come as a surprise to you, but I want to strongly advise against using certain natural products that claim to keep mosquitos away. The reason for this is that they’re often strongly scented, which can attract bears if you’re in bear country.
Citronella, for instance, may be effective for keeping the mosquitos away, but it also contains a compound that’s known to attract bears. The same goes for essential oils like peppermint oil, lemon eucalyptus oil, and tea tree oil.
I can’t confirm whether bears are attracted to DEET repellents, but I wouldn’t be surprised considering how potent some of those repellents can be. It’s another good reason to avoid using it as often as possible.
The best ways to keep mosquitos away while camping involves being aware and planning ahead
It’s important to take preventative measures and be prepared for when mosquitos do show up. By following the tips above, you can drastically reduce your chances of being bit and make your camping experience that much more enjoyable.
What are some of the best ways you keep mosquitos away while camping? Let us know in the comments below if you think we left something off the list!
Elise is an experienced backcountry canoe tripper and winter camper from Ontario, Canada. She loves cooking up a storm over the campfire, taking in all the backcountry views, and enjoying a piña colada or two while relaxing at camp. She’s also certified in Whitewater Rescue (WWR) I & II and Wilderness First Aid (WFA).