How to keep bees away from your campsite

by | Mar 27, 2023 | Wildlife & pests

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Nothing is more annoying than a bee (or a hornet or wasp) buzzing around camp while you’re trying to cook, eat, or relax.

If you’re brave, you’ll probably try to swat them away.

If you’re scared, you’ll probably try to run away from them.

A hornet on a rock.

And if you’re unaware, you might get too close and get stung.

This happened to Ross and I last summer when we went bushwhacking through a forest, and he accidentally stepped too close to a nest.

Both of us got stung multiple times, and we learned a valuable lesson that day about the risks of bushwacking through the forest.

Are you dealing with bees, hornets, or wasps?

Chances are you might be dealing with hornets or wasps rather than bees because bees are actually the least aggressive of the three.

Here’s how to tell them apart:

Bees are fuzzy and have a rounder, more robust body shape than hornets or wasps.

A bee buzzing around a flower.

They’re relatively harmless and docile, and they’re mainly attracted to flowers for nectar and pollen to take back to their hive for making honey.

They’re generally not aggressive and will only sting if they feel threatened.

Hornets are larger than most bees and have a more elongated body shape—usually black and white or black and yellow in colour.

A hornet on a tree.

They’re known for their aggressive behaviour and can sting multiple times.

Wasps are similar in appearance to hornets but are usually slimmer and have a more defined waist.

A wasp.

They’re also more likely to have bright colours, such as yellow or red.

Like hornets, wasps can be aggressive and will sting if they feel threatened.

What attracts bees, hornets, and wasps

Apple cores on a picnic table at a campsite.

All three of these insects are attracted to similar things, including:

  • Sweet foods and drinks
  • Bright colours
  • Strong smells

This might explain why you might find them buzzing around your campfire, picnic table, or even your head.

Chances are there’s food somewhere, you smell really nice, or you’re wearing something colourful.

Avoiding nests and hives

A hornet nest in a tree.

Although seeing a bee/hornet/wasp buzzing around your camp is annoying, you’re probably not at much of a risk of being stung unless you really provoke it.

You’re actually most likely to be stung if you disrupt a nest or a hive.

When you’re in an unfamiliar location, it can be all too easy to overlook the possibility of getting too close to a nest or hive—especially since they’re often hidden and blend in with the environment.

Bees are known for building their nests in hives, which can be found in a variety of locations such as trees, buildings, and even underground.

Honey bees typically build their hives in hollow trees or other enclosed spaces, while bumblebees often build their nests in the ground.

Hornets build their nests in aerial locations such as trees, shrubs, or even on the sides of buildings.

The nest is usually shaped like a teardrop and can be quite large, with some nests containing hundreds of hornets.

Wasps also build their nests in aerial locations, but they can also be found underground or inside buildings.

A wasp nest in the ground.

The nests are usually smaller than hornet nests and can contain fewer individuals.

Be sure to look high up in trees and bushes for nests and hives as they may not always be visible from the ground.

And if you decide to venture out into the bush, make sure to watch where you step since hornets and wasps are known to build their nests in the ground.

How to stop bees, hornets, and wasps away from buzzing around your campsite

A family having a bbq at a campsite.

You’re in their environment, so don’t expect them to stay away.

That said there are some simple steps you can take to make your campsite less attractive to bees, hornets, and wasps:

Keep food and drinks covered. Use airtight containers or ziplock bags to seal your food.

Drinks should have lids that fully close when you’re not drinking from them.

If you’re drinking from a can, be sure to blow in the opening before you take a sup.

Clean up crumbs and spill right away. Use an evergreen tree branch to sweep crumbs into the campfire to be burned.

If you spill a sweet drink, pour water over the spot to help wash it away.

Use unscented toiletries. Don’t use scented soaps, body washes, shampoos, conditioners or lotions when camping.

These products can attract bees, hornets, wasps, and other insects that are looking for sweet smells and bright colours.

Dress in muted colours. Brightly-coloured clothing (especially floral prints) can be a beacon to bees, hornets, and wasps.

Wear darker colours like navy or brown to help you blend in with your environment.

Keep garbage contained. If you’re using a garbage bag to throw stuff away, make sure you close it by tying a loose knot in it so no smells escape.

Better yet, if you’re car camping, bring a garbage can with a lid or store your garbage in your car.

Use insect repellent. Insect repellent containing DEET may help keep wasps away, but it isn’t a guarantee, and it might not work on hornets or bees.

Set up camp away from flowers. Their colours and scents can be attractants to bees, hornets, and wasps.

Avoid toxic products or scented candles. Candles and aerosol insect repellants containing citronella, cedarwood oil, peppermint oil, or eucalyptus oil may attract more bees than they repel.

Set up paper lanterns that look like nests. Bees, hornets, and wasps are known to mistake these paper lanterns for other nests, which they’ll naturally stay away from.

What to do if bees, hornets, and wasps still come to your campsite

The silhouette of a hornet.

Despite your best efforts, you may still encounter these pesky buzzers while camping.

Here are some tips to help you handle the situation:

Stay calm and move slowly. Don’t swat at the bees or make sudden movements, as this can agitate them and cause them to sting.

Try to identify the type of insect you’re dealing with. If they ‘re honeybees, they’re less likely to sting unless provoked.

If they’re yellow jackets or hornets, they’re more aggressive and more likely to sting.

If you spot a hive or nest, slowly and quietly move away from the area. Do not disturb the nest or hive.

If a bee lands on you, don’t panic. Gently and slowly brush it off.

If you get stung, remove the stinger as soon as possible by scraping it out with a credit card other flat object.

Don’t use tweezers, as this can squeeze more venom into the wound.

Apply ice and take an antihistamine to help reduce the swelling.

If you’re allergic to bee stings or experience symptoms such as difficulty breathing or swelling of the face or throat, seek medical attention immediately.

Remember, these insects play an important role in our ecosystem and should be respected.

You’re a visitor in their home, after all.

Ultimately, being aware of what attracts bees, hornets, and wasps—as well as where they’re most likely to build their nests—is key in avoiding them altogether while camping.

They may still buzz around your campsite every so often, and that’s okay.

Just be sure to follow these tips and safety measures to help minimize your risk of getting stung.

Good luck and happy camping!

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Elise & Ross

We’re Elise and Ross, avid backcountry campers and outdoor adventurers! We started Gone Camping Again as a way to share our knowledge and experience about wilderness living and travel. Our hope is that we inspire you to get outside and enjoy all that nature has to offer!

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