Picture a pristine mountain lake surrounded by towering spruce trees filled with birds singing their songs and wildflowers in full bloom below. The image brings about a sense of tranquility and calm almost as quickly as being in the place itself.
Now picture the same lake, but add thousands of mosquitoes swarming your vision, buzzing in your ears, and biting every bit of exposed skin they can get. Less tranquil, right?
Insect-borne diseases like West Nile, Zika virus, Lyme disease, malaria, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever pose a threat to your health. Bug deterrence plays a vital role in keeping you safe from annoyance and potentially life-threatening injuries and diseases. No matter where you go, bugs will be a part of your journey.
There are a few ways that tend to work the best for managing outdoor pests. While many people will have their own small tips and tricks, we find that using repellent, dressing appropriately, and sleeping smart are efficient and effective ways to deal with bugs outside.
Use Insect Repellents
Bug spray is one of the easiest and most effective methods of keeping bugs away while you spend time outside.
DEET has been a popular ingredient in bug spray for years and years. The reason that it works so incredibly well is by disguising your natural scent.
DEET is considered safe for use by most people when used as directed, but there are potential risks to be aware of. These include skin irritation, toxicity if ingested, greater environmental impact due to lack of biodegradability, and potentially increased risk for children and pregnant women.
To minimize the risks, it’s important to use products containing DEET as directed, avoid excessive use, and consider alternative insect repellents like picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that products containing DEET should not be used on infants younger than 2 months old. Additionally, pregnant and nursing women should talk to their healthcare providers before using DEET-containing products.
There are plenty of other options when it comes to bug repellents that still keep bugs away without harsh chemicals.
Environmentally Friendly Bug Repellents
Many plants are natural bug repellents, the most well-known being citronella. The oil from these grasses is extracted and made into bug spray, candles, bracelets, and almost anything you can think of to wear to keep bugs away.
Lemon eucalyptus is another popular plant to help keep bugs away. While it won’t work as well as DEET, it still repels bugs for a long time. Like DEET, different plant oils work to keep bugs from being able to smell us, thus preventing them from eventually biting us.
Look for candles, bracelets, and bug sprays made from citronella, peppermint, lemongrass, soybean oil, or neem oil. These are all gentler on both your body and the environment.
That being said, not all smells are going to keep bugs away. Some will attract them, leading to a worse-off camping trip. So avoid perfumes and other sweet-smelling, fruity fragrances.
Pet and Kid-friendly Repellents
Don’t forget about the kids and pets! While it can be easy to forget them (especially pets), the younger, fluffier, and smaller ones of us are at just as high of a risk for getting insect-borne diseases.
However, pets and children have much more sensitive skin than grown adults. The insect repellents recommended for pets and kids are easy on your skin while still being effective at keeping bugs away.
Kid and pet-friendly repellents utilize oils from castor plants, geraniums, soybeans, citronella grasses, and cedarwood to create a toxin-free formula. Getting the right insect repellent for each person is incredibly important to avoid uncomfortable rashes that might arise from a harsher chemical, like DEET.
Mosquito shirts and bug nets are extreme examples of dressing appropriately to avoid getting bitten while outside. Simple modifications to your clothes and gear can be enough to keep bugs away.
For starters, wear long pants and then tuck them into your socks. This might look a bit nerdy, but it prevents ticks from crawling up your pant leg and finding a nice home nestled into your skin. On top of your long pants, wear a long sleeve shirt, and yes, tuck it in.
Any little bit of space that exposes the skin is a target for insects. They’ll flock right to the small gap between your shirt and pants when you bend over to tie your shoe. This leaves you with an unpleasant lower back bite that’s hard to reach and harder to ask for help with scratching.
When hiking, always wear a hat to prevent ticks that can fall from above and land on your head before making themselves comfortable on your scalp.
Your gear also affects how much exposure you have to bugs. A backpack like the Gossamer Gear Gorilla uses tough fabric and minimal ventilation, making it an impenetrable fortress for bugs.
When you get to the tent at night, you don’t want to toss your bag in and bring thousands of tiny critters along with it. Zip everything up tight in order to stay bug-free.
Bug nets, bug gloves, and bug shirts work well for environments that have low visibility due to mosquito clouds. With a head net, you can still exist outside without needing to constantly battle the buzzing insects around your head.
The main idea is to leave the least amount of skin exposed as possible. This might mean you’re a bit warmer than you’d like during the day, but it’s easier to cool off at the end of the day than to pick ticks out of your hair or cover your legs in anti-itch lotion. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Sleep is when many people get bit when they don’t have the right gear. Bugs are far more active at night when the temperature drops, making it a dangerous time to be out. With the right camping gear, you can prevent bugs from sharing the bed with you, making you wake up feeling miserable.
For starters, choose the right tent material that’s less likely to get holes, such as canvas. If it’s too late for that, fix all of the holes in your tent. This will keep your tent more like a formidable fortress and less like a vulnerable villa.
If you’re sharing the tent, make it the Golden Rule to always close zippers as soon as you are in or out of the door. Mosquitoes will sit and wait for that door to open, then hop inside as soon as given the chance.
Learn When Common Pests Are Active
By knowing when bugs are the most active, you can prepare accordingly. You don’t need to bring a load of bug spray when you head on a winter camping trip in Alaska, but if you’re heading up in the summer, you better bring the entire arsenal.
Active pests will change depending on where you’re at. There are plenty of places you can go and avoid mosquitoes but find ticks, and vice versa. Do your research and know what to expect before going out and facing the bugs head-on.
In the springtime, pests are just starting to become active again. While it’s not the biggest time for them, it’s important to be aware and start going outside with the right preparations.
Look out for:
- Stinging insects (bees and wasps)
Summer is the season in which insects thrive. It’s hard to go out and not encounter loads of bugs in the summer, but maybe you’re lucky to live in one of the few places where there aren’t that many of them.
This is the time to bring everything. Get all the best insect repellent and come dressed for the task at hand.
Summer is prime time for:
- Sand flies
- Stinging insects (bees and wasps)
Fall tends to provide some relief with the cooler temperatures as bugs start to hole up for the winter. While you’re not entirely in the clear, it can be a much more enjoyable time than the summer (when talking about bug encounters).
Two of the biggest insect issues in the fall are related to:
- Stink Bugs
While they aren’t technically harmful, they can still be tough to deal with and a nuisance.
Ah, the season of sweet relief from insects. While it would seem like you’ll never encounter any insects in the winter, it can be surprisingly possible as they seek out warm places to try and survive the winter. As it turns out, your tent and sleeping bag make a great spot to try and warm up.
A good cold-weather camping tent can help keep insects out when you decide to brave the cold and sleep outside. Just know that you still can’t leave the zippers completely open and expect freedom from insects all winter long.