Even as I write this article out, I’m being bothered by a particularly irritating mosquito welt on the inside of my elbow. Mosquitoes, along with other insects, are all too happy to take a bite out of us if they think we can offer them a decent food source. I’ve yet to find a single technique that can keep all the bugs off of my skin, but a few tried and tested measures can keep those pests to a minimum.
Best Ways to Ward Off Mosquitoes on a Camping Trip
1. DEET Bug Spray
The most effective bug repellent products make use of DEET, a powerful insect-repelling chemical used all over the world. It was created by the US Army after World War 2 to protect soldiers from tropical insect-borne illnesses and continues to be the military’s primary method of malaria prevention. Contrary to popular belief, DEET is non-toxic and has never been linked to cancer or other diseases, and is generally considered safe for use on people of all ages.
DEET is found in most store-bought bug repellent products, but not all products are equal. Most of the sprays, creams, and wipes you get from the store have very diluted concentrations that aren’t as effective. Products that contain 80% or more DEET are, in my experience, the most effective at keeping away not just mosquitoes, but also other annoying pests such as ticks, horseflies, and spiders.
When applying bug spray, make sure to roll your sleeves up 2-3 inches to cover skin that might be exposed as your posture changes, and you move around. Apply a light but complete coating to every exposed piece of skin, including hard-to-reach spots like the tops and backsides of your ears. If you have a spray can, be sure to spray the stuff onto your hands before applying it to your face, since DEET can be irritating if it gets into your mouth or eyes.
2. Mosquito Nets
When mosquito season rolls around, I like to pack an extra item into my kit – a lightweight mosquito net. A physical barrier to mosquitoes (and most other insects) but not the fresh air, these nets prevent bugs from ever reaching your tent or hammock. Some nets are designed to pop up anywhere, but I prefer versions that can be suspended from a few cables tied overhead.
Just like the zippered door of your tent, a mosquito net can never be completely effective against bugs. Opening and closing the net can allow insects inside, and anything inside the netted-off area during setup will be unable to leave. However, despite these shortcomings, mosquito nets can be irreplaceable for their ability to keep bugs out of your sleeping area 24/7.
Some companies even make smaller nets designed to cover your head and neck. While these can be very useful for protecting most of your exposed skin, they are somewhat uncomfortable and not too helpful if you’ve already applied bug spray. But, if you’re spending the day outdoors in a swampy environment or some other location with an exceptionally large number of mosquitoes, one of these personal nets may still be a good idea.
3. Area Denial Devices
For even more protection against mosquitoes, you can look to small area denial devices that protect your entire campsite from bugs for a temporary period. These devices are small enough to fit into your backpack and, when added to bug spray and mosquito nets, can make it very difficult for bugs ever to reach you.
However, these devices have some negative attributes that make me dislike them. Firstly, they are less effective than nets or DEET-based products at repelling insects. Second, the chemicals they use to keep mosquitoes away may sometimes be toxic, making it unsafe to eat within their effective radius. Even devices from trusted manufacturers often come with warnings and precautions that can make your camping trip extra difficult. For that reason, I tend not to take these with me on my trips.
Devices to Avoid
Some mosquito repellent products aren’t worth bringing on a camping trip. For example, bug zappers and lanterns may be effective on a back patio, but at a campsite, these objects only help to attract more insects to your location. Once nearby, a mosquito following the light source may be more attracted to your skin than to the light source. You may also sometimes see anti-mosquito bracelets in stores, but these are less effective than even the weakest bug repellent products.
Bugs are a sometimes unavoidable aspect of camping out in the woods. The wilderness is their home, and you are merely a guest in it. However, with the right repellent products and perhaps a few nets, you can keep a strong barrier between you and the more annoying inhabitants you might find in the wild.