Keep Mosquitoes Away While Camping: Ideas That Work

Camping season is just around the corner and that means family fun, bonfires, smores, and mosquitoes! One of the beautiful parts of being in the great outdoors is that you are surrounded by abundant life. 

However, the tradeoff is that some of that life can be annoying or even downright dangerous – like mosquitoes! They can bite you, buzz around your food, or invade your tent, but they should not ruin your trip as long as you are well-prepared. 

Some mosquitoes carry diseases like Zika, West Nile, dengue, and malaria, so repelling them is of utmost importance. Whether you are a seasoned camper or just starting out as a novice, here are some of the ways you can keep those pesky bugs away from you.

DEET-Based Spray

OFF! Active Insect Repellent 

For most, the first thing that comes to mind when considering methods of repelling insects is the spray. Particularly, DEET-based sprays are most commonly used. Developed by the “U.S. Army in 1946 for protection of soldiers in insect-infested areas” (NPIC, 2008), DEET has protected the public against insects since the 1950s.

DEET works by masking a human’s chemical outputs, like the air we breathe out of our mouths, which can attract insects. DEET is the most highly studied and evaluated insect repellent and is considered the Gold Standard. It protects you against pests for up to 12 hours! 

As you look for the best bug repellent, you might notice advertising for DEET-free bug spray. Although powerful, DEET-based bug repellents can have downfalls. 

First, it can fog up or leave residue on glasses, smartphones, and watch faces. Additionally, it can dissolve synthetics-based clothing – so be careful applying it liberally to your favorite clothing. 

Last, DEET can pollute waterways and damage delicate ecosystems. This can have detrimental impacts on the environment over time.

The most common DEET-based sprays you might find at your local store include:

  1. OFF! Active Insect Repellent 
  2. Cutter Backwoods Insect Repellent
  3. Sawyer Products SP533 Premium Ultra DEET Insect Repellent
  4. 3M Ultrathon Insect Repellent

Picaridin-Based Spray

Ranger Ready Tick Spray and Insect Repellent, Picaridin 20% Bug Spray

Picaridin-based sprays are composed of a synthetic chemical that mimics a natural repellent found in pepper plants. Outcompeting its DEET-based counterpart, Picaridin-based sprays can last for up to two hours longer, up to fourteen hours against mosquitoes and ticks, and up to eight hours against flies. 

In addition, it has a less disturbing odor and does not damage plastics or other synthetics like DEET-based products can. 

The most common Picaridin-based sprays you might find at your local store include:

  1. Ranger Ready Tick Spray and Insect Repellent, Picaridin 20% Bug Spray
  2. Sawyer Products 20% Picaridin Insect Repellent
  3. Sawyer Products SP657 Premium Permethrin Insect Repellent for Clothing, Gear & Tents, Trigger Spray
  4. AVON Skin SO Soft Bug Guard Plus Picaridin

Essential Oils 

Multiple bottles with essential oils 

If you’re looking for a healthier, natural alternative to DEET-based or Picaridin-based insect repellants, look no further than essential oils! Used as early as 4500 BC in ancient Egypt, essential oils have served several purposes from perfumes and medicines to insect repellents. 

In particular, there are seven essential oils that are known for their insect-repelling properties. If using essential oils, be sure that you are getting high-quality oils that are authentic. In addition, look online to ensure that the water ratio or oil concentration is correct when concocting your own spray or lotion. 

Last, be sure to remove your perfume or deodorant before going outside as mosquitoes and other pests are likely to be attracted to the scent as much as you! Wearing perfume or deodorant can negate the positive effects of essential oils. 


Cedarwood oil is an essential oil that comes from cedar trees. Cedar trees produce this oil to protect themselves against bugs and other pests, and in turn, humans can use this same oil to repel, and sometimes kill, insects. 


Particularly known for its ability to repel mosquitoes, cinnamon oil gets extracted from cinnamon bark. Not only can you make cinnamon essential oil into a spray, but if you have household cinnamon powder, you can also bring that camping and sprinkle it around your tent to protect against pests.


 Citronella oil is an essential oil that’s made by distillating a grass plant in the Cymbopogon genus. When the product is formulated correctly, it’s as effective as DEET and can protect you for up to two hours. 

Lemon Eucalyptus

Boasting an average protection time of two hours, this essential oil is also considered highly effective against mosquitoes.


Containing the compound linalool, lavender is an effective and natural way to avoid getting insect bites. To use lavender, either place essential oil drops directly onto your skin or place lavender oil around your campsite to ward off the little pests! 


Rich in citral and geranyl acetate, lemongrass is another natural mosquito repellent.


Another well-known essential oil is peppermint oil. In addition to smelling like winter (which is wonderful!), this oil can be effectively used against pests. Do, however, be careful with peppermint oil as it can also be toxic to pets – especially cats.

Although essential oils are a great natural alternative for pest control, note that they are not perfect pest repellants. First, unlike traditional methods of pest control, essential oils are unregulated, so you never really know what you are going to get.

Additionally, some essential oils can cause skin irritation and toxicity if swallowed – so there should be caution taken if there are kids or pets around your campsite. 

Candles And Lanterns

 A nice alternative to essential oils or sprays might be candles and lanterns! Particularly, look for citronella candles. Do note that you might need to purchase a few as the range of effectiveness is often less than seven feet. 

A burning candle inside a lantern

Also, candles and lanterns typically get turned on or lit around dusk. Remember that dusk, when the sun sets, and dawn, when the sun rises, are prime times for insects, so you might want to concentrate your efforts around this time. 

You might even have to hide in your mesh-covered tent if you want to steer completely clear of the creepy crawlies. 


A family sits around a campfire near a lake

One of your first lines of defense against insects can also be your clothing. Be sure to cover your ankles with socks and wear a long sleeve shirt to protect your upper body. 

Also, wear lighter covers as darker colors absorb more heat from the sun, which makes your core temperature higher and more attractive to annoying mosquitoes. 

Keep A Clean Campsite 

Leave no trace! Follow these next several tips to keep your campsite clean and free of pests. 

Preparing for the trip: 

While packing for your trip, before you even go, try to pack a few things. You want to avoid having leftovers after you cook a meal, for example. 

Setting up your tent: 

Before you start pitching up your tent, consider a location that is far away from water to avoid excess bugs 

A campsite with a tent, a canopy and a hammock in the forest

The Kitchen: 

Put all the little trash – even crumbs, peels, and apple cores-in garbage bags and dispose of it properly. Do NOT throw them on the ground (unless you want to attract bugs and animals)! 

Washing dishes: 

  • Fill a large pot with water 
  • Place a little portion of biodegradable soap into the large pot 
  • Scrub food that remains on your dishes off far away from your campsite 
  • Gently shake them to slightly dry
  • Place clean, dry dishes on a towel or on rocks to finish drying
  • Last, grab a towel and shovel and go into the woods – at least 200 feet away from your campsite or any body of water – and dump the water. Be strategic about where you dump it because the smell of food attracts animals and bugs! 
  • Take the shovel and dig up some dirt. Use the dirt you dug up to cover the dishwater. This helps to cover the smell of the dishwater. 

The Bathroom:

Find a spot to do your doo-doo. It should be 200 feet away from a water source so that you don’t contaminate it and at least 200 feet away from your camp. You might consider choosing a spot at the base of a tree to have additional support as you do your business. 

Remember that every time you go number two you should bring a plastic bag, just as you would for your dog, toilet paper, and sanitizer. When you have completed your business, wipe yourself, and then put the garbage in the plastic bag and throw it out into a garbage can. Be sure to sanitize after going.

The Laundry: 

If you are going to be camping for more than a week, you should do a load of laundry. Although it may be intimidating, you can just follow the steps below. Remember clean, fragrance- and odor-free clothing will keep the bugs away. 

  • To start, fill a barrel (30-60 liter) with about 15 liters worth of water. At the same time, fill a large pot or dish bin with water (for later.)
  • Add soap to the water and stir. (Do not add too much soap)
  • Put your clothes, socks, and underwear in the barrel and scrub them down.
  • When you find that the clothes are clean, squeeze out the excess water
  • Next, rinse the clothing in the large pot or dish bin with water. This is done to remove residual soap. 
  • Finally, it is time to have them dry. Put them on rocks and in direct sunlight so that they can dry efficiently. 
  • Voila! You now have clean clothing for more days of camping 

Inside the Tent:

  • Choose a tent with a vestibule where you can keep dirty items. Think of it as a porch for your tent.
  • Keep your tent door zipped up at all times.
  • Do not eat in your tent. Eat in the designated kitchen or dining area only.
  • Keep your clothes orderly instead of thrown all over the tent. 
  • Bring a dustpan and brush from home so that you can sweep the inside of your tent.
  • Consider bringing old, larger Amazon boxes that you can use to store things in to stay organized.
  • Bring plenty of bags! Consider bringing old grocery bags that you can use to store dirty clothes, wet items, leftovers, and more. 
  • Additionally, you can use these bags to dispose of your #2 (doo-doo) and toilet paper. Using old grocery bags instead of buying new plastic bags, is a great way to reuse plastics, which helps the environment. 
  • Lay out either old rubber car mats or a welcome mat that you can buy at many in-person and online retail centers so that there is a transition spot to clean up dirty shoes before walking into the tent.
  • If your tent has mesh pockets on its interior, consider using them to store toiletries and clothes.
  • Wash and dry your tent well after using it.

Final Thoughts 

A mosquito

Getting bothered by mosquitoes is never fun. However, there are plenty of ways to keep them away, especially in the peak months of summer. With some preparation and loads of patience, you can have a fun time camping and yet keep the mozzies out of your face! 

Alex Buchnev

Alex Buchnev

Alex loves kayaking, fishing, and all things outdoors. When he's not out there in the wild, he's probably typing away at his laptop or trying to be the world's best father for his two lovely daughters.

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