Summertime means camping trips! But if you’re like many people, the thought of being bitten by mosquitoes all night long is enough to keep you home. As a fellow mosquito magnet, I’ve tried every cure imaginable to keep those nasty creatures at bay, and we have found some great ways to repel mosquitoes away while camping.
What Attracts Mosquitoes to Campers
We know that mosquitoes are attracted by carbon dioxide, which is what we exhale every time we breathe. Mosquitoes can pick up the scent of CO2 from 50 yards and quickly hone right in on your campsite.
However, there are a lot of other factors that lead to mosquitoes selecting to bite specific people over others in your camp. According to WebMD, “…researchers have yet to pinpoint what mosquitoes consider an ideal hunk of human flesh”. Studies continue on everything from cholesterol levels to lactic acid.
But let’s get real… you know if you are a mosquito magnet. And you know how a mosquito attack can turn a camping trip into a miserable experience. So here are a few tips on how to keep mosquitoes away while camping! We’ve mentioned several products in this article that you might find useful in your battle against mosquitoes, and provided links to help you find them. In some cases, those links are affiliate links and we could earn a small commission if you make a purchase.
Pick the Right Campsite to Start to Repel Mosquitoes
The best way to repel insects while camping is to start with the right campsite.
- Mosquitoes love dark, humid, and moist conditions. They also love to hang out in dense bushes. So pick a campsite in an open area instead of tucking your tent under a tight tree canopy.
- Try to find a campsite with plenty of open space for a good wind flow. Wind reduces the ability of those annoying mosquitoes to fly. It also helps move the carbon dioxide and other body odors away from you. Make it difficult for those pesky critters to find you.
- Female mosquitoes lay their eggs in stagnant water. To avoid being insect food, look for a campsite without standing water. Puddles, pools of water, and still ponds are big no-nos. If you love to camp to a stream or river as much as we do, avoid mosquito havens of standing water by camping near moving water.
The Truth and Myths of Campfire Smoke as a Mosquito Repellent
You’ve probably heard many old wives’ tales about natural mosquito repellents over the years. One of the most widely-used recommendations for keeping mosquitoes away is to stand in your campfire smoke. This story seems legitimate, but it’s actually a myth.
According to a World Health Organization (WHO) study, there is no definitive evidence proving that campfire smoke repels mosquitoes. However, many studies show that the smoke from burning specific plants on your campfire decreases the number of mosquitoes at your campsite.
Plants and Herbs You Can Burn In Your Campfire to Keep Mosquitoes Away
It’s unclear if the reduction in insect bites from burning scented herbs and plants is because those pesky insects don’t like those smells or because the scent masks your body odor. But who cares if it works!
So what are those herbs and plants that you can burn in your campfire to keep mosquitoes away?
Many mosquito-repelling herbs are commonly grown in gardens. You might already have them in your backyard. If so, consider picking a few and taking them with you when camping:
- Flowers (marigolds, geraniums, and pennyroyal)
- Herbs (peppermint, spearmint, catnip, lemon balm, sage, basil, eucalyptus, and rosemary)
- Plants (lavender and citronella)
It’s a good idea to check if you are any of your campmates are sensitive to these plants, flowers or herbs. Some people, for instance, are allergic to eucalyptus.
It’s best to burn fresh plants, herbs, or flowers as these contain the highest concentration of oils that repel mosquitoes. Mosquitoes don’t like the smell of the oils in these plants and herbs and will stay away. Transport them to the campsite in a ziplock bag to retain the freshness. When you’re ready to use them with your campfire, throw them in at regular intervals for maximum effect.
If you don’t have fresh herbs, bring along a couple of packages of dried herbs. You’ve heard of sage smudging sticks to ward off bad mojo… well those same sticks will help keep the bugs away in your campsite. No herb garden of your own? Here’s where you can grab some sage smudge sticks all ready to travel.
You can also rub fresh leaves onto your skin to transfer the oils for a natural mosquito repellent. Then throw the leaves into your campfire.
Set up Your Camp to Avoid a Mosquito Attack
There is nothing worse than a beautiful camping trip ruined by an invasion of mosquitoes. Let’s take a look at some excellent ways to set up your camp to avoid a mosquito attack:
Spray Campsite Perimeter
Spraying your campsite’s perimeter before you set up camp, especially weeds and low bushes, is one of the best ways to keep mosquitoes at bay. Just make sure you do not spray where you could contaminate water sources. You can do this using a natural or chemical product.
- Natural bug spray can be preprepared at home by combing about 20 drops of lemongrass, citronella oil or lavender essential oil, 2 fl oz of boiled water and a drop of vodka or rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle.
- Alternatively, you could use a vinegar spray and add some essential oil drops to increase its effectiveness.
- If you prefer spraying chemicals, it’s advisable to check with the campground host beforehand as some don’t allow campers to do this.
Candles to Keep Away Mosquitoes
Just as burning herbs in your campfire repels mosquitoes, you can burn mosquito-repelling candles that will mask body odors. In addition to being an effective insect repellent, they will also create a bit of a romantic ambiance.
Of course, we all know about citronella candles. They are widely available for sale and are effective at repelling mosquitoes and other annoying insects, such as flies.
However, burning other types of candles infused with essential oils will also keep mosquitoes away while camping. You can easily find lavender or mint-scented candles.
Yes, they really work to keep away those pesky bugs!
If you don’t feel like spraying your campsite with mosquito repellent, a portable mosquito-repelling device is an excellent non-chemical and scent-free insect repellent.
This battery-charged thermacell device from Amazon.com is compact enough to take with you while camping and provides a 20-foot mosquito protection zone. My daughter pulls one out at any evening event and loves the effect on those nasty bugs.
Create a Breeze
Mosquitoes enjoy stagnant and humid air, and a natural way of repelling them is to create a breeze using a fan. These have the added advantage of blowing away some of your CO2 emissions. I love the personal fans with rechargeable batteries like the KOONIE Portable Fan. You can get 3-4 evenings of breeze out of a single charge. Or consider a USB fan that you can run off your backup charger like the SmartDevil Fan.
Bug Zappers and Mosquito Traps
Bug zappers are fun to use (especially for kids) but do they work?
According to a study conducted by Colorado State University Extension, bug zappers offer very little effectiveness at repelling mosquitoes.
In contrast, the American Mosquito Control Association advises that mosquito traps effectively reduce the number of mosquitoes but do not eliminate them. One of the most popular traps we’ve found is the FENUN Fly and Mosquito Trap. It’s especially nice because it will do double duty during the day to reduce the fly population around your picnic table. The downside is it does need a power source so great for RVing, not so great for remote tent camping.
Make Yourself Unattractive to Mosquitoes
One of the best ways to repel insects is to make your body unattractive to them! This simple step can prevent you from being bitten in the first place and having to experience annoying itching and redness.
Apply Mosquito Repellents
Regularly applying a mosquito repellent (chemical or natural) to your exposed skin helps keep mosquitoes away from you.
Using Natural Bug Spray
The selection of natural-based mosquito repellents has exploded over the past few years.
These bug sprays work by masking your body odors, so mosquitoes are less likely to “smell” you. They are pretty effective if you are relaxing, hence creating less sweat and carbon dioxide for those critters to track. Natural repellents must be re-applied every 30 minutes to stay effective.
Here are a couple of our favorites for your next camping trip:
- Bug Soother Spray – a natural essential oil bug spray made with simple, skin-loving ingredients: Lemongrass 100% Essential Oils, blended with a hint of vanilla for an amazing scent that people love, but bugs hate. Great for repelling other bugs like gnats and flies too!
- Murphy’s Naturals Lemon Eucalyptus Oil Insect Repellent Spray – this natural repellent protects against mosquitoes up to 6 hours and tics up to 4 hours. Mosquitoes hate the fragrance of lemon eucalyptus!
- Wondercide with Natural Essential Oils – proven to repel 98% of mosquitoes, it’s safe for the entire family.
Chemical bug Spray
Chemical-based sprays like DEET and Picaridin work by affecting an insect’s sense of smell to prevent the mosquito from finding you. These sprays last significantly longer than natural sprays and, for many, are much more effective.
This is a bit of a touchy subject, and you need to make your own choice about using chemical sprays as insect repellents. My personal opinion is that if I’m in a high-risk area, where mosquito populations are high, or diseases are known to be transmitted by mosquitoes, I will reach for the DEET-based spray. Here’s a solid research paper on the toxicity of insect sprays by NPIC that you might find worth reading to help you make an informed decision.
DEET repellents have been around for decades and are still the first mosquito repellent choice for many campers. Our go to is Sawyer’s Maxi Deet for evenings when the mosquitoes are out in full force.
It offers many advantages:
- It’s widely considered to be the most effective mosquito repellent product
- It also provides protection from tick and biting fly bites
- It comes in many forms and is available in most big box stores or online
One caution with DEET sprays, avoid the ones that have sunscreen and DEET combined in one. They commonly cause skin irritation and will melt plastics. Yes, I had a sandal melt to my foot – YUK! If you need both, apply separately with an adequate drying time between applications.
Eliminate Body Odors that Mosquitoes Love
Mosquitoes enjoy a strange array of smells, which can be good or bad.
They are naturally attracted to the smell of perfumes and colognes. They also love scented shampoos, soaps and laundry detergents. Before camping, you might consider washing your clothing in unscented detergent and using only fragrance-free toiletries. I find that mosquitoes will have a party buzzing my ears if I use a scented shampoo or conditioner. The result is painful mosquito bites on sensitive ears and necks. Here are a few great selections for fragrance-free shampoos to check out.
Mosquitoes are also attracted to the smell of sweat. You can mitigate this by using a fragrance-free deodorant and keeping yourself as cool as possible.
Wear The Right Clothes to Keep Mosquitoes at Bay
- The good news is that mosquitoes are attracted to dark clothing. You can wear light-colored clothing to help keep the mosquitoes away.
- Exposed skin is an open invitation to a mosquito, so cover your arms and legs by wearing long sleeves and long pants.
- Treat your clothing with a permethrin spray like Sawyers Permethrin Pump. It’s super easy to apply. Just spray outdoors and let them air dry for 4 hours before wearing. As a bonus, this spray will also help repel ticks.
- Even better, you can purchase clothes that are pre-treated with permethrin. REI Co-op has a great selection of mosquito-repelling clothes that use odorless, permethrin-based technology.
Other Ways to Make Yourself Unattractive to Mosquitoes
If you want to do all you can do to repel mosquitoes on your next camping trip, here are some extra things you can consider:
- Wear Mosquito Repellent Bracelets. These are widely available and come in large packs. For maximum effect, consider wearing one on each wrist and ankle.
- Keep moving. Mosquitoes tend to bite when the person is standing or sitting still, so keep moving as much as possible.
- Wear a mosquito net hat. Your ear lobes, neck and throat area are vulnerable to mosquitoes, but a mosquito net hat can evade them.
Mosquito Netting Can Save the Night
Mosquitoes are nocturnal and most active at night. Sleeping humans are particularly vulnerable to mosquitoes, especially if their skin is exposed. So when camping, using mosquito netting can provide excellent overall protection from mosquitoes.
If your tent comes with in-built mosquito netting, make sure that you keep it zippered up, even when you are not in your tent. There is nothing worse than snuggling into bed to the sound of a mosquito buzzing and anticipating bug bites in the night.
You’re extremely vulnerable sleeping in a hammock, but you can protect yourself well with some drape netting.
Setting up and using a screen room for your campsite’s communal area can protect everyone and help them enjoy the experience more. This screen house from Amazon.com is compact and pops up when you set it up. Screen rooms provide plenty of ventilation while keeping the pesky mosquitoes and flies away.
Myths about Repelling Mosquitoes at Your Campsite?
There are many myths (and truths) and repelling mosquitoes at campsites, and it can be tricky deciding which ones are true and which ones aren’t. It’s important that you know which ones won’t work when deciding how to keep mosquitoes away when camping!
We’ve busted a few myths on your behalf:
- Myth: Garlic repels mosquitoes. The smell of garlic is thought to deter mosquitoes, but there has never been any conclusive evidence proving garlic’s effectiveness at repelling mosquitoes.
- Myth: Lights attract mosquitoes. This myth probably originated from people seeing tiny insects swarming around a light. Mosquitoes are actually nocturnal and shy away from light.
- Myth: Campfire Smoke repels mosquitoes. There has never been any conclusive study proving that campfire repels mosquitoes. While fast-moving smoke might physically move them away from the campfire, your campfire won’t keep them away.
- Myth: Drinking alcohol attracts mosquitoes. Some folks believe that drinking alcohol causes a chemical reaction in the blood that attracts mosquitoes. According to the National Library of Medicine, there has been no evidence to prove or disprove this, so enjoy your camp beer!
- Myth: Dryer Sheets repel mosquitoes. Most dryer sheets are scented, and, as many people know, scented laundry detergents (including fabric softeners) attract mosquitoes!
- Myth: Coffee Grounds Repel Mosquitoes. Well maybe if you stay at your campsite for a week or two. Coffee grounds inhibit mosquito larvae from hatching if spread around the damp areas eggs have been laid. But that doesn’t do you much good tonight.
- Myth: Ultrasonic devices repel mosquitoes. If you’ve invested in an ultrasonic mosquito-repelling device, kick yourself now! Sadly aren’t effective.
- Myth: B Vitamins mask the blood’s taste receptors. You don’t have to overdose on Vitamin B while camping, as it hasn’t been proven to hide what makes blood so tasty for mosquitoes!
- Myth: There are no mosquitoes in the desert. Crazy as it might sound, mosquito eggs can lay dormant for a very long time in dry creek beds. Then when it rains, the eggs hatch ready to attack your desert campsite.
Final Thoughts on Repelling Mosquitoes When Camping
As you can see, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself from mosquito bites when camping outdoors. When determining how to keep mosquitoes away while camping, the most important thing is to use a repellent. You can also wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt and avoid going outside during the peak mosquito hours (between dusk and dawn). If you’re camping in an area with lots of mosquitoes, make sure to use a mosquito net when sleeping.