Sharing your tent with bugs can be a nightmare. Especially at night, when you can’t see the pests in order to launch a counter strike. Mosquitoes, flies, and spiders all seem to want to find
a way inside, so will your tent keep them out?
Most tents are crafted to keep pests out, however, there are some things that you can do to jeopardize their bug-proof design. The good news is that there are also tools and practices you
can use to decrease the likelihood of your tent becoming a hotel for creepy crawlies.
Do Tents Keep Out Bugs?
When closed correctly, camping tents will keep bugs out. Most tents are made to act as a barrier between you and the elements. They are designed to seal out the outside and should not have holes or gaps that will allow bugs inside. The entrance to a tent is often a zippered panel and the most likely entry point for unwanted pests. Always make sure your tent is zipped completely to keep bugs out. However, everytime you open the entrance, there is a chance for bugs to get into your tent.
Many people enjoy camping during the warmer months, and unfortunately, this is when pest populations rise. Some creeping, crawling, buzzing, or swarming insects you may come into
contact with are:
Mosquitos and flies are perhaps the most unwelcome. Their buzzing and biting can turn an enjoyable camping trip into an awful experience. Not only are they annoying, but their bites leave painful and itchy bumps.
Some insects can also carry disease. It is a good idea to try and keep the bugs away from you and your family while
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Is There Such a Thing as a Bug Proof Tent?
Smaller tents with minimal entrance and exit flaps are perhaps the easiest tent in which to keep bugs out. Almost all tents have zippered flaps, but the smaller the opening the harder it will be
for bugs to enter as you slip in.
Some shelters are specifically designed to ward off insects, such as the REI Co-op Bug Hut Pro 2 Tent. This small shelter is constructed with mesh, nylon, sturdy aluminum poles, and treated
with an EPA-registered invisible insect repellent. The insect repellent gear lasts approximately six months in the elements or through 25 launderings.
The bug hut, and others such inset shelters, do not always come with a rain shield and are constructed entirely of netting aside from the floor. Therefore, be sure to bring a tarp to set up
over your tent to keep you dry. However, if you are camping with a group or family, a small tent may not be a possibility.
Tents with large zippered doors can be an entry point for insects, and little ones may have a hard time
remembering to always zip the door behind them.
No matter what size or type of tent you have, you want to make your entry and exit as quickly as possible. Here’s how to streamline getting in and out of the tent and prevent creepy crawlies.
- Place a tarp, rug, or dry cover outside of your tent as a space to leave your shoes and gear. Once you have arrived at your tent, take off your shoes and anything else you plan
on leaving outside prior to unzipping the door.
- Once you are ready, sit down on the tarp or rug. Unzip a small portion of the door, as little as necessary to fit inside, then scoot inside.
- Immediately re-zip the tent flap and check that no insects have followed you inside.
- If you are performing this during the night when it is dark, keep flashlights and lanterns off.
- Only unzip the tent flap as little as possible and as few times as possible, try not to make multiple trips in and out.
- Never leave the tent door unzipped.
How to Prevent Bugs at the Campsite
Your first line of defense is your tent. As mentioned, it should be quite bug proof with reinforced seams and sturdy paneling. To be sure, you should check your tent at home prior to using it on
Before you leave, fully set up your tent and inspect it for areas of weakness. Check for any holes, rips, tears, or faulty zippers. If you find a hole patch it and lubricate any zippers that catch
or snag. Once you have checked your tent over and reinforced any weak areas, you can use it for
When you arrive at your campsite, there are a few preventative measures you can take to reduce your chances of unwelcome guests.
Search for an area to pitch your tent that is not alluring to pests. Standing water is often a breeding ground for insects and should be avoided. Under trees is another area in which insects
live and congregate, making it an unpreferable campsite.
Finally, light poles can attract insects at night so don’t set up nearby.
If it is warm enough outside, consider finding an open spot that gets a breeze. A location that is exposed to the wind will help to sweep bugs away and prevent them from congregating around
The fewer bugs that you attract, the fewer that will end up in your tent. Eating in your tent may produce crumbs, this, in turn, may attract insects. Similarly, if you drink inside your tent and spill
it could lure in pests.
Open food left inside your tent is another irresistible enticement for bugs. Store food in Ziploc bags or airtight containers if you are going to keep it inside your tent.
You also want to make sure that the area surrounding your tent is not an attractant for insects.
Trash and the odor it gives off can be enticing for flies and other insects. Instead of leaving trash bags lying around your tent, you should take it to the trash receptacle, or burn it if it is allowed.
Likewise, dirty or food-stained cooking items, dishes, and utensils are ill-advised.
Be sure to thoroughly clean everything as soon as you are finished with your meal.
Bugs are attracted to light almost as much as they are to food. Lanterns and flashlights can draw them in when it is dark. Therefore, you should only turn on lights when your tent is
completely sealed and you are inside so they do not follow you through the entrance. This may attract insects to the outside walls of your tent, however.
As alluring as light is to bugs, they do not seem to like fire. The smoke from a campfire or tiki torch acts as a repellent, so it’s a good idea to keep the fire stoked. Citronella candles also work to repel insects, but the scent can attract other wild animals such as bears, so use with caution.
If you cannot seem to give up your lanterns, opt for those with a bug repellent insert cartridge.
Types of Bug Repellents
Certain smells, other than citronella, of course, can help to repel insects. Consider a natural alternative with herbs. Some campers may hang garlic and onions outside of their tent and around their campsite while others add sage to their campfire to make the smoke extra potent. Still, some may rub herbs or their essential oils on their skin. Scents known to repel bugs include thyme, eucalyptus, cedarwood, geranium, lemongrass, rosemary, tea tree, cajeput, lavender, basil, and clove. If you don’t feel like wearing these scents, try keeping a few potted plants around, especially mint.
One less pleasant smelling natural remedy is vinegar. Either white vinegar or apple cider vinegar can be applied to clothing or fabrics to deter pests. However, the scent is quite potent. It is not a good idea to apply vinegar directly to your skin as it may cause burns. You may dilute the vinegar with water and add a few drops of your preferred essential oils or tablespoons of dried herbs to make a natural bug spray.
The final non-synthetic bug repellent suggestion is ingesting foods and herbs that bugs hate. It is likely that you would have to eat a great deal in order for the smell to appear in your body odor, but some campers swear by eating onions or citrus or ingesting garlic capsules. The scent secreted through your pores will leave you smelling unattractive to pests, but also maybe other campers.
Commercial Bug Repellent Products
Bug sprays and creams can be found at almost any camping or department store. These traditional topical ointments usually contain DEET. A high concentration of DEET leads to a very effective bug repellent. However, DEET can be a significant irritant, has a strong odor, and is not safe for every age group, so use with caution.
DEET-free bug sprays and creams are available on the market, but they may not be as effective as those that contain DEET. If you are using a bug spray or cream, try to find one that is waterproof so it will last through sweat or a dip in the river. That being said, it is best to try and spray the bug repellent on your clothes, shoes, and hats instead of directly on your skin.
If you don’t want to spray any chemicals on your body or clothes, consider a bug-repelling bracelet or hair-tie. These bands can also be attached to a backpack, hiking pole, or anything nearby.
They are treated with chemicals that repel insects, the scent is radiated from the bracelet in order to create a shield around the wearer. The bracelets or hair-ties don’t provide a large shield, so you may need a few. Additionally, they may need to be treated again every so often to retain their potency.
Camping and outdoor companies are beginning to market bug-repelling diffusers, coils, and electronic repellents. Diffusers are essential a fan that spreads a bug-repelling pesticide. They most common pesticide in use is metofluthrin.
The usual battery operated fan blows the repellant around a specified area and lasts up to twelve hours.
Diffusers are touted to provide anywhere from 84% to 100% protection against mosquitos. You may want to spread a few around your campsite. Coils emit an insect repellent via smoke. The coils are treated with pyrethrum that in conjunction with the smoke keeps mosquitoes away.
Again, you might want to scatter a couple around in areas where people will be congregating.
Electronic bug repellents can be battery operated or need to be plugged in. Thermacells are a popular option; they emit a heat-activated repellent in order to create a bug deterrent shield that
can be a large as fifteen by fifteen feet with lantern thermal cells. They can be worn, carried, or placed nearby and last up to twelve hours.
Bug zappers come in battery models or plug-in models. They work to attract bugs and then eliminate them. Bug zappers can be used inside or outside of your tent, and some even double as a light source. The only downside is that some emit a loud noise when killing a bug.
Whether you want a natural alternative, a conventional cream or spray, or a commercial product, no one thing will likely be one hundred percent effective. You might want to use a few
different items in conjunction with one another in order to deter the most pests.
There are many ways to deter and repel bugs, but there are also things you can do to not attract them and prevent getting bit or stung in the first place.
Going fragrance-free can be one of the most useful choices when attempting to avoid insects. Just as there are scents that repel them, there are scents that attract them. Heavily scented body products, especially flowery ones, may lure in pests.
The following items should be fragrance-free to avoid bringing in bugs:
- Shampoo and Conditioner
- Haircare and styling products
- Perfumes, colognes, or body sprays (it is best to avoid these altogether)
Your clothing choices can also help you to avoid bites and stings. Long sleeves and pants protect your skin against insects, especially when bugs are most active during dawn and dusk.
If it is too hot to be wearing long layers, consider investing in insect repellent clothing. These clothing options are made with fabrics containing an embedded insect repellent. They will deter pests without the use of a spray or cream. Some bugs are attracted to certain colors of clothing. Blue or darker colors seem to attract mosquitoes more than other colors. Khaki clothing is often the optimal clothing color.
Hats with netting can be effective if you can’t stand bugs and flies hovering near your face. These hats have a net that drapes down from the brim and falls around your shoulders, creating a bug barrier. They may not be practical for use inside your tent, but they can certainly be used around your campsite.
Nets and screens are an effective solution for use outside and inside your tent. Some bug screens are made for sleeping and are hung up over your sleeping bag. These nets will prevent any insects that make it inside your tent from getting to you while you sleep.
Bug tents can be used around your tent or as separate areas around your campsite. Bug tents are screened-in areas that act as pests barriers. They can be small or quite large. These canopies or screen houses should be treated the same as when you enter or exit a tent in order to minimize bug infiltration.
Unusual Tips for Beating the Bugs
The aforementioned repellents and methods are pretty common. However, there are some unusual remedies some campers swear by to deter insects.
- Dryer sheets. Hanging a few unused dryer sheets inside and outside your tent may help to repel
mosquitoes. Place a few along the entrance of your tent to deter unwanted guests.
- Coffee grounds and stagnant water. You don’t always get to choose your campsite, so what do
you do if you show up to find stagnant water? Sprinkling coffee grounds in the water will
supposedly cause any mosquito larvae to rise to the top and suffocate them before they hatch,
preventing the flying nuisances before they take flight.
- A homemade mosquito trap. All you will need is a plastic bottle, some brown sugar, yeast, and
water. Cut the bottle in half and add the hot water, yeast, and brown sugar mix to the bottom
half. Take the top half and remove the lid, then place it upside down into the bottom half like a
funnel. Tape the top seam to seal it. Then place it in a gathering spot or an area with a great
deal of mosquito traffic. They will be attracted to the mix but won’t be able to fly out of the
funnel. The solution lasts about two weeks.
A Bug-Free Tent
Tents do provide a great barrier between you and insects, provided they are sealed, regularly inspected for holes, and proper entry and exit etiquette is followed. Still, no tent is one hundred percent bug-proof as you frequently break the barrier when you move in and out. Therefore, it can be beneficial to bring along a variety of insect repellants and take preventative measures