How to avoid midges, wasps and other insects while camping
- Why go camping?
- Camping statistics
- How to plan a camping trip
- Equipment and gear: what to take camping
- How to choose a campsite
- Camping etiquette and campsite rules
- Choosing a pitch and setting up camp
- Breaking camp
- How to keep warm when camping
- How to avoid midges, wasps and other insects while camping
- Beware carbon monoxide poisoning
- Camping with campfires
It is easy to be put off by the thought of annoying insects invading your camping space and causing irritating bites and stings. Ultimately though, insects are part of camping and outdoor life and there is no way to avoid them completely.
However, there is a huge amount you can do to minimise their impact - both in terms of your behaviour and products that will help.
Below you will find tips on where to camp, equipment you can use to avoid insects, clothing which will prevent insect bites and stings, and natural and chemical insect repellents. We've also put together advice for dealing with the specific insects and bugs that you may come across during your camping trip.
- General advice on how to avoid insects and bugs
- How to keep wasps away
- How to keep mosquitoes away
- How to keep midges away
- How to avoid ticks
- How to keep ants away
- How to avoid slugs
- Best insect repellents
General advice on how to avoid insects and bugs
Avoid camping in wet or damp areas
Some areas are better than others for avoiding insects and bugs. Wet and damp low-lying areas are often havens for all sorts of insects. It is especially advisable to not camp near stagnant water or wet grassy areas, and to always try to camp a little uphill to make sure your campsite is well drained.
Despite waterside pitches making for very picturesque spots, it's also a good idea to set up camp a reasonable distance from a river bank or lake shore.
Wear suitable clothing to avoid stings and bites
One of the most effective means of stopping biting insects getting to your skin is to wear long-sleeved shirts and long trousers. Even more so if you treat your clothing with insect repellent, especially around the openings at your neck, ankles and wrists.
You can actually buy clothing that has already been treated, but there are special sprays or soaking treatments available for your own gear. Using the same repellent you use on your skin will work fine in most cases.
Keep insects out of your tent
It is important to keep bugs and insects out of your tent completely. Rule number one is to keep the inner doors shut at all times. This means shutting the door immediately behind you every time you go in or out of the tent, even if you just pop in to grab something.
No matter how much hassle this seems, it will be worth it! Far worse to have to spend the night with a mosquito in your tent or waking up to find a millipede crawling over your face!
If your tent does not have an inner mesh compartment, mosquito nets can be used inside your tent, over your bed or to protect your face. Some nets come treated with chemical repellents for extra protection. There are also free-standing net tents which can be handy for protecting babies and children from bugs while providing a place for them to play outside.
Keep food sealed and dispose of rubbish properly
Food attracts all kinds of unwanted guests, so keep all your supplies sealed and covered. Use containers, zip lock bags, cool boxes and anything else that will ensure your food is sealed from insects. It might be worth keeping some food away from your tent altogether, such as in the boot of your car.
Use a rubbish container that has a lid (rather than just an open plastic bag or container) and dispose of your rubbish in the enclosed bins provided by your campsite every night before going to bed.
Preventing insect bites using chemical insect repellents
One of the most common ways of preventing insect bites is through the use of repellents applied to the skin. When it comes to chemical insect repellents, the most effective and widespread active ingredient used these days is DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide).
DEET is a very strong and hazardous chemical that can cause health problems as a result of long-term exposure, but it is highly effective against insects, particularly mosquitoes. Using insect repellents containing DEET is considered safe as long as you make sure you follow the directions on the insect repellent, don't put too much on and when it is no longer required, wash it off with water and soap.
Different insect repellents come with different DEET concentrations, usually as a percentage, so if you are particularly worried about the effects you may want to choose one with a lower concentration. It is a balancing act - higher concentrations are more effective when it comes to repelling insects, last longer on your skin and therefore need to be applied less frequently. In the UK repellents containing around 20% DEET should be adequate.
Preventing insect bites using natural repellents
If you don't want to use a chemical repellent, you can try one of the many natural methods that are available, such as applying lavender oil or citronella oil to the skin. There are lots of natural insect repellents on the market and you can also make your own at home using a variety of ingredients that aren't difficult to get hold of. Avon Skin So Soft dry oil with citronella is legendary among campers and many people swear by it. Alfresco products are also popular.
If you don't want to apply anything directly to your skin (or want to team up skin repellent with other means of keeping insects at bay) there are wristbands and ankle-bands that contain natural repellents and chemical repellents.
Have a campfire and burn coils or candles
Smoke is a natural insect repellent and you can burn sage or citronella leaves for extra help keeping insects away.
There are lots of coils, candles and oils on the market and you can find both chemical and natural versions. Mosquito coils and citronella candles can be very effective if the wind isn't too strong.
Avoid wearing fragrances
When you are camping it is a good idea not to wear any perfume, fragranced deodorants, body lotions or other skin products that have a discernible fragrance. This is because perfumes can both attract insects and make insect repellents less effective.
Using lights while camping
Bugs get a buzz about bright lights so if you are using lanterns or other bright lights, try to keep them on the perimeter of your pitch. That way, they'll shed enough light without encouraging insects to explore your camping spot.
Placing a light a little way from your tent is a good way to attract insects out of your tent before you go to sleep if you have forgotten to shut the door.
Dealing with specific insects and creepy crawlies
How to keep wasps away
Wasps are highly efficient at detecting food from far away, especially sugary foods, so make sure you only bring food out when you are ready to start preparing or eating it. Otherwise, keep it in sealed containers and dispose of rubbish quickly.
Wasps love sugary substances but you can use this to your advantage if they start to become a problem by creating a wasp trap.
Cut a plastic bottle in half and put a sugary liquid (such as a fizzy drink or a dollop of jam and water) in the bottom half. Next place the top half of the bottle upside down inside the bottom half and tape it in place (so you have a funnel for the wasps to fall down). (Put the trap away from your camp or you'll just end up attracting them to you!)
Wasps will be attracted to the sweet substance but won't be able to escape the bottle once they climb inside and will eventually fall down and drown in the liquid.
Another more ethical method for deterring wasps is to make a fake wasp nest by stuffing a brown paper bag full of paper and then tying a string round it and hanging it up at your campsite. Wasps can mistake the bag for a rival wasp nest and steer clear of your camp.
How to keep mosquitoes away
Mosquitoes are one of the most aggravating insects you can encounter during a camping trip due to their painful and itchy bites and the horrible whining noise that can be heard whenever they come near your ear.
They are attracted by body heat, the carbon dioxide we breathe out and chemicals like lactic acid in our sweat. They're also most active at dusk and dawn, so you need to be more vigilant at these times to avoid getting bitten.
As with other insects, mosquitoes lay their eggs in stagnant water, so you should avoid setting up camp near these types of areas.
In order to keep mosquitoes at bay, wear long sleeved tops and trousers, especially at dusk and dawn. Use insect repellents and mosquito nets if your tent doesn't have one built in. Burning mosquito and citronella coils or candles can help keep them away in the evenings, and DEET is known to be a very effective deterrent.
If you do get bitten by a mosquito, try not to scratch the bite which will make the itching worse and might lead to infection. There are lots of creams on the market and many natural remedies that can help with the itching.
How to keep midges away
Midges are tiny - just 1mm long and 2-3mm across - but anyone who has ever been camping in Scotland in the summer will know what a pain midges can be. One company even produces a midge forecast!
For Scotland at least, generally you'll have an easier time on the east coast. Swarms of Scottish midges are a particular problem in the Highlands and Western Scotland during warmer months, where damp and humid conditions provide perfect breeding grounds. Midge season gets going in May and peaks in August, whereas cooler months are much less of an issue and therefore perhaps the best time of year to visit midge prone areas.
It's not just a Scottish problem though - midges can be found all over the UK. Believe it or not, there are nearly 40 midge species in Scotland, though only a handful that bite humans:
- In the Highlands, almost all bites (perhaps 90%) are from Culicoides Impunctatus - the Highland Midge or Scottish Biting Midge.
- Another biter is the Culicoides Halophilus midge (Coastal Midge) which can be found in salt marshes on the Scottish coast.
- Culicoides Nubeculosus midges (Farm Midge) occasionally bite humans, but are generally more interested in farm animals.
- Culicoides Obsoletus midges (Garden Midge) are more common in town and around the lowlands. Their bites are much less painful, but they are still persistent!
Knowing how to keep these girls (and it's only the females that are the issue - male midges feed on flowers) away can make a big difference to your camping trip.
As it happens, knowing how to avoid mosquitoes will put you in good stead for avoiding midges too. Like mosquitoes, they are attracted to carbon dioxide (detecting it in your breath from a distance of 200 metres!), sweat and certain scents our bodies give off - and they are also most prevalent at dusk and dawn.
They like damp areas such as boggy bits of ground as well as lake and river edges, and they frequent areas under trees or with dense foliage, so stay away from these areas when choosing where to pitch camp.
So what keeps midges away? How can you stop them biting you?
Unfortunately, some people just seem to attract bites more than others. If you're particularly badly affected it might be worth avoiding hotspots altogether, or certainly wearing a midge hood on warm evenings after rain! Strangely they also tend to prefer darker clothing to light, so covering up in whites makes a big difference.
Fortunately midges don't do well with wind speeds greater than that of a breeze (6 mph or so), so picking a camping spot that is exposed to wind will help keep midges away. If there is a slight breeze, it's also worth facing your tent into the wind, as midges will shelter behind your tent for protection and you won't open your tent into a faceful of them!
They also can't fly as fast as you can walk, so if you encounter a midge cloud, the best thing you go do is keep going.
Midge repellents have got more effective in recent years too, with Smidge (the same company who produce the forecast) perhaps the most popular way of keeping midges away. You'll see lots of "does Smidge work" type articles on Google - and reports are normally positive for UK biters. Avon Skin So Soft (available cheaply on Amazon) is popular too, even with the Royal Marines and SAS if claims are to be believed. The price compares very well to more traditional insect repellents - and it even smells nice!
Campfires, coils and candles such as those from Purple Turtle can help get rid of midges too, but they're not a replacement for repellents.
So to summarise, here are our top tips for how to avoid midge bites:
- Cover up exposed skin as far as possible with white and light coloured clothing
- Use Smidge or Lifesystems Natural repellents (products containing Icaridin or Citriodiol)
- Pitch camp in more exposed and breezy areas, facing your tent into the wind. Avoid any damp and boggy areas, or those with dense foliage
- Have a campfire if allowed
- Use the midge forecast to avoid midge season altogether if you are particularly badly affected by bites (or invest in a midge hood and try to avoid dusk in summer after rain!)
- Stay somewhere with a MidgeMagnet or similar device which gets rid of midges
If you are bitten, an anti-histamine cream is again your best bet - and like mosquito bites, scratching will only make it worse.
(Credit: Scottish Midge Forecast)
How to avoid ticks
The best way to prevent tick bites is by using insect-repellent containing Permethrin or DEET. Ticks live in long grass and tall or dense vegetation, so you need to be vigilant if camping or walking through these types of areas. Regular scans of your clothing and body will help make sure a tick hasn't managed to latch on to you, as will wearing long-sleeved shirts and long trousers.
Light coloured clothing makes it easier to spot and brush off ticks before they can attach to your skin.
If you are in an area where you suspect or know there to be ticks, block off the gap at your ankle by stuffing your trouser leg bottoms into your socks. A spot of duct tape creates the ultimate barrier!
If you are bitten by a tick, you need to remove it as soon as possible. Using some fine tipped tweezers you should grasp the tick head as close to the skin as possible and pull firmly upwards, without jerking or twisting. Do not squeeze the tick's body as this increases the chance of infection. Do not use petroleum jelly or attempt to burn the tick off. There are special tools that you can get for removing ticks if you're squeamish.
You need to keep an eye on the site of the tick bite for a month after removing the tick, checking for signs of increased redness or a rash. Ticks can carry a bacterial infection called Lyme disease and, although infection is rare, it is important it is treated quickly if it does occur.
How to keep ants away
Ants are attracted to food so, as with other insects, the best thing you can do to avoid ants when camping is to keep your food in sealed containers and to clean up quickly after cooking and eating, including any spillages.
It's unlikely that you'll have a serious problem with ants when camping in the UK, but it will help to set up your camping area away from overhanging vegetation, nearby bushes and hedges.
How to avoid slugs
Slugs are not usually an issue when camping, but very occasionally you might get an onslaught of them when wild camping or camping in a field.
If you are experiencing problems with slugs, consider setting up a beer trap. This is easy to make by simply pouring beer into a container such as a plastic cup or glass jar and partially burying it. The slugs will be attracted to the beer and will fall into the container when attempting to enter it and subsequently drown.
Best insect repellents
Insect repellents aren't necessarily a 'one size fits all' kind of product - sometimes different products work for different people. That said, once you've covered up as much as you can, here are some of the best repellents that we hear consistently good things about (effective on midges, mosquitoes, horse flies, sand flies and ticks):
- Smidge (contains Icaridin)
- Avon Skin So Soft (contains Citronellol)
- Lifesystems Natural (contains Citriodiol)
- Alfresco (pregnancy safe)
Notice that none of these products contain DEET, which although effective, isn't very skin or clothing friendly and would probably be overkill in the UK.
To get technical for a moment, DEET has been around since the 1940s whereas Icaridin and Citriodiol (the latter considered the less toxic of the two) are newer products which works in a similar way - by blocking the insect's olfactory receptors, preventing them from detecting odours.
If you are pregnant and concerned about using any repellents (no DEET, obviously), Alfresco is recommended by Pregnancy Magazine. However, adding extra garlic to your diet for a week or so before your trip does seem to work for some people!
Reapply your repellent regularly and, when the sun is shining, let your suncream sink in for 10 minutes beforehand. Avoid using perfume which can limit effectiveness too.
Bugs and insects can be very annoying on a camping trip, but with this advice, hopefully you'll have a great camping trip without any unwanted guests spoiling your fun. Remember to keep your tent zipped up at all times too!