How to keep yourself and your tent as pest-free as possible.
Melissa Matthews 1 / 8
When it comes to summer travel, camping is the ultimate escape for city dwellers seeking reprieve from traffic and crowded tourist spots. Plus, there are few things more rewarding than going off the grid (not to mention saying goodbye to that that long list of unread emails) for an uncomplicated life in the woods. But along with all that fresh air and mountain zen comes pesky mosquitoes. You could scour the local sporting goods store for bug zappers or even the internet for wacky natural repllents (like burning sage), but we've turned to the experts to find out what really works. Marco Johnson, field staffing director at the National Outdoor Leadership School, and Daniel Grillo, Program Coordinator at REI Outdoor School, weigh in on how you can keep mosquitos at bay during your next camping trip.
Johnson recommends opting for an area that gets good wind as the breeze will help blow bugs away. Steering clear of areas near lakes, rivers, and creeks is always a good idea, too. But sometimes, you just can't avoid water (like when it rains). So, Grillo suggests observing how much sun versus shade your camp site receives, which is a good indicator of how damp your site will stay after a storm since a sunny spot will obviously dry out more quickly.
According to Grillo, your best choice is a double wall tent, which is also the most common outdoor shelter available. Comprised of an inner mesh body for insect protection and a separate nylon rain fly for privacy and keeping out water, two layer tents are also extremely well ventilated for warmer climates (which also tend to draw mosquitos) "Although there are dedicated mosquito shelters, simply setting up a tent without a rain fly provides similar protection without the need to invest in additional equipment," he says, adding that many don't realize the fly isn't necessary for ventilation and protection. Just be sure to always zip it closed immediately when you enter and exit.
Of course, the doesn't mean pests won't follow you in, and Grillo advises treating your tent with a repellent like Sawyer Permethrin Spray, which can be used on clothing, tents, and mosquito nets. "These are best sprayed on tent bodies rather than rain flys or tarps, which get more exposure to sun and rain," Grillo instructs.
Johnson recommends picking a bug spray with DEET, a chemical ingredient used by manufacturers for years. When choosing a formula, there is no need to buy a solution that is made up of more than than 50 percent DEET. "We tend to think more is better, and that’s not necessarily the case," says Johnson. "The percent is not how well it will actually keep bugs away from you but rather how long it will last. It’s a lot like the SPF factor on sunscreen," he states. Instead of slathering it on once for the whole day, the best strategy is to reapplay as prescribed on the bottle.
If you have sensitive skin, Grillo recommends Picaridin as an alternative to DEET. When choosing the right application method, i.e., lotions, sprays, wipes, Grillo says it all depends on preference. For example, sprays are convenient but require more frequent application. Wipes offer a more targeted application but need to be disposed of properly. Lotions are long-lasting but are a pain to apply when sweaty and make hikers feel warmer by clogging pores.
It's tempting to work on your summery bronze hue and stay cool while you're at it, but Johnson urges campers to keep covered. "Clothing is an excellent way to protect yourself from bugs of any sort, but especially mosquitoes," he says. Choose lightweight shirts with long sleeves, wind pants, and maybe even a mosquito head net—not exactly stylish, but it offers maximium protection against pests.
Along with covering up and choosing the right clothing, you can also make apparel more mosquito-resistant with this simple camper's trick. "Campfires are also great at repelling insects, and some hikers swear by 'smoking' their clothes as a form of natural repellant," claims Grillo. You can do this by line drying clothes downwind of the fire. He advises choosing lighter-colored clothing, as well, as many hikers agree that darker colors attract mosquitoes.
"Just as with preventing bear and rodent visits, minimizing odors is helpful for preventing biting insects," says Grillo. Unfortunately, BO from that 4-hour hike can be just as alluring to mosquitoes as strongly-scented toiletries used to mask said odors. The camping expert believes the best way to minimize appeal after a particularly active and smelly day is to use lightly scented deodorant and rinse off with water before changing into a fresh set of clothes.
In the end, it doesn't matter how many insect repellent lanters you set out, there's no way to completely avoid mosquitos—they're just a part of the great outdoors. "You can choose to be bothered, and you can choose to be less bothered," says Johnson. "Your attitude goes a long way to dictating what your experience is like."