How to keep the bugs off when camping, hiking, or canoeing

November 15, 2018

Being out doors is fun, but being lunch to biting insects isn’t. Here we look at some ways to keep the bugs off…


We wait all through the Winter, all through the wet Spring, in anticipation of the sunny days of Summer (well, we hope at least).

We forget about all those little bugs that are also waiting for Summer, as that’s when the human feast begins!

Midges, mosquitoes, and their many friends, are a guaranteed nuisance.  Here’s some items you may want in your kit bag to repel these insects.

Insect Repellent Sprays & Creams

The spray on Expedition strength insect repellent

Reaching for the insect repellent is an obvious starting point.  A range of insect repellents are available in the high street and supermarket.  Many are marked as safe for kids, combined with sun cream or after sun, and can also be waterproof.

There are also a range of products for the outdoor enthusiast, such as the Expedition range from Lifesystems.

These contain DEET, which in some rare cases can cause skin irritation (note that it can be washed off with soap and water).  The DEET repels insects.  They also contain lime oil that deters any bites from insects that do land.

Although the Lifesystems range come in a spray form, you actually spray a drop into your hand and rub it on, rather than spray it on like an aerosol.

They claim to repel:

  • Mosquitoes
  • Horseflies
  • SandfliesMidges
  • Gnats
  • Ticks
  • Fleas

I’ve bought and tried the Lifesystems Expedition spray and found it was effective….but it’s hard to know for sure if it’s the spray or other things helping keep the bugs off.

I’ve used this spray for camping, hiking and canoeing.

Insect Repellent for Babies

There are of course milder and DEET-free solutions for kids, such as the Citronella based ‘patch’ from Green Baby, which is suitable even for babies as the patch can be stuck to clothing.

Is DEET bad?

Mass spraying of DEET into the landscape is very bad the environment’s ecosystem.  However, applying to your skin is going to have minimal impact to the environment around you.

For some people they can experience a skin reaction to DEET based products, and so many parents are cautions of its use.  As with all chemical substances, abuse and overuse can lead to to more serious conditions.


Insect Coils and Candles

A lot of biting insects do not like flying through smoke particles.  A very effective way of keeping some of the midges away when camping is simply to light a fire and stay within the smokey area (though not right in the smoke for obvious reasons).

If you are cooking with a tarp shelter by the fire, that may retain some of the smoke and create a bug free zone.

Mosquito Coils

The Mosquito Coils  rely on smoke, but also contain insecticide.  They don’t burn; just smoulder.

Unfortunately success can be limited as there is not much smoke, and if windy, it will be blown well clear of the insects.  They are though a light alternative if you can’t have a fire and don’t mind breathing smokey insecticides.

Citronella Candles

As with Mosquito Coils, Citronella Candles don’t produce much smoke.  The big difference though is that Citronella isn’t an insecticide but an essential oil from citrus plants.

Candles can also be used for decorative lighting (see Fun Lighting – Enjoying Camping After Dark for ideas on lighting).  They therefore can have some functional purpose, and a slight deterrent to some biting insects.

However, there’s some debate that citronella is actually that effective in deterring insects.


Insect Repellent Clothing

A lot of outdoor clothing today will come treated with insect repellent.  This usually only lasts for a few wash cycles.

Lifesystems have a spray-on insect repellent for fabrics called EX4 Antimosquito for Fabrics.  It is usable on clothes, tents, mosquito nets, and sleeping bags.

Another alternative to wearing clothes with insect repellent are impregnated wrist bands, such as the Design Go Bug Guard.   These come in packs of four and claim to provide you 100 hours of protection per band, creating a ‘protective halo’.   I don’t know about that last bit, but if you’re wearing short sleeves it appears to be a sensible solution that doesn’t rely on DEET creams.

Mosquito Nets

Finally, don’t forget the old fashion way: bug nets.

You may feel daft, but after one day of full-on midges, you won’t care.  (Have a look at this video of Ray Mears trying to make bannock if you don’t believe it).

Many tents come with bug screens on the doors and windows.  If your tent does have bug screens then use them.  Yes, they can be an extra hassle of zipping up, but it will be worth it.

If you are sleeping out under the stars though, or your tent doesn’t have any insect protection, you can purchase a range of mosquito nets.


Bug Zappers

Zappers are a technological solution to the problem.  However, they are not specifically aimed at biting insects, and will zap ‘beneficial’ insects too.

Whilst you can find some battery powered or solar powered models, they do tend to run the batteries down, so may be an option for an Electric Hook Up if you hate bugs.


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Gav Grayston Contributor

Father to 3 kids, who loves getting out and about (hiking, running, camping, cycling, canoeing...) Co-founded Get Out With The Kids to help other parents enjoy the outdoors with their family.

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