There's nothing quite like the great outdoors, and I love every minute that my family and I spend in the wild. But that's just it. It's wild, and with the wilderness comes the plague of bugs that seek to wreak havoc on your vacation and make your life miserable.
I'm all for keeping the bugs at bay, but when you start researching natural remedies, they become a little impractical. Spraying your entire campsite with vinegar is one that gets thrown around a lot, because the bugs hate the smell. Well so do most people. And the acetic acid in white vinegar can also damage and stain your tent. Not cool.
So, here's what you should do instead.
Start a fire (or several)
The first thing you should always do once you make camp is start a fire. Fire is life in the wild, and you will need it to purify collected water, stay warm as the temperature drops, and even provide light and a means to cook your food. But fire is a great bug repellant.
Moths and other nasties are attracted to the light, so you're ridding your camp of these, and the smoke actually provides a barrier that mosquitoes don't like. If I haven't prepared any bug repellants at all, I'll keep a handful of green leaves nearby and toss these onto the fire throughout the night. The smokier it is, the better it serves to keep the bugs away.
If you're somewhere particularly bad, I'd actually recommend creating two or three additional fires. Think of these like backup little smoke generators, that help to create a ring effect so you're effectively building a larger cloud of smoke.
Smoke out the bugs
But more than just smoke, there are few particular smells that the bugs just cannot stand. Citronella oil is one, and if you're headed to a particularly bad campsite, having a couple of citronella lanterns burning will not only provide a little light, but will keep the bugs at bay.
Personally, I like mosquito coils, they're easy to set burning on a can or a bottle (or the stand that comes with the pack), and strategically placed around camp will create a little respite. This is a far easier solution than maintaining three or four separate fires, and is what I normally do, they're easy to pack in my kit, rather light, and work great.
If you're looking for a natural solution, sage works a treat. Of course, if you're taking it from the wild don't devastate an entire plant to give yourself a couple of hours bug-free, a few leaves from few separate and healthy plants will work great. Just add the leaves to your fire.
On our last trip I actually raided my wife's garden for a couple of bunches of lavender, it produced a similar effect and also quite a pleasant smell that lingered on our clothes.
Cover yourself with DEET
There's a reason DEET is the most popular choice for an insect repellant, is that it works so damn well. Of course, the higher percentage of DEET in a product the better, and you can buy these in both spray and cream form, depending on your personal preference.
I like a spray as I can also give my tent, backpack and jacket a once over, which pretty much eliminates any pesky mosquitoes coming near me until it wears off.
DEET is the single most effective way to fight off the bugs, especially if you're still hiking or making your way to camp. Because you don't want to be covered on bug bites in just the first hour or so of your adventure into the wild. Spray yourself, and be protected.
Wear coverall clothing
Of course, the less skin you have exposed, the better. It's a simple fact, and one many people fail to implement effectively when they're in the wild. Just because it's a little warm is no excuse to wear short shorts or a singlet. The bugs will feast on you.
Wear pants that cover down to your feet effectively, and even consider gaiters to stop leeches and mosquitoes from getting into your ankles and your shoes. Loose, long-sleeved shirts will protect your waist and arms, and while eager mosquitoes may bite through it, it's a good layer to spray with insect repellant so you're not putting this straight on your skin.
Oh, and don't forget a good floppy hat, and for best results take a deep breath (so you're not breathing it in) and give everything a good spray with your insect repellant. You'll need to reapply this every couple of hours, but coverall clothing doused in insect repellant is probably your best bet to keep the bugs away until you set up camp for the night.
Close off your tent
It's also important that your tent has the ability to fully close, especially if you're in an area where there's high concentrations of bugs and other nasties. Check that there are no breaks or tears in the seams, and always keep it closed during the day. If it's hot, you can always open the sides to let the air flow in, but keep the insect screens shut.
I also like to spray the entrance of my tent with a little insect repellant too, so they don't gather on the fly screen and find their way in if you're coming and going during the night. There's nothing worse than trying to sleep with a mosquito buzzing in your ear.
Keeping the bugs at bay when you're camping requires a little preparation, a little forward thinking, and that you're a little proactive in taking the right steps to shield your camp and yourself from all the little nasties that want to feast on you when you're in the wild. Do it right, and you'll start enjoying your time in the outdoors again.