Bug proof your camp

By: Claire Wilson, Photography by: Carlisle Rogers

Be insect smart to ensure the little critters don't ruin your next trip away.

Bug proof your camp
Insects are attracted to light during the evening hours.

Nothing can spoil a sunset quite as efficiently as a mosquito, their buzzing and biting can ruin even the most peaceful location. Unfortunately for campers, mosquitoes aren't the only insect the Australian countryside has to offer; we also have midges, ticks, bees, wasps, blow flies, horse flies, leeches, spiders, scorpions, millipedes, centipedes, beetles, locusts and ants of all different shapes, colours and sizes.

Not only are most of these insects unpleasant to share a tent with, they can also give you a nasty bite, cause allergic reactions and some can spread serious diseases. However, they need not ruin your holiday, with a whole range of tricks and products available to keep them at bay.


Insects of all kinds are attracted to light in the evening. Red and yellow lights are not nearly so attractive to bugs, and it is easy to pop some of the kids' coloured cellophane into your camping kit.

Keeping a bright white or ultraviolet light running upwind of your camp site can help draw insects away and keeping the lights in your sleeping area off until you go to bed will help keep the area insect free for a good nights sleep.

Headlamps with a red LED are a good option for middle of the night bathroom runs.


The most efficient and obvious way of excluding bugs from your camping holiday is to erect a screen between you and them. Mosquitoes can detect the carbon dioxide which humans exhale, so screens are the best way of making sure they cannot reach you.

Most camper trailers come with the option of a walled-in annexe and if you like to enjoy the afternoon breeze in peace it is a good option. A large range of easily erected bug proof tents are also available from camp gear manufacturers. For roadside stops ARB offers a neat awning for the side of your car with an optional mosquito net.

It is important to note that not all meshes will keep every insect at bay, with tiny midges (also known as sandflies) able to penetrate many mosquito-proof screens.


You won't be spending your entire trip safe in your annexe so it is smart to wear clothes that cover most of your body. Long sleeves, full-length pants, closed-in shoes and a wide brimmed hat will keep you comfortable in all but the hottest weather, whilst also providing efficient sun, mosquito, midge and tick protection. It is a good idea to put on a second layer at sunset, when mosquitoes are most active, as they can actually bite you through just one.

Classic cork hats do a good job of keeping flies away from your face and hats utilising mesh in a similar way will protect it from mosquitoes.

Wear light colours such as beige or green, as mosquitoes are most attracted to dark colours like red and black.

Clothes impregnated with insect repellent can also be purchased, and there are a number of different brands available. They are generally expensive but could be a good option if you are the type of person whom mosquitoes just love.


A good insect repellent enables you to protect those areas your clothes don't cover. Spray on repellents such as Bushmans, Aeroguard, RID and OFF! are classic favourites and generally do an excellent job.

The active ingredient in most of these products is diethyl toluamide (DEET), a magic chemical which most insects absolutely loathe the smell of. However, it can act as a skin irritant and should not be used repeatedly over a long period of time. It should also only be used sparingly on children under 12. DEET can damage some fabrics and irreparably ruin waterproof coatings, so be careful when spraying it around your canvas.

There are also some natural repellents which do a reasonable job, such as Moov, which contains melaleuca oil, and Nature's Botanical, which contains Rosemary and Cedarwood oils.

A number of repellents are also available which are dispensed by burning or vaporising into the air around where you are sitting, and do not have to be applied directly onto the skin.

The ubiquitous mosquito coil is the obvious example, and is already included in most camping kits. The active ingredient in these coils is generally pyrethrum, although some also contain citronella oil, both of which are effective repellents. Smoke from the camp fire and most incense will also help to repel bugs.

Insecticide pads are a more modern example of the same idea and work by vaporising a repellent using heat, either from a butane canister or 12V power supply.

Coils and insecticide pads work best in enclosed spaces, and are great when used in your closed annexe, to prevent insects coming in when people enter or exit the door. They also work when used in open spaces, but are less effective.


Mosquitoes and midges aren't the only insects that can give you serious camping headaches.
Ants are attracted to food and water and can be guaranteed to find them if you leave them out. Ensure they are stored in tightly sealed containers and that you dispose of any leftovers in a sealed rubbish bin or far from your camp site.

To keep ants from reaching the food on a table you can sit each of the table's legs in a small bucket of water. This is effective so long as the ants do not form a bridge using their drowned companions.

There is no place spiders love more than shoes, clothes and bedding, so when not in use keep them things zipped somewhere safe, such as your sleeping area.


Here are some simple tips to help you choose an insect free camp site: Mosquitoes and midges breed in still water so beach sites should be far from mangroves or estuaries.

Near a river choose an area with steep banks, little vegetation and flowing water. Higher ground is normally drier. Ti-trees, paperbarks and ferns indicate you are in a swampy area.
Camping upwind of stock animals can help draw mozzies away.

When it is windy trees can dump all kinds of insects on your site, so camp a little distance away. Check for any nearby ant nests before setting up camp.


No matter how careful you are it is likely that someone in your party will get bitten during your time away. There are a whole range of products available at the chemist that offer relief from bites and stings, and natural products like diluted ti-tree oil, aloe vera gel and ice also do a good job at relieving swelling, redness and pain. Keep an antibacterial cream on hand to avoid bites becoming infected.

People who experience larger than usual swelling should get a mild antihistamine recommended by their doctor.

Source: Camper Trailer Australia #40

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