How to Deal with Mosquitoes Hiking and Camping

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A photo taken inside a backpacking tent to deal with mosquitoes. In the foreground is a backpack and a jacket as well as another tent. The campsite is surrounded by evergreen trees and a blue sky day
The view from inside the screen tent (tent with the rainfly off) is nearly as good as the view outside and it’s cooler than wearing a rainjacket!

It’s peak summer and peak hiking and camping season, which goes hand in hand with lots of mosquitoes, especially around lakes which make great camping locations. In our family we take mosquito protection seriously! We lived in Alaska for seven years and Jay spent several of those years doing archaeology field work in the epically buggy Gates of the Arctic National park in Northern Alaska. Both of us have also navigated tours in buggy environments so we know all about how to deal with mosquitoes while hiking and camping. This is a round up of our best advice!

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Avoid them in the first place

Sometimes it doesn’t work to deal with mosquitoes by avoiding them, but it’s worth talking about this because you often can! First of all, the time of year matters. Later in the summer when things have dried out, and especially after there’s been a frost in the high country you’ll see a lot less bugs. The location is also important, you’re not likely to encounter mosquitoes in the desert, for example! If you are in a buggy location, let’s say an alpine lake in July and early August, you can still change your location slightly to make a difference. If you can get up away from the lake, or on a rocky area and out of the boggy shore next to the lake, it makes a noticeable difference! You might still have bugs, but there will be less. Another thing to consider is if there is any wind anywhere near where you are. If so, set up your camp in the windy area, it will keep the bugs away.

Real talk about Bug Spray

When determining how to deal with mosquitoes, an obvious solution is to spray bug spray all over your body. Bug spray is a tough subject, and I’m sure there will be plenty of people who disagree with me here, but my philosophy is to use deet (yes, the evil chemical stuff). I just haven’t found a more natural alternative that works when the bugs are really bad. It needs to be at least 30%, which is what I carry. It is a harsh chemical so it’s important to wash it off (in the backcountry I use wetwipes). Also, I never put it on my face or hands (sometimes on the back of my hands if bugs are really bad, but not on palms). The truth about bug spray is that it isn’t fool proof and it also doesn’t stop bugs from swarming around you! I use the bug spray mostly around places that aren’t as well covered by other clothes or they tend to get through (back of shoulders, neck, ankles).

What to wear to deal with mosquitoes

I don’t wear my headnet that often, but when I do I am so happy to have carried it! This with a rainjacket is totally bug proof!

In my opinion, choosing what you wear carefully is the most important factor in how to deal with mosquitoes. In my experience this is more important than bug spray! Here’s what I wear to deal with mosquitoes:

  • A hat with a brim
  • A long sleeved shirt: I use this one, you can also get it treated with insecticide, which is more expensive but probably a good idea (I use this non-treated shirt because it’s the one I have). You can actually use any loose fitting button up shirt. I like white because it helps keep you cool (also doubles as sun protection). It does get dirty but I only wear it outside so who cares! It’s important for the shirt to not be too tight fitting, since unfortunately bugs can bite through tight fitting clothing! I usually wear a tight fitting tank top under it.
  • Long pants: These are my forever favorite (especially for plus sized women! Order one size up, they run small and go up to size 24). They are super light and roomy without being too balloony. Again, I recommend a light color (I have gray ones). A word about leggings: they are awesome for warmth and comfort, but terrible for bugs, which will bite you right through them. If you put your hiking pants or rain pants on over them, then you’ll be set.
  • Bring your rain gear, and put it on if bugs are bad! I know this sounds crazy, especially when it’s hot in the summer. Truthfully, I can hardly hike in rain gear when it’s cold and rainy, and definitely not in summer! However, rain gear can make a world of difference if you’re sitting still, especially if you’re camping and especially if you’re backpacking. If you’re sitting around, it’s not so bad to have an extra layer on and rain gear is absolutely the MOST effective way to prevent getting bitten. So, it’s a trade off! You’ll look ridiculous, but you’ll be happy!
  • Carry a headnet it your pack. It might look ridiculous and seem silly, but let me tell you, it is an absolute lifesaver if the bugs get really bad. On top of that, it weighs almost nothing, fits in the bottom of your pack and costs less than $10. If you have rain gear on and a hat and headnet, there is no way you’re going to get bitten.
  • If you’re camping with bad mosquitoes, use earplugs to cut back on the buzzing noise, which can drive you crazy at night!
  • Another tip for camping, bring camp shoes that protect against bugs (they can bite you through socks! yuck!). You can also put bug spray on your feet, which works pretty well too (but not as good as the crocs, which are my go to bug protection for feet in camp!).

Use your tent as a screen porch

The last tip I have is if you’re camping, use your tent as a screen porch! Just remove the rain fly (this makes it less hot) and you’ve got a pleasant way to relax outdoors without worrying about bug bites. Make sure that you keep all the zippers tightly shut when you go in and out! The view from inside the screen is nearly as good as the one outside, with way less bugs swarming and less bites to deal with!

A photo taken inside a backpacking tent to deal with mosquitoes. In the foreground is a backpack and a jacket as well as another tent. The campsite is surrounded by evergreen trees and a blue sky day. Text reads: how to deal with mosquitoes hiking and camping
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Jennie Flaming
Jennie Thwing Flaming, Chief Adventure Officer: Jennie's life has been a continual quest for adventure (of the non-adrenalin inducing kind) from birth till now. Professionally, she pursues adventures in teaching, counseling and working to obliterate institutional racism for students in our region's public schools and also works as a tour and hiking guide. Previous professional adventures include working in schools in Seattle and Alaska, leading tours and managing tour guides and presenting traveling science shows and lessons with Pacific Science Center. She believes in sharing her beloved Pacific Northwest home with visitors. She likes to be outdoors and spend time with the people she loves. Jennie is born and raised in Seattle and has also lived in Alaska and the Netherlands.