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Beat the Bugs: Tips and Tricks for Van Camping

How to Get Rid of Bugs While Van Camping

You’ve done your research and found the perfect remote spot to van camp for the night. But nothing disrupts wilderness bliss faster than insects that buzz around your head all night, skitter alarmingly into corners, and worse of all, bite. Mosquitos, flies, ants, and other insects are simply part of the bargain when it comes to mother nature.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to ensure that the bugs don’t ruin your fun. Plus, with most of these techniques, insects will be repelled but not killed so you can reach a peaceful harmony with your surroundings. Read on for our best tips to protect your body, van interior, pets, and campsite from unwanted guests of the flying and crawling variety.



Your first and final line of defense against bug bites is to use insect repellent products directly on your skin. While the longtime favorite for bug sprays in the U.S. is DEET, a somewhat newer ingredient called picaridin is actually effective for a longer period of time and protects against a wider variety of insects while avoiding some of the undesirable aspects of DEET like its strong scent and greasy finish. We recommend finding a good insect repellent spray using picaridin or lemon eucalyptus synthesized plant oil and spraying on exposed skin before spending time outside.


Luckily, bugs hate many of the scents that humans love. Diluted natural essential oils including rosemary, peppermint, and lavender can be used on the body or clothes to repel mosquitos. They’ll need to be reapplied much more often than synthetic insect repellents to stay effective, but with such nice scents, you might not mind refreshing them often. Essential oils can also come in handy inside your van. Either use a scent diffuser with fragrances that repel insects, or make a spray with water and essential oils to use on surfaces. If you’re fighting an ant infestation, you can create a barrier that ants won’t pass with peppermint essential oil. If you have pets, however, check that the oils you use won’t be toxic for animal companions.



To avoid dousing your whole body with insect repellent sprays, make use of your clothing and accessories. Mosquitos can still bite through tight clothing, so try to wear long, loose layers while outside. To take it to the next level, you can buy clothing infused with an insect-repelling compound called permethrin. Alternatively, you can buy a special permethrin spray to make your favorite clothing items unappealing to bugs. Depending on whether you spray clothes yourself or buy clothes with the repellent already included, the protecting power can last anywhere from 6 to 70 washes. However, you will have to wash the clothes separately from the rest of your wardrobe. Another option is mosquito repellent bracelets, which are infused with repellent substances. Pro: you can put on the bracelet and stop thinking about it for several days. Con: it may not have strong protection over areas that are far away from the bracelet like your legs and feet.


Many household pests like ants, flies, and cockroaches are attracted to crumbs, food, and debris. To keep them from infiltrating your space, make sure to dispose of trash, put away food, and wash dishes right away, as well as wipe down surfaces like van counters and campground picnic tables after use. Further, mosquitos can be attracted to many fragrances in your body care products. If you’re going to be in an area with lots of mosquitos, consider opting for unscented lotions and shampoos and swapping your regular perfume or cologne for a bug-repelling essential oil.



There’s nothing more annoying than hearing mosquitoes buzz around your head as you try to sleep. Keep your van a bug-free sanctuary by taking steps to prevent insects from getting inside in the first place. Keep van doors and windows closed whenever possible. If you want to let fresh air circulate, fit out your van with mesh insect screens. There are magnetic screens that can be customized to fit any opening, and some van companies even sell specific bug screens for vans. You can also create an enclosed bug-free room outside the van using an awning and netted material. At night, when many flying insects are attracted to light, keep the lights off as you enter and exit the van.


One of the best things about van life is that you can easily move your home base at any time. If you find yourself in a campground you don’t like, you can simply pick up and leave. You can also preemptively select spots where you are less likely to be bothered by bugs. Insects like mosquitoes love areas with standing water and dense forest undergrowth, so consider camping somewhere drier or next to running water instead. Of course, different states and regions will have different insect ecosystems, so feel free to research what you’ll be dealing with before you plan a trip. If you’re particularly adverse to specific types of insects, you might decide to visit a location during the bugs’ less-active season.



Making a campfire in nature is lots of fun, and it’s practical too. Besides allowing you to hang out outside well into the evening hours, campfires have a natural insect-repelling property. The smoke from the fire will send flying bugs hightailing it in the opposite direction. Even though we usually try to minimize the smoke in our campfires, you can toss a few green sticks onto the fire to smoke out the area. You can also burn herbs like garden sage or rosemary to supercharge the smoke.


Create a pest-free perimeter around your campground with small devices set up outside. Mosquito coils are a spiral-shaped type of incense made with pyrethrum powder or citronella that the flying bloodsuckers can’t stand. Citronella candles are also popular, though they are one of the less effective options because they have a limited range of protection. Other choices include lanterns that emit scents, smoke, or high-frequency (silent to human ears) sounds that mosquitos hate. These products are great for protecting a small area like a campsite, but most work best when there is very little wind.



Don’t forget to include dogs and cats in your anti-insect measures. While not technically insects, pests like fleas and ticks can cause discomfort and health problems for your companions. Preventative vaccinations, medications, topical creams, and special collars are just a few of the options for protecting your pals from fleas and ticks. Mosquitoes can also bite pets and even lead to heartworm in dogs. Important to note: never use repellents designed for humans on pets as many of these compounds are toxic to them. Luckily, there are sprays specifically formulated for animals that are available at most pet stores.

The best insect-repelling solution while van camping will always be a combination of several methods. Choose the tips from this list that make the most sense to you and enjoy all the best parts of the wilderness—sans pests. For tips on keeping your van squeaky clean this summer, check out our post.

Looking for a camper van to give you access to the most remote and beautiful campgrounds this summer? Visit Rec Van to browse our wide selection of adventure vans.