How to Effectively Keep Bugs Out of Your Tent

What's worse than going to bed at night in your tent just to realize that you're spending the night with a dozen bugs? Here's how to keep them out so you can sleep alone.

If we’re being honest, it’s one of the primary reasons why some people will REFUSE to camp… bugs. Bugs are appropriately named as… they bug people. And while we’re not going to sit here and say we relish the idea of dealing with bugs on camping trips (as virtually no one does), we understand that they can be combated.

Dedicated campers, hikers, backpackers, you name it, don’t allow bugs to deter their passion for what they love to do. Much like dedicated RVers don’t allow birds that love to poop on their RVs to deter them. Then again, that also doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways for the annoyance of bugs to be minimized. That’s what we want to focus on for this post.

Specifically, as the title indicates, we’re going to focus on how to keep bugs out of tents. We figured the best way to do so would be to outline a guide for everyone, and below is a quick synopsis if you don’t want to stick around for the specifics (though we recommend doing so):

  1. Inspect your tent beforehand for issues
  2. Choose the right campsite and location
  3. Don’t eat food inside your tent or store it directly outside of it
  4. Keep your tent shut whenever possible
  5. Be wary of lights
  6. Keep the tent as cool as possible
  7. Use bug sprays and foggers

But now it’s time to cut into the beef, so to speak, by heavily detailing the importance of each of the above steps and all the various things to keep in mind with each of them.

7 ways of keeping bugs out of your tent

black spider sitting on yellow flower
Image credits: Krzysztof Niewolny

1. Inspect your tent beforehand for issues

The easiest way for bugs and critters to find their way inside of your tent is if there are easy access points for them to enter in. So, before you even leave for your trip, inspect your tent beforehand. Ensure that all the zippers are closing all the way shut, and check for tears and damage.

Specifically, check all the mesh portions as those are going to be most prone to wear and tear. If you find any noticeable holes, be sure to patch them before you take off. Of course, if your tent is in bad enough shape, you may want to consider just replacing it all together.

2. Choose the right campsite and location

It could be argued that this is the most critical step when attempting to figure out how to keep bugs out of tents. After all, while it’s going to be close to impossible to select a location to pitch your tent where there are no bugs at all, you can still choose a location that’s less prone to bug activity.

Wait a second, how in the world can you do that? Thankfully, nature can be somewhat predictable (though there certainly are instances of unpredictability). There are a few important location pointers that you can employ to keep bug activity as little as possible.

  • Avoid areas near standing water. If you notice puddles and standing water, pitch your tent away from that area. Bugs such as mosquitoes can thrive near moisture, so this can be an immediate recipe for disaster. Same goes for pitching a tent near a river or creek as though it might be tempting, it’s an invitation for nearby critters.
  • Avoid pitching a tent underneath trees. While trees can provide nice, shaded pitch locations, they can also be a problem with bugs. Many bugs will make their home in trees, trunks, and leaves, so there’s then a better likelihood of getting more bugs to investigate your tent.
  • Choose a spot away from dense vegetation. Another hang-out spot for bugs is near plants, so choosing a location away from dense vegetation is going to yield better results when attempting to avoid critters.
  • Stay away from light poles. When the sun goes down and darkness emerges, a lot of bugs will be directed to whatever light sources they can find. It’s no surprise to see light poles be infested with bugs (such as moths) late at night at campgrounds.
  • Choose a windier area if possible. If your tent can handle windier conditions, this can make it more challenging for bugs to fly near your tent.

3. Don’t eat food inside your tent or store it directly outside of it

Yeah, this can be a tough one but its likely necessary when looking at how to keep bugs out of tents. It’s late at night and you want to chill inside your tent…but then the taste of sugar and salt can’t escape your world. A late-night candy bar or bag of chips sounds amazing to you but eating such snacks wouldn’t be a good idea INSIDE of your tent.

Eating outside of your tent (a good distance away) will be your best option. Any crumbs left behind inside of your tent will be a direct invitation for bugs to stop by. And, in general, it’s best to avoid storing any food inside of your tent. If you can’t, make sure everything’s sealed and shut properly.

The same goes for food directly outside of your tent as, if it has to be there, make sure it’s all sealed. Oh, and also avoid pitching a tent near trash bins. That’s an easy one as, chances are, most campers already do that.

4. Keep your tent shut whenever possible

“Thanks, Captain Obvious, for telling me that keeping my tent shut is the answer to how to keep bugs out of tents.” That sound about right? Look, as obvious as this is, it doesn’t make it any less important to note. Now, you kind of need to open your tent to get in and out.

So, no matter what, there are always going to be opportunities for bugs to get inside. However, you can still minimize those opportunities by keeping in mind the following:

  • Keep the times when you need to enter and leave your tent to a minimum. Only go inside when you need to, and only go outside when you need to.
  • If you’re exiting the tent and coming right back (if you’re going to the bathroom, grabbing something, just getting a bite to eat real fast, etc.), be sure to still close the door opening properly. Even if you’re only going to be gone for a minute or two, close the tent door right away after exiting. It may seem tedious, but if you were to leave it open for a literal minute, an abundance of bugs could enter in. It doesn’t take long.

5. Be wary of lights

We already mentioned light poles, but there’s something else to talk about with lighting. Some bugs are attracted to light so it’s going to be best to keep all lights shut off (at night) until you’re inside your tent and it’s sealed shut.

There’s no need to sit in complete darkness while inside your tent but remember that it doesn’t take long for bugs to fly inside when you open and close the door. So, keeping the lights off during that process will help.

6. Keep your tent as cool as possible

A lot of bugs will prefer warmer weather, but many campers know how hard it can be to keep a tent cool in certain conditions. There are ways to pull it off, however, and instead of discussing it here, we’ve already published a dedicated post on the topic.

Better yet, the post we published details how you can cool your tent WITHOUT electricity. Campers know that sometimes the luxury of electricity isn’t afforded to them, after all.

7. Use bug sprays and foggers

The last step on this journey is to talk about bug sprays and foggers. Keeping bugs off of you is arguably best done by spraying yourself with a bug spray. Not all such sprays are designed equally and the most common ingredient in them is DEET. The more DEET a spray has, the better (generally speaking).

However, this doesn’t really apply all that well to how to keep bugs out of tents. Bug sprays keep bugs off of you, but you don’t want them inside of your tent, to begin with. So…what about using such sprays on the exterior of your tent?

The problem there becomes that DEET can be harmful to outdoor gear. Probably the better choice is to go with a mosquito fogger to create a protective barrier around your tent (and even your campsite). The good news is there’s an abundance of such foggers on the market.

Bonus: What about colors?

When you talk about how to repel bugs, the topic can get pretty specific. It’s kind of crazy to think about the fact that certain colors can attract bugs. Nature’s pretty crazy like that. Thankfully, this is also something we’ve already talked about in-depth. Check out our post about the colors that don’t attract bugs.

Final thoughts

Truthfully, there are several ways how to keep bugs out of tents. From choosing the correct location to making sure there aren’t any holes in your tent to creating a barrier around your tent with a fogger, the best way to go about this is to employ multiple solutions.

Even if you integrate all the above solutions into your next camping adventure, it can’t be promised that you’ll enjoy a bug-free tenting experience. That’s going to be close to impossible. What employing these helpful tips will do, hopefully, is greatly minimize the potential of bugs being a problem inside (or near the outside) of your tent.

Speaking of bugs, one of the most repulsive is the bed bug. We all know that this bug can be an issue elsewhere, but what about when camping? Can you get bed bugs from camping? Go ahead and click on that link if you’d like the answer to that question.

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Tyler Jones

Tyler is much like a swiss knife. Even though he has a degree in Computer Science, he knows almost everything there is to know about camping. He has been writing for HeadlessNomad since 2021 and has contributed with over 100 articles. If you have an outdoor-related question, then Tyler much likely knows the answer.