One question we get a lot about camping is, "What about the bugs?" I used to worry about how my kids would handle being out in the wilderness during bug season. Would the bugs drive them crazy? Would they end up hating the wilderness? Would they refuse to come out of the tent? Would we accidentally burn their skin off with Deet?
It turns out that camping with kids during bug season isn't as bad as I thought. For the most part the kids are on the move so much that they don't notice the bugs and the bugs tend not to follow us out onto the water. We do however, have a few tips for wilderness camping during bug season.
Tip # 1 - Suck it Up :)
If you are backcountry camping in Canada there will be bugs. Since kids learn by example, if the adults can suck it up and have a good time in spite of mosquitoes, black flies, no-see-ems, etc., the kids will too.
Tip #2 - Prevention
We keep the kids in river pants and long-sleeved shirts, socks and shoes or Bogs. They wear Buffs to protect their necks and hats to protect their heads. This means that there is very little exposed skin for the bugs to get at. The odd time when things have been really bad they have worn bug shirts, but typically they find them too hot and don't like how they obscure their vision.
Dave and Chloe tried the vitamin B patches one year. These are patches that slowly release vitamin B1 into the dermal layer of the skin. The vitamin B is then slowly released through the pores and is supposed to produce an "invisible, odourless shield" that only mosquitos and black flies can smell. Apparently the bugs don't like the smell and although they might land on one's skin, they will leave before biting. Dave and Chloe spent the week walking around smelling like the cotton from the top of a vitamin bottle. This attracted a lot of health conscious bugs, who apparently did not mind the smell of Vitamin B. Unfortunately for Dave and Chloe, the health conscious bugs were not vegans.
Tip #3 - Bring a Hanging Mosquito Net and/or Bug House
If you can justify the size/weight, you might want to consider purchasing a large bug shelter like MEC's Hootenanny, North Face's Homestead Shelter, or the REI Screen House Shelter. We have had our eye on Cook Custom Sewing's Silicone Tarp Tent for awhile, but so far haven't been able to justify the expense.
We always bring this mosquito net with us. It's lightweight, but big enough for two or three kids to sit under and . We have a couple of kids who really attract bugs and this net gives them a nice reprieve when they're eating, reading, or drawing. We also used it extensively when we had babies, both for nursing under and for draping over the canoe or hammock during nap time.
Tip #4 - Get Kids in the Tent Before Dusk
As much as possible we try to get our kids ready for bed and into the tent before the bugs come out. This protects the kids and helps keep the bugs out of the tent.
Tip #5 - Stop the Itch
Toothpaste is my secret weapon when it comes to dealing with itchy bites! A small dab of toothpaste rubbed on a bite will stop it from itching more effectively than products like Afterbite or calamine lotion.
Dave and Lisa use the Therapik with their kids and have had good success. It works by increasing localized blood flow to the bite and neutralizes the venom by heat.
Tip #6 - Take Comfort
In the end, when all else fails, we take comfort in the fact that we're building character in our kids :)