The Family that Camps Together

June 2nd, 2011 § 29 comments

Indian LakeIt is essential for every family to spend quality sleepless nights together in a tent—to strip off the tie, the watch, the shampoo, the cell phone, the bed —to forget the paperwork, the appointment, the meeting, the post, the tweet and get seriously dirty.  Camping allows unstructured exploration.  Every day starts with only the faintest outline of an agenda, with little expectations, rules or constraints.  Pajama fishing, rock scrambling, hill hiking, worm finding, fairy house making, dusk swimming, s’mores making, star gazing—each puts your problems into perspective.  And every day ends with a snuggly grubby family zipped up in an undersized bug-free (hopefully) spot.

FishingAdmittedly, planning for a weekend camping trip is overwhelming.  To streamline the process, all our gear (tent, sleeping bags and pads, first aid, fishing poles, tackle box, pocket knife, lantern, flashlights, tarp, matches, cooking supplies) quietly anticipates an upcoming adventure in a corner of our small attic.  As well, over the years we have found that the key to camping success is to 1) talk it up beforehand, 2) share the pure camping joy with another valiant venturesome family or two, and 3) have good bug stuff.

BreakfastAlthough we typically camp in the Catskill Mountains, we spent last weekend in the Adirondacks.  Here in the Hudson Valley, our particularly cool, wet spring has produced a bumper crop of spicy garden radishes and crisp looseleaf lettuce.  Yum!  Sadly, the overflowing lakes, ponds and streams just to our north have also produced a bumper crop of vampiric pests.  A contingent of four different types of pests form the core of the biting or blood-sucking brigade within the Adirondacks right now, protecting the area from human overpopulation—black flies, mosquitoes, no-see-ums and deer flies.  They have much in common—mouth parts that bite or pierce, females that feed on blood, and love of water.  Alas, we camped on a lake.

CampfireIn the Adirondacks, great swarms of insects, capable of raw torment, exist in such large numbers that the term “the Adirondack wave” is commonly used to describe the act of swatting these vermin hordes away.  It has been said, “If you don’t use bug dope, you’ll be eaten alive.  If you do use bug dope, you’ll only be eaten half alive.”  Last weekend, we were eaten half alive.

Bug GoopJust a note on DEET.  The majority of bug repellents contain DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) as their active ingredient.  DEET is a registered pesticide.  Need I say more?  Don’t use it.  My friend Jen makes superamazing bug lotion and spray with shea butter, lemongrass and pennyroyal.  Due to differences among insect species, repellents containing multiple essential oils are more effective than those containing a single ingredient.  Any mixture of following is fine—citronella, eucalyptus, peppermint, rosemary, cinnamon, lemongrass, cedarwood—but keep in mind that some people are sensitive to plant oils.  Before applying to skin, put a small drop on a cloth and keep it nearby to test for any allergic reaction.  Also, don’t be skimpy with natural remedies—reapplication every half hour is necessary, especially if you’re busy swimming and sweating.


Beeswax Bug Goop

2 oz beeswax

2 oz sweet almond oil

1 oz jojoba oil

½ oz canola oil

40 drops essential oil blend


With beeswax: Heat almond, jojoba and canola oils in saucepan and add beeswax.  Allow the mixture to cool slightly and then add essential oils.  Pour into a sealed container.



Lanolin Bug Salve

2 oz anhydrous lanolin (natural wax)

2 dropperfulls neem seed oil

60 drops essential oil blend


Warm the lanolin under hot tap water.  Mix all ingredients and pour into a sealed container.  Refrigerate to harden.


No-Bite Bug Spray

1/8 cup apple cider vinegar

1/8 cup almond oil, witch hazel or grain alcohol

1/8 cup distilled water

60 drops essential oil blend


Mix all ingredients and add to a smallish spray bottle.



And, just in case….

Mossy After-Bite

Dragonfly 1First, try not to scratch, since you should not apply this to open skin.  Then, soak a cotton ball in witch hazel and apply to the bite for a few minutes.  The astringent tannins, procyanadins, resin, and flavonoids help soothe pain and reduce swelling.  Apply essential camphor oil (mostly harvested from the wood of Asian camphor laurel tree) with a cotton ball and wait for a minute.  Camphor, a common ingredient in commercial anti-itch gels, stimulates nerve endings and relieves symptoms of pain.  Then, apply a drop of essential tea tree oil to further reduce the itch.

ExoskeletonJust a note: Although swarms of vampiric bugs can cause much misery, their presence should not be used as an excuse to avoid camping in the backcountry.  Or the backyard.  Also, remember to wash your hands thoroughly if handling amiable arthropods like our sweet dragonflies or any other cuddly camp critters.

Dragonfly 2And remember, pack in, pack out!




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§ 29 Responses to The Family that Camps Together"

  • Minty Pea Todd says:

    Among the bark eaters I know, 2011 has been hailed the worst black fly season in recorded ADK history. I suspect the best black fly repellent would be ensconsing oneself in long sleeves and pants with duct tape, wearing a beautiful and flattering net over your head and eating with a straw. That said, there’s very little we do as a family that connects us as well as unplugging from day to day muck and connecting with each other under the stars. Even a rough night outdoors gives us some of our most memorably fun stories.

  • Frankie says:

    I use tea tree oil. It is good for several things.
    Thanks for the lesson

  • Sarah says:

    I just came across this post via Pinterest and I am intrigued. Are the essential oils a necessary part of the bug spray/goop to work, or is it just for smelling nice? Thanks, I can’t wait to look at the rest of your blog!

    • Marcie says:

      Sarah–those listed are ones that bugs don’t like. So, yes, they are needed. Unfortunately, essential oils can be expensive. You can choose one or two–no need to follow the exact recipe I’ve given. So glad you found me! Yay!

  • Jaime says:

    I just came across this as well via Pinterest 🙂 Can you point me in the right direction as to where you find these ingredients?

    2 oz Anhydrous Lanolin (natural wax)

    2 dropperfulls Neem Seed Oil

    30 drops Eucalyptus Essential Oil


    30 drops Peppermint Essential Oil

    30 drops Citronella Essential Oil

    • Marcie says:

      You can find all essential oils at a good health food store. The lanolin as well, although you can also find it in the nursing aisle at most baby stores.

  • Krystle says:

    I also found your post via interest and love the recipies for the bug repelent. My only concern, lanolin. I used it while nursing and know it’s some pretty heavy stuff. Would this recipe work with something lighter like olive oil maybe?

  • Lori says:

    I would love to try this but have NO idea where I would find half the stuff,like the natural wax and witch hazel 🙁

  • Thanks for the recipes to get rid of dem nasty bugs…will definitely try it…getting close to that season here in Nova Scotia!

  • Jacqueline says:

    Does this keep ticks away? The ticks have been terrible this year and sadly deet is the only thing that seems to keep them off.

  • Charity says:

    Does this repel ticks? I have noticed that the natural repellents never list ticks which are a big pest here in the South (and also carry some pretty nasty diseases). I would LOVE to only use natural repellents, I just need that tick coverage.

    • Marcie says:

      Charity and Jacqueline–I’ve been told that preparations containing 30% lemon eucalyptus oil will provide as much tick protection as a 10 to 15% preparation of DEET–making it the most effective herbal remedy available. Apply the natural repellent to clothing as well as skin, and always check for ticks after you spend quality time in the woods, tall grass, or underbrush–anywhere mice (the most common deer tick host here in the Northeast) would live.

  • Pam says:

    Can you substitute other carrier oils? I have sweet almond, grapeseed and Sesame oils…also coconut oil. Thanks!

  • Kellie says:

    Pennyroyal can be very dangerous and should not be handled by pregnant woman at all, it is abortifacient and can cause death if the essential oil is ingested. (it is very concentrated.) Here is more information on it:

    • Marcie says:

      Yes, Kellie–avoid pennyroyal if you are pregnant. Most essential oils are safe and free of adverse side effects when used properly, though. Do your research before exposing your skin to any substance–pay special attention to dosage, purity, application method and possible drug interactions.

  • Queenie says:

    I enjoyed reading about your alternatives for bug spray than what they put into branded spays and ointments, but you should be aware, and make others aware that DEET is recommended ( the higher amount the better) to fight West Nile Disease that is transmitted via Mosquito’s. Living in an area in which there have been cases reported, and where the Mosquito’s are terrible in the summer and Fall, and being a delicious tasting snack for these little buggers my whole life, I will continue to use the DEET bug repellent. I will consider some of your mixes for other uses though. Thanks for the information!

  • Fantastic post! We have two other families that we camp with several times each year and those are hands down our favorite family trips. Great food, great memories. Typically, we camp on the shore of Lake Superior in Northern Minnesota so we experience many of the same scenarios. Camp on, friends:)

  • Emilio Vanschoor says:

    These are basic simple things to think about. Your camping equipment needs will vary depending on where you will be camping. Camping on the beach has different needs then camping in the mountains. You should always start your foray into camping small. Take a day trip somewhere close to your home. Check out the surroundings and the camp sites. Get an understanding of what the equipment needs will be.

  • mike says:

    deet is much less expensive , and less time consuming to get, and only in rare occasions is it hazardous to humans , specially in small doses .

    • Marcie says:

      Mike, of course it’s a personal choice. I suppose I’d rather avoid contact with DEET–it’s a chemical solvent that can dissolve plastics and has been found to inhibit the activity of CNS enzymes in both insects and mammals. If there are alternatives out there that do the job, I’d prefer to use them.

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