Bedbugs are an ancient enemy of humanity, making us itchy way back when we carried clubs around and fingerpainted on the walls for fun. Seeing as our stone age ancestors enjoyed camping out as much as we do, it makes sense that we’ve arrived, at the end of this long circle, back to the question: Can you get bed bugs from camping?

It’s possible to get bedbugs while camping but it’s not likely you will get them ‘from’ camping. Bedbugs are indoor creatures that don’t spend much time outdoors. The only way you could get bedbugs while camping is from someone else’s bedding or because you brought them with you.

If you discover that there are bedbugs in your camping gear, more specifically your bedding or clothes, it’s highly likely that you brought them with you from home, without even realizing it. It’s also possible that there was a bit of transference from a neighboring camper, especially if you are camping in a heavily populated campground.

How do bedbugs make their way into your camping gear?

My sister and I went backpacking in Arches National Park over the summer. In some panic ridden state, we woke up and barely caught the sunrise.
Photo by Jack Sloop / Unsplash

Bedbugs are exceptionally tenacious little creatures, with round, small bodies and are generally brownish in color. They feed off of blood but they aren’t known for spreading mass disease, definitely not in the way that fleas do. There are a lot of ways that these little villains can find their way into your camping gear.

  • Friends and family with blankets, clothes, sheets, and pillows brought from home
  • Bedbugs travel with other people, so the odds of spreading increase in more populated campgrounds
  • You brought them yourself
  • Tent sharing

If you are a solo camper and you frequently travel and camp alone, it’s not likely that you will ever experience a bed bug infestation. If you do, then it most likely came from your own home.

Camping with family members, friends, and others, especially when all of them are bringing their own blankets, sheets, pillows, clothing, underwear, air mattresses, and more, facilitates the spread of bedbugs if any one of these items is infested with them.

Bedbugs are indoor creatures only, however, that doesn’t mean that they can’t travel in your luggage. Bedbugs don’t have a whole lot going on inside their nearly microscopic brainpans, but they instinctively want to be in your mattress because that its where the food will be.

It’s even possible that you brought them along yourself. Bedbug infestations don’t spring up overnight, although it may seem that way from time to time. You may just have a few in your travel gear, mostly from your own bed sheets or pillows.

Let’s say your pack contains your sleeping bag, tightly rolled up. Then, let’s say you stuff your small pillow from your bed in your bag as well. Even if the bedbugs are low in number, they will still happily make the long and arduous journey from your pillow/pillowcase to your sleeping bag.

How to recognize bedbugs in your camping gear

Photo by Tobse Fritz / Unsplash

Where do these little things hide? What evidence do they leave behind? How do you know if you have a bedbug problem in your camping gear and aren’t just getting hoarded by mosquitoes while you sleep?

Bedbugs leave stains behind

What kind of stains? Your stains. That’s because bedbugs feed on your blood and as they do so, they’re not exactly delicate about it, leaving your blood behind in little spots, all over your air mattress, sleeping bag, or sheets. The problem is, that not everybody uses a solid, light-colored sheet, sleeping bag, or air mattress.

That makes it a little difficult to actually see that there are stains on your bedding. Bedbugs also get smashed while they’re happily gorging on your blood. They’re pretty resilient but that doesn’t mean you won’t roll over on them just the right way or smack them in your sleep.

Their smashed and broken bodies bleed out their own internals along with whatever they took from yours.

Bedbug spotting

Bedbugs are every bit as cyclical as we are. They feed, digest your blood, then poop out the waste on your clean sheets. Wonderful stuff. All of that gooey excrement amounts to tiny little dots all over your bed sheets. Now, of course, if you have dark or patterned bed material, you’re likely not going to see or realize that you are sleeping in tiny piles of feces, but there it is.

Bedbugs lay eggs

Now you would think that if a bedbug is so tiny that it is difficult to spot with the naked eye, its eggs would be even more difficult to see and you would be right. However, female bedbugs lay eggs at the rate of 1 to 3 per day, so long as she has a nice, warm dinner laying next to her each night (meaning you).

That’s a lot of eggs and they can add up rather quickly while you’re wondering why your back and arms are so itchy every morning. The eggs themselves are about 1mm in length and are pale yellow in color. That may make it a little easier to spot them, depending on the background color of your bedding or other camping material.

If you do happen to spot one or more eggs in your bedding, knowing what they look like now will fill in the rest of the blanks and you will know you have, at the very least, a minor infestation going on.

Do dogs carry or transfer bed bugs?

Woman sitting with her dog enjoying Resilience CBD gummies.
Photo by Resilience CBD / Unsplash

Not any more than you do. Bedbugs are attracted to the carbon dioxide that we exhale, which dogs happen to exhale as well. If you have a canine camping mate, it’s just as likely to have a bedbug problem as you are and no less or more so.

When it comes to bedbug infestations, dogs are more concerned with fleas but that doesn’t mean bedbugs can’t end up in their bedding too or eventually transfer to your bedding. A bedbug may accidentally hitch a ride on a dog, but they don’t hide under dog fur as fleas do.

In fact, you might easily mistake a bedbug infestation on your dog bed as a flea infestation because both will feed on your dog and both will cause your four-legged friend to scratch and have general anxiety over the whole ordeal.

How to get rid of bedbugs in your camping gear

Bedbugs are highly shady creatures and very resilient. It’s difficult to eliminate them because there are so many places that they can hide. Also, the females can lay so many eggs that you can have a full-blown infestation on your hands before you even recognize that something is wrong. The first thing that you need to do, is figure out where they all hide.

  • Every seam, fold, and crevice in an air mattress
  • Your sleeping bag or mummy bag
  • Anything that is upholstered, such as couches and recliners if you’re in an RV
  • They love fabric and canvas, so anywhere that there are pockets or folds in a tent
  • Holes in the walls, like power outlets
  • Behind picture frames or other wall hangings
  • Dressers, especially in the back corners of the drawers
  • Anywhere that books are kept

If you’re starting to draw a picture here, it’s that there are many more places for a bedbug to hide when you are RV camping, rather than camping in a tent. There are just so many more juicy opportunities in an RV, especially a large one with many furnishings.

There is only one way to get rid of bedbugs that have spread so far and wide. And really, you should use this method even if you think that you caught it early. Wash everything and we mean absolutely everything.

If you can strip it off, strip it off and wash it. All of your bed linens, sleeping bags, pillowcases and pillows, upholstery, couch pillows, and arm liners. If you can stuff it into a washer, do so. The remaining things that simply can’t go in a washer should be wrapped in plastic and left in the hot sun for a day.

Everything else, including any carpeting, needs to be vacuumed and steamed. The steam will slaughter the bedbugs wholesale and the vacuum will suck them up into oblivion. Take down any wall frames and wipe the areas behind them down, including the back of the frame.

Last but not least, go through everything with a pesticide. If you’re just dealing with a tent, you probably won’t have to go so far. You can perhaps spray down the insides of pockets or anywhere that you can’t get to and clean. For RVs, everything is free game, including the insides of cabinets, drawers, and corners throughout the RV.

Final thoughts

Fortunately, a bedbug infestation when camping is not a very common occurrence. You’re far more likely to deal with an infestation from other insects than bedbugs. That doesn’t mean that it can’t happen, however, and if it does, don’t give the bedbugs the time they need to breed into a whole sale infestation.