Gnats in tent! Help!!!
May 14, 2022 9:10 PM   Subscribe

We're camping in NE Florida and our brand new, completely closed up tent is FULL of gnats. What the hell is going on?

As I write this it is midnight and there are easily 200 biting gnats in this tent. It's a junky little Coleman 4-person that I bought at Target less than 24 hours ago. We've been meticulous about only opening the door to leave and enter and holy fuck while I was writing that one bit me on the inside of my nose and I dropped the phone. What the hell is happening? Are we doing something wrong? Was there an extra step we missed? Are Coleman tents just too crappy to keep out gnats? We're desperate to understand what has gone wrong.
posted by saladin to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total)
Response by poster: I should add that we're in a group of about 20 campers across at least 7 other tents and we're the only ones experiencing this. We're also the only ones with Coleman tents, everybody else has something fancier.
posted by saladin at 9:24 PM on May 14, 2022

We have a Coleman and there are no secret leaks or anything. We even have one that came with no zipper pull on one of the windows but it still keeps bugs out. I'd recheck all the openings and look for tears as well.

Can you rig up a trap of some kind inside the tent?
posted by soelo at 9:39 PM on May 14, 2022

Does anyone have DEET you can borrow?
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 10:40 PM on May 14, 2022

Best answer: Cheap tents may not have no-see-um mesh because it doesn't ventilate as well as coarser mosquito netting and because it's more fragile. Spec sheets for fancier tents will often specifically mention 'no-see-um mesh', or there'll be denier ratings for the various fabrics. The mesh panels need to be low denier—40 or less—to keep no-see-ums and small gnats out. I just looked at Coleman's website and they don't give any useful information about the materials used in their tents.

Does anyone in the group have repellent you can spray on your tent's mesh panels? That might at least discourage more bugs from trying to get in.
posted by theory at 10:48 PM on May 14, 2022 [3 favorites]

Time for deet or whatever bug spray you have to hand. Spray the meshes and under the fly, leave the front entrance zip open a few minutes.

Also, if you’re not in bear territory, leaving an open can of beer out that’s wrapped with some duck tape (put sticky-side out) can often lure out gnats and flies and trap them. Not a perfect solution, but works in a desperate situation. The poor mans fly paper (though I repeat, don’t do this if you’re backcountry camping or anywhere near big wildlife).

Seconding theory’s point about the mesh thickness. Additionally it’s possible that the new tent may have been stored as such that moisture, mold, etc got in and has now attracted the gnats. Sanitize and fully dry it when you get home.
posted by Pemberly at 1:16 AM on May 15, 2022

Best answer: I'd caution against spraying DEET directly on your tent, it has a high likelihood of melting the material. Insect repellents with other active chemicals should be okay. Source: I melted a hole in my tent with DEET spray.

Unfortunately, it may truly be that Coleman tents are too crappy to keep out gnats. Gnats are persistent and biting sand gnats are infuriating. You are very likely not doing anything wrong. Gnats are so small and determined, very few things (possibly nothing...sorry) will keep them out if you have large mesh holes.

Untested idea: (unsuitable in rain) You could go back to Target and get a cheap king size flat sheet. Drape the sheet over the tent, under the rainfly. Make sure the screens are covered. Maybe get two sheets. Kind of like a blanket fort you might have made as a kid. Now you have smaller "mesh", but the sheet should still allow some breezes through so you don't swelter. Gnats may still be able to fly underneath, the sheet (s) won't entirely seal against the tent. But... maybe??
posted by Guess What at 3:53 AM on May 15, 2022 [2 favorites]

Are Coleman tents just too crappy to keep out gnats?

Not necessarily. Junky little ones bought in a hurry from non-specialist discount retailers, quite possibly.
posted by flabdablet at 3:55 AM on May 15, 2022

Response by poster: Ended up slathering ourselves in Cutter and managed to get a few hours sleep. Thanks for all y'all's help! Gonna research mesh specs when I get home because holy smokes that can NEVER happen again.
posted by saladin at 4:16 AM on May 15, 2022 [2 favorites]

If you have any suitable mesh, it is possible to rig up a DIY flying insect tool by spreading that over the back of a fan and running the fan full blast in the right place. Or so I've seen/read/watched -- haven't yet tried it myself.
posted by amtho at 6:53 AM on May 15, 2022

Best answer: Bicycling enthusiasts frequently refer to bicycles sold at generic retailers like Target as "bike-shaped objects," because they are built to a (low) price target and their quality and reliability suffers greatly. It would appear that you have identified a related sub-species, "tent-shaped objects."
posted by Alterscape at 7:21 AM on May 15, 2022 [7 favorites]

The noseeum mesh is a big deal if you're going to camp in the Southeast. I use one of these bug-zapper bulbs in our tent (we zip up for the night, turn all the other lights off and go to bed, and let this one run in zapper mode until it runs out of charge) for the 2-3 mosquitoes or other odd things that always seem to follow us in, but I don't know that it would help much if you're getting a constant fresh supply of bugs.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:16 AM on May 15, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Spray the screens with permethrin. It's what horse owners spray on horses to keep biting flies at bay. Can't use it on human skin as we break it down too quickly for it to remain effective, but sprayed on fabric it's generally good for 6 weeks. I spray my camper screens with it several times a season to keep the no-seeums out of the camper.
posted by COD at 11:42 AM on May 15, 2022 [2 favorites]

I’ll add from personal experience in my Target colement 4 person tent versus my fancy backpacking tent that the Coleman tent mesh is too loose a weave to keep out gnats (or whatever no see ums are eating me at the NC beaches)
posted by raccoon409 at 6:49 AM on January 9

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