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The Travel Mosquito Net: Avoiding Small Bites With Big Consequences

A travel mosquito net is possibly the single most important way to stay healthy when you travel in the tropics (not to mention sleeping soundly and not spending the night swatting the wildlife).

Remember, over half a million people are infected by malaria mosquitoes each year and there's a new threat: the Zika virus.

If you're already convinced you need one of these to travel, see my following recommendations. If you'd like to know more before deciding, jump to the explanations below.

The best travel mosquito net - or tent

eco-keeper mosquito net

The Eco-Keeper is perfect for women who can't stand creepy crawlies - just zip it up. This is similar to the one I've used for years. It's light, takes a few seconds to set up, and in a great innovation, has a side entrance (mine is on the end, a challenge).

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kamp-rite mosquito tent

The Kamp-Rite Insect Protection System comes with a rain fly - stay dry in a downpour too. This looks like a more streamlined and modern version - and it's cheaper.

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travel mosquito net expedition

For a more traditional net, the Expedition Mosquito Net is just that - a hanging mosquito net. Remember though - you'll need something to hang it on!

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Now: what do you need to know about mosquito nets?

  • The obvious: they keep out mosquitoes that can kill you. This is reason enough.
  • A mosquito net also keeps other critters out, like creepy crawlies or falling geckoes. I wouldn't dream of traveling without one when heading to warm, humid places.
  • It's especially important if you're traveling on a budget or off the beaten track. Air conditioning helps keep mosquitoes at bay but if you're staying in huts or out of doors or with open windows - there's nothing to protect you then.
  • To be effective a mosquito net should have a close mesh - 120-200 holes per square inch or 1.2 mm x 1.2 mm is considered the best.
  • While cotton may seem more natural, it collects dampness and weighs more than a synthetic fiber so I'd opt for the polyester type nets.
travel mosquito net in BorneoThese are typical mosquito nets you'll find in most tropical climates (Photo: Anne Sterck)

Mosquito net versus mosquito net tent

There are two types of insect net: one with a frame, and one without. Lets start with the standard travel mosquito net - without a frame.

The typical insect nets are squares or rectangles of insect netting with a ring (or two) that you attach to a wall or ceiling. It should be large enough to tuck under the mattress without touching you. If it touches your skin, the mosquito can simply land on it and bite you!

travel mosquito netThe most common mosquito net found in developing countries - used properly it can prevent deadly mosquito bites (Photo: CDC)

The advantage of this type of net is that it's light to carry in your pack and takes up little room. You can easily wash it and hang it out to dry.

There's also a disadvantage: you actually need something to hang it on. Many rooms in developing countries have nails or hooks on which you can fasten a net, or one of the newer nylon mounts that don't damage walls.

Still, you can't get around it: a travel mosquito net has to hang on something. It's disconcerting to walk into a room net in hand to find no hook. And you're not going to start hammering a hook into someone else's wall, are you... 

And that's why I travel with a mosquito net tent. I have not one, but two of these, just in case I lose one. That's how important it is to me!

The mosquito tent is brilliant:

  • it's free-standing, which means no worries about nails or hooks
  • it's properly sealed, which means mosquitoes can't get in, under or around it
  • nor can other critters!
travel mosquito netThis is the tent - a brilliant invention and far better than a simple net.

Treated mosquito net or not?

Before buying a mosquito net or tent, you need to decide whether to go for one with a permethrin treatment or whether to opt for a simple untreated net.

The advantage of permethrin, a strong synthetic chemical, is its effectiveness.

Most mosquitoes won't survive contact with it so you'll have fewer chances of being bitten. Permethrin treatment isn't permanent - you'll have to retreat the net (and your clothes, if you spray them) every so often.

While it's not known to be toxic to humans (keep it away from your pets - it can kill them), many people abhor chemicals and simply refuse to use them if at all avoidable.

If that's your case - get an untreated net.

My own choice?

A travel mosquito tent. For those who have been writing and asking about mine, the model I've been using for years is the Longroads Travel Tent - sadly I don't think it's made anymore but my recommendations above look as though they would make good substitutes.

A few words of caution...

Even if rooms have their own mosquito nets, check them carefully. Years of wear and tear may have left holes in the net - and if mosquitoes can get in, the net will be useless.

Remember, avoiding malaria, dengue fever and now Zika (especially during pregnancy) should be right at the top of your travel health list! And please... don't leave home without your travel insurance. (You probably won't need it but...)

How to Help

It's not just about us, either. Malaria is Africa's biggest killer: a child dies of it every minute, deaths that are preventable. While we sleep comfortably under our nets, millions of people, especially the poorest, can't afford them. Nothing But Nets is a great grassroots campaign that raises money for bed nets. To keep up with developments, read up at Roll Back Malaria, the global partnership that fights the disease.