Let’s set mountain-man machismo aside and admit the truth: Bugs aren’t fun. And biting insects can darken the attitudes of young people fast, especially those who still lack the perspective that the rewards of getting outdoors eventually overshadow the discomforts.
Using smart strategies and effective tools will deliver a higher happiness level than a clichéd pep talk about toughing it out. Plus, some insects — like ticks — carry very worrisome diseases that demand intelligent precautions.
Try these strategies:
First and last, practice avoidance. Mosquitoes, black flies, ticks, no-see-ums, horseflies, deer flies and their ilk generally emerge with warmer temperatures in spring.
They thrive in wet places, especially around lakes and in forests. They persist, in slowly diminishing numbers, into late summer or even into fall, depending on regional climate. They disappear once nighttime lows regularly dip to freezing.
If possible, avoid buggy places during the bug season. Here’s how:
- In spring and early summer, take hiking, backpacking and camping trips in drier, largely insect-free destinations, or go camping or paddling on rivers, lakes and coastal areas, where wind can help keep bugs down.
- Plan camping and backpacking trips for late summer and fall.
- When encountering bugs, seek out campsites higher in elevation or exposed to wind, like a point of land jutting into a lake or a bend in a valley or canyon.
- Sit facing into the wind in camp, and mosquitoes or black flies will swarm behind your head, which is less annoying, at least.
Duck and Cover
However much you try to avoid bugs, they’ll eventually find you.
When insects are unavoidable, clothing provides the best protection. Even in hot weather, cover up as much as possible: Wear lightweight, synthetic pants (they dry faster than cotton); a long-sleeved shirt with a tall collar; a wide-brimmed hat and/or a hood; and even a neckerchief tucked under your hat to hang over your neck and ears. These measures offer the added benefit of reducing UV exposure.
To avoid tick bites, wear long pants tucked into socks. When hiking in tick habitat (forests; tall grass; at the boundaries of forest and open, grassy areas; and leaf-covered ground), frequently check yourself and companions for ticks. Remove ticks with your fingers — which is easily done before they’ve embedded in skin — or by grasping and pulling on them gently but steadily with tweezers until they release their grip.
Clothing treated with the insecticide permethrin helps keep bugs away. When insects are thick, wear a head net.
Use Effective Repellents
Sometimes you have to break out the big guns. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using an insect repellent that contains at least 20 percent DEET, like Cutter Backwoods and Off! Deep Woods Sportsmen, while the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends products with up to 30 percent DEET for kids. (However, DEET should not be used on children younger than 2 months.)
It is especially important to protect against mosquitoes and ticks, which can pose health risks.
Repellents containing DEET can be sprayed directly on the exterior of clothing, including shirts, pants, hats and socks; DEET will not damage cotton, wool or nylon, but avoid using it on synthetics (like rayon or spandex) other than nylon, or on leather or watch crystals.
Repellents containing picaridin can also be sprayed directly on outer surfaces of clothing and will not damage any fabrics or watch crystals.
The CDC advises against using products that contain both bug repellent and sunscreen. Instead, use separate products. Apply the sunscreen first, let it dry and then apply the repellent.
Use Bug-Deterrent Gear
Cutter Backwoods Dry Insect Repellent, 4 oz., $5 at target.com
Craghoppers NosiLife Tristan Long Sleeve Shirt, $75 at craghoppers.com
Sea to Summit Head Net With Insect Shield, $13 at seatosummit.com
ExOfficio BugsAway Abrigo Pant, $95 at exofficio.com
Sawyer Permethrin Premium Clothing Insect Repellent, 9 or 24 oz., starting at $10 at cabelas.com
Craghoppers NosiLife Bailly Tunic, $50 at craghoppers.com
MICHAEL LANZA is author of Before They’re Gone, and he shares his gear and trip reviews at thebigoutside.com