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Avoid Being Bugged by Bugs

Bugs! Mosquitoes, ticks, spiders, black flies, no-see-ums, chiggers – you’re surrounded when you go outside. It’s almost – almost – enough to keep you indoors. Don’t give in though. There are all kinds of things out there to help – avoidance strategies, physical barriers, and finally, natural and chemical warfare. Let’s break them down.

Let’s start with avoidance strategies. This sounds complicated, but these steps are easy to follow. 

  1. Try to avoid being out during dusk and dawn. Mosquitoes, black flies, and no-see-ums especially are most active during these times. If you are okay and prepared, hiking during the heat of the day will vastly reduce the number of pests flying around you.
  2. Black flies once sent me running and screaming down a hill in Germany to get back to my car. They get in your ears, your eyes, your mouth, and your nose and their bites hurt – like a lot. If possible, try to avoid areas where black flies are around from mid-May – July when they are most active. 
  3. Avoid high grass. I know that the challenge of breaking a new trail sounds fun, but aside from it going directly against LNT principles, it’s a sure-fire way to get infested with ticks and or chiggers. Just say no!
  4. Avoid standing water. Mosquitoes and no-see-ums reproduce in standing water like bogs, swamps, ponds, and even lakes. Trying to exercise in these areas during the summer without other protection is just torture.

Okay, when we talk about protection, we don’t always mean bug spray. Protective clothing can really help. 

  1. Wear a bandana, buff, or neck gaiter to protect your neck and ears from flying insects.
  2. Long sleeves act as a barrier to protect your skin. Make sure that it’s breathable though – heat stroke is not a good way to avoid bugs!
  3. Long pants tucked into your socks will help protect you from chiggers and ticks. Be sure to check the clothing for bugs and change as soon as possible when you get home though. Ticks can live 2-3 days without a host inside, so don’t bring any home. 
  4. When in black fly country, I strongly suggest a bug net. This is a net designed to protect your face and head from insects. I’ve worn one in Maine and Alaska and they helped immensely (plus you look really cool).

Finally, let’s talk about natural and man-made chemical repellents. 

  1. Permethrin is awesome. It’s a spray that you spray on your shoes, socks, and clothing that repels ticks and chiggers and, to a lesser extent, mosquitoes for up to 6 weeks. Betsy Hiker just posted a fabulous post in the group that tells you all of the ins and outs of using permethrin.
  2. Deet is a very popular repellent spray as well. It’s been around over 60 years (although it’s no longer available in Europe) and it’s reported safe when used as directed. It does have a nasty chemical taste and there are some valid questions about its safety for some people, but in some locations that are just overrun with mosquitoes, it works really well. 
  3. Lemon-Eucalyptus spray is also widely available. This is what I use during the humid buggy East Coast summers and it works really well. It lasts all day unless I sweat it off, but the bottle says to expect maximum effectiveness for 6 hours. It also smells nice, which is a plus!
  4. There are also other repellants out there that people recommend. There are bracelets with Deet or Lemon-Eucalyptus, pre-treated bug-repellent clothing, essential oils, and even garlic pills that have been reported to be effective, but I think a little more information is needed before recommending them here. 

So, which one do I pick? In my opinion, you don’t pick one. You do what you can to avoid the bugs, dress to deter the bugs, and then choose your weapon(s) to repel the bugs, while mixing and matching for the location and situation. I’d be armed a bit differently if I were going hiking at dawn in a Georgia swamp in July than I would if I were meandering around Alcatraz in San Francisco in March. Take a look at your plans and location, take the appropriate precautions, and get outside and have fun! We can’t let the bugs win…

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