Jul 112011

I’ve crept up close to bears, thrown food to mountain lions, picked up tarantulas, and chased after herds of blind javelinas, but I WILL run screaming out of the forest if the flying insect population is out of control. I can’t bear them. I knew that moving to the Northeastern part of the United States would necessitate the development of an on-trail dragon slaying strategy in order to cope with the little buggers and I didn’t think coating the body with DEET and other intense poisons day after day after day was a good long-term plan. Without even researching what continual absorption of the poison into the skin might be doing to my fragile nervous system, I can say that the fumes emanating off my skin alone cause me to sway with nausea. During my research on natural bug repellant techniques, I unfortunately discovered that according to any rational scientific opinion, there is NO OTHER WAY to repel them other than DEET. I guess before the advent of the miraculous chemical, the total population of the universe was forced to remain indoors from March through September. I can’t imagine how they coped.

Here are some strategies I’ve discovered and used, scientifically valid or not, that would integrate with the backpacking experience:

  • CLOTHING ~ And lots of it.. Lightweight fabrics, some coated with permathren, a synthetic version of the natural repellent in chrysanthemum flowers, is my first line of defense.
  • BUG NETS ~ A bug net worn over a brimmed hat keeps both the bugs and the net away from  CO2- rich airways.
  • OILS ~ Clove oil, peppermint oil, citronella oil,  rosemary oil, and basil oil have been known to help repel insects. I use clove oil on my hands because I like the smell of it and it seems to work.
  • GAITERS ~ Worn over pant legs keep bugs from climbing into pants and shoes.
  • MOTION/WIND ~ Bugs don’t like wind. I create artificial hurricanes around my head and neck when I desperately need a break from the bug net. I do this by simply fanning my face with my maps and picking up my walking pace.
  • VITAMIN B ~ I’m not sure this works, but people swear by it. At the very least, taking a vitamin B tablet everyday will keep you less stressed out about the bugs attacking you.
  • GARLIC ~ A quick Google of all things garlic and you will discover that garlic is the natural answer for every problem the world has ever known, bug repelling included. You can rub the oil on your skin or simply eat a bunch or take an extract pill. I hate the stuff and won’t do it ever again ever.
  • SLOW DOWN ~ Bugs are attracted to high skin temperatures and carbon dioxide, making most hikers very attractive to them. Adopt a slower pace, stay hydrated and cool, and simply don’t exhale.
  • DEET ~ I save the DEET for those emergency situations where no other solution is possible. Needing to stay still and expose your mouth to eat is a perfect situation for a DEET rescue, as is any other moment when you’re about to cry from the irritation or swear off any outdoor living experience permanently.
If you have a favorite method of natural or unnatural bug repelling, please post below!
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  10 Responses to “Necessary Dragon-Slayers ~ Coping With Flies and Mosquitos”

  1. Although clove oil is the most known method, I found a couple of new ones (I haven’t tried them yet though): moscitos hate the smell of tomato leaves, as well as anise oil, eucaliptus oil, cedar oil (although it may be Siberian pine, not cedar), and carbolic acid that you have to sprinkle on the walls at the bed, so I’m not sure what to do with it when you walk. I’ve also heard of some lamps with yellow light that would keep moscitos off.

  2. Thanks, Vika .. I’ll look into those.. The whole research was inspired by the fact that I am literally COVERED in welting mosquito bites from a half hour walk in the woods! Yikes!

  3. An outdoors person who grew up in a farming family swears by ThermaCell http://www.thermacell.com/mosquito-repellent. I have not personally used it.

  4. http://www.williswall.com/willis-wall-blog/2011/7/3/the-b4-ultralight-upright-and-prone-bug-protection.html

    Maybe you could get a pattern from this hiker. 2 oz protection.

    Also, Avon Skin so soft deals with midges, so it’s dual purpose. Stops bites AND makes the wearer smell awful.

  5. Thanks Zed! I’m going to check it out for the PCT trip!

  6. Watkins Insect Repellants work really well for mosquitoes — ticks, too! I was on a hiking trip with a couple friends that were using regular insect repellants and I was using the Watkins (lotion rubbed on my ankles) and as we were sitting on a break together, they were constantly — one after another — picking crawling ticks off of them. I instantly got concerned and started checking myself. I didn’t find one tick. The only difference was the Watkins… sold me!! It’s got Deet in it, though, which makes me a little werided out being in a lotion form, but as you said with Deet — great for moments when you are nearly in tears from the buggers.


    PS. Thanks for the list… I planned a summer trip in high mosquito-season to try some new tactics. I will be referring to your list when it gets closer to try some out! 🙂

  7. Hey Kim, I had my own business in lake tahoe making bath oils, aromatherapy, soaps etc… I also made insect repellant made with citronella and geranium oils, tested out by backcountry mountain bikers, it worked well they said, plus smells good.
    Its april 10th, hope I hear from you today , before you leave, if not, happy trails to you, cant wait to hear of your adventures, will be there with you in spirit for sure, so glad I got to meet you, you are a true spirit adventurer, and my hero 🙂
    love Wendy

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