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.