Don't let bugs ruin your outdoor adventure!
Don’t let bugs ruin your summer adventures! Besides being a nuisance, bug bites can transmit diseases like West Nile, Malaria and Lyme.
If you’re like me, you’ve tried countless natural bug repellents and found that they either didn’t work at all, required hourly applications or were very messy. If you have tried a natural product that works, let me know! DEET works, but it can be toxic if used heavily and can ruin expensive waterproof clothing and equipment.
Here’s what I’ve found works best for keeping bugs at bay on outdoor adventures.
Whenever possible, create a physical barrier. If you’re camping, your tent is an excellent barrier. Wear tightly woven clothing that bugs can’t bite through- wind jackets and pants are ideal. Many bugs can even bite through the weave of jeans and breathable shoes. They can’t bite through a very tight woven fabric like a wind jacket, waterproof pants, etc. A mesh bug netting takes up little space in your pack and creates a wonderful barrier over your hat to keep bugs out of your face. If your pants or sleeves are snug/elastic at the hems, you wear gaiters or tuck your pantlegs into your socks, bugs are less likely to find their way up your pants to bite you. For summer trail runs and warm weather hikes in buggy areas, I keep moving while I’m in my running shorts and tank top but when I stop, I immediately put on my hat/bug net, wind jacket and wind pants. Many wind layers are tiny enough to fit in a runner’s hydration vest. I’ve been wearing my Patatonia Houdini jacket and pants for 5 years and have found them ideal for keeping bugs at bay on my trail run rest stops. I have never been bitten through my Houdini wind layers.
I hear you, “But Doc, I can’t hike in my waterproof jacket and wind pants in the summer, it’s too hot!”. Or perhaps “I’m backpacking and won’t be moving fast enough to keep the bugs away”. Or my least favorite “When I hike the bugs just circle around me or even follow me!”. “The clothes I can hike in are breathable since I sweat a lot and the bugs just bite me through my clothing”. Yep. Yuck! You can purchase clothing that comes pre-treated with bug repellent- super easy and convenient. But maybe your favorite hiking outfits don’t come pre-treated? My favorite solution for this problem is to select one or two outfits that I plan to hike in during bug season and pre-treat them with permetherin. Permetherin works against mosquitoes, flies and ticks. With permetherin, it’s the total amount of product on your outfit that counts, so it’s best to treat the whole outfit. I typically treat a long sleeved lightweight hiking shirt, brimmed hat, long lightweight hiking pants, a couple pairs of socks, a lightweight pair of gloves and occasionally, the top of my breatheable lightweight trail runners. Since permetherin is applied to your clothes and not your skin, there is less toxicity from the permetherin approach than compared to applying a large amount of DEET. One minus is that if a ladybug lands on you and hangs out, they can die-- so brush them off asap!
Anywhere you can’t create a physical barrier, or don’t have treated with permetherin should have small amounts of bug repellent applied. I typically apply a small drop of DEET on the top of each wrist and only when I’m not wearing my permetherin treated liner gloves. Any favorite product should be reapplied frequently to be effective.
Keep in mind that if you apply any bug repellent (or sunscreen!) DO NOT enter any alpine water sources. Bug repellent and sunscreens negatively impact sensitive alpine water sources. If you want to go for a swim in a lake, be sure to wash off at least 200 yards, and ideally ¼ mile from the lake and not near sensitive vegetation. Another great reason to use physical barriers or treated clothes as often as possible!