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How To Protect Against Bugs While Hiking

How To Protect Against Bugs While Hiking

Posted by Jaeger Shaw on 6th Oct 2021

Mosquitoes, ticks, triatomine (kissing bug) and other pesky insects are capable of ruining a trip, which is why everyone should know how to ward them off as completely and effectively as possible. Without proper defense, a swarm of hungry mosquitos can be more than just itch-inducing; their wrath may force you to enjoy camp entirely from the confines of a tent and perhaps even lose sleep, they are guaranteed to reduce morale. But worse still is the unpleasant sensation of finding a tick on your body, and the absolutely horrifying possibility of catching Lyme disease. Truly, bug protection is an important skill to master.

Let’s start with mosquito resistance. An ideal defense begins with a long sleeve, collared, button-down shirt and long pants, constructed with tightly woven fabric, typically nylon, and a factory-treatment of Permethrin (a bug proofing wash commonly branded as Insect Shield®). Unfortunately, stretchy, highly breathable, comfy athletic knit apparel is to be avoided. For optimal mosquito protection, I favor the dorky “dad-hiker” look, described above. The problem with athleisure is that, when flush against the skin, stretch woven fabrics, like poly-spandex blends, allow mosquitoes to bite through the knit, making the protection you thought you had irrelevant. So no tech tees, no tank tops, no tights. But when your shirt and pants are bite-proof AND bugs dislike the smell of them, you’re most of the way there.

But you must also protect your extremities, and where there is skin, there should be bug ointment. I recommend avoiding DEET, because it’s chemically toxic and can melt plastic, and instead, using picaridin. Picaridin is just as effective, derived more naturally, and can be found most places bug spray is sold. Apply it as a sunscreen-like lotion for best effect, or use the spray-on applicator. Make sure to cover your hands and any exposed skin on your head and neck. One application per day is usually sufficient.

You’ll also need a brimmed hat on your noggin, because it’s critical to have access to a mesh bug headnet when mosquito pressure peaks. The brim pulls the net off of your face. In truly buggy scenarios, the net is a physical guarantee that works in tandem with the picaridin on your skin and permethrin on your clothes to make all possible surfaces on your body discouraging or entirely inaccessible to mozzies. Lastly, as a finishing touch, I recommend applying spray-on permethrin to the upper half of your socks, which prevent exposing inadequately protected ankles and calves (mosquitoes can bite through socks) when making large steps or stretch movements that tug a pant cuff partially up the leg.

Worried about ticks? Thankfully, tick defense follows many of the same principles as mosquito prevention, so you can use the same clothes in both situations. Ticks operate by hanging out on protruding grass and foliage and attempting to cling to passers by. From there, they crawl around until they find a patch of skin to dig into. To prevent this, it’s important to close off all possible gaps, and show them no skin whatsoever. Starting with the same permethrin-treated, head-to-toe, dad-hiker outfit, adjust by tucking in your shirt to your pants, and your pant cuffs into your socks. Even cooler now, right?! Finally, button your button-down all the way up the neck for a full seal.

Consider adding permethrin treated gaiters into the mix. I also recommend spraying permethrin on the bottom and sides of your backpack, to reduce the chances that a tick hitches a ride into your tent. If you’ve been in tick country, make sure to check your body for ticks at night. If you’re worried that your shelter might be compromised, you might even choose to sleep in your bug outfit.

While no bug defense is 100% fool proof, and there is no guarantee that a clever tick or mosquito can’t find its way onto your skin somehow, I do believe wholeheartedly in the above methodology. It will protect most people very well almost all of the time, and if followed universally, would massively reduce the amount of ruined June backpacking trips. Make this the year you finally show those bugs who is the boss. If mosquitos can be annoying to us, we can be annoying to them.

And while we’re annoying mosquitos, why not pick up a Circadian or Circadian Pro Hammock? Don’t let bugs ruin your hike or your hang out!