Hike in the backcountry long enough and you will understand the saying “I’m being eaten alive”. Eaten by mosquitoes that is. Some of the most beautiful vistas in the U.S. are also the most infested by those pests. Actually, you may find mosquitoes anywhere there is an abundance of water and mild-hot temperatures. From sea level to over 10,000 ft. they will find you. While the risk of West Nile and chikungunya viruses is there, those illnesses will not kill you. Chiki-what? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chikungunya To my knowledge, yellow fever and malaria aren’t that common in America.
I remember the time we met a family near Devil’s Postpile, on the John Muir Trail. They had passed through Lyle Canyon and bore the bites of many, many mosquitoes. It was a bit scary to see their skin covered in itchy, red bumps. They all had shorts, short sleeve shirts and no headnets. Ok, I could end this blog on bugs right here. One could probably eliminate 75% of bug bites by wearing a headnet, long sleeves and long pants.
Do some research on why mosquitoes in particular are attracted to humans and you will see that it has to do with our movement, carbon dioxide that we exhale, body odor and body chemistry. According to one researcher “One in 10 people are highly attractive to mosquitoes,” reports Jerry Butler, PhD, professor emeritus at the University of Florida. That might explain why some are eaten alive and others barely get bitten. When hiking, it’s hard to avoid the attractants mentioned above.
However, any good mosquito abatement plan has multiple layers. This will even work for other bugs like gnats and flies. Let’s start with your clothing. When on an extended trip in the backcountry, less is better. The less weight you carry, the better off you will be. Make your clothes count. Bring convertible pants that zip off at the knees and long sleeve shirts that can be rolled up and fastened. Layer your top with a t-shirt that wicks sweat. I’ve been bitten by mosquitos through a t-shirt, so layering may help.
Prior to your trip, consider treating your clothing with a bug repellant like Permethrin. It works amazingly well and may last for 5 or 6 washings. It dries within a few hours and is not known to irritate the skin. It is highly toxic to cats, so be aware and apply outside or in a well ventilated area. In my opinion, Permethrin is more effective than spray on repellents and less of an irritant. It is effective on most other bugs including ticks and flies. This is a good brand that I use: Sawyer Products Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent Trigger Spray, 24-Ounce
Do spray on repellents work? I believe they do, but will only last for so long. If you sweat, it tends to wash away the repellant. It also can get into your eyes and on your food. We carry it, but use it sparingly. DEET is still a common chemical and very effective, but in higher concentrations it can melt plastic like sunglasses and synthetic clothing. Scary, huh? Here is a lotion that works very well, but be careful around the eyes: 3M Ultrathon Insect Repellent Lotion, 2-Ounce
When camping, mosquitoes are the worst, especially if you are near water. Set up your tent quickly and zip the screen closed. Wind is your friend when it comes to these insects. It’s harder for them to fly and find their prey. Set up your tent where there is a breeze if possible. Many a camper has pitched their tent near a beautiful lake or stream and are forced to eat dinner inside their tent because of the swarms. At night, minimize the use of bright lights or use the red lens if your lamp is equipped with one.
This might seem a bit extreme, but when nature calls and you are in an infested area, it may be a good idea to put some bug repellant on your backside. You are an easy target during this time and it might prevent you from toppling over because you were swatting them.
The $5 I spent on our head nets was probably the best money spent. You can even run your hydration tube underneath the net. The nets are not fashionable, but it’s only a matter of time before someone invents some that are. When not in buggy areas, I usually roll mine up and over my trail hat. I can pull it down when they start to bite. This inexpensive one has served us well: Coleman Insect Head Net
Some last thoughts. According to the same researcher mentioned above, female mosquitoes do the biting. They need your blood to fertilize their eggs. Supposedly there are new inventions coming to aid in the battle including pills and wearable patches. I’ll try anything once – as long as it’s safe. So friends, don’t let those Culicidae keep you from venturing into the backcountry – hike on! Any ideas for repelling mosquitoes? Please mention them in your comments.