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Backpacker Magazine – August 2009

How to Avoid Mosquito Bites

Stay itch-free this summer with these guide-tested tips.

by: Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan


At best, mosquitoes are a nuisance on an otherwise perfect backcountry outing. At worst, a whining swarm can spoil the entire trek. Armed with tiny sensors that detect heat, sweat, and even your breath, skeeters sport tools perfectly adapted to help them make a meal out of unprepared hikers. Here's how to beat summer's winged scourge.

AVOID
Plan your big trips around the buggy season. Head to the Northwoods in July and August, and to Alaska in late August and September—by which time mosquitoes have usually died off. Ask rangers when mosquito numbers peak, and steer clear. Also consider seasonal conditions: Bugs will be worse after a wet, warm spring than in drier, cooler years.

Cook and hike when the bugs relent, even if that means hitting the trail before dawn and waiting until after sunset to emerge from your tent and make dinner.

Camp (and take breaks) in breezy spots, such as high ridges, passes, or peninsulas. Avoid bug havens like standing water—even small snowmelt puddles—and groves of trees.

OUTSMART
Cover up. Go for light colors, tightly woven fabrics, and long sleeves. Protect ankles by tucking pants into socks or wearing gaiters. Mosquitoes really bad? Rick Rochelle, a NOLS guide in Alaska, swears by a headnet (look for cheap, effective models at an Army surplus store, and wear a billed cap under it to keep the mesh off of your face) and the proboscis-proof Bug Shirt ($60, bugshirt.com), a densely woven, lightweight windshell with a built-in headnet.

Repel 'em. Our go-to bug dope is DEET, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommend picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus. Apply to all exposed skin, including your face and neck (spray hands and wipe, then wash your hands). The higher the concentration of DEET, the longer it'll last—from about an hour for five-percent-DEET formulas to more than five hours for the 24-percent variety (reapply when bugs start biting again).

Skip scented lotions and soaps, and clean up when you reach camp:
Mosquitoes are attracted to sweat.

Try this guide trick from John Schiefelbein, owner of North Country Canoe Outfitters in Ely, Minnesota: Make sure you're the first in any line of hikers. "That way, you walk in the cool air, and you leave a heat signature behind you," he says. "The people behind are going to get bitten."

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READERS COMMENTS

John Ladd
Apr 19, 2012

There's a recap of other suggestions at this link:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/johnmuirtrail/message/22243

Kevin H. Goligher
Oct 12, 2011

I use Carbolic Soap to chase off the mosquitos and their ilk. It comes in orange bars, and you can find it in most drug stores and bulk food stores. Shower with it for the five days preceeding your trip. This removes any perfume scents already on you, and builds up a carbolic scent on your skin. Then use it to wash with on the trail. The scent is not unpleasent, and Mosquitoes, blackflies and ticks just do not like the taste. It worked for me in some of the worst bug spots of northern Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick, where I spent most of my twenty-five years in the Canadian Army. (Also decades of hiking, camping and fishing.) It is also a good disenfectant and can be used for cleaning wounds and abraisions.

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