Bug bites can make even the best hiking and camping trips a bust. Sometimes, walking away with a few temporary itchy souvenirs is a necessary evil. Other times, a swarm of incessant mosquitoes makes you want to pack it in and head home. Luckily there are some methods of avoiding bites without having to bathe in bug spray. You can have your hike, and have it bite-free too, simply by following a few simple rules.
Know the Enemy
Mosquitoes tend to be most active at dim parts of the day—dawn and dusk—so it may be a good idea to plan your hike around their feeding schedules. Start your hike before dawn (or wait until after the sun has risen), and wait to cook and eat until after dusk.
Granted, not all biting bugs follow the same schedule, but many breeds still have peak times of the year, typically a month or so when they’re at their highest populations. In general, the best, most bug-free time of year to take a trip is in the fall, from September to October. This is a general estimate, however, and doesn’t mean you should avoid balmy summer hikes. Check with the park rangers to learn the exact population levels of the mountain you’re looking to climb, as they’ll vary year to year as well as month to month.
Mosquitoes also require water to breed, so damp paths, or a trip right after rainfall, may not be advisable. You’ll find them easily in small puddles or swamps in the shade, and they’ll find you even quicker. Avoid pausing by still bodies of water; instead, take your breathers in breezy spots like peaks and clearings. Similarly, you should set up your camping tent far away from standing water, as even a small amount will attract a lot of the buzzing nuisances, and the last thing you want is for them to get into your tent.
Repel the Attack
If you’re out in the woods for a while, chances are that your scent will begin to blend in with the environment. The dirtier you are, the less bugs will smell you, so don’t feel compelled to stay squeaky clean your entire trip. On the flip side, they’re attracted to the smell of sweat, so cleaning up with unscented soaps after a particularly strenuous day of hiking is still a good idea.
Of course, bug spray will also help you, especially around your tent, but if you’re not a fan of the chemical spell, use oil of lemon eucalyptus on the exposed areas of your body. Avid hikers recommend bug sprays that contain DEET, especially in its slow-evaporating form, which lasts longer and requires fewer applications. Some camping enthusiasts swear by garlic as a means of repelling bugs naturally, so throw a bit of diced garlic in with whatever you’re eating—the only thing it could hurt is your breath.
Biting bugs are attracted to dark-colored clothes, so opt for lighter shades when going for hikes in warmer months. Long sleeves and pants will help keep mosquitoes away from your skin, and if you’re looking for an extra layer of protection, some clothing is made with an odorless insect shield that lasts up to 70 washings. For further repellent, tie a bandana of the same material around your neck to limit the amount of exposure and help keep sweat off your skin.
When camping, take extra efforts to keep unwanted visitors like flies, mosquitoes, and fire ants out of your tents. Zip up the flap quickly after leaving and entering, and rub a little oil of lemon eucalyptus, or bug spray, by the tent entrance. For an additional wall of defense, get an insect shield to sleep in. This extra step is necessary when mosquito counts are high and your risk of getting a disease from a bite increases. A good model is lightweight enough that you’ll hardly notice the difference in your hiking backpack.
It’s highly unlikely that you’ll come home from a camping trip with no bites. There are some lucky people who seem immune to bugs, but unless you’ve found a way to inherit that gene, you should know how to treat a bug bite. Taking an antihistamine proactively can help alleviate the itch, and it works for up to 24 hours, so you have to take it only once. In order to heal a bee sting or a bite from a mosquito, black fly, tick, or fire ant, use a baking soda gel. Not only will it ease the itch, it will also help stop the swelling.
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