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In addition to Mosquitos, many of us northwoods campers have been made victim to the vast swarms of biting flies.

Despite slathering myself with DEET, they don't seem deterred, and they especially love to bite my feet and ankles. Is there anything I can do to deter those obnoxious flies?

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My uncle and his hiking partner swear that ingesting a capsule of cayenne powder each day keeps all kinds of insects away from them, but I've never seen any scientific evidence that supports that claim. – Laura Jan 25 '12 at 0:26
where is "northwoods"? – Jay Bazuzi Jan 25 '12 at 1:11
up vote 13 down vote accepted

Most folks I know (including the Royal Marines) swear by Avon's Skin So Soft to repel most biting insects - it certainly works well against midges in Scotland.

It is also much less harmful to the environment than DEET and leaves your skin extra soft :-)

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Ex-military here, in our regiment we'd rank Skin-so-Soft as 2nd place to the old Muskol that had 100% DEET, and citronella a distant 3rd place. – furtive Feb 2 '12 at 21:23

Physical barriers are my deterrent of choice. A good hat with mosquito netting is a northern Minnesota must have. Second best is traveling with someone more attractive to the insects than you. The amount of technical wear that is intended to shield you from biting insects is astounding and any decent outfitter can assist you in what works for the locality in which you are going to be spending time.

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On more than one occasion, having forgotten DEET, we have just rubbed down with raw garlic. It smells, but it repels most bugs.

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I have more recently being using Smidge which has been developed by Edinburgh University, UK - it works on Midges, Ticks and Mosquitos claim the manufacturers. Similar to the answer I gave for this question. Like Avon's Skin So Soft it doesn't damage the skin, so great for eczema sufferers like myself.

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One trick is to avoid them. A breeze is often enough to keep the bugs away, as are the cooler temperatures of May, June, September and October (for Canada at least). Combine the two by sticking to mountains. A hat, long sleeves, and long pants all help, as do thin gloves (Helly Hansen makes a great brand of ultra-thin glove that can be worn in the summer, but a medium-loose knit wool works just as well). Mosquito netting hats, and bug bars (mosquito netting for inside a tent) all help.

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I've heard good things about Badger Balm protecting from biting bugs. It's more of a natural repellant using citronella, cedar and lemongrass. I picked some up from REI to use on summer bike tours.

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Clothing during the day, fire during the evening and a tent during the night. Instead of tent, there are some nets against insects - per sleeping bag, per hammock. I haven't tried them, though.

Also, based on my experience this summer, large sunglasses (similar to the glasses for snowstorms) are essential against the hordes of tiny flies. Should fit tightly against the face, nearly sealing the eyes away.

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