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?

  • 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
    Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 0:26
  • 3
    where is "northwoods"?
    – Jay Bazuzi
    Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 1:11
  • Basically, northern Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan forests. Northwoods is defined here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laurentian_Mixed_Forest_Province
    – Benzo
    Commented Mar 30, 2018 at 15:16

8 Answers 8


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 :-)

  • 1
    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
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 21:23
  • 1
    @furtive - The active ingredient in Skin So Soft is citronella. DEET works better but it's horrible stuff and corrodes plastic in spectacles, on wristwatches, etc. Have you tried any of the products that contain icaridin, such as Smidge or Autan?
    – user13745
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 16:02

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 which really isn’t workable with biting flies since they are out for a flesh meal.

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.


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


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.

  • And? How good have you found it?
    – user13745
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 16:03

An article in the Spokesman Review claims that the best solution for biting flies is a combination of Permethrin to treat clothing with Picaridin to treat skin and gear.

Supposedly the Picaridin is more effective than DEET against the biting flies and the Permethrin will add an additional layer of protection against insects such as mosquitos and ticks which may land on clothing.

Additionally, this Post from University Of Maine Cooperative Extension also states Picaradin and Permethrin are effective for flies.

I've also seen references to the efficacy of lemon eucalyptus oil for repelling biting flies, but with a less effective duration against Mosquitos.


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.


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.


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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