24

What's the best way to repel flies and bugs when hiking in summer? Where I hike is not really humid (southern California) but it's hot on summer days and a lot of insects and flies gather around me when I hike or sit.

EDIT UPDATE:

My hiking is not heavy, usually ~7miles in the sun, and there are not dangerous mosquitoes but they are extremely annoying and always on my face and bare hands.

  • Related, I think: outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/4156/…... – Sue Jun 11 '18 at 21:22
  • 5
  • 2
    @user207 Even one bite in the wrong place can cause severe problems... I had one on my ankle that got rubbed by my sandal strap all day and put me on the sofa for several days and antibiotics for a week. That was a particularly nasty local bug though. Most aren't anywhere near that bad, but they're annoying so trying to avoid them is sensible. – Rosemary7391 Jun 12 '18 at 9:03
  • 1
    This picture shows my solution when cycling in Namibia / South Africa ;-) – RoVo Jun 12 '18 at 16:20

11 Answers 11

21

I use a repellent that contains 30% Lemon Eucalypus Oil and have found it to be effective against flying insects. According to testing done by consumer reports, it is also effective against ticks (despite this being an "off label" use).

It does not contain DEET, (which can melt certain plastics and rubbers and ruin your $500 hardshell), though it is not quite as effective. As pointed out in the comments, it is poisonous if ingested, so it is important to avoid drinking it. However, it is approved by the EPA as safe and effective when applied to the skin as intended. The main downside of this product is that it can cause some irritation and itching, though it isn't too bad in my case.

You can also treat your clothes with Permethrin (also used as a pesticide) to deter insects from biting through them. It kills insects that linger on treated clothing for too long, works for several washings after being applied to clothing and is effective against both flying insects like mosquitos as well as ticks. (I have not tried it myself.) Ticks apparently do not bite immediately, so if they get on your clothing it should kill them before they have a chance to bite.

  • "Avoid drinking it" I usually do tend to avoid drinking bug repellent any kind, but I suppose it's worth mentioning that drinking poison is bad. – corsiKa Jun 14 '18 at 4:37
15

Repellants containing DEET are the most effective and the only method I've been happy with. It is a harsh chemical but does NOT need to go on your skin. Spray 95%-100% DEET on the top and bottom of your hat brim, your backpack shoulder straps or the neck and shoulders of your shirt and socks. This works for me most of the time. When it doesn't I put on a head net.

Also most flying bugs can be out hiked in my experience. It seems like >3 miles per hour is just enough to keep the cloud of mosquitoes just behind you.

  • 2
    This has been my experience, too; it's worth noting, though, that DEET will dissolve some synthetic fabrics, so best to spot test before use. (I had an extremely unpleasant day in Singapore once with my stockings melting off my legs.) – 1006a Jun 12 '18 at 3:22
11

There are proven ways using commercial bug-repellents sprays and lotions.

I'd consider non-commercial, DIY ways using Eucalyptus.

  1. Eucalyptus oil: If you are carrying Eucalyptus oil, you can rub a few drops of oil on your forehead, neck and nose. Such oil on skin-scratch or a pimple may make burning sensation, but there is no harm. In such a case, you can use your buff or a handkerchief with a few drops of Eucalyptus oil on it, and use it cover your face, neck and/or elbows (If you aren't with a full-sleeves attire). I have heard (but haven't tried) that Soyabean oil, Cinnamon oil does the same, but I can't imagine you hiking with me as I am smelling like a Soyabean all the way :)

  2. Eucalyptus leaves: If you aren't carrying Eucalyptus oil, well, then find a Eucalyptus tree. Get some leaves from the tree, squash them and rub them over your backpack, hat/cap, shoes, clothes, etc. Bugs and Mosquitoes stay away! I have tried this, and this works.

  3. There is another way but that doesn't guarantee the effectiveness in all conditions. Camphor is another repellent with a bearable/tolerable smell unless someone is allergic to it, I have seen people who start sneezing for hours when they sniff a camphor ball/tab, while some people (including me) love the smell! If you are of the latter category, keep camphor tabs/balls in a handkerchief and tie it your backpack, and on hat. Looks funny, but works. May not work that well when its raining all the way, but otherwise it works.

You might be aware of some products like DEET, which is anyway an artificial, commercial product. I typically defer from using it because even though its a proven product, it has a strong smell. It's harmful for some fabrics and rubber products, and pets (and animals) suffer badly if they sniff/lick anything thats heavily sprayed with DEET.

Update: Based on some data provided in a comment by Qudit, it's recommended to use Eucalyptus oil for its effectiveness based on a consumer report.

  • 4
    Because your (better) answer already suggested acceptable commercial products. I suggested DIY in case someone forgets to carry/use the sprays and lotions. :-) – WedaPashi Jun 11 '18 at 7:11
  • 1
    That makes sense. Your idea of using eucalyptus leaves is interesting. That is definitely a good tip if you hike in areas where they grow. – Qudit Jun 11 '18 at 7:17
  • 2
    By the way, consumer reports found in their testing that other plant oils are significantly less effective than lemon eucalyptus oil, so it may be advisable to stick to that one. consumerreports.org/cro/insect-repellent/buying-guide – Qudit Jun 11 '18 at 7:37
  • 1
    I have found tea tree oil to be useful as well. If you don't mind the scent which can be a bit strong. Though with tea tree oil you don't want to apply it directly to skin unless its been watered down or made into a spray mix. – user15518 Jun 11 '18 at 13:30
  • 1
    Downvoting without a comment isn't going to help anyone here. – WedaPashi Jun 18 '18 at 8:54
10

You don't say what you're wearing. The best solution can be covering yourself with light-colored lightweight breathable clothing. You might be reluctant to cover up on a hot day, but with the right kind of clothing, it shouldn't make you too much hotter. Not only can this be an effective way to avoid bug bites and the annoyance of bugs, but it also can be a good protection against sunburn.

I always wear long pants and often long sleeves and spray my pants, shoes, and socks with permethrin (which lasts a few washes). Here in Kansas, I've found tens of dead ticks in my shoes after a hike, some of which would have been sucking on my ankles without the permethrin. Gaiters also can be effective for keeping the ticks and chiggers away from your ankles.

The US military uses permethrin-impregnated uniforms coupled with skin-applied DEET to repel insects, which together are extremely effective. Both DEET and permethrin may have mild toxic effects in humans, especially if used together over long periods. Research is still ongoing. "Natural oils" and other such remedies may also have such toxic effects, which have not been studied. However, the threat of tick-borne and mosquito-borne diseases must be part of the cost-benefit analysis. Know what tick-borne and mosquito-borne diseases are common in your area and what their impact on your life could be. In the US, the CDC is a good source (tick-borne diseases in the US).

Tick-borne diseases in the US

9

The barrier method is the only method that is 100% effective...and then only when used properly.

Long pants tucked into high socks. Gloves (light weight, you get used to them faster than you would think). Long sleeves tucked into your gloves or with a cuff tight enough that there are no gaps. Shirt should overlap pants enough that there are no gaps. Ideally you would have a net to cover your head, but if you don't want to look too different from a normal hiker you can get away with sunglasses for your eyes and a headband/scarf/handkerchief/"Buff" to cover your ears and a high-ish necked shirt. (Prefer a larger "Buff"/handkerchief/etc. over a small one, since it can be rearranged to cover your face and nose, too, if you go through a particularly bad area, and then back to a headband when you no longer need as much protection.)

Clothing works best if it is somewhat loose (except around the cuffs), even for insects which will bite through clothing, if the outer layer is far enough from your skin they will not be able to reach you.

As a bonus, this will somewhat protect you from other common hazards, such as casual contact with poison ivy and most sunburn.

  • Doesn't work that well with mosquitos and deer flies, as they will bite through a light shirt or pants. And if you wear heavy ones... well, which is worse, bugs or heat stroke? – jamesqf Jun 12 '18 at 5:37
  • @jamesqf Added that the clothing should be a little bit loose (except cuffs), so they can't reach all the way through to get to you, you can get away with much lighter/airy-er clothing this way. – user3067860 Jun 12 '18 at 13:12
8

A few tricks in no particular order:

  1. Long sleeves and wearable netting for your face
  2. Tiger Balm behind your ears (smell keeps bugs away from your face)
  3. Bug spray on your clothing (around your collar, ends of sleeves, in your netting) stays there longer than on sweaty skin
  4. Avoid flavored soaps and shampoos a few weeks before the trip
  5. Cover your skin with mud
  6. Cool down your body temperature (a lot of bugs are attracted to heat)
  7. Stay calm (some bugs are attracted to the CO2 we breathe out, staying calm reduces the amount)
  8. Wear light-colored clothes (white is best) as dark tends to attract some bugs and also dark absorbs more heat which also attracts bugs
  9. Stand near the people who follow the advice above and far from those who don't
  10. Know your bugs. Being stuck in a swarm of bugs is less mentally painful if you know these bugs don't sting. And mental pain is bad because panic and stress get you breathing harder and creating more of the above-discussed CO2
  11. The smoke of a camp fire can help keep some insects and animals at bay

Of course, no matter what you do, you will be bitten and stung. A few more tricks:

  1. Don't scratch, ever. Scratching once can turn a mosquito bite from a half-hour thing to a many-day thing because you're ruining the clean little needle whole and turning it into an infection-prone tear. Wrap with clean dry fabric to avoid scratching during the night.
  2. Otherwise leaving the skin uncovered helps prevent moisture from setting in and gives the "wound" plenty of access to oxygen, two things which help speed up "convalescence"
  3. Remove any dart, dirt or debris and clean gently (again to avoid infection)
  4. Sooth with after-bite ointments, ice, submerge in cold water
  • The wearable netting idea is a good one: cheap, effective, very lightweight. – jsf80238 Jun 19 '18 at 3:53
5

I live and play in Florida, and I feel you.

First, don't be afraid of insect repellant. It's not a total solution but it can really help. Coat your clothes in it, then spray a little on your self. The ones made with DEET are very effective, though they can discolor some clothes and will harm some plastics and rubbers.

Next use oil. A "layer" of olive oil will stop the bug bites. It will also stop the gnats and other annoying insects. Just smear some on, your exposed skin and off you go.

Long, thin cloths work wonders. Most annoying insects can't bite through any clothes.

Finally, just ignore them. At a certain point, it just becomes better to ignore them.

Once bitten

You will get bitten, here are a few things you can do.

  1. Pee on it. Yep, Pee on it. Most stings will be soothed and stop hurting and itching if you just pee on it.
  2. Benydril - Take a little at night. It will help with any overnight itchies. The wound will still be there but, it won't keep you awake.
  3. Use ammonia. For the same reason pee works, ammonia will too. I am not advocating taking a bath in it, but pouring it on an ant bite, bee sting, or mosquito bite makes it stop itching and hurting almost instantly.
  4. Calamine lotion can work wonders too.
  5. As always you can choose to just ignore it. Provided the bites are not that bad you should be able to "mind over matter" the situation away.
  • 1
    I'd recommend being careful with antihistamines (Diphenhydramine/Benadryl, Dimetinden/Fenistil) and recommend trying them in safe surroundings. Diphenhydramine is a sedative and causes drowsiness, and possibly also motor control impairment and is not safe when driving - not something that I'd recommend on tours where you possibly need to rely on your full judgment. I've similar experience with Dimetinden/Fenistil (which generally has fewer side effects): my (inside) description is that the bites continued to be as itchy as before I took Fenistil, but I got so sleepy I didn't have the will ... – cbeleites Jun 11 '18 at 22:51
  • ... power to scratch and I could barely manage to get on and along with our bike tour. Outside description is that a friend thought I'd fall off my bike sleeping any moment. In any case, at the first break I went asleep for several hours, and everything was normal again after that. Including the bites still itching... I've learned since that some people show this reaction, and that I'll keep away from that stuff. However, I was lucky learn this at a generally harmless bike tour along rural lanes basically without car traffic, rather than, say a mountain tour requiring sure footedness. – cbeleites Jun 11 '18 at 22:54
  • 1
    Alcohol - isopropyl or drinking kind - a drop rubbed on a itchy skeeter bite will take the itch away. If you use decent whiskey, bourbon, scotch, or your choice of liquor it will still work when applied to the bite - and you can always apply internally by mouth :) . Sure you might get known as "the alkie who can't go outside without a bottle" but at least you won't be known as "the guy/gal who pees on themselves all the time" – ivanivan Jun 12 '18 at 11:30
  • @cbeleites is right about histamines. Side effects can be very serious. My husband has irregular heartbeats and histamines increase them and cause blood pressure changes and dizzy/fainting spells. We didn't know that until the first time he tried benadryl, which, lucky for us, was at home. They also can cause the opposite of sleep, including imsomnia, agitation, anxiety in many people. These are documented problems, and even if they happen rarely, advising someone to try histamines for the first time while out on a hiking trip can be dangerous. – Sue Jun 13 '18 at 0:15
  • I know it's not your intention to advise something that can do more harm than good, so I'm not criticizing you. I'd just appreciate if you'd remove that part of this excellent answer, or at least add that people should make sure they've safely used histamines before, even in low doses, before choosing that option. Thanks! – Sue Jun 13 '18 at 0:19
5

Use a hat with an insect mesh covering which covers your head and neck right down to the chest and same around the back so you don't have to spray a repellent on your face. bush hat with netting

  • 1
    I'm not affiliated with that company. It does add something. You don't need to use harmful chemicals at all, you can wear a protective barrier against insects that will keep insects and also dust and other particulate matter away from your face. I've actually received compliments from people when they've seen it and although I bought that product there are other similar ones out there. I copied someone else who was walking through clouds of flies without a problem where as they were all in my eyes and mouth. – Stevernator Jun 12 '18 at 5:59
  • Thanks for the clarification. Covering up was already mentioned, but I guess if your main point is to recommend covering up to entirely avoid chemicals on your skin, that's indeed different. Maybe you can make that a bit more clear (that will also avoid the auto-detection as "too short" answer ;) ). – imsodin Jun 12 '18 at 6:11
  • Thanks for the feedback Imsodin, I'm still learning. Sorry if my comment was a bit defensive too. Yes, its a big help knowing that the little critters and even other things like leaves and particulate matter isn't going to hit you in the face, eyes (while still seeing easily), mouth, go up your nose or climb down the back of your shirt and a hat for sun protection is always a good idea. There'd be many similar hat with mesh designs. – Stevernator Jun 12 '18 at 6:23
5

Having tried all known expensive remedies to little effect, here is one that was recommended by a friend: equal parts of tap water & apple cider vinegar plus a few drops each of rose geranium and lavender oil, place all ingredients in an atomiser; This is perfectly safe for use on pets against ticks & fleas (it works) and more importantly the ONLY thing I've found works against the Scottish midge a ferocious wee beastie (particularly bad this year). It got so bad the other week, I was stood in the garden with a net curtain wrapped around my head whilst the dogs did their thing...slowly as usual 😉 (not gotten round to mixing my potion for this season)

We get loads of other flying things, horse flies, mossies, hornets and it helps with those too.

4

Another option if you don't want to go the bug spray or full body cover route could be one of the battery powered thermocell products.

These are designed to be used in a stationary place (and are incredibly effective in normal use), but I can attest that it also works reasonably well when carried around - just with presumably a much smaller sphere of influence.

This would also have the benefit of providing some protection to the others in your group (if any)

4

In addition to DEET and permethrin, which were mentioned in other answers, there are a couple other insect repellent possibilities:

Picaridin (also known as icaridin)

  • Protects for up to 8 hours
  • Can be applied to skin or clothing
  • Does not damage fabrics, surfaces or materials
  • Considered more effective against flies than DEET

IR3535

  • Protects for up to 8 hours
  • Can be applied to skin or clothing
  • Can damage plastics (source)

protected by Rory Alsop Jun 12 '18 at 21:17

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.