It’s funny how something so small can ruin your day. I’m talking about the creepy crawlies that seem to be everywhere in the camp. Mosquitoes, flies, and ticks are the main culprits that can ruin your time in the field. Hell, even thinking about them gets me all paranoid that there is something flying or crawling around looking to drain my blood. All it takes is one bite to create something that irritates you, itches, or potentially worse. There is no such thing as a permanent solution to the biomass these insects make up. We are outnumbered and we are constantly bombarded by them. Dealing with bugs is more about learning to temporarily keep them at bay than anything else. There are many products on the market that we can use to ward off these pests and some basic practices we can employ to give our sanity a fighting chance.
For many years, I thought the only repellent worth a damn were those with DEET as a chemical agent. I never liked DEET as my experiences with it included melting a baseplate compass after it was exposed to DEET in my pack. Recently, I started using a product called Bullseye from Litefighter Tactical that has an ingredient called IR3535. This spray goes on and dries quickly without that greasy or oily feel from deet. Deet doesn’t stop insects from landing on you and it doesn’t do anything to mask the CO2 you produce that attracts mosquitoes. Enter Bullseye that does just that. It masks your scent, prevents landing, and biting. It’s a winner and my number one choice. With any repellent, you want to follow the instructions for use, never over-apply it, keep it out of your eyes, and avoid cross-contaminating it with your food. For many, this is the single best option and easiest to combat bugs.
Clothing and Fabric Treatment
It only takes finding a tick one time around your waistline to want to wage an all-out-war on them. Perhaps that is why I enjoy killing the ticks I find on me by burning them with my lighter. One of the best methods to prevent ticks from crawling on you is to treat your clothes with permethrin. This clothing and fabric treatment sprays on and lasts for multiple washes in the washing machine. Repellent works well for your skin but ticks and other insects will still cling to your clothing if it isn’t treated too. I apply a liberal amount of permethrin spray to the cuffs of my pants and shirt sleeves as well as the waistband and collar. I’ve made it a point to treat my clothes with permethrin the first few days of spring when the creepy crawlies and wiggles start to emerge.
Electronic and Butane-Based Methods
There are a couple of electronic and butane-reliant means of dealing with bugs that I recommend. Keep in mind, that these rely on battery power or fuel cartridges that are fail-points. One method that works to rid your immediate area of mosquitos is the Thermacell portable repeller. It uses a butane cartridge to heat up a pad treated with insect repellent and it covers your immediate area. These are perfect in non-windy conditions and underneath the cover of your camp tarp. Another fun option to deal with mosquitos is the electronic wand zapper. When I was younger, I had one without the plastic guard to prevent you from zapping your friend’s elbow. These work like the glowing blue bug zapper lights of your childhood. Make sure your batteries are charged and swat away. If you don’t want to worry about batteries, you can always pick up a good old-fashioned plastic fly swatter and rename it “the slammer” or “bug murderer 2000”.
A simple solution that can be found in many campgrounds is the simple citronella candle. These are available pretty much anywhere camping gear is sold and if you can find a Walmart, you can probably find one of these in either the camping aisle or the garden section. Candles emit the citronella scent into the air and they will work well when the wind isn’t blowing. One worry you should have with these is that they are an open flame and they are not suitable in all conditions. If you have kids, they will likely try to dip their fingers in the hot wax and examine the fingerprints they leave behind. Regardless, candles are relatively inexpensive and provide a little ambiance at night when other lights are turned down low. Since they release scent upwards, they don’t do anything for ticks crawling below.
One of the easiest ways to deal with mosquitoes and flies is to create a physical barrier between you and their stingers. If you have mosquito netting in your tent or hammock, this simply means having it far enough away from your skin for their stinger to pierce through. Yes, if you are wondering, netting isn’t perfect and you can be stung through it.
There are some anoraks, jackets, and shirts with built-in mosquito netting and while these are effective, they do get warm in the summer. If you are looking to prevent mosquito bites but don’t want to mess with netting, a couple of shirts worn together are often more than enough to stop most mosquitos.
Awareness and Fast Hands
Perhaps one of the most important ways to deal with bugs is to recognize them before they do their damage. Mosquitos give off a distinct buzz and you can often hear the sound of larger flies flapping their wings. Ticks are a nightmare but physical and visual checks using your signal mirror or compass sighting mirror in the morning and evening will help you spot them before they embed themselves. Make sure you carry a good set of tick tweezers or a tick key to remove the ones that get past your guard. The oldest method for dealing with just about any creepy crawly is a good set of fast hands. Clapping mosquitoes or flies out of the air, brushing spiders off of you, and flicking other nasties off with your index finger have been done probably as long as man has been around.
Keep in mind that you are outnumbered by the bugs around you. You won’t get them all but you can affect the ones that try to get you. A little vigilance, some basic prep, and a lot of patience will get you through the worst buggy territory your adventures take you to.