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Protecting Yourself from Insects in the Great Out There

Updated: 4 days ago

Nothing ruins The Great Out There faster than swarming bugs!

It is a rarity to find a campsite without bugs – especially at dusk and dawn. I have been there on several occasions, high in the mountains or out in the desert. Often, a breezy lakeshore is perfect – until the sun goes down and the wind dies. Then you can hear the advancing army of mosquitos building in numbers and intensity.

minnesota mosquito

Mountain biking in the summer requires an average speed of more than 10 miles per hour to stay ahead of the squadrons of deer flies. Canoeing or kayaking is often bug-free, until you reach the shore. Canoe portages are notorious for damp ground and still air that breeds mosquitos, and then concentrates them under the canoe and around your head as you sweat across the trail. Backpackers are often subjected to biting insects (along with ticks and chiggers) from morning until night.

Wisconsin mosquito

The best camping locations are usually synonymous with insect hatches of Biblical proportions. Minnesota and Wisconsin both laughingly name the mosquito the “State Bird”! I can attest that these pests don’t compare to their cousins farther north in Canada, the Yukon, and Alaska. Then there are the seasonal hatches of black flies, plus deer flies. And insect pests include non-biting plagues of mayflies and creepy-crawlies like ticks and Army worms.

The flying, biting insects are the prime phobia for summer campers, particularly along lakes and rivers. Be prepared and you will overcome the hordes.

The first line of defense is the proper clothing. Lightweight, long sleeve shirts and long pants will be the best armor against biting bugs. You want a fabric that is light but hard enough to “bend” a mosquito’s beak! You don’t need to spend money on expensive “hiking” apparel – unless you want to. Durable, inexpensive work shirts fill the bill just fine. Although, some clothing brands now have shirts infused with repellant that is claimed to last up to 50 washings. You can accomplish the same thing by spraying your shirts, pants, and even tents with a few cents’ worth of Permethrin.

Next, you need to protect any exposed skin with an effective insect repellant. DEET is no longer the best-selling, most used product. DEET damages tents and waterproof clothing, eats the finishes on metal, and is absorbed into your skin! The BEST-SELLING, most highly recommended insect repellant is now Picaridin. This fragrance-free product is available in lotion and spray. It is safe for the whole family and has been proven MORE effective than DEET! Learn more below:

When swarming bugs are horrific, sometimes you need to deploy the “heavy artillery”. I have experienced the black fly hatch in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area when they were so thick that eye lids and ears were targeted, and you could barely force a breath through your nose or mouth. The only option is mesh head nets and full “bug suits”.

The Original Bug Shirt was created by necessity in the wilds of Canada. When nothing else is effective, enclose yourself in this wearable screen tent!

All tents include insect screens. But most hammocks do not include bug protection. Thankfully, some hammock brands now include models with an attached canopy of mosquito netting. There are many variations, some opening on both sides, others that are completely removable, some that are self-supporting and others that require a ridgeline or additional support cords. But all these options offer protection from swarming insects while sleeping.

In the case of attached netting, most hammocks can simply be flipped over, and the netting allowed to hang unused below your hammock bed when not needed. Better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it!

There are also bug nets that can be added to your hammock, creating a netting envelope that completely encases your hammock. The advantage of these universal accessory bug nets is that the netting surrounds you from end to end, and in a complete 360-degree envelope. NO MORE mean bugs biting through the thin hammock!

An additional benefit of these hammock bug net enclosures is that the area UNDER the hammock becomes a storage nest. Not only are your spare clothes and shoes protected from bugs, but they are also off the ground and out of reach of slithering creatures and the nighttime visitations of skunks or raccoons.

The hammock bug net does NOT need to be removed to pack the hammock. But it is easily removed when not needed and can be left behind for cold weather camping – after the bugs – or used with different hammocks throughout the year.

Finally, many people swear by the effectiveness of airborne repellants. I admit that I have resisted - so far - buying the popular Thermacell systems. But there are thousands of favorable reviews and I follow many hunters, anglers, hikers, and campers who attest that they are worth every penny. The next time I am swarmed I may lose my resistance to this electronic option and invest $35.00.

I do have experience with the many variations of repellant candles, lanterns, coils, wicks, and sticks. There is no doubt that these are very effective – IF you have a small area protected from the wind. For example, being able to light an insect repellant candle (which you placed within arm’s reach the night before) under your hammock tarp will make getting dressed and fixing breakfast a pleasure!

Leave a comment on your results. What other secrets can you share to make The Great Out There more enjoyable? Visit The Great Out There for continued gear reviews and how-to articles on camping. Please also follow The Great Out There on Facebook and Instagram.

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