The Taste of DEET
Deer ticks, black flies, mosquitoes — there are plenty of insects on the Appalachian Trail. Some are dangerous, too, potentially transmitting such life-altering diseases as Rocky Mountain Fever, Lyme disease, West Nile Virus, and Zika, among other things. But none are annoying as gnats, those pesky little bugs that swarm around our ears and faces as we try to hike.
We’ve tried the usual things to deter them. We douse ourselves with repellent before we start out. We spray everything — our clothes and hats, bodies and shoes — which usually works for about three miles. And then they’re back, buzzing around as we try to ignore them, finally driving us so crazy we start leaping around the trail as if possessed. Applying more repellent helps…for a little while. But those blasted things are persistent. Nothing seems to deter them for long. Even worse, it’s impossible to spray close to the spots they home in on without getting it in our mouth or eyes.
In desperation, I’ve scoured the internet for advice. Aside from applying DEET, which is generally considered the most effective repellent, the experts recommend using Picaridin (which is synthetic) or Geraniol, made of geranium oil extract. More natural alternatives include sprays made of essential oils (rosemary, cedar, castor, etc.) or lemon eucalyptus oil.
In addition, they suggest soaking equipment and clothes in Permethrin, which I intend to do before our thru-hike. I’ll also wear a bug net over my head when I hit New England and the black flies get really bad.
Other suggestions I’ve come across:
1. Eat garlic. The smell of garlic oozing from your pores will supposedly repel insects. (Other hikers, too.)
2. Rub raw onion over your skin. (You’ll be popular on the trail!) Variations include using orange or lemon peels, or a vanilla/water mixture instead. (But what about the bees and bears?)
3. Ingest a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar three times a day. (Assuming you’re willing to lug a bottle of vinegar in your pack.)
4. Cover all exposed skin. But avoid wearing dark clothes, which attract mosquitoes. Avoid bright colors, which attract bees. (Swathe yourself in white?)
5. Avoid eating sugar and junk food. (Thru-hiker staples!)
6. Submerge yourself in water or take refuge in a vehicle or tent. (Very practical hiking advice!)
7. Carry around a torch of burning sage.
You can also buy a device that creates an insect force field, or a plastic card that emits bug-deterring high-frequency sounds. And if all else fails… learn to hike with gnats, I guess.
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