The Taste of DEET


Swatting away gnats

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.


Applying more repellent

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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Comments 7

  • Frozen Mac : Aug 7th

    Get a bug net and wear it over a ball cap!! Worth 100x its weight in gold. Best investment I ever made for the AT.

    • Gail Barrett : Aug 8th

      I definitely plan on doing that, Frozen Mac. I saw someone on the trail recently with welts all over his body from bug bites, and it looked awful. (And probably felt worse!). I will definitely invest in a net!

  • Kenneth Calhoun : Aug 7th


    • Gail Barrett : Aug 8th

      You’re probably right about the sweets, Kenneth. It just isn’t what I wanted to hear:(.

  • TicTac : Aug 7th

    According to the CDC, Picaridin is significantly more effective than any other so called repellent on the market, including DEET . I have been in Baxter State Park in July, with the expected clouds of mosquitoes and black flies, and had not one bite when I applied Sawyer’s 20% Picaridin.
    I have actually told a salesperson at REI that the fact that they continue to sell DEET products when it is clear that that only effective repellent on the market is Picaridin, amounts to a scam.
    The mosquito is the Minnesota State Bird, but I no longer even pack my headnet on BWCA trips because I only carry Picaridin. People, stop wasting your money – and your blood – on any insect repellent except Sawyer’s 20% Picaridin…

    • Gail Barrett : Aug 8th

      Thank you, TicTac!!! That’s great to know. I already had Sawyer’s Picaridin spray in my Amazon cart because I read in another blog that Consumer Reports had rated it high. I will order it right away! Thanks so much for letting me know!

    • Gail Barrett : Sep 10th

      Sad update: the gnats are not deterred by Sawyer’s Picaridin spray. Just minutes after I apply it, they are back.


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