White on the AT? Girl, You Must be Trippin!
Bugs, and Why I’m Wearing White on the Trail
When I was young, my mother never let me wear white. It made sense, really. After all, as a single mother of three, clothes have to last as long as possible, and really, who wants to spend all their precious time scrubbing a white shirt when there are other colors available that mask all the dirt? Even at a young age I was very active and constantly on the move. True story: when I was a year old I apparently managed to climb out of my crib, down the hall, out the front door (yeah, no child locks in 1965), down a flights of stairs, and was caught walking down the street. When I got older I was rolling down the hill behind my house, playing street games with the local kids like Relievio and Kick the Can (eye roll… ask your parents; they’ll know what these games are). Oh, and I was climbing every tree available. I mean every tree; it’s a wonder I never broke anything!
As an adult I started wearing white, which my mother was convinced was pure overcompensation from having been denied the color in my formative years. This was ridiculous. I didn’t get caught up in that kind of psychological bullshit until much later when, realizing I was female and supposed to be insecure about my body, I started wearing primarily black. But, I digress…
Psychology of Bugs
Perhaps using the term psychology in this heading attributes a tad too much cognitive ability to our tiny nemesis the bug. Although we feel that they are coming at us in a purposeful and organized manner, in truth it’s more like a zombie apocalypse. Zombies don’t intellectualize what they do, they just know that biting your flesh is a need that must be fulfilled at all cost. And they are Legion! The bugs, not zombies; stay with me. Just when you think the black flies will drive you mad, cut to mosquito season. And ticks; just what is the purpose of the tick in the grand scheme of the universe anyway? As far as I am concerned, the small creatures of the forest have plenty to eat without the need for ticks and chiggers in the mix. We cannot dare to win this battle, but by God we can survive!
To that end, you cannot completely eradicate this scourge on the trail. Mitigation must be the strategy, tempered with knowledge and one’s own mental fortitude… and a pair of tweezers for the ticks.
Bugs, my friends, may not know why they do things, but they do everything for a reason and we can use this to our advantage.
That’s called a “hook,” where I throw something out there and you have to keep reading to find out what I’m talking about and why I felt the need to put those two words in italics.
Conventional Anti-Bug Strategy
Insect repellent is an essential on any trail on the East Coast, and I will have it on the AT. If it were not a carcinogen that stings your eyes when you sweat, and makes your lips numb (never a good sign), I would bathe in DEET. Truth be told, I’m pretty interested in seeing which causes the more oppressive odor, sweat or bug repellent. The possibility has occurred to me that it may all meld together to form a new level of odor that I will, for now, refer to as “hiker funk.” It’s catchy, and sounds like a cool dance move, until you realize all that movement is the general public walking swiftly in the opposite direction relative to your current position.
Now, Fade to White
Did you know:
- Yes, I discovered bullet points. My apologies for my previous post. But, I digress again.
- You could take a dead zombie and wear its flesh to mask yourself and walk among the horde (as long as you don’t panic; never panic, panic kills).
- Apparently a similar strategy can be used to visually hide from bugs.
- Bugs prefer some colors over others!
- Mosquitoes are attracted to dark colors, specifically dark blue, brown and black.
- Black flies are attracted to dark colors as well.
- Mosquitoes apparently do not like light-colored clothing.
- The conventional wisdom behind this appears to be the ability for them to see the object of their desire. Dark colors are easier for these little beasties to identify a proper landing zone and thus ruin our day. It also explains in part why they always appear to fly around my Caucasian head without rhyme or reason without actually landing on anything, as though they get satisfaction enough in my physical display of irritation.
- Bugs prefer some colors over others!
- According to Rutgers University:
Scientists are still investigating the complexities involved with mosquito host acceptance and rejection. Some people are highly attractive to mosquitoes and others are rarely bothered. Mosquitoes have specific requirements to satisfy, and process many different factors before they feed. Many of the mosquito’s physiological demands are poorly understood and many of the processes they use to evaluate potential blood meal hosts remain a mystery. Female mosquitoes use the CO2 we exhale as their primary cue to our location. A host-seeking mosquito is guided to our skin by following the slip stream of CO2 that exudes from our breath. Once they have landed, they rely on a number of short-range attractants to determine if we are an acceptable blood meal host. Folic acid is one chemical that appears to be particularly important. Fragrances from hair sprays, perfumes, deodorants, and soap can cover these chemical cues. They can also function to either enhance or repel the host-seeking drive. Dark colors capture heat and make most people more attractive to mosquitoes. Light colors refract heat and are generally less attractive. Detergents, fabric softeners, perfumes, and body odor can counteract the effects of color. In most cases, only the mosquito knows why one person is more attractive than another
OK, so first off that last sentence makes the mosquito sound more like an international man of mystery rather than the annoying creature whose general existence I still question. Aside from that, the important takeaways are that our choices are; 1) stop breathing; 2) maintain a clean, odorless environment at all times; or 3) wear light-colored clothing. I am a big fan of breathing, and in truth option one would only work up until we turn blue and pass out. Please don’t try this at home. Yes, I have worked in health care for the past 25 years, but I would hope you could all figure this one out for yourselves. Option two is a bit of a lofty ideal on a thru-hike, which simply put, has a ridiculously low probability for success. I for one have no expectations and will withhold all judgement for myself and and others who choose to “abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” Nothing like a little Dante reference to make sure you’re all still with me.
So, if you want to lower your DEET content on the trail, option number three is your best bet!
So, Rock That White Shirt Like the Dirty Little Bitch You Are
I am referring to myself, of course. Although I do recommend the use of light-colored clothing to both mitigate bug attraction as well as heat stroke, I really don’t know if any of you are dirty little bitches, and I sincerely apologize if anyone was offended.
On a more serious note, I did find a company that makes white shirts that are quick drying, as well as stain and odor resistant through 70 washes! They are a cotton blend, but as they repel water and claim to be quick drying (because they repel water) I am going to give it a go. Yes, synthetics are best for hiking; this isn’t my first rodeo. Save the hate mail for the comment section. This is not a recommendation as I have yet to trail test my new duds. I also purchased a heavier long sleeve for those chilly nights in the mountains that is supposedly bug proof, and yes, that too is in white. My pack is also white, although that is just how Hyperlite makes it, so I cannot take credit for that decision. So, if after 1,800 miles into the trail you see a hiker coming toward you with the reflective nature of the midday sun, that could be me.
Or, if you see a perfect specimen of hiker trash walking toward you waving their poles aimlessly about and using a LOT of bad language, that could also be me… and I will be updating this blog as to which of my split personalities is hiking the trail this summer.
Cheers, and I look forward to seeing you all out there.
Photo credit goes to Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/smileperfectors/funny-mosquito/?lp=true
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Lol, some people just taste better than others.
Extremely well written. Enjoyed every sentence. Not sure that lite colors would work for me; I’d look like Peanuts character ‘pigpen’ in just a few hours. Keep on posting
Check out premetherin. Used it last year and went from ME to MA without a single tick or chiggers. Fair winds and following seas.
Vince aka The Dude, SOBO, ’17/’
PS Love the wit and sarcasm.
Kimberly – I would be honored to hike w/you anytime…lol The ‘white thing’ was taught to me by both my parents and the Boy Scouts and yes, I harken from the same era as you. I look forward to your next post and the results of your ‘experiment’. Of course those same parents touted Skin So Soft as a reliable bug repellent as well….Hmmmmm. As my kids and I have tinkered w/hammock camping some, I can vouch for the premetherin as noted by Vince. That being said, I also just bought them both bug nets for their upcoming birthdays in anticipation of our upcoming trips which begins in the Big South Fork over Spring Break. Happy travels !