Your Definitive Gear Guide for Repelling Mosquitoes (and Other Bugs)

I’m not really an insectophobic (a person who fears bugs) but that is the closest word I could find that describes my feeling toward insects.  I hate bugs!  I suppose it isn’t fair to all bugs for me to say that, so I should narrow it down to bugs that bite me.  I hate hate hate and want to kill kill kill bugs that bite me!  Therefore, when I see bugs that I know have the potential to bite me, I get very stressed out and annoy my husband.  The reason I freak out is because my bites swell and itch like a mother-f*cker.  If I’m not on any allergy meds, the bites will be swollen for days and can itch for weeks.  It makes my life (and therefore my  husband’s life) hell!  I can already hear you naysayers out there calling me a baby and that most people swell and itch when it comes to mosquito bites.  Well, I was imported from South Korea and the doctors told my new parents that I might “react differently to bug bites”.  That was an understatement.  Alex, my hubby, lovingly describes me as a freak to those who have not yet witnessed the show.  Here are some pictures to illustrate my living nightmare.

For my eye, I did not feel it happen and there were not many mosquitos around, hence my lack of protection.  All of a sudden, it became hard to blink.  I immediately took some allergy medication but my eye stayed swollen like this for about 3 days.  It was so awkward passing other hikers.  Alex believed people thought he hit me which made us act extra suspiciously happy around them.  Mosquitos aren’t my only enemies.  Gnats, no-see-ums, flies – all love to feast on me!  Gnats bites don’t swell as much as mosquito bites and go down much faster, but they turn a dark red/purple and stay that way for a good week prompting people to ask “what has been chewing on me”.  The last pic is of a mosquito bite that sprouted little tendril buddies so it looked like I had something growing in my skin.  It swelled to about half the width of my calf in this lovely design.  I’ve not been officially diagnosed but I believe I have “Skeeter Syndrome”, an allergy to mosquito bites.  It’s a real thing!  Look it up…

Mosquitos knocking on our tent door.

Mosquitos knocking on our tent door.

The point of this horror story is to prove that I am a qualified reviewer of bug-related gear.  I prefer some products over others but will use anything if I have no other choice.  I’m breaking down this post to a few different categories in case you’re not as crazy as I am who uses all categories simultaneously.  Desperate times call for desperate measures!

Consumable Prevention: Supposedly, your diet can effect how good/bad you smell to bugs.  Different body parts can also be more or less attractive just like with humans!

  • Garlic: Some people say eating a lot of garlic helps keep mosquitos and ticks away.  Either my blood is sweet enough to combat the Garlic smell or I’m not eating enough of it to notice any difference.  I like garlic though so it doesn’t hurt to try!
  • Vitamin B12: Again, I haven’t noticed any difference but some say it helps with bugs… *skeptical eye roll

Clothing: I have my ideal combo of the jacket, sun/bug hat, and sunglasses.  Different combos of pieces might work better for you, though.  Remember, a net is useless if it touches your skin!  Mosquitos can bite through the netting and it is only meant to keep the bugs out of reach from your skin.

  • On the A.T. with the jacket.

    On the A.T. with the jacket.

    (Sexy) Mosquito Net Jacket: I am a big fan of this Little Fly jacket.  I came across it about 9 years ago and it has held up in trips to the Boundary Waters, MN (where the state bird is the mosquito), the A.T., and the Amazon jungle (although it was in their “winter” on an acidic river that didn’t produce many mosquitos).  It has a hood with zippered face mask.  I suggest wearing a hat underneath it because the closer the net is to your eyes, the harder it is to see through.  There is a bite-proof cloth where it touches your skin.  It also folds down into an arm pocket for easy transport to protect the netting.  I wore it and was the envy of the trail!  I couldn’t find it anywhere when I originally reviewed the jacket so I couldn’t tell anyone where to get it.  Recently, the owner of Little Fly contacted me and gave me a link to buy it.  The link above is their new website published after my original review, of course.  I also found a similar looking jacket on Skymall but it is more expensive there.  It has some bad reviews about it not being durable or hard to put on… it is a jacket.  The netting is more fragile than some material but if you pack it away correctly in the arm pocket, it will last at least 9 years!  The sizes might be limiting though.  I got the S/M and it fit pretty well, even a little long in the arms.  I’m 5’6″.  The L/XL might not have the girth that some people might require but just ask if you think measurements will be a problem!

  • Sun/Bug Hat: My hat is wonderfully named The North Face Badwater Mullet hat.  I bought it on the trail but now, it is, unfortunately, discontinued.  You can still buy it (for cheaper) on some sites but the new hat, The North Face Badwater Redux is the “improved” version.  Both have a cape that protects your neck from the sun, but more importantly, it protects your ears from those freaking bugs.  I think I prefer the Mullet’s slit cape because it is totally removable (uses velcro), where the Redux’s cape is because describes the “hidden” pocket to store the cape.  The Mullet’s cape also has slits that promotes ventilation but less consistent sun protection.  I was using it for bugs anyway… If it got bad enough to need a net, I just put on my jacket.
  • Mosquito Net Pants: These are unnecessary.  Surprised to hear me say it?  While hiking, my legs moved around enough to not really let mosquitos land or I was wearing pants they couldn’t bite through.  I would only wear them if I was stationary in bad areas.  Otherwise, I would just go in the tent.  If you do want some pants, they are almost all the same.  I have an inexpensive Coleman pair.  If you want to get fancy, you can get these from the same company as my jacket with bite-proof material at touching points.
  • Mosquito Net Hat: Again, I found this unnecessary because I had my jacket.  If the bugs are bad enough, I want full coverage on my body so my head is protected by better gear with more coverage.  The only reason I could see for getting just this hat was for wearing it with long sleeves and pants which you won’t do on the trail because it’ll be hot by the time the bugs come out!  Or, it can be used against the gnats that like to hang around your head but I still prefer my Mullet Hat for that because it is cooler and you don’t have to look through a net.  Or just use the jacket hood.
  • Sunglasses: You will probably have some on you anyway.  If the bugs keep flying in your eyes, sunglasses help in combination with a good hat.

Sprays/Lotions: I use natural, DEET-free, repellents.  I’m against any chemical for use on your body because true side-effects aren’t always known, and it is different for everyone.  Besides, it is also a “cool” thing to use natural/organic products these days…  I think high concentrated DEET products work well for general area sprays but not for your skin unless you want to melt it off (I’ve had DEET products ruin clothing.).  You also could be breathing in the chemical so I prefer direct to skin natural products.  I have found that natural repellents work just as well as DEET anyway.  Plus, they actually feel good on your skin because of the ingredients.

  • All Terrain Herbal Armor:   This stuff is great!  Not only does it work to repel mosquitos/bugs, but it also feels good on your skin!  It isn’t greasy and tingles like menthol.  The website has a full list of ingredients too.  The only problem is that it is not widely carried so buy it online!  It is a little more expensive but well worth it.
  • Burt’s Bees Herbal Insect Repellent:  This Repellent works well enough but I do not like the oily feeling it leaves on my skin… It smells good and doesn’t contain chemicals, though!
  • Repel Lemon Eucalyptus:  You can find this in the stores more easily.  It is DEET-free and works fairly well.  It also leaves a tingly feeling like the All Terrain repellent BUT it does not give you a full list of ingredients which means there are some chemicals in there…

Best Practices

  • CO2 & Heat:  Mosquitos are definitely attracted to CO2 and Heat.  I tested the heat thing while safely in our tent.  I put my steaming hot ramen noodles up to the mesh of our tent wall and the mosquitos would follow it.  So the more people you have breathing in one area, the more mosquitos will come.
  • Build a fire: Contradictory to the previous note, the fire repels mosquitos because of the smoke.
  • Don’t camp in the damp: Don’t camp near stagnant water or swampy areas aka mosquito birthing grounds.
  • Keep pet Dragonflies:  They eat mosquitos, gnats, and flies so do not ever ever EVER hurt a dragon fly.  Help them if they are in spiderwebs!

Treatment (because you didn’t use the correct combo of prevention!): Nothing works as well or as fast as I want it to but here is what I’ve settled on.

  • Burt’s Bees ResQ Ointment or Bug Bite Relief: There are so many anit-itch creams, lotions, and potions out there that I haven’t had the finances to test them all.  Both of these work as well chemically things and use natural ingredients.  I don’t have to worry about inhaling fumes, getting it in my eye, or not putting in irritated skin which most application instructions warn against (Sometimes, I itch until I bleed #needtocutmynails).  I can’t believe people use Cortisone cream.  It is a steroid!
  • Allergy Medication:  When I have been bitten a lot, I take an over-the-counter allergy medication.  Since I have Skeeter Syndrome, the antihistamine works.  I’m not sure if this will work for you normal people but you may not need it.
  • Ice: If you don’t want to use any sort of product or the stores are closed, numb the itch away.

So besides making me friends, I hope this article helps make you less likely to be bug food and keeps you itch free enough that you can sleep in relative comfort (because you’re going to be uncomfortable enough as it is on the A.T.!)  Please feel free to mention other products you’ve tried because I’m always looking for something better.  Also, do suggest some other non-bug-related gear for us to try out for our next review!

lead image: flickr.com/photos/mikeyphillips

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Comments 4

  • General Ciao : Feb 6th

    Great article! I’m definitely searching for alternatives to DEET and your pictures helped put into perspective the need for some added protection. I don’t necessarily react that extremely but I’m not taking any chances on upcoming hikes. Thanks.

    Reply
  • Jane : Jun 21st

    Tiger Balm works wonders on mosquito bites – reduces redness and swelling and stops the itch. Use the white one (red one smells stronger and stains).

    Reply
  • Sara Miller : Jun 28th

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I’ve been searching for anti-mosquito gear and DEET free repellents. My work keeps me outdoors (which is where I’m happiest), but the bite-y bugs can make my time out there miserable. I too swell and itch. 12 mosquito bites near my left eye caused some nice eye swelling. Netted bug shirts and hoods with a wide-brimmed hat have worked wonders for me. I’m definitely going to give your gear a try. I may find myself in AK next summer, so I need all the help I can get!

    Reply

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