So, earlier this month, I came across an article, initially posted by the University of Washington, that was too good not to share. And yes, I went down the rabbit hole of “nerd-dom” and read the entire study, with charts, wind tunnel studies, and big words, which you can find here.
Essentially, the study found that the colors you wear whilst hiking, during “mosquito season(s)” matter. It appears that the colors, orange, red, black and cyan are particularly “attractive” to mosquitos, especially when combined with CO2 (when we exhale). Interestingly, it is also the orange-red color band (620-750 nm), that all human skin (to varying degrees) exhibits to these blood thirsty marauders, that makes us such preferred, yet unwilling, hosts.
In some ways, we already kind of knew that, for in the early 20th century it was found that mosquitos were less “attracted” to spectral color bands (350-450 nm) of green and blue (as seen by the human eye). This led to a conscious “shift” in tropical wear, for those pith helmeted explorers, tropical “jet-setters, and frankly military uniforms. Hello Khaki! Who knew that lighter colors were helpful in thwarting mosquito bites?
As we prep for hiking season, the annoyance of those pesky miniature vampires cannot be ignored. We must prepare for the inevitable. Reviewing the color choice of our clothing is one, and treating our clothing with a repellent, is another way to circumvent the probable attacks of these needle-nosed parasites.
I thought I’d share what we do each season to best mitigate against these blood pirates, regardless of our outerwear color scheme.
What’s in Our Mosquito Arsenal…
Insect Shield: In the event that we purchase new clothing, we ideally will choose clothing already treated with Insect Shield. The effectiveness of these pre-treated clothing items generally lasts up to 70 washings. You can also arrange with Insect Shield to treat your clothing items as well. This can be done for around $8.50/item (shipping cost NOT included), or as a package (“Easy Packs”), with prices starting at $99.95 a “pack” (shipping cost ARE included). Absent purchasing pre-treated clothing, we treat our clothing, and outer gear with Permethrin. However, Insect Shield does say with regard to the repellency of clothing you send to them for treatment “…lasts up to 5 times longer than permethrin spray or clothes wash.” I don’t know how true that is, but at minimum, it’s a great marketing ploy for those non-Do-It-Yourselfers.
Permethrin: Absent purchasing pre-treated clothing, we treat our clothing and outer gear with Permethrin. We treat ALL the clothes we will wear whilst hiking, to include our hats. Last season, we also treated our packs. Compared to previous hikes, we found that it also kept ticks off our packs. This is important when setting them on the ground, and in/near brush, while on breaks. (Not that we don’t check for them every time we don our packs). These treatments also last 70 washings. The 24oz bottle seems to be the best “cluck for your buck”, and for us treats at least one set of gear (outerwear, packed clothing, socks, hat, and pack exterior to include shoulder straps)
30% Deet: Anything LESS than 30% Deet will NOT protect you against ticks. In my opinion, tick bites are worse than mosquitos. They carry Lyme disease. NO one wants or needs Lyme’s. Our daughter has been suffering from Chronic Lyme’s for over 20 years now. Frankly, her quality of life is shit, but she “soldiers” on because she’s THAT stubborn. And…because of that we are particularly regimented with treating our gear and doing “tick checks”. The CDC also has a website with ways to protect yourself from mosquitos and ticks, as well as how/where you should check especially for ticks. You can access that information, here. We have attempted to use lesser concentrations, and “natural” products, but they have not been as effective as the 30% Deet concentration.
Head net: This works especially well with a brimmed hat. The smaller the mesh, the better. This keeps one from having to apply bug spray to your face. You’ll still hear their high-pitched buzz, but at least it’ll keep the mosquitoes and those equally annoying swarmy, little flies and gnats off and out of your facial orifices (you know the ones that like to park in your eyes). Don’t be surprised when you become so comfortable wearing the head net, that your attempts to feed you face or hydrate are “blocked’ as well. On a side note, we (I) do have a full-body (jacket & pants) mosquito mesh “suit”. It’s not particularly comfortable or useful while hiking. I’ve used it while fly-fishing but have since gone to pre-treated clothing. The material tends to get snagged, and thus create “portals” for mosquitos and their brethren to breach.
Season/Location/Elevation: Often times where and when (to include elevation) can be useful in avoiding being badgered by mosquitoes. Each region of the country has “high” seasons wherein the likelihood of having to mitigate mosquito blooms, and/or tick proliferation. Generally, in colder weather and areas mostly devoid of standing water, your likelihood of mosquito and/or tick encounters becomes significantly reduced, if not nullified. This does NOT mean that one should not take measures to protect oneself.
With any luck, this hiking season, we will all be able to keep ourselves “bug-free”, or at least no more than slightly annoyed. Because of the prevalence of “Murphy’s Law” in my outdoor life, I expect to be swarmed un-mercilessly whilst joining my friends Jenn and Jody on the John Muir Trail (JMT) in early/mid-June.
Shoot, if not mosquitoes, I expect we’ll be slogging through snow.