I feel that I should preface this post with a simple statement.
If you are going to be outside in the summer, you’re going to be bit by some form of bug. It’s going to happen. This is the real world and you share it (and probably some of your blood) with mosquitos, black flies, horse/deer flies, no-see-ums and a slew of other flying creatures that will drive you insane!
That being said, this post is a guide to some ways you can prevent being eaten alive while you’re out exploring the world around you.
Over the past 30 years I have been told hundreds of tips, tricks, and “hacks” that can keep the flies away. I have worked as a forester, an outdoor educator, an infantry sergent and currently as an outfitter with Live Life In Tents in western Cape Breton. It’s in my best interest to know what works and what doesn’t. Here’s what I’ve figured out over the years.
"Common Sense Isn’t Always Common"
1. Cover Up
It doesn’t matter is it’s the spring, summer or fall. The easiest thing you can do to prevent being covered in bites is to wear long sleeves and pants when in the bush. If bugs can’t get to your skin, than they can’t bite it. I’ve gone as far as wearing a Buff or some form of neck/head wrap when they get really bad, but for your average hiker this usually isn’t necessary.
2. Unleash Your B.O.
My morning routine usually consists of eating, showering, and dressing. If I’m heading to the woods for the day, one of these things is a HUGE mistake. (Obviously if you feel like its dressing, you're the best kind of person)
Soaps, shampoos, lotions, deodorants, and perfumes make you smell like an all-you-can-eat buffet to all those creepy crawlies you’re trying to avoid. Even soaps that claim to be unscented actually are. Nobody is going to judge. Do yourself a favour and stink.
3. DEET based Products
Most bug sprays/repellents are DEET based. These products generally work very well but are toxic in high doses. If you are using a product that has over a 20% concentration of DEET you should avoid putting it directly on your skin and should insure you clean your skin when protection is no longer needed. If you are applying these products to babies/infants or children you should use a low concentration and limit the exposure. Personally, because I’m out often, I avoid these products if I can.
4. NNS Pestoff
I don’t always wear bug-dope, but when I do, I wear Pestoff. I found this beauty at Stone’s Pharmacy in Baddeck, and it has been my go to for the past two years. This is a non-DEET based bug repellent and a Nova Scotian company makes it. I find it doesn’t hold up when I get wet and I generally need to reapply every 4-5 hours.
The lumberjacks in my life have used this Avon product for decades. Seriously. If you are spending your summers working a chain saw in the bush for 10-12 hours a day you will do almost anything to keep the bugs off. I even know guys that started smoking just to keep the bugs away. Instead of lung cancer, why not have smooth skin as well as less fly bites.
6. Vicks VapoRub
It seems like everyone has a different use for VapoRub. I even listened to a podcast last week about all the different ways people use this product (cold relief to fungal removal) but I’ve used it to keep bugs away. While it isn’t my go to bug repellent, it worked fairly well. If all else fails it’ll keep your sinuses clear so you can breath easier while you’re running away from the swarm that’s been driving you nuts for the past 45 minutes.
7. Mineral Oil
Let me explain. This one isn't the most practical for camping but it works really well. First off, you need a helmet, for me its a hardhat. Cover the hardhat in a thin layer of mineral oil. The shine coming off your greased up helmet will attract flies. Once a fly lands on your helmet it will become stuck in the layer of mineral oil. If you try this, be prepared to have one or two layers of flies stuck to your helmet if you are out for any considerable amount of time.
This will make you look like a dork, a dork with no bug bites. For me, this is the absolute last resort for two different yet important reasons. #1) Cool factor, like I said, you look like a dork. #2) Bug nets (especially the hats/face covering) get caught on everything. If you're moving through tightly growing trees (young softwood for example) branches will constantly be grabbing it.
9.Flying a flag
As stated earlier many pests will congregate around the highest point of your body. By having a small flag or reflective item mounted on a pack and flying about a foot above your head the flies will concentrate on that and not your ears. This works well to prevent deer fly bites but is hard to use when walking/working in the woods.
10. Don’t kill Deer Flies
I can’t think of many things as satisfying as swatting a deer fly that’s been buzzing around you for the past hour and actually getting it. However, this is a mistake. When you crush deer flies, they release a hormone that will attract other deer flies to their remains on your body, turning one fly into two or three more buzzing around you.