8 Tips on How to Handle Bugs in the Backcountry

How to Handle Bugs in the Backcountry
Average read time 3 min

Some of the smallest creatures can completely obliterate your long-planned backpacking trip. Insects are the bane of many hikers, and at times these miniature armies of creeping and buzzing creatures can have you running back to the safety of your car. 

A few of the most common insects you’ll encounter on the trail are mosquitoes, chiggers, no-see-ums, ticks, mayflies, and blackflies. In the northeast, an increasing number of mosquitoes have been associated with virus transmission and can breed in various environments, including wet areas, pasture land, open fields, dry woodland, and tree holes. Although many other creatures can make your life on the trail a living hell, these are reported to be the most annoying. Eight actions you can take will make your time in the backwoods more pleasurable and safe against these pests.

  1. Dress to protect: Covering up will help keep bug bites to a minimum. Wearing long sleeves shirts that are tucked into pants will go a long way to keeping you comfortable. A hat and a bug head net for when things get terrible may be an excellent option to keep these critters from spoiling your adventure. Gaiters can help from bugs getting into your pants legs, especially ticks. Another option is to pull your socks over the bottom of your pants. Generally speaking, light or neutral-colored clothing is best for bug protection.
  2. Forget the deodorant or other lovely smelling body lotions: Any odor that deviates from nature will attract insects. 
  3. Don’t sit on the ground or downed trees: Ticks (part of the spider family) will attach to a host from grasses and other plants. Sitting directly on the ground or near vegetation increases the likelihood of one attaching itself to you.
  4. Be mindful of the weather: After rainstorms, mosquito eggs are likely to hatch. If you are hiking in moist areas, expect a rise in activity after it rains. Black flies are very active near wet areas. The wind is your friend. You are less likely to be bothered by flying insects under windy conditions. Galeforce winds kill adult mosquitoes. For many insects, cool or cold weather reduces their ability to function. One exception is ticks which are active all year and mature in fall to winter.
  5. Use a waterproof bug repellent: There are various bug repellents, with some being applied directly on the skin and others only to treat clothing. Products with 5 to 30% DEET have been used successfully for many years. You should not apply DEET under clothing or on sensitive areas such as your directly to your face, wounds, skin rashes, etc. Any bug repellent product with DEET should not be used on clothing as it may break down materials over time. Products containing 20% Picaridin, an active ingredient approved by the CDC, are an alternative to DEET and do not have the DEET smell or oiliness. Using a product with Permethrin to treat clothing enhances clothes’ ability to protect you from biting pests. Wash all clothing between usage. Looking for products with some level of waterproofness will extend the time it can protect you when hiking.
  6. Keep the shelter sealed: When going in or out of your tent (if you are using one), open and close the door as quickly as possible. Keep the tent door closed. Check the seams and zippers to make sure they are not wearing and allowing bugs to enter. Keep your tent fly open until you are ready or need to use it. Bugs look for warm places to gather, and the roof of your rainfly is the perfect place.
  7. Pick your campsite wisely: Stay away from high-risk areas. Standing water, depressions, and spots that won’t allow breezes to flow are prime spots for bugs. Place your tent at least 200’ from any water source.
  8. Don’t eat or shite near your sleeping area: Place your cooking and eating area about 100-150 feet from your tent. The odor of food may attract some pests. Also, if you have a privy nearby, use it. If not, set up your latrine 100-150 feet from your tent and cooking area. Make a camp triangle.

Finally, not a tip, but something that some people have reported beneficial is Thermacell Backpacker Mosquito Repeller. Using heat from a propane canister, the Thermacell Backpacker Mosquito Repeller is purportedly able to deter mosquitoes providing up to a 15-foot zone of protection.


Sea to Summit Mosquito Head Net with Insect Shield

Thermacell Backpacker Mosquito Repeller

Co-op Lightweight Hiker Gaiters

Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE)

Mosquito information from the CDC

60 mosquito species living in the Northeast region

Ticks information from the CDC

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Featured image photo by Jimmy Chan from Pexels