At best, mosquitoes are a nuisance on an otherwise perfect backcountry outing. At worst, a whining swarm can spoil the entire trek. Armed with tiny sensors that detect heat, sweat, and even your breath, skeeters sport tools perfectly adapted to help them make a meal out of unprepared hikers. Here’s how to beat summer’s winged scourge.
Plan your big trips around the buggy season. Head to the far Northwoods and to Alaska in late August and September—by which time mosquitoes have usually died off. Ask rangers when mosquito numbers peak, and steer clear. Also consider seasonal conditions: Bugs will be worse after a wet, warm spring than in drier, cooler years.
Cook and hike when the bugs relent, even if that means hitting the trail before dawn and waiting until after sunset to emerge from your tent and make dinner.
Camp (and take breaks) in breezy spots, such as high ridges, passes, or peninsulas. Avoid bug havens like standing water—even small snowmelt puddles—and groves of trees.
Cover up. Go for light colors, tightly woven fabrics, and long sleeves. Protect ankles by tucking pants into socks or wearing gaiters. Mosquitoes really bad? Rick Rochelle, a NOLS guide in Alaska, swears by a headnet (look for cheap, effective models at an Army surplus store, and wear a billed cap under it to keep the mesh off of your face) and the proboscis-proof Bug Shirt, a densely woven, lightweight windshell with a built-in headnet.
Repel ’em. Our go-to bug dope is DEET, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommend picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus. Apply to all exposed skin, including your face and neck (spray hands and wipe, then wash your hands). The higher the concentration of DEET, the longer it’ll last—from about an hour for five-percent-DEET formulas to more than five hours for the 24-percent variety (reapply when bugs start biting again).
Skip scented lotions and soaps, and clean up when you reach camp: Mosquitoes are attracted to sweat.