The early spring and the lack of the usual cold-hot-cold temperatures across most of Canada this time around has created a perfect storm for biting insects—especially the pesky mosquito. Sales of repellents, bug screens and pretty much and other product that repels the little buggers are flying off the shelves. But before we get into products, here are some other ways to help deal with biting insects this spring.

Mosquitoes and black flies find their prey by body temperature, activated by lactic acid produced by muscle movement and the carbon dioxide emitted when you exhale. They absolutely love warm sweaty skin on a cool day. Warm days, however, seem to confuse them. All species also dislike pouring rain, cold days when temperatures reach below 30 F (10 C) and blowing winds; the blackfly in particular is not a strong flyer and can only reach a top speed of half-a-mile (one kilometer) per hour.

photoKevin Callan

Dark colors attract much more than shiny bright colors. Wearing blue jeans is just asking for it; lime green neither attracts them nor keeps them at bay; and bright white works great.

With all that advice aside, you’re still going to need more to combat the biting bugs if you plan on staying in the woods a little longer.

Let’s start with bug repellents, or what I like to call “bug dope.” Anything that contains DEET (Diethyltoluamide) is the most effective. This chemical works in keeping blackflies, mosquitoes, no-see-ums and ticks away from your exposed skin. I prefer Ben’s.

It’s water-based, not alcohol-based. This means it doesn’t absorb into your skin as easily, you don’t have as much of a nasty bug spray odour and less of the DEET will evaporate. Plus, it doesn’t hurt like hell when you get some in your eyes. It’s not flammable, either.

photoKevin Callan

Repellents not containing DEET are gentler to the skin and are almost as effective. They usually don’t last as long though. My choice is Natrapel—a plant based Citriodiol, derived from lemon eucalyptus trees. It lasts longer than most other botanic-based formulas (approximately six hours).

You’re going to go for the big guns while canoe tripping, backpacking or even cutting the lawn. Wearing long sleeves and keeping my pant legs closed tight with pulled up socks and elastic bands work great as well, but you’re toast if you don’t add a bug hat/jacket to the mix.

Avoid the ones on sale, as they may only have mosquito mesh and not no-see-um mesh.  Blackflies and those nasty “punkies” will get in. Make sure the mesh is black as well—you can see out better. If it’s not, colour the portion in front of your eyes with a black marker. None of them are really comfortable to wear and I usually avoid them if I can. My choice is Ben’s new InvisiNet Bug Jacket. It packs down to nothing and is one of the most comfortable to wear.

photoKevin Callan

However, my all-time favourite weapon against bugs during a wilderness trek is my Eureka Bug Tarp: The No Bug Zone. Their older model had the bug mesh and tarp separate. Now they’re combined, which reduces weight. It has three zipper sliders per door that allow use with a camping hammock. There’s also added tarp tie-offs, three per tarp edge, all reinforced; and internal gear rings allow you to set up a clothesline. You can use tie-back loops to hold back the bug mesh when you just want to use the shelter for shade or rain.

I wouldn’t even consider an overnight in the woods in early spring without a bug shelter. It gives you a place to escape the bugs after a long day on the trail or the water.

And don’t forget the drugs. Make sure to throw in some Benadryl and After Bite to help calm your body’s reaction to the bug bites. If you are bitten enough, your glands will swell, and you’ll become overwhelmed with nausea and fatigue.


Check out my latest KCHappyCamper YouTube video on even more tips and tricks on how to deal with biting bugs: