Bug season can be unpleasant, but it’s no reason to give up hiking and backpacking. You just need to cover up with insect-proof clothing and wear bug dope. If you never hike when insects are active, you’re not going to get much hiking and backpacking done, are you?
Here’s a look at the hiking bug suit I use to protect myself from mosquitos, black flies, and Lyme-disease carrying ticks. It’s comfortable, breathable, modular, easy to wash on the trail, and stylish. I usually augment this a dab or two of Sawyer Picaridin bug dope, because it won’t melt or fog synthetics or plastic like bug dope that contains DEET. It doesn’t take much though, usually just a squirt or two on my wrists and under my watch.
Hat and Head Net
When you’re hiking, insects are attracted to the highest part of your body, your head. While you can outpace them if you’re hiking fast, they’ll swarm around the crown of your head and face whenever you stop to rest. While a hat will protect your forehead and hairline from bites, it’s best used in combination with a mesh Sea-to-Summit Head-Net to protect the front and back of your head down to your upper chest and back. While you can cover your ears, face, and neck with bug dope, you’ll sweat it off quickly. I find it’s just easier to use a head-net for all-day protection since you can take it off if it’s not needed anymore.
The best types of hats to wear with a head net are ones with a wide brim, like the OR Bugout Brim or a Tilley Airflow, because they’ll keep the netting off your face, the back of your head, and neck. Bugs can bite through the holes in the mesh if it lays on top of your skin. While a billed baseball-style hat will keep the netting off your face, it won’t keep the netting off your ears or the back of your head or neck.
If it’s warm out, you’ll want to wear the thinnest, lightest weight gloves you can find to help protect your hands and wrists from insect bites. I like wearing fingerless Protector Sun Gloves or Active Ice Sun Spectrum Gloves from Outdoor Research because they’re cool and preserve my dexterity. They’re also good for water sports like canoeing or fishing. Bugs won’t bite your fingertips, especially if you dab a small amount of bug dope on them for extra protection.
Wearing gaiters helps protect your legs from ticks, so they can’t get into your shoes or socks and crawl up your legs. You’ll want to get gaiters that cover your socks and that you can tuck the bottom of your pants legs into. Most of the short ankle gaiters designed for trail running aren’t sufficient for this because they aren’t tall enough to seal off the bottom of your pant legs.
I’ve had good luck with the Outdoor Research’s Thru-Gaiters, which come up over my ankles and have a stretch cuff that will stay wrapped around the bottom of my pant legs all day. They incorporate OR’s ActiveIce fabric so they keep my legs cool and I don’t sweat when wearing them, which is a breakthrough as far as I’m concerned.
Shirt, Pants, Socks
I wear a thin and well-ventilated long-sleeve shirt and long pants during bug season because I’d rather wear clothing to keep from being bitten instead of slathering myself with bug dope. Both my shirt and pants (from Railriders) have mesh panels built-into them along the arms and legs, that help vent perspiration. They’re also pre-treated with Insect Shield which is a long-lasting Permethrin-based insecticide treatment designed to bind with fabric, that kills insects that come into contact with it. I also send my regular Darn Tough socks, when new, out to be treated with Insect Shield for added protection (click for form). You can also treat them at home using the Permethrin using the Soak Method, but it doesn’t last as long.
I’ve also used Bugsaway (Insect Shield-treated) clothing from Ex Officio in this same capacity. For example, the Ex Officio Halo Check Shirt and Sandfly Pants, which are also mesh cooled so you can wear them in very hot weather. Ex Officio also has a MUCH better selection of Women’s Insect Shield tops, pants, and jackets than RailRiders.
The Barrier is what Matters
You DON’T have to wear Insect Shield or Permethrin-treated clothing, since wearing a long sleeve shirt and pants, provides a good preventive barrier by itself. However, when it comes to fabrics, you’ll want to stick with clothing that has a dense weave like nylon or polyester shirts and pants, and not cotton or merino wool garments that insects can bite through.
Bugs suck. But a nice day without hiking? That’s even worse.
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