Mosquitoes are the bane of any outdoor pursuit, and hiking is no exception. These pesky insects have been tormenting humans since before we could tell them to buzz off. But with a bit of knowledge, you can conquer these pests while on your next hike.
Here at Walking The Parks, we have experienced our fair share of mosquito bites while out hiking. You might say that I’m a mosquito magnet. We’d love to share our best tips and tricks for how to repel mosquitoes while hiking with you in this article!
The Dangers of Mosquito Bites
We know that mosquito bites can be pretty annoying. But are they dangerous?
Without a doubt, mosquitoes can be dangerous. At a minimum, a mosquito leaves an itchy bite that drives you crazy for hours. And more frequently than you realize, these bug bites become infected due to scratching to the point you break the skin.
Some mosquitoes, however, can transmit diseases, such as:
- West Nile Virus. This is the most common mosquito-carrying disease in the USA, found across the South and Southwest states. The West Nile Virus can cause a high fever, muscle weakness, headaches, and seizures. The scariest fact is that West Nile Disease has a 4% mortality rate.
- Zika, Chikungunya, and Dengue Fever (no current outbreaks in the USA).
- St. Louis Encephalitis and Eastern Equine Encephalitis. Thankfully, these diseases are rare in the US, but certain mosquito species can carry them. They can cause a high fever, dizziness, headaches, and body aches.
It’s, therefore, essential to protect yourself from mosquito bites, even if it’s just to avoid being itchy for a few days.
Did You Know: Mosquitoes Can Bite During the Day
As you know, the prime risk hours for mosquito bites are during dusk and dawn. That’s because mosquitoes avoid harsh sunlight and dry heat as this can dehydrate and kill them.
However, these annoying insects can be quite active during the day in dark, damp, and wooded areas that don’t have much air movement. It’s tempting to choose a cool shaded spot like this for your lunch break, but keep moving to avoid mosquitos unless there’s a good breeze.
And while the majority of mosquitoes are nocturnal, there are certain mosquito species that only bite during the day. In the US, the Asian tiger mosquitoes (prevalent in Virginia) only bite during the day or at night when there is a light source. They tend to bite people who are stationary or moving slowly, so they don’t pose a considerable risk while you’re hiking. The danger, however, lies in when you sit down for a rest, stop to take in the view, etc.
Best Ways to Repel Mosquitoes While Hiking
There are 4 key ways to prevent mosquito bites when enjoying your hike.
- Stay away from the places these pesky insects love to hide
- Spray or treat your body with bug spray, or other repellents
- Dress to protect your body
- Avoid body odor (both good or stinky smells) that attract mosquitoes
Let’s explore each of these in more detail.
#1 Avoid Mosquitoes’ Favorite Places
Avoiding the places mosquitoes hang out is easier said than done when you are on a backpacking trip. However, if you can stay away from these areas, you’ll significantly reduce the effort you need to put into keeping mosquitoes away.
Adult females lay their eggs in standing water. That can be anything from a puddle to the center of a rotting tree stump to a stagnant stream when you are in the great outdoors. So if you spot a beautiful stream to enjoy your lunch, look for the spots where the water is moving.
They love to stay in damp places like tall grass and thick bushes to keep from drying out. If your hiking trail wanders through a dark, damp area – keep moving until you are in an open space. This is a common problem when hiking right after a rain. We also put together some additional tips for Keeping Mosquitoes Away While Camping that you should check out if you plan to do a bit of backcountry hiking.
#2 Use Mosquito Sprays and Repellents
The absolute best way to keep mosquitoes away from your body is to use a good mosquito repellent. These repellents will also help you avoid ticks that can carry dangerous lyme disease and other insects that can be dangerous and annoying when hiking. There are quite a few different types of repellents you can use.
When applying repellants, hit your most tender exposed body parts. Don’t forget to spray your ankles and pants legs and apply them around your head.
Natural Mosquito Repellents vs. DEET Based Bug Sprays
Everyone knows that DEET-based bug sprays and products contain chemicals that repel mosquitoes. If you’re worried about the safety of chemical-based products, you might want to consider a natural mosquito repellent.
But is a natural bug repellent as effective as DEET-based products, and should you use them? Generally, a chemical-based spray will repel insects more effectively than a natural spray. The CDC recommends the following because of their proven effectiveness:
- Picaridin (known as KBR 3023 and icaridin outside the US)
- Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE)
Sprays with all-natural substances are popular and are somewhat effective. However, the chemical sprays excel at repelling mosquitos if you need serious protection.
Let’s take a look at some of the top performers in both categories so you can make an informed decision.
Best Chemical Based Repellent Sprays for Outdoor Enthusiasts
Many people opt for different all-natural substances in their preferred bug repellant because they fear chemical-based sprays are potentially dangerous. Contrary to what you may think, researchers have not found any evidence to link DEET and other sprays to cancer. When working with chemicals, you have to be cautious in how you use them.
DEET is one of the oldest and most trusted mosquito-repellent products and comes in various strengths, types and brand names.
You can buy DEET in spray, lotion, or roll-on form, and it ranges in strength from only 5% to 100%. However, products between 10% and 35% appear to be highly effective without the risk of side effects. Here are a few of the most popular DEET based repellents:
- Sawyer Products Premium MAXI DEET – This is our favorite repellent for when the mosquitoes attack in full force. It’s a 100% DEET Insect Repellent and works better than anything we’ve used.
- OFF! Deep Woods Bug Spray – A 25% DEET Bug Spray making it perfect for the whole family. I like that it sprays dry, leaving no sticky feeling on your skin. It also has a pleasant lemon scent.
- Ben’s 30% DEET Mosquito, Tick and Insect Repellent Wipes – I prefer to avoid spraying around my face, so these repellent wipes are perfect. You can easily protect those tender exposed areas on your ears, neck and back of the neck without breathing chemicals.
Note when using a DEET product on a child, pediatricians recommend that the DEET concentration doesn’t exceed 30%, as anything more can cause skin irritation.
Also be aware that when you apply sunscreen at the same time, DEET-based products can melt plastics and synthetic fabrics. Brad melted fishing lures with them on one trip. Oops!
Picaridin (or KBR 3023) sprays derived from piperine in pepper plants, replicating a natural solution. They are an excellent DEET alternative for children and people with sensitive skin because they don’t typically cause skin irritation and are odorless.
Our top choice is another Sawyer Products repellent: Sawyer Products 20% Picaridin Insect Repellent available in a pump spray or a lotion. I love their little lotion packets for hiking, so you don’t have to carry a full bottle in your backpack.
Using a picaridin spray is roughly the equivalent of a product containing 10% DEET. It’s long-lasting and repels other annoying insects like lyme disease-carrying ticks and nasty black flies.
That very unsexy name, IR-3535, is now used by one of the most trusted products to protect families from mosquitoes: Avon Skin So Soft.
If you’re looking for a DEET alternative that will help protect you against ticks and biting flies, IR-3535 sprays are an outstanding consideration. With their long-lasting mosquito protection, IR-3535 sprays are also less likely to cause skin irritation than DEET products.
The Best Natural Mosquito Repellent
Natural mosquito repellents don’t contain any chemicals, such as DEET or picaridin. Instead, most of them are plant-based and Mother Nature’s best defense against annoying mosquitoes. Natural mosquito repellents work by masking the odor of carbon dioxide and lactic acid the human body naturally emits. These are what help mosquitoes to find you in the first place.
The most important thing to be aware of when using natural repellents is to reapply often to avoid bites. Unlike DEET, they don’t last as long.
Below are some popular natural mosquito repellents to consider:
Lemon Eucalyptus Oil
Straight from the CDC’s recommendation is the Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus. Without a doubt, this should also be your top choice if you prefer to avoid chemical sprays. I always start with REPEL’s Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent when we are camping and hiking and only move up to DEET-based sprays if the mosquitoes insist on continuing to bite. The majority of the time, Eucalyptus Oil is an adequate deterrent.
Many essential oils contain mosquito-repellent ingredients. Examples include nootkatone (which originates from cedar trees and grapefruit skin) and PMD (which contains oil of lemon eucalyptus). Cinnamon oil, lemongrass oil, geraniol, catnip oil, lavender oil and most of the mint family are also popular mosquito-repelling oils. And, of course, everyone knows about citronella oil to keep bugs away.
These natural mosquito repellents are only effective against some insects, so it’s best to have a backup plan if the oils are not working. Also, they typically only work for a couple of hours so plan to reapply often.
Here are a few repellents to consider that are ready to go for your convenience:
- Bug Soother Spray – Based on Lemon Grass Oil, it also helps keep away black flies. They’ve added a touch of vanilla to the spray for a pleasant fragrance.
- All Terrain Herbal Armor Natural Insect Repellent – a blend of some of the top repellant essential oils: citronella, peppermint, cedar, lemongrass and geranium oils.
How to Make Home-Made Natural Sprays
You can make your natural mosquito repellent spray by combining 20 drops of lemongrass, cinnamon, or catnip oil with 2fl oz of carrier oil (such as coconut oil) and some boiled water with a drop of vodka or rubbing alcohol.
Place it into a spray bottle and carry it with you to repel mosquitoes while out hiking.
Using Herbs to Repel Insects
There are a wide variety of herbs that are known to repel insects. You can rub the oil from the leaves on your skin for protection. Sage, Peppermint and Catnip are common choices. Unfortunately, it’s a lot more work to rub the leaves on your body than a simple spray, so this is usually not the first choice of hikers.
Repelling Mosquitoes Without Sprays
Don’t like the idea of repelling mosquitoes with a spray? Why not consider a non-spray alternative?
Examples of non-spray mosquito repellents include:
- Creams or stick repellents. Instead of opting for a spray, choose a cream or stick product to rub onto the skin.
- Repellent bands. Mosquito repellent bands are worn around the wrist and can effectively repel mosquitos while hiking.
- Essential oils. Rub on some mosquito-repelling essential oil to exposed skin, and repeat every few hours.
#3 Dress to Protect Your Body
Wear Clothes that Protect Your Body
The clothes you wear can help protect you from being bitten by mosquitoes while out hiking.
Mosquitoes love dark colors, so opt for light-colored clothing while hiking. This is a good thing as light colors also reflect the sun and help you feel cooler. Instead of wearing a t-shirt and shorts, consider wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, so your arms and legs aren’t exposed.
An excellent idea is to treat your hiking clothes with permethrin. This Permethrin Spray from REI, for instance, lasts for up to 6 washes after you’ve sprayed it on your clothes.
Always spray your clothing outdoors and allow a few hours for the fabric to dry before wearing them.
If you don’t feel like treating your clothing, you could always buy pre-treated clothing.
Protect Your Head and Ears from Mosquitoes
Your arms and legs are obvious targets for mosquitoes but don’t forget other body parts!
Mosquitoes love tender ear lobes and enjoy leaving “love bites” on your neck and throat. You can avoid this by wearing a mosquito head net. It may look strange with a mosquito net, but at least you won’t be bitten!
#4 Avoid Being a Smelly Person – Good and Bad Smells Alike!
Just as mosquitoes are repelled by the smells in sprays like DEET or picaridin, they are also attracted to certain smells, whether good or bad.
Mosquitoes are attracted by the smell of scented shampoos, soaps, and laundry detergents. They also love sweet-smelling perfumes, and you may want to forgo your favorite cologne before hiking if you don’t want to get bitten. The worst bug bites I’ve ever had were after I used a floral-scented shampoo before hiking. I had bites around my ears and all along my hairline. I didn’t sleep much that night!
Here’s a wide selection of amazing odorless shampoos. You’ll be glad you made the change!
The bacterial smell of sweat also attracts mosquitoes, and it’s definitely a good idea to use a decent, unscented deodorant and shower with unscented soaps before hiking.
How to Treat Mosquito Bites If You Get Eaten Alive
No one enjoys being bitten by a mosquito but what happens if you get multiple bites and are eaten alive?
Multiple bites can make your skin feel incredibly itchy, swollen, and red. The most important thing you can do is keep the bites clean and dry so that they don’t get infected.
If your bites are extremely itchy and swollen, use an ice pack for 10 minutes. Benedryl or Tea Tree Oil like you find in Murphy’s Insect Bite Balm will dial down the itching as scratching can break the skin open and make it prone to infection.
Tips for Protecting Children
Children tend to scratch at mosquito bites more than adults, which can cause bleeding and infection in extreme cases. When hiking with kids it’s best to avoid your kid getting a mosquito bite in the first place.
Here are some top tips for protecting children from mosquito bites:
- Dress your child in long sleeves and long pants, preferably in a dull or neutral color. Remember that mosquitoes love bright colors (so your daughter’s bright pink t-shirt or your son’s luminous green shorts are not the best option).
- Spray clothing with permethrin. Before heading out on the hike, spray your child’s clothing with permethrin, being careful to avoid spraying it directly onto the skin.
- Use insect repellent. If you want to use an insect repellent to protect your child from mosquitoes, spray it on sparingly and avoid spraying it on the hands or face. Look for products that don’t contain more than 30% of DEET, 10% of picaridin, or ask your doctor or pharmacist for a recommendation.
It’s Critical to Protect your Dog from Mosquito Bites When you Hike
Enjoy bringing your dog with you while hiking? Did you know that dogs can also get mosquito bites and need to be protected?
Some mosquito species cause heartworm which can make dogs quite sick. If you’re concerned about your dog, you could ask your vet to prescribe a heartworm prevention tablet to protect your dog.
Make sure that your dog has been treated for ticks and fleas recently as these products also contain effective protection against mosquito bites.
A Few Last Thoughts on How to Repel Mosquitoes While Hiking
Mosquitoes can be a huge nuisance while hiking, and more importantly, they can be dangerous, spreading diseases like West Nile, Zika, malaria, and dengue fever. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to repel these pests. We’ve outlined a few tips that will help keep the mosquitoes away so you can enjoy your hike without worrying about getting bitten.
When deciding how to repel mosquitoes while hiking, remember to use mosquito repellent liberally, wear appropriate clothing, and avoid places and fragrances that mosquitoes love. By taking care of yourself in these ways, you can minimize the chances of getting bit and having to deal with the painful welts that often result from their bites. Stay safe out there!