Wandering Around Out There With A Canoe On My Head

Avoid Attracting Bugs

There isn’t much you have to do to attract bugs. They like you just the way you are, and they’ll find you. What makes you particularly attractive, aside from your bubbly personality, is the indicators that you have tasty warm blood running through you: Warmth and carbon dioxide. You give off those signals all the time. You can’t help it. When you speak, sweat, or just stand there, you’re emitting CO2. When you’re active, out in the sun, or again just standing there, you’re emitting heat. Unfortunately there’s no real safe way to stop being so attractive (e.g. not breathing) there are some ways to minimize just how attractive you could be to bugs.

Don’t Smell – at least not in the way you’re used to

The fragrances that we like to adorn ourselves with, hoping to make ourselves smell more attractive work very well, to bugs anyway. Think about those commercials where the guy puts on the smelly stuff and the girls start swarming, then substitute the girls for mosquitoes and black flies, multiply them by a thousand, and you get the picture. I’m not sure the bugs like them, but they do get the bugs attention. This includes perfumes/colognes, body sprays, fragrant soaps and sadly deodorants. Most people are okay to forgo most, but the last one tends to be the biggest sacrifice for most people. Someone once suggested to me that an antiperspirant would decrease the amount of exposed sweat (at the most sweatiest area) and so should be good for keeping the bugs away. I’m no scientist, so that makes sense – as long as it has no scent (making no scents, as it were), but I give no guarantees on that. Most portageurs will find smelling – in the wrong way – a small price to pay to keep a few extra bugs away. Just leave your deodorant and a fresh set of clothes in the car. Before you leave from the trip take a good dip in the lake and change into those fresh clothes. No one will know how bad you smell – no one who didn’t smell themselves anyway.

Choose Your Colours

I’ve read that brightly coloured clothes attract bugs. That might be true for the pollen eaters like bees and wasps but I’ve never noticed that myself. Dark colours on the other hand, do attract the biters. I know a lot of people who swear by this. Avoid dark blues, greens and of course blacks and browns and you’ll be pestered less. Admittedly, I again don’t exactly know why. They say it’s because they’re usual meal are animals who of course wear dark colours. I would think it comes down to attracting heat. Light colours reflect sunlight while dark colours absorb it. This makes your body warmer, giving off a more attractive vibe. Then again, I could be completely off. The bugs could be fashion critics for all I know. (It does raise the question of whether or not they like the darker colours, as they’re attracted to them, or whether they’re biting you as the only way they know how to critique.)

Don’t Show Off

If you don’t want your skin to get bit, cover it up. Seems easy enough, except when it’s really hot out. Get yourself some light wicking fabrics with long sleeves or pant legs, along with some light socks. When the bugs are bad, tuck your shirt into your pants and your pants into your socks. A hat is a good idea as well. You lose a lot of heat through the top of your head (or hair, if you’re anything like me) so it’s a particularly attractive spot. Deer and Horse flies love to buzz around the top of your head and you’re fresh meat without a hat. Similarly, a bandanna around the back of your neck will keep the bugs off another enticing spot – dipped in some cool water will both counter the warming effects of covering up, but will keep the bugs in front of you for easy retaliation.

The best way to cover up from bugs are the specifically designed bug wear. This is very loose clothing made with mesh to keep the bugs from getting at your exposed areas without constrictive heat – though I wouldn’t exactly call them cool. They come in shirts, hats, gloves, pants  and the most popular jacket (with or without a hood/hat). I once went camping with a guy would only brought some food and a bug hat. He kept it in his back pocket, and when it was time to sleep he tucked his pants into his socks, took of one shoe to use as a pillow and slept like a baby.

Sleep Well

This one’s probably the most obvious: When you’re not actually entering or exiting any tents, bivys or hammocks, keep it completely zipped up and covered, and move swiftly when you are. Otherwise you may find yourself with a bunch of buzzing over your head while you’re trying to sleep. Most of us are kept awake by the buzzing of just one mosquito, as we wait for it to just get it over with and finally bite us. Once you do sleep, you’ll eventually wake to some really bad bites from bugs who took their sweet time. This is especially important for people sharing tents, as you’ll also wake to some really grumpy friends who are looking to find out who left the tent door open.

And the rest

Some other techniques are to keep the lamps and lights to a minimum at night, as they tend to attract bugs, but not really the biters. I do like to perpetuate this myth to stop those people who like to ruin the campfire mood by constantly shining lights around. (Or even right in the campfire – what’s with that?) Another idea I’ve heard is to keep your hat up off your hat as most bugs like to move up to high points. I’ve even seen people with sticks holding their hats over their heads who swear by this. I wonder if the deer and horse flies find their way in though.

The only guarantee I can give you

They say that some of us are more prone to getting attacked by bugs. It’s personal chemistry, or at the very least it’s probable that we don’t all emit heat and carbon dioxide to the same degree, so I’m sure this is true. (Except we all seem to think the bugs are worse for us than with other people.) What I do know from all the years in the bush is that bugs are like bullies and go after those that are most affected by them. I know this because some days are better than others when it comes to getting bit and it has to do with how you react. In a bad mood, tense, stressed, annoyed, the bugs just seem worse. You’re not imagining it. When in those states you give off more heat, and even breath more. So more bugs come, bite more, get you more annoyed, and the cycle continues. Solution: Relax. If you find yourself getting annoyed at the bugs, take a break inside a tent if you can. Then take a nice deep breath with a slow exhale, and let your muscles relax.You’ll find that as soon as you do the bugs will suddenly be better. Trust me. It works. You’re on vacation, after all. You should try and relax.

Read more about dealing with bugs

  • I can’t address the bug bitting, they don’t seem to bother with me too much. But I can address the smelly side of your post. Suggestion: carry a small piece of crystal deodorant, it’s 100% natural mineral salts. No perfumes, no chemicals, and no Aluminum Chlorohydrate. You still sweat, but won’t stink. Sold in most drug stores for around $5. cdn (120g stick) and will last for what seems forever. Just be sure to rinse it after use or it takes on the dreaded pit odour.

    I also heard eating lots of garlic repels insects, but makes great flavouring/tenderizing for bears. LOL

  • Thanks, Jan. I’ll have to look into that. And you’re right about the garlic. 🙂 I like to bring and eat spicy foods, so at the very least the bears are going to regret eating me.

  • Hey Preston, I am doing a research report on insects being attracted to bugs and I would like to site this article in my bibliography. Unfortunately I need to know your last name and middle initial to site this source so. If you could give me your last name and middle initial that would be great. Thanks, Seth

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