Leaving Mosquitoville

nasty bugger

Mosquitos!  I hate them and want nothing to do with them!  Living where I do in the mountains of north central New Mexico I don’t worry about them too much.  Whether it is due to the climate or the altitude I rarely encounter the dread bugs around here.  But my roadtrip this summer took me smack into a bunch of Mosquitoville’s in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ontario, New York, and Vermont.

High risk activities

state bird

Going for a hike, particularly in hot, humid regions of the eastern USA (and elsewhere) definitely qualifies as high risk for encountering mosquitos.   Soon after arriving in Wisconsin and being swarmed as I got out of my car for a hike, my hosts informed me that the mosquito is Wisconsin’s State bird and that I had better arm myself with repellant.  They weren’t kidding!

Other risk factors include having the wrong blood type and being a beer drinker.  Drat!  It turns out that mosquitos have a preference for type O negative blood.  One study found that in a controlled setting, mosquitos landed on people with Type O blood nearly twice as often as those with Type A. People with Type B blood fell somewhere in the middle of this itchy spectrum.

Another study found that significantly more mosquitoes landed on study participants after drinking a 12-ounce beer than before. The scientists figured that it was due to increased ethanol content in sweat and skin temperature from consuming the brew, but they were unable to find the exact correlation, just that it happened.

Keeping the pests away

On the trail in the Mosquitoville’s this summer I found myself constantly swatting away at the annoying mosquitos that came along with the humid air.  The buzzing in my face and ears, the tickling feeling of the creatures crawling on my skin, the momentary stinging bites, and the itchy bumps gave me all the motivation I needed to look into how to keep these nasty pests away.  

With all the products that line store shelves offering protection from mosquitoes, it can be hard to know if you’re choosing the right one for your needs as you head into mosquito country.   I quickly learned that ingredients can mean the difference between hundreds of bites or staying in the clear. 

Here are my helpful tips along with the help from a mosquito repellent resource to find which sprays, wipes or lotions are best for your hiking trips!

What to Look for in a Mosquito Repellent

Mosquitoes may be tiny, but they can cause quite a disruption to a peaceful hike. Aside from the itchy bites they leave behind, they can also transmit a variety of diseases to humans. What should you look for in a mosquito repellent to ensure you get a top quality product? The following factors should be taken into consideration when making your choice.

Effective Active Ingredients

Both the Centers for Disease Control and the Environmental Protection Agency recommend only three active ingredients that are reported to effectively repel mosquitoes. These three ingredients are DEET, oil of lemon eucalyptus, and picaridin. Many mosquito repellents use different ingredients or add in filler products that are unnecessary or could be potentially harmful. It’s ideal to stick to a product that contains one of the three recognized ingredients known to effectively repel mosquitoes.

Safe Levels of Active Ingredients

When dealing with these three effective active ingredients, you want to ensure the product you choose has enough to be effective. However, too much of these ingredients can lead to uncomfortable side effects. For example, too much DEET exposure can cause a skin rash or nausea. Products offering active ingredients ranging below 10% likely won’t serve as much protection from mosquitoes. Products offering active ingredients in the 10 to 30 percent range should offer an appropriate degree of protection without bothersome side effects.

Pleasant Fragrance and Texture

Some mosquito repellent products can smell downright nasty, many to the point of giving the user an obnoxious headache. Others have a decent aroma, but they are in a form that absorbs poorly or leaves behind a greasy film on the skin. However, there are several products have a pleasant feel and fragrance. It can also be helpful to look for a mosquito repellent that comes in an easy-to-use and easy-to-apply applicator.

What are the Differences Between DEET and Non-DEET Repellents?

DEET is one of the three main active ingredients used in many mosquito repellent products. DEET is a man-made chemical that was originally created to serve as a pesticide. After discovering that it was effective at keeping mosquitoes at bay, it was later reformulated into an insect repellent to be used by the US Army. Making its debut around the 1940’s, DEET has been around long enough to have many studies backing its safety and efficacy. This can provide a great deal of peace of mind if you happen to be hiking in areas where there are large outbreaks of mosquito borne illnesses. DEET is considered safe, but it should still be treated with respect and used in the smallest dosage that still provides an appropriate level of protection.

On the other hand, Non-DEET products are those that choose a different active ingredient other than DEET. This includes products that use Picaridin or Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus as their main ingredient. 

Picaridin is a synthetic chemical that is designed to closely mimic a chemical found in black pepper. Having only been in use in mosquito repellents since 2005, there are substantially fewer data available on picaridin that there is on DEET. However, it is considered safe and non-irritating as long as it is not swallowed or placed in the eyes.

Last but not least, oil of lemon eucalyptus is a natural ingredient derived from the lemon eucalyptus plant. Synthetic versions of this oil do also exist, so if it’s important to you to choose a natural product, look for a label that specifies their oil is from the actual plant. Products using oil of lemon eucalyptus are safe for children over the age of 3 and are generally very effective at deterring mosquitoes from biting you.

More Tips About Mosquito Repellents

Avoid Products with Sunscreen

Sunscreen and mosquito repellent products wear off or evaporate at very different rates. Therefore, it is not recommended that you use a mosquito repellent with a built-in sunscreen. You may end up leaving your skin unprotected because it isn’t time to apply more of the product yet. It’s ideal to purchase and use these two essential products separately.

Don’t Just Apply Once

Your mosquito repellent will need to be reapplied periodically, the same as your sunscreen. Follow the instructions on the label to ensure that you remain protected for the duration of your hike. Also, don’t forget that these products have an expiration date. If you pull out the product you purchased for your adventure hike last year and it doesn’t smell quite right, it’s probably best to toss it and buy a new replacement product.

Reputable Products Protect around the Globe

If you purchase a mosquito repellent with one of the three main recommended active ingredients, it should offer superior protection no matter where your nature hike takes you. Whether you are traversing a local trail or are hiking somewhere on the outskirts of Africa, you will be protected from the harm that mosquitoes can inflict.

Announcing your arrival
in a high-pitch buzzing-tone.
As a tactic for survival,
you’re seldom on your own.

Red lumps display where you have been.
Often felt, though rarely seen.

But if I catch a glimpse of you,
my little vampire chum,
I’ll make sure you get what you’re due,
and squash you with my thumb!

David Sollis

No matter what Mosquitoville your next adventure may lead you to, protect your skin from harmful mosquito bites as you hike, enjoy a beer, and take in that gorgeous scenery.

Thank you Jericka Lambourne for collaborating with me on this post.


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