Unfortunately, mosquitoes are a hazard of hiking just about anywhere. Reportedly Antarctica and Iceland are two of the few mosquito-free locations, but if you’re not “lucky” enough to be in either of those fine places, you’ll probably have to contend with mosquitoes when you hike.
Still, even if mosquitoes exist almost everywhere, they are not equally prevalent everywhere. Mosquitoes favor warm and humid areas, so you’re more likely to avoid them the farther you are away from tropical climates.
But as people from Canada will tell you, even far from the tropics, in the warmer months there can be plenty of mosquitoes to harass you. Mosquitoes typically hibernate in the colder months in non-tropical areas, and then return in full force when the weather warms up. Not invariably-mosquitoes can occasionally be active even in sub-zero weather-but certainly the colder times of year are your best times for avoiding mosquitoes.
But let’s assume you’re going to be hiking in something other than frigid conditions, on a nice summer day, far from Antarctica or Iceland. What can you do to avoid being eaten alive?
1. Understand the mosquito, how it feeds, what attracts it.
Mosquitoes breed in standing water, and typically do not stray great distances during their life cycle. Males feed primarily on flower nectar. It’s the females that consume blood, consuming more than their own weight per feeding. Some species feed only on non-human animals, some only people, and some both.
The factors that determine whom mosquitoes bite are numerous, complex, and only partly understood. At a distance, during the day, they seem to respond to motion and dark colors. The closer they get, scent becomes more important. Of the odors given off by humans, carbon dioxide and lactic acid have been shown to attract mosquitoes. Artificial floral fragrances from perfumes, soaps, hair care products, etc. seem to attract them. Once they’re closer, they respond to body heat and moisture, and are drawn to perspiration. (Anhidrotic people-which means people who produce less perspiration-are significantly less attractive to mosquitoes.)
Young adults are bitten more than children and more than older adults; men are bitten more than women; larger people are bitten more than smaller people.
2. Avoid hiking during the mosquito dinner hour.
Different species of mosquitoes feed at different times, so you’re never completely safe, but as a rule, more mosquitoes are out looking for a meal in the late afternoon and evening. So hiking in the morning and early afternoon is better.
3. Keep away from areas where mosquitoes are more common.
Shady, forested areas, especially near water, tend to have the most mosquitoes. Sunny, open areas tend to have fewer. If there is any wind, more open areas where the wind is not blocked by trees or other objects are especially good.
4. Dress appropriately.
Light colors are better than dark colors. If it’s not too hot, you can cover as much of your skin as possible by wearing long sleeves and long pants, tucking pant legs inside hiking boots, etc. You can also wear a mosquito head net.
Wearing clothes that have been pretreated with the insecticide Permethrin, or that you spray with Permethrin, will reduce your attraction to mosquitoes.
Avoided wearing scented cosmetics, hair care products, etc.
5. Use insect repellant.
By far the most effective insect repellant is the chemical N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide (DEET). DEET does not so much literally repel mosquitoes, as alter the scents coming from the human body so the insect’s receptors don’t recognize a person as a potential meal. A DEET-based lotion, cream, or spray can be used on the skin and clothing.
Products with the chemical Picaridin, such as Avon’s Skin-So-Soft, also have some mosquito-repellant effectiveness, but far less than those that contain DEET.
(For reasons of safety rather than effectiveness, Permethrin should not be used on the skin as an insect repellant, only on clothes.)
These measures won’t make it impossible that you’ll get the occasional mosquito bite while hiking, but they’ll drastically reduce your risk. This would be of some value even if mosquito bites were never more than a minor irritation that caused some itching. But mosquito bites can also transmit diseases such as West Nile fever, making it especially important to protect yourself.
dete49, “How to Cope with Biting Insects When Camping and Hiking.” eHow.
M.S. Fraden, “Mosquitoes and Mosquito Repellents: A Clinician’s Guide.” Annals of Internal Medicine 128 (June 1, 1998) (11): 931-940.
Sheila, “How to Repel Mosquitoes with New DEET Alternatives.” Go Visit Hawaii.
“Bothersome Bugs.” Hiking Dude