Slate has relationships with various online retailers. If you buy something through our links, Slate may earn an affiliate commission. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change. All prices were up to date at the time of publication.
It happens every year: Pleasant summer weather brings unpleasant summer pests like mosquitoes and ticks. But this summer, as we all know, is a bit different. We’re turning to the outdoors more regularly—for get-togethers with friends, for a respite from our homes. And you’ve probably just about had it with those pests by now—mosquito bites dotting your legs, maybe you’ve pulled off a tick or two. So we turned to some outdoor adventure experts to ask them what you can do to better protect yourself.
Some good general guidelines? Limit perfumes and scented products. Wear long, light-colored clothing, which is less attractive to mosquitoes and makes it easier to spot ticks.
To help create a bug-free zone that covers an area larger than your own body, consider the Thermacell Backpacker Mosquito Repeller, which comes recommended by both Tim Dube, the owner of Capitol Hill Outfitters, and Darren Bush, owner of Rutabaga Paddlesports. This device runs on camping fuel canisters (you’ll need to purchase these inexpensive fuel sources separately) and expels a repellent called allethrin, which is a synthetic copy of an insecticide found in chrysanthemum plants. Dube says that the Thermacell can run for many hours and it effectively creates a bug-free bubble around you. He likens the effect to that of a citronella candle but without the open flame and mess. Bush uses the Thermacell when camping, as well as under his picnic table in his backyard, to prevent mosquitoes from making a meal of his legs while he eats outside.
While on the trail, Bush says that insect repellents containing DEET are great, but he uses them pretty sparingly. To deter ticks, Bush suggests spraying DEET onto your socks, which you can then tuck into your pants. You can also spray the brim of a baseball cap to protect your face from mosquitoes. When he’s in areas where mosquitoes are especially rampant, he opts instead for a bug shirt, which is essentially the garment version of a mosquito net.
If the intensity of DEET chemicals makes you nervous, Bush finds Natrapel to be an effective alternative. This is a picaridin-based spray. Picaridin is a synthetic version of a repellent found in pepper plants. Bush adds that the efficacy of various treatments depends a lot on an individual’s body chemistry—some people aren’t bothered by insects at all, while others may need more intervention.
Dube prefers wearing a long-sleeved shirt to using repellents, which he says usually sweat off when he’s hiking anyway. His favorite? The polyester fishing shirts from Columbia, which have a hood to cover the neck and protect you from the sun. Though the shirt is long-sleeved, the fabric is lightweight and wicking.
Finally, whatever methods you employ to keep yourself bite-free, it’s extremely important to thoroughly check your body for ticks at the end of a day outdoors, particularly in regions where Lyme and other tick-borne diseases are common. It’s this aspect of pest control that Tom Costley, director of Overland Summers, focuses on with the students who take Overland’s trips. Trip leaders and participants are trained to check their entire body, and to have a friend look at the places they can’t see themselves, like their backs. In the case that someone finds a tick, Costley’s crew uses a tick key to remove it. This simple tool allows you to use leverage to extract ticks’ heads without touching them.