There are many things I enjoy about bicycle touring. I love the fresh air, the beautiful scenery, and the grand vistas. There is definitely one thing I DO NOT like: bugs. A perk of living in southern California is the lack of bugs (sure, there are bugs here. But not like in other places. Trust me.) On our tours, we’ve had to deal with mosquitos, ticks, chiggers, mites. I’m like a bug magnet, if there is a bare patch of skin the bugs seem to find it. So how do we handle all the bugs in the world?
One thing we did on the Southern Tier was to treat our clothing and tent with a product called Permethrin. We picked up a few bottles from the sporting goods store, and treat all our camp clothing, plus our socks and tent. The active ingredient is Permethrin, a synthetic insecticide that was developed by the US Army to prevent its soldiers from being bitten while on duty, because of this it has been tested for safety and currently seems to pose no issues. Maybe you’re hesitant about using a “non-natural” product? Well, I have misgivings, too, but if this stuff can keep me from getting bit (or sick) then I’m all for it. This stuff should be sprayed directly onto clothing or gear, but never onto skin. It’s highly toxic to fish and cats, so if you have a cat, keep it away, and it smells very strongly upon initial application, however that fades as it dries.
In addition to treating our clothing, we also like to bring along a few repellent products. Two sprays, one cream. One spray is Repel Natural, a more natural product, with the active ingredient citronella (the stuff in those candles people burn to keep mosquitos away). If that’s not working, we break out the Ben’s 30% Deet spray. And if we’re still having an issue, Ultrathon Insect Repellent cream by 3M has 34% Deet. Now, I hesitate to use Deet, so we try to be sparing with it and only use it as a last resort. But, honestly, if the bugs are bad, it’s totally worth it.
We have yet to tour in the rain forest or jungle, so our experiences with bugs has been mild so far. But I’ve heard the sand flies (or no see ums) are pretty bad sometimes in New Zealand, so we’re going prepared. And as we plan grander tours in the future, bug-infested places might be on our list. It’s a good idea to think about it before you’re attacked by a swarm of mosquitos with no place to hide. What are your tricks to avoiding bug bites? Let us know in the comments below!
Update: Now that we’re back from our New Zealand tour (didn’t read the journal? Catch it here!), here are my thoughts about the repellents we used there. We went at a great time of year, just cold enough that the bugs weren’t too terrible. But the sand flies were very annoying at times. We found that using the Repel Natural worked as a quick fix. If we weren’t going to be stopped for very long at a time, like for lunch, we’d spray it on the exposed areas and it worked well enough (especially combined with movement, which seemed to also work well. If you keep moving, the sand flies don’t have a chance to annoy you.). I felt good using it when we didn’t have access to water for washing, as its non-toxic. A few times we were in a sand fly infested area for longer periods of time, and the Deet cream or spray worked very well at keeping the bugs away. We just made sure to keep it away from our faces and wash our hands well if we could.
Disclaimer: I am not an expert and these are only my opinions. Consult a health care provider if you are concerned about any ingredient. I have not been compensated in any way by any of these manufacturers.