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This three-tiered best bug spray system keeps me (mostly!) bite free in New York’s backcountry every season
Having to constantly swat mosquitos and flies can really ding your day. Ticks and Lyme disease, especially in the northeast, only add another layer of worry.
I’m glad to say that after three years of constant hiking in the Catskills and Adirondacks, I’ve never had a single tick bite. I put that down to my consistent application of the following three products.
First Line of Defense: Permethrin
Each permethrin application lasts several washing cycles — even during tick season, I only reapply every 4-6 weeks — and permethrin doesn’t stain or damage clothing, fabrics, plastics, or gear. (It does have a mild chemical smell during application but, after drying, it’s 100% odorless.)
Permethrin works by destroying an insect’s nervous system. Basically, as soon as a bug crawls on your permethrin-treated clothing, it starts to die. (Permethrin is non-toxic to humans, however, and it also breaks down quickly in the environment.)
I think of permethrin as my base layer for preventing tick borne diseases. It works great on fabric. For your skin, you need a different tool…
The Best Bug Sprays
I use two products on all my bug-season hikes: a spray (Repel) and a balm (Murphy’s).
At the trailhead, before I begin my hike, I spray myself head-to-toe with Repel. However, to save a little weight and space, I leave that bottle behind.
On the trail, if I need to reapply, I carry the much smaller and lighter tub of Murphy’s balm (which, honestly, also smells nicer). This tub is so small, it fits in one of my backpack’s side pouches, so it’s easy to pull out if I need it.
Both these products are all natural and DEET-free.
Where to spray the best bug sprays?
Any exposed skin, including the font and back of your arms and legs, and your neck (front and back).
I even spray the top of my head, and the brim of any cap I’m wearing.
For your face, spray onto the palm of your hand and then rub your cheeks, nose bridge, forehead, and ears. Keep the oils away from your eyes and mouth.
One easy-to-overlook spot needs special attention: the back of your arms just above the elbow, if exposed — it’s a weird place you might not think to spray, but black flies will find those tasty patches instantly and leave you scratching for days.
My daughter has super sensitive skin. Even a quick nip from a mosquito will raise a massive welt on her arm or leg. This summer, she has a ton of prolonged outdoor activities. I just spray her with Repel before she heads off and, so far, zero bites. She doesn’t love the way the spray smells but it keeps her bite-free, which she admits (reluctantly) is a plus.
If you don’t like the way these bug sprays smell, a friend recommends Nantucket Spider Natural Bug Repellant. I haven’t used it myself, so I can’t vouch for it personally, but it gets great ratings on Amazon.
An inexpensive headnet is also an option during deep black fly season, especially in the Adirondacks.