Bug Wars: Thermacell

Years ago I received a Christmas present which I thought of as junk. It looked like one of those useless gadgets people who never go outdoors buy for those of us who do; like a novelty compass or something. It was a plastic thingamajig purportedly able to eliminate mosquitoes. Such a thing was impossible! I thanked whomever gave me the gadget (I wish I remember who it was) and left it on my shelf unused for many years.

Years later I was driven batty in a swamp where mosquitoes had gained the upper hand. In desperation I resorted to the “device which can’t possibly work”.

It worked!

My thermacell (which is probable 15 years old). Chickens eating leftover pizza provided for scale. This image is a link to Amazon's Thermacell site and I recommend the product. (In the interest of full disclosure, you buy it from this link I'll get like a quarter or something.)

My Thermacell (which is probably 15 years old). Chickens eating leftover pizza provided for scale. This image is a link to Amazon’s Thermacell site and I recommend the product. (In the interest of full disclosure, you buy it from this link I’ll get like a quarter or something.)

I’m officially declaring that I was totally wrong and that the Thermacell is one of the coolest presents I ever received. How was I to know that this gadget, unlike most gadgets, was worth its weight in gold?

I have tested the hell out of mine and yes indeed it reliably does what nothing else can do. I have grown fond of the improbable little device. (I regret those years of not using it.) If you don’t have one, you need to buy one now!

Before I continue, it’s important to define the scope of my expectations. You can’t hang out in a spruce bog and have the same level of comfort as a screened porch. Be realistic. Further, the best solution to mosquitoes is to figure out precisely where they are and be somewhere else; for example if you’re in the muskeg in Manitoba in June… leave. Come back in September. Also if you’re there in November, never stop watching the weather. Nobody likes finding dead tourist bodies in May. I’m just sayin’ you should pay attention and adapt OK?

But avoidance will only get you so far. By all means avail yourself of my favorite gadget. You’ll be glad you did.

Also you should incorporate it into your multifaceted plan to actually enjoy the wilderness (even in rough conditions). It’s wise to think of mosquitoes as something you adapt to with not one technology but several.

First I’ll discuss the Thermacell. In subsequent posts I’ll add some thoughts on my whole “multipronged strategy” approach of Thermacellpermethrin, and DEET:

The Thermacell is “field equipment”, meaning that it’s meant for the wilderness (or at least a picnic). If you’re not in the wilderness you have other options like maybe one of those giant bugs zappers and a screened porch? Wuss! If you’re outdoors (congratulations!) your equipment must be lightweight, abusable, not depend on too many batteries, and not crap out if it gets wet or shaken. The Thermacell does all these things very well.

How it works is dirt simple, there’s a little canister of flammable liquid and a little pad of chemical voodoo. You click the igniter (no match needed/no batteries required), wait a few minutes until the pad heats up through invisible combustion, and the “smoke” (which is virtually invisible and unscented) discourages mosquitoes in a reasonable radius. Easy peasy!

Reading the Amazon page’s questions for the Thermacell almost makes me root for the mosquitoes. It’s a device a Neanderthal could use and people wring their hands like it’s fission. I’m going to provide my own version of Q&A:

For PITA people:

  • Q: I’m afraid of chemicals because I fear that which I do not understand and I spent my high school education watching TV and pretending I was a butterfly, will chemicals in this product cause my torso to implode? A: Don’t lick it and you’ll be fine.
  • Q: My poodle is chemical sensitive and also gluten intolerant, what are the long-term risks associated with this chemical to my poodle? A: Fuck off!
  • Q: This product uses fire and I fear fire, will it burn my tent down? A: Don’t use it in your tent and frankly if you can cause a fire with this object you’re a blithering moron.
  • Q: Is there a Federal program to buy one of these for me? A: Fuck off!

For normal people:

  • Q: Will the scent from this object spook animals when I am hunting? A: I’m naturally concerned about this because it seems that deer smell stuff that doesn’t even have a scent. However, folks say that it doesn’t affect game and that’s been my experience too. It certainly doesn’t have any scent I can detect. I’ve never seen it spook anything. I suspect the disadvantage of mosquitoes making you fidgety far outweighs the very tiny risk that game animals might pick up the scent of a Thermacell. Also the anti-mosquito effect is best when wind is minimal and that’s when the scent is going to spread hardly at all. If it’s windy the mosquitoes will be lessened and you can turn it off. I wouldn’t hesitate to use it while hunting.
  • Q: Will the noise from this object spook animals when I am hunting? A: No, it is nearly totally silent.
  • Q: What will happen if this device gets submerged in water? A: The chemical pad won’t burn after that, remove the wet chemical pad, shakeout the device, install a new pad, and you’re back in business.
  • Q: Can I use multiple devices in concert? A: Yes, good idea.
  • Q: Should I get the holster for carrying it? A: No, it only works if you stay put so just stuff it in your pocket while walking and reserve holsters for carrying your pistol.
  • Q: Any advice for carrying the refills? A: Bring more than you think you will need. They last a very long time but nobody surrounded by mosquitoes would be upset at spending an extra two dollars to have a fresh refill. Stuff the refills in a Ziploc bag and shove them in a pocket. As far as I can tell the refills last forever if you don’t open them.
  • Q: Which device is the best one? A: They are all basically the same, but pay attention if you set a camouflage one on the ground (mine has a tendency to vanish).

They’re cheap and they work. You won’t regret getting one.


P.S. Yes this is the item I used while watching the meteor shower a few weeks ago.

About Adaptive Curmudgeon

I will neither confirm nor deny that I actually exist.
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1 Response to Bug Wars: Thermacell

  1. Rob says:

    Another gimmick that turned out to work was the table top ice maker. If you like ice in your drink when it’s hot out a table top ice make does the job!

    We went camping in the Panama City Florida area not too long ago, took the thermacell & the table top ice maker. We needed a plug in campground for the ice maker but they were both well worth taking… Sitting by the water in a skeeter free environment with ice in the glass is nice.

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