Bugs suck, I think we can all agree on that. Lucky for us we’ve got great big over evolved monkey brains and technology (notably chemistry), if we are smart and plan ahead we can move through the forest and keep most of our blood on the inside instead of within mosquitoes and tics.
I’ve already mentioned my favorite tool in this “defensive war against bugs” (a Thermacell) but that gadget is best for stationary positions. For example; when sitting by the fire drinking whiskey and bitching about the fish that got away.
When you’re in motion a Thermacell doesn’t work as well, that’s when I turn to my second favorite tool; permethrin. The thing I like about permethrin is that I’m treating clothing, not putting it on my skin. Also I found that permethrin is devastatingly effective, especially at repelling ticks.
How it works is a little bit more subtle than your average bug repellent. Long before you head into the forest (at least the day before but if you’re really smart you can do it weeks in advance) you treat your clothes.
This, like anything, it’s something that you can overthink but I’ve had good luck and this is how I’ve done it. First, dig through your clothes and pick out an “outfit”. That means jeans, a T-shirt, possibly some socks, and an over shirt or windbreaker. Take these things out to the driveway and get rid of family, kids, your dog, and especially cats. (I’m not sure of the chemistry behind the cat thing but just shoo the little cretins away so you can get this job done. Lay your clothes out on something you don’t mind exposing to chemicals; a chain-link fence, truck tailgate, an old log, whatever. Use the spray bottle to carefully put a light coat on your stuff. Flip your stuff over and coat the other side. (Don’t try to do this when it’s windy.) Give your stuff plenty of time to dry and you’re done.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “that sounds like a pain in the ass”. But the big payoff is that that set of clothes is now practically a suit of armor! Especially against ticks I have had amazing success with this kind of treatment.
The empirical proof to me was several years ago when I was with a group of about a dozen people. We all tramped about a half-mile through some seriously tick laden territory. I was in the lead on the way out. When we got there everyone was pulling ticks off of their clothes. I checked but there were no ticks on me. We tramped back out of the woods and this time I was near the back of the line. When we got in our truck everyone started pulling ticks off of various appendages and flicking them out the window. (I should note that usually you don’t encounter ticks to such a massive degree, for whatever reason this was an exceptionally icky location.) I checked everywhere but apparently any tick that jumped onto my clothes must’ve jumped right back off.
As far as I’m concerned there couldn’t have been a better test in real world conditions.
Permethrin is not only incredibly effective, it’s a no-brainer once you’ve done the initial treatment. It stays equally effective for several washes and timewise it lasts most of the summer.
Remember this is a chemical you put on clothing, not your skin. People have this weird thing about chemicals, it’s a quasi-superstitious idea that anything with a multi-syllable name is going to make their testicles fall off. But as far as I can tell putting a substance on clothing is much better than putting it on your skin and permethrin seems exceptionally safe. I promise, if my skull melts due to this chemical I will post about that. Of course you don’t have to use permethrin if you don’t want to. It’s a free nation and also what you do is none of my business.
I also think folks are pretty lousy at evaluating risk. Tics carry Lyme disease. They also carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever and various other very nasty things. Fretting about the hypothetical extremely low exposure to a pair of jeans with a chemical on them while totally ignoring a disease that will genuinely fuck you up is one of the reasons why I know our schools suck.
So anyway I recommend permethrin on your clothes while you hike through the forest and a Thermacell around the campsite while you relax. Then, if you need to, it’s time to unleash the DEET. Like I said this is a “multipronged strategy”.