Surviving Mosquitos and Black Flies Print E-mail

It is that time of year. We are getting ready to head north to run a river.  

Really looking forward to it, mostly. If it had not been for all those bugs. Many of you will go to Canada or Alaska. Linda and I are going to the Lappland area of North Norway. Different place, but the selection of bugs is about the same. Since I grew up above the Arctic Circle I have had quite a bit of experience dealing with the bugs up there, and I will tell you what I do to deal with them. Hopefully, this will be helpful to some of you.

Mosquitos and black flies present different problems, and defending against them requires different methods. Mosquitos are soft and long legged (yes, I am sure you all know that, but please read on anyway). They will bite through clothes, but will not go inside your clothes to bite. Black flies are small and hard - and they will go inside your clothes to bite. But they do not bite through clothes. You can make use of these facts to protect most of your body. Here is what I do:

I wear windproof long pants tucked into my boots. No denim, ever!!  

Mosquitos will bite through denim, and it is the coldest stuff you can possibly wear - which is not what you need in the Arctic. I really like the 60/40 material (cotton/polyester) that was popular a few years ago. It was lightweight, breathable, windproof, bugproof and quick drying. Unfortunately, it is hard to find. But you can find something similar. Just make sure it has a dense, tight weave.

For my upper body I use a two-part approach. To keep the black flies out I wear tight fitting thermal underwear. I prefer a wool blend, but almost anything will do. For mosquitoes I add a tightly woven shirt. Cotton breaths well and dries quickly. I find synthetics less breathable, but otherwise functional. A hat of some kind is part of the basic package, and most hats will work. Go ahead and wear what you like. Dressed in these basic pieces you will be quite comfortable much of the time on a northern riverbank - at least if the air moves enough to keep the bugs out of your face.

Note: You may have noticed that I recommend cotton even for a potentially cold climate. Since we have all heard that "cotton kills", that does not seem to make sense. Reality is that cotton makes a very functional shell fabric, but I would never use cotton as insulation.

But your face, neck and hands are still exposed. For hand protection my wife likes to wear rubber gloves, and it is very effective. I don't like the feel, and the best option i have found is Deet on the back of my hands.  

I know there are other repellents out there. Mostly, the difference is that Deet works. When the bugs are bad you will still be miserable if you discourage half of them. So I use Deet. For my head I use a bug jacket.  

There are two kinds. One is mosquito netting (at least in part). The other is absorbent "fishnet" that you impregnate with Deet. Head nets are only effective if you make sure they are tucked into your shirt or otherwise closed at the bottom. I have seen too many people use head nets and end up with a couple of hundred bug bites around their necks, so I prefer a full jacket. I have both kinds and like them both. The mosquito netting kind worn over a hat keeps bugs away from you completely - unless you want to eat or enjoy a cup of coffee. The Deet impregnated kind keeps almost all the bugs away even when you eat, and it is an excellent way to minimize the use of Deet on your skin. One Deet treatment will last for a couple of weeks if you keep the jacket sealed in a plastic bag when it is not in use.

On a hot day a bug jacket is nice because you don't need the thermal underwear. The bug jacket does a fine job of keeping the black flies away.  

But I leave the shirt on to make sure the mosquitos don't get me. The Canadian "Original Bug Shirt" is mostly mosquito proof fabric with mosquito netting panels where it is least likely to be in contact with your skin. It works well, but we don't have enough hot days in the Arctic to worry much about it. Whichever bug jacket you get, I am pretty sure you will appreciate it.

I hope all this stuff about bugs did not discourage you from going to the Arctic. It is a fantastic place, and the bug problem truly is manageable.  

You just need to be prepared. I wish you a great trip!
Last Updated on Thursday, 25 June 2009 18:18