Many of our readers have expressed an interest in learning how to keep bugs from biting them and what methods I use to prevent bites. This has always been a subject of great concern to me because I can legitimately say that the area I live in has the worst bug problem of any place that I have ever visited. I’ve seen people come to camp and get a 100 tick bites in only half a day and they didn’t even walk through the woods. Our ticks are literally like invading army ants and the chiggers are extremely bad too! These little ticks actually set ambushes and will wait on objects that you frequent and then attack at the first opportunity. We even have airborne paratrooper ticks that literally wait for you to pass under them and then they launch themselves from trees to get at you. Dealing with this and some of the other problems has made me a bit of an expert in living in the woods with the bugs. So in this article I am going to discuss the methods that have worked best for me and have prevented me from being eaten alive by the hoards of ticks that frequent our survival training grounds!
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Now for some answers on dealing with BUGS!
Clothing, Boots, and Personal Gear-
I CAN’T SAY THIS ENOUGH! In order to prevent bug bites in the woods you must dress properly. Having the correct outfit for your area is liking dawning a suit of armor that makes you invincible to those devil bugs! Here are the rules to follow when dressing for the woods!
- Always tuck your pants into your boots! And if you’re not wearing boots then you should pull your socks over the top of your pants. This prevents the bugs from being able to even get in your clothing.
- Tuck your shirt into your pants! If you have tucked your pants and your shirt in, then you have pretty much won the battle already. Why? Because the only place they can get in is on your arms and if you wear long sleeves then they can only get in on your hands and neck area.
- Wear a long sleeve shirt. Some areas are so hot that this isn’t feasible, but if you can manage it then it is always best to wear a long sleeve shirt. This means the only place the bugs can get in is on your hands and neck area.
- Treat your clothing with permethrin. Permethrin is by far the best bug juice that you can get and much better for you than deet. It’s a great feeling to walk into a seed tick nest and have them all over your clothing and within seconds the ticks starting walking in circles and falling off as if they were drunk!
- Don’t wear bright colors or use any type of perfumes or things that smell different than the natural environment!
Permethrin vs Deet
When I did my wilderness medic training I had the honor to train under Dr. Frank Hubble, who is one of the top wilderness doctors in the world. He has experience in dealing with killer jungle diseases and travels to areas that are full of killer diseases contracted from bugs. So needless to say, I trust his experience when it comes to dealing with bugs.
First he taught me about the effects of permethrin vs deet and after learning the negative effects of deet, I will never go back. When deet is applied to your skin it immediately starts soaking into your skin and quickly finds itself in your bloodstream and then moves to your spinal column. Permethrin is less of a health risk, can’t be applied to the skin, and is far more effective with none of the risks of deet. Deet is only effective for a few hours before having to re-apply which makes it a no go in my book.
My choice is permethrin for dozens of reasons. The first reason being is that it lasts on your clothing for an extremely long time, as many as 40 washes if applied correctly. The second reason being is that it kills the bugs instead of just repelling them. The bugs will crawl up your clothing a foot or so and then fall off dead. Whereas with deet it will only repel the ticks and I’ve seen from experience that if a tick is determined enough the deet won’t stop them whereas the permethrin will. I could write a whole article just on the advantages of permethrin over deet but we have to move on. You can pick up bottles of permethrin in walmart for about 10 bucks a bottle in the sporting goods department.
There are tons of different products out there on the market that will help protect us from bug bites but they come with pros and cons just like everything else. What’s great about natural products is they are better for the environment and we eliminate the chance of having harmful carcinogens soak into our bloodstream like deet does. But how effective are they? In my experience, they are far less effective than using a product like permethrine. But they do work, especially if used in conjunction with proper clothing. Downside is that they are just like deet and wear off in a few hours so you have to keep re-applying.
I’ve had the opportunity to test many of these methods because we have an area I train at that is so overrun with mosquitoes that I have literally had my whole face swell up like an allergic reaction from all the bites. This type of training environment helps you figure out real quick what works and what doesn’t! You can make your own effective natural repellant by lightly simmering noxious herbs like yarrow or American beauty berry in a light olive oil and then adding the oil to a little spray bottle. The oil will allow the herbs to last much longer on the skin and clothing. Apply liberally as needed for your environment.
While I do on occasion use plants for a repellant by rubbing them on my skin, they don’t work for very long. If you wipe a plant like yarrow all over your exposed areas, it will help cut down on the number of bug bites but it won’t prevent all of them. But this method only lasts a short amount of time. This is why we have to mix these plants with oils to spray on our skin and clothing. For survival situations, you can rub mud all over your exposed areas but this method is only marginally effective also.
Smudge Fires and Shelters
Lastly, how do we deal with bugs in our survival shelters and our camping area. The single best way to drive back the hordes is to make a smudge fire that will help ward them off. It’s the same thing as throwing a citronella candle out in your backyard. You can build a smudge fire with any kind of moist woods that will put out a lot of smoke. This can also be done with termite damaged wood as well as toxic tree smokes like pine or cedar. Just add the smudge woods on top of a fire that already has a good bed of coals and let it smolder and the bugs will run away.
Types of Bug Bites
Chiggers- Let’s talk first about the chigger, because they are my least favorite to deal with! But I bet some of you northerners are wonderin what the hell a chigger is! Well let me tell you that they are the worst of the bunch when it comes to makin yah itch like crazy. The problem with chiggers is that you can’t see them and once they bite you they leave an itch that usually lasts a couple of weeks. Contrary to popular belief they do not bury themselves in your skin. You can actually wash them off with your hands and a little water. Chiggers are usually around moist areas and I get them the most by walking through grassy areas.
Once the chigger has bitten you, then you the only thing you can do is treat the symptoms. The itch comes from an allergic reaction caused by the chigger ingecting his saliva into your skin. Most bites occur in areas that have thin skin because the chiggers mouth and feeding structure are very delicate. So you usually get bitten behind the knee, waist, ankles, and feet. And putting finger nail polish and other crazy remedies won’t help much other than temporarily relieving the itch. I find that using analgesic remedies that actually numb the skin by far and away work the best. Chigger X is a great product that works great on other types of bites also. But my favorite way to treat these bites is to make a salve from the yarrow plant because it numbs the skin and deals with any infection issue that might occur from the break in your skin. Check out our youtube video on making the perfect wilderness salve for my favorite treatment. CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO!
Ticks- By far we have more ticks in our area then any other type of biting bug and they usually come in droves. So I have a ton of experience in dealing with these little critters. I can’t express enough to you how important it is to prevent tick bites. Ticks carry so many types of debilitating diseases it’s ridiculous. Lyme disease is probably the most well known of the different diseases ticks can cause, because lyme can cause major health problems if not dealt with correctly. I’ve known many friends that have contracted it in our area and have also rid themselves of it. My good friend Michael Patrick (Owner of Maine Primitive Skills School) has healed himself of lyme disease twice using medicinal plants. I won’t get into all the treatments possible for ticks but if you do get lyme disease or some other nasty disease they can be treated using medicinal plants as well as modern medical methods. Just watch out and try not to get bitten.
Mosquitoes- These little flying blood suckers cause the least amount of itching and discomfort but they also cause the greatest disease born threat. Contrary to popular myth, the mosquito is the most deadly bug on the planet and kills millions of people every year! Malaria is the most well known disease but mosquitoes have probably a 100 well known diseases worldwide that can cause massive health problems as well as death! The thing about malaria is that it never ever goes away, you have it for life. So if you travel then I highly recommend treating your clothing and being prepared for the areas you travel to. You don’t want to come home from vacation with a life threatening disease.
Without a doubt in my mind the single best way to deal with bugs in the wilderness if to first dress properly and to treat those clothes with permethrine. If you dress properly, it is the equivalent of dawning bug armor with the highest level of protection. There are dozens of other methods out there to deal with the bugs but they all only last a short amount of time and only maintain a marginal degree of effectiveness against hungry bugs. So my choice is always to where the right kind of clothing treated with a good dose of permethrin. Try these methods on your next outdoor adventure and post your comments back here. We want to hear your feedback!
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