How to Deal with Biting Insects on your Walk


Biting insects are an annoying, but inevitable part of the summer. Not only is the incessant buzzing and hovering of mosquitos, midges and horse flies incredibly irritating, but the subsequent itching of their bites is the last thing that you want from your walking holiday. Here are our top tips for avoiding biting insects:

Apply Insect Repellent

Insect repellent is a must if you are going to be outdoors for any length of time in areas where biting insects are problematic. Repellents containing ‘DEET’ are generally thought to be the most effective, but as the chemical can cause side effects such as rashes and tingling, it must be used with caution. For this reason, natural repellents containing ingredients such as citronella, lavender, lemon and eucalyptus, are just as popular. Apply to exposed areas of skin and carry a bottle with you, sealed in a bag in case of leakage. Some people also find that spraying directly onto your hat or rucksack can help to deter insects, but if using DEET for this purpose, be cautious as it can melt synthetic fabrics.

Cover Up

It may not always be practical to wear long sleeved clothing when the weather is hot, but a loose, long-sleeved shirt and trousers will not only protect your skin from the sun, but also protect you from biting insects such as midges and ticks. A light spritz of repellent over the top will give you further protection, without having to rub chemicals directly onto your skin.

Light and Loose

It is believed that biting insects are least attracted to people wearing white clothes while black clothing attracts them. Tight fitting clothes offer little protection as insects can bite straight through to your skin, so the key is to wear light, loose-fitting clothing.

Avoid Insect Prone Areas

Biting insects will often be more abundant in shady areas such as woodlands, close to hedgerows, long grass, water and at dawn or dusk. Avoid lingering in these areas, particularly while you stop for lunch, drinks or for a rest.

Feed Your Own Repellence

There are a number of beliefs that certain foods build up your natural ‘repellence’ to insects. Consuming B vitamins, garlic, Marmite and Guinness, supposedly makes your blood unappetising to biting critters while other foods such as bananas, make you tastier. There is no scientific evidence to prove whether these suggestions are effective, but some research of your own could yield impressive results.

 Biting Insects

  Insect bites are rarely dangerous and usually clear up within a few days, but not usually before some unpleasant itchiness, pain, redness or swelling. On rare occasions, some people develop a severe reaction to bites or stings. If you suspect that you have had an allergic reaction, are feeling unwell or have suffered from Anaphylaxis in the past, you should seek immediate medical treatment. For normal bites and stings, the following advice can help to reduce discomfort from insect bites:

Avoid Scratching

We know that it’s easier said than done, but scratching bites can make the symptoms of the bite worse and introduce infection to the area. The itching will eventually fade, so until it does, you should grit your teeth and keep your hands away from the bite!

Wash the Area

Washing the area with an antibacterial soap and cool water can help to prevent infection while easing the itch and reducing swelling. Keep the bite in some cold water for a few minutes or apply a cold compress to further ease the irritation.

Raid your First Aid Kit

There are a number of products available that claim to relieve the symptoms of insect bites and if you are walking in areas prone to biting insects, you should add these to your first aid kit. Many pharmacies and outdoor shops will sell a form of topical ‘after-bite’ ointment containing ammonia. When applied to a bite, the ammonia alters the skin’s pH level and helps to combat the itch. Similarly, some people find that alcohol wipes or hand gel, when applied to a bite, evaporates quickly, cooling and cleaning the area at the same time as easing irritation. Antihistamines will usually help to relieve the symptoms of insect bites and can usually be purchased over the counter while mild hydrocortisone cream can help if the skin is not broken or infected. Speak to your GP if you need advice about medication and treating bites.

Originally published 31/07/14

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