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Bug Repellents



The most effective bug repellents contain deet— a chemical that contains N,N-diethyl-metatoluamide. Generally, the more deet a repellent has, the better it works. However, too much deet can burn sensitive skin and dissolve plastics. Children should use a mild citronella-based repellent or one that is about 20 percent deet and 80 percent soothing skin lotion. 25 to 30 percent deet, in a mixture with other ingredients, will keep away most insects. Pure deet is essential only if you’re tripping in the barren lands where billions of blackflies cloud the sky.

Tips for Applying Repellents

  1. Bugs will avoid your face if you saturate your bandanna with repellent and tie it loosely around your neck. Spray the underside of your hat brim too!

  2. Try this if you have sensitive skin and are canoeing in blackfly country, where high-deet repellents are essential: First, rub sunblock deep into your skin; wait ten minutes; then apply the powerful repellent. The sunblock keeps your body from absorbing too much of the chemical. If possible, choose one of the new “bonding base” sunblocks, which penetrate deeper than common film-based kinds.

  3. Liquid or cream repellents are much more potent (a better buy) than sprays.

  4. After a bite, Benadryl is the best nonprescription medication you can buy for allergic reactions.

Head and Body Nets

A small head net is a must in buggy country. Bulky, military styles with draw-cord hems that button down to breast pockets are a nuisance in canoes, where head nets are put on over life jackets. A simple rectangular net that can quickly be wadded to fist size and stuffed into a hat crown or shirt pocket is best.

It’s difficult to see through light-colored bug netting. If you can’t find a dark-colored head net, buy a light-colored one and darken the eye panel with black Magic Marker or dye.

Protecting your torso is another concern. A layer of lightweight long underwear, worn tight against the skin, discourages most bites, except on exposed ankles and wrists, which are easily protected by repellent. Your armor is complete when you’ve tucked your pants into high-top boots and sealed shirt-cuff openings with mating strips of Velcro.

Color counts too. Dark shades tend to attract; light colors have no effect. Navy blue is by far the worst color you can wear in the woods!


From the book Canoeing & Camping Beyond the Basics, 3rd, by Cliff Jacobson. Copyright © 2007 by Cliff Jacobson. Used by permission of FalconGuides, a division of Globe Pequot Press. Visit

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