Multitudes of tourists are heading to the great outdoors, escaping from urban life. They should be prepared to deal with hordes of biting insects and hungry critters. Mosquitoes don’t care about your enjoyment of nature, and raccoons could care less about your fun camp out. The key on Survival Preparedness is to be prepared! In addition to carrying a survival and safety kit with you at all times when venturing into the wilds, it’s important to understand how insects and other critters live, and to have the means to determine them.
Insect Repellents and Bite Medications:
There are many excellent insect repellents available today. Some are chemical based, eg DEET (eg. Muskoka, Deep Woods Off, Bens) or Permethrin (eg. Bug-Tek), while some are organic based, eg contain oils and extracts of Eucalyptus, Cedar, Lemongrass, Citronella Peppermint and Wintergreen.
My experiences of more than 35 years leading wilderness training programs, camps, and reality tv shows, has led me to some conclusions. For severe insect conditions, I prefer a DEET-based product, with the highest concentration possible (49% is the maximum allowed in Canada). I like wipes, like Ben’s Wipes, since you can control where the repellent is applied. Ben’s insect repellents are alcohol free, and don’t sting. Organic repellents generally have to be applied more often. Permethrin is 100 times more potent than DEET, and should not ever be applied to skin, only to clothing and tents. Permethrin is excellent for RV and cottage windows and exterior, and it totally repels Asian Ladybugs and Cluster fly problems!
Some folks claim that bathing in Avon Skin So Soft works, others like using garlic, some use Bounce fabric sheets, and there is some evidence that Vicks Vapo-Rub works.
Avoid eating Bananas, and don’t wear perfumes or fragrances.
Tip: to get rid of your bugs, stand next to someone who smells of perfumes, and wears bright colours.
For medications for insect bites, I use the following:
-Afterbite, and also Kids Afterbite
-Benadryl Analgesic and also Anti-Biotic Spray and Creams
-Cortisone Cream for severe situations
Children under 10 years old should avoid chemical insect repellents, and stick to organic types, like Natrapel Brand.
Bug Proofing your Clothing:
Wear loose fitting, light coloured clothing. Avoid colour contrasts, and dark colours, eg blue jeans.
Wearing a bug headset or bug suit can be the answer when bugs are really bad. Don’t wash your clothing in highly fragrant detergents.
Avoid wearing shorts, I prefer long sleeved shirts and full pants, with high socks and hiking footwear.
Mosquitoes, Black Flies, Deer Flies, Sand Flies:
Many insects are attracted to carbon dioxide, sweating and panic, and colours and movement.
Mosquitoes breed in standing water, work 24 hours a day, and usually disappear when temperatures go below 12 degrees Celsius. They are worst at dusk and dawn, and in warm humid conditions. Mosquitoes can spread West Nile Virus. Blackflies breed in running water, go away come nightfall, prefer temperatures of 12 degrees plus, burn off if plus 30 Celsius, and they don’t like being indoors. Simply covering yourself in evergreen boughs, or going inside to a tent or rv, solves the issue. Deer Flies like sunny, open areas, and really attracted to movement. Sand Flies like beaches and open areas.
Keep all of this in mind when hiking and selecting a campsite. A windy site is always preferred for less bugs.
What the Pioneers and Indigenous Peoples Did
Back in the day, when you couldn’t just go and buy insect repellents and bug netting, people’s used to use smudge fires made of punky wood, moss, and tree fungus, and also utilized mud to cover up exposed skin. Also, they made insect repellents from oils of cedar etc, and likely were more immune to the effects of insect bites.
Dealing with Hornets, Wasps, Bees:
Watch where you hike, be aware of ground nests, and tree nests paper nests. Careful when you open the BBQ or turn over the boat in the spring or enter a shed. If you hit a nest, run at least one to two hundred metres away into a competing nests territory, or head into the lake.
When eradicating an unwanted nest, use a hornets spray only at night, or during a heavy rain storm.
Avoid ground and nests, especially red ants. Same with spiders. We have one very poisonous spider in Ontario the Brown Recluse, usually found in older homes or cottages. Most spiders will bite if they are threatened, especially the pesky Wolf Spider found near water.
Plants that Work for Insect Bites:
My favorite plant remedies for treatment of insect bites and stings includes Plantain leaf poultice and Jewelweed juice for curing hives and itching, and Sphagnum moss for cooking down.
Ticks and Lyme Disease:
Deer Ticks and several other tick species (and rats) are becoming more common throughout Southern Ontario, perhaps due to climate change. When a tick burrows and gorges on your blood, if not taken out within a few hours, it can spread Lyme disease, a potentially fatal disease. If you can, remove the tick, place into a sandwich bag, and bring to a local medical centre for testing.
To avoid ticks, be careful in grassy fields, wear long pants and high socks with high ankle hiking boots, and spray lower part legs with DEET or Permethrin. Have a tick remover took handy, or to remove a tick, use tweezers.
Watch for your pets, they will bring ticks indoors with them!
Do a full body tick inspection each day, and look for insects that shouldn’t be there.
Keep pets indoors when bugs are bad, or in a screened-in rent or gazebo. A regular checkup with a vet is recommended.
Bears, Squirrels and Raccoons:
The Bear population in Ontario has been increasing over the past several years, as has human interactions. Raccoons and squirrels can be a real nuisance breaking into tents and coolers and garbage cans, and doing property damage to rv’s and cottages.
Keep a clean campsite, clean your bbq, don’t leave garbage or coolers outside or in your tent. Hang food up in a tree, at least 5 metres off the ground, and at least 3 metres from the tree trunk or branches. Or put in the trunk of your vehicle, or inside the RV or cabin.
Careful around fishing holes, a favorite of bears. Don’t get to close to swans or geese, especially if they’re nesting. Increasingly across Canada, people hitting or swerving from an animal or bird on the highway, is the causation of fatalities. Adhere to the speed limits, especially at night. Avoid swerving, a natural instinct that leads to a serious accident.
Tip: Camp with someone whom you can outrun. You don’t have to outrun a Bear, just your partner!
The only poisonous snake in Ontario is the Massassauga Rattlesnake, not found in this region, usually lives in the Georgian Bay region. We have a number of snake species, mostly harmless, although some are pesky and can bite, eg Watersnake.
All creatures have some importance in the circle of nature. Mosquitoes are food for bats, dragon flies, and some bird species. Blackflies pollinate blueberries, one of our favorite anti-oxidant foods. Possums eat thousands of ticks. Bears and racoon are important omnivores in the food chain. When we invade their territory, we have to adapt to the realities of how nature works, and remember, you are biodegradable. Don’t become one with nature, live within nature.
David Arama, Marble Lake Lodge and WSC Survival School Inc.