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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Black flies, mosquitoes and ticks – Oh my!

Outdoors editor Rich Landers makes the sun shades on his had flap in the wind as he enjoys a boot-skiing glissade down the snowfield on the east side of Spider Gap in the Glacier Peak Wilderness. Note that he wears a lightweight long-sleeve shirt and pants while hiking for effortless skin protection from biting insects and the sun. (Holly Weiler)
Outdoors editor Rich Landers makes the sun shades on his had flap in the wind as he enjoys a boot-skiing glissade down the snowfield on the east side of Spider Gap in the Glacier Peak Wilderness. Note that he wears a lightweight long-sleeve shirt and pants while hiking for effortless skin protection from biting insects and the sun. (Holly Weiler)

Biting insects aren’t a notable scourge in this area compared with other parts of a country, but mosquitoes, black flies and ticks are feeling their oats this spring in the Spokane area.

Even the Spokane Regional Health District has issued a notice on avoiding biting black flies in response to a high number of calls in the past week.

The medical team’s first recommendation is to avoid areas where bugs are present, especially at dawn and dusk when they are most active. To outdoors enthusiasts, that advice is like telling concert-goers to head home before the main act.

Hikers and campers don’t avoid biting insects; they minimize their impact. Here are methods that have worked for me from the Idaho Selkirks to Alaska.

Cover up: Give up shorts and t-shirts for hiking and camping. I wear light, quick-drying long pants, delightfully light, cool long-sleeve, sun-shield shirts and a cap with visor and sun flap to ward off burning sun rays and bugs at the same time.

Clothing reduces the skin area available to bugs to a bare minimum, and has the advantage of requiring less sunscreen. You stay cleaner, too.

Treat clothing: I regularly spray permethrin insecticide to my cap, the collar and cuffs of my sleeves and my socks and pant cuffs to ward off ticks and mosquitoes. Permethrin is applied to clothing, not to skin! In most cases, these treatments, along with covering up, preclude the need to use insect repellents. Permethrin is available at The General Store, REI and other outlets or in cheaper bulk quantities at livestock stores.

Use repellents: When needed, insect repellents with DEET are highly rated for keeping away mosquitoes and ticks, however, they’re not so effective against black flies. The newer ingredient picaridin is gaining favor as being as effective as DEET in repelling mosquitoes while more effective in deterring black flies and noseeums. DEET seems to get the edge against ticks.

Unlike DEET, picaridin is odorless, non-greasy, and does not dissolve plastics or other synthetics.

The Appalachian Mountain Club endorses picaridin repellents such as Cutter Advanced, Sawyer Premium and Repel Smart Spray. “The one possible concern with picaridin is its relative newness,” the club website says. “Insufficient time has passed for long-term health risks (should they exist) to manifest themselves.”

Head nets: In the worst conditions, a head net worn over a hat can give you unrivaled peace to eat, tie on a fishing lure or even read a book in a hostile environment of flying, biting insects.

A Minnesota friend called me a sissy for pulling out my head net in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But by the end of the three-week trip I had to threaten to use bear spray if he tried to “borrow” my head net again in camp.

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