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Surviving mosquito season without losing your smile!

If you're bitten by the outdoor bug, you'll hate it when certain bites get in the way of your adventures. Mosquitoes and other biting insects are an unfortunate part of getting out and about in the summer season, but they don't have to spoil the fun of playing outdoors. With a little preparation and the right products or accessories, they suddenly become less of a nuisance. What if mosquito season became a relic of the past? Here's a quick guide on how to put a stop to being bugged.

Charles Boutin | © Sépaq

Classic insect repellents

Available in cream, oil, or aerosol form, mosquito repellents are the first line of defence for outdoor enthusiasts. Of the lot, products containing DEET have long been recognized as offering the most proven efficacy. But the product is not without risk, particularly if misused.

Health Canada considers it safe, but warns users to follow the recommendations for the use of insect repellents containing DEET. These products can be used safely as long as the directions are followed and the correct concentration is applied, limiting the frequency of application according to age. For example, for adults and children over 12, the DEET concentration must not exceed 30%, with a maximum 10% for children aged six months and over.

Recognized as an effective means of combating insect bites, Icaridin (also known as Picaridin) is another insect repellent recognized by the World Health Organization. As with DEET, the higher its concentration, the longer its repellent effect will last. Comparable in efficacy to DEET 30%, Icaridine 20% has the advantage of being suitable for use on children as young as six months of age. In fact, this type of repellent is the Pediatric Society's first choice for children aged six months to twelve years.

Charles Boutin | © Sépaq
Charles Boutin | © Sépaq

Spray or cream?

Appreciated for its practicality, the spray bottle is often tempting for mosquito repellent buyers. However, the cream format is easier to apply in all the right places, such as near the face, or when indoors before going out, without the risk of contaminating the surrounding area.

Make sure to keep food out of the vicinity during application, and please wash your hands with soap. Used outdoors, an aerosol can be effective for treating the surface of clothing. But beware of using the various products on nylons, plastics, and other technical fabrics in particular, which could be damaged on contact.

As for your little ones, be careful not to put repellents on their hands or around their mouths, to avoid ingestion by your precious tots. And when you think about it, the same applies to older children as well!

Keep a lookout for allergic reactions to the products, which is always a risk, and above all, avoid applying insect repellents when there are lesions on the skin or sunburn. Speaking of sunburn, when it's time to apply sunscreen, it's best to start with the cream, leave it on for 15 minutes or so, then add the insect repellent.

Thermacell diffusers

A real revelation in recent years, diffusers like those of the popular Thermacell brand have proven their worth on patios and on camping trips. Simple to use, quick to activate, and a cinch to handle, diffusers also make it easy to come to the rescue of groups of people gathered in the same space.

The insecticide pad is activated by a heat source, usually generated by a battery or a small flame fed by a butane cartridge. After a few minutes, the result is a protective "bubble" a few meters around the device.

Obviously, if it's windy, the effectiveness of the "bubble" will be reduced. As a precaution, avoid inhaling the vapors produced by the device directly or using it in a closed space such as a tent. We also ask that you keep tampons out of the reach of children.

There’s a wide variety of diffusers on the market to suit virtually every type of user. For camping enthusiasts, models that use isobutane fuel cartridges from compact stoves are particularly versatile and effective. You'll need to change the pads regularly, but that's all there is to it. The diffuser works on its own for a very long time, while you only need to bring along one type of fuel.

The main limitation of this type of device is the price per use, which can quickly escalate, especially when it comes to regularly replacing the pads, which have to be changed after just a few hours of protection. Also, the effectiveness of diffusers is limited to static use rather than when you’re moving about. Perfect for the campsite, but not for hiking!

Charles Boutin | © Sépaq
Charles Boutin | © Sépaq

Alternative repellents and bracelets

More recently, we've seen the arrival on the market of a number of products that purport to be natural alternatives to mosquito repellents that use chemical active agents such as DEET.

Bracelets, necklaces, and other accessories are infused with natural oils and essences such as lavender, peppermint, geranium, and citronella. The reusable accessory offers up to 300 hours of protection when stored in its waterproof bag between uses.

You'll appreciate the product's more pleasant scent, especially the version that uses peppermint. However, it's important to bear in mind that these alternatives have their limitations compared with conventional insect repellents, especially those with DEET. They should therefore be chosen when the intensity of the swarms of insects to be dealt with is lower,or in combination with other means.

Once again, make sure you follow the manufacturer's recommendations. This type of product is suitable for use on children aged three and over, as well as with pets.

Soybean oil-based insect repellents are also considered effective, according to Health Canada. However, some of the alternative products described above are not equally effective against all types of biting insects, such as black flies or ticks. And in some cases, the alternative repellent lasts for a limited time only.

Sound and light

Although we'd like it to work as some manufacturers claim, ultrasound use makes absolutely no difference to biting insects. Whether through the use of wristbands or plug-in devices to protect a space... according to scientific data, the ultrasound method just doesn’t cut the mustard.

Lamps and light traps have a certain appeal, but specialists advise against them, as these products do not distinguish between the types of insects they eliminate. If necessary, simply switch on a powerful lamp away from your space to attract unwanted visitors to that spot.

Charles Boutin | © Sépaq
Parc national des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie
Parc national des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie Mikaël Rondeau | © Sépaq

Incense sticks and coils

On campsites, they're practically symbols: incense sticks planted in the four corners of the site. Of course, these torches provide a certain ambiance and a sympathetic light, but otherwise this type of repellent is not very effective.

It's often the smoke produced that distracts the insects, but in a very unconvincing way. The lemongrass sticks have a pleasant scent, but nothing more.

While some burning substances are more effective, they’re also more harmful. These include the classic green allethrin coils. Effective in the absence of wind and when bugs get close to it, the coil is easy and inexpensive to use. However, the smell isn’t very pleasant. And be careful not to breathe in the smoke!

Strategies to be kept in mind

Understandably, winning the battle against biting insects in the open air more often than not requires cunning and a combination of products and strategies. In your arsenal, don't overlook the impact of mechanical barriers in the front line. Mosquito netting or tarpaulins with integrated netting, anti-mosquito clothing, and/or protective head covering are a good bet.

In the case of mosquito nets, ensure that the mesh is fine enough to prevent the entry of those nasty little “no-see-ums.” As for clothing, while some companies produce complete, dedicated products - sometimes even treated with insecticides such as permethrin - the most important thing to bear in mind is the density of the weave of the textile worn and the fact that it does not fit snugly around the body.

Between sturdy nylon hiking pants and slim-fitting yoga leggings... the choice is easy when it comes to avoiding bites! Shirts and long pants that resist a mosquito proboscis are good basic protection, natural and easy to use.

The colour of clothing also has an impact on insect activity. According to recent studies, red, black, and orange should be avoided. White, light blue, or violet would be a wiser choice. But choosing the right colours won't make you invisible to mosquitoes, which are primarily attracted by the scent of certain components specific to humans, such as CO2.

It's also a good idea to avoid wearing perfume in nature. Certain scents, especially those with floral notes, are more likely to attract insects. Forewarned is forearmed!

Normally most active at dawn and dusk, there are simply too many mosquitoes at these times of day. 

Finally, the location of the camp will have an impact on the presence and intensity of mosquitoes. As First Nations people have always known, a camp set up in the wind, in a less wooded area, and far from areas of stagnant water will offer a more pleasant space where the presence of biting insects will be less intense. An age-old piece of advice that has more than proved its worth!

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