Getting devoured by bugs is a rite of passage for your first trip (well, any trip) up to Northeastern Ontario. But if you follow these key tips it’ll help keep the misery to a minimum. Just wearing bug spray isn’t going to cut it so you’ll have the best results if you take a multi-pronged approach.
Remember that while bugs are a nuisance, they’re a natural part of any outdoor adventure. If First Nations peoples, early trappers, and settlers could deal with the bugs then so can we! (Just be glad you don’t have to smear bear grease on your body to keep the bugs away like they did.)
Know your bugs
Mosquitoes: these tiny pests should be pretty familiar to most travelers. They’re active from May to September and like swampy, boggy areas and standing water. You’ll see them more at dawn and dusk.
Black Flies: these infamous small black flies lay eggs in running water. They start hatching in late April and are at their worst in May and June. They can bite throughout the day.
Deer Flies: Active in late May, June and July, mostly during the day. These larger brownish flies that look similar to houseflies have a bite that really stings. They fly silently, too, unlike houseflies or mosquitoes.
Horse Flies: Active in late May, June and July. The largest of the group they’re gray-ish black with transparent wings. You’ll see them throughout the day.
Time your trip
Seasoned adventurers will plan their trip to Northeastern Ontario to avoid the height of bug season. By travelling in late July, August, and September, you can avoid the worst of black fly, deerfly, and horsefly season. You’ll still have to deal with the mosquitoes though, as they are active from May to September!
Wear insect repellent
Wearing a strong insect repellent is the easiest thing you can do to prevent bug bites (besides staying indoors, of course). Remember to reapply every couple of hours and after you’ve been in the water.
A DEET-based insect repellent is your best defence against bug bites. In fact, DEET-based repellents provide the longest lasting (up to 300 minutes) and most complete protection against mosquitoes, according to a 2002 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Keep in mind that Health Canada advises that children under 12 should use repellent with a concentration of 10% DEET or less, applied no more than 3 times a day; children under two should receive no more than one application per day; and no repellent with DEET should be applied to babies under 6 months. It’s strong, and it works.
Lemon Eucalyptus Oil
If you’d rather try a natural repellent there are many alternatives that usually include a blend of essential oils. Look for one with oil of lemon eucalyptus as it’s the only plant-based ingredient that’s been approved by the Center for Disease Control in the U.S. as an active insect repellent. These generally don’t last as long as DEET-based repellents (some less than 20 minutes, according to the previously mentioned study).
This is a relative newcomer to the insect repellent market. It’s a synthetic compound made from black pepper and it gets top marks for repelling mosquitoes and ticks for up to 14 hours, when used in a concentration of at least 20%.
Wear a hat, long sleeves, and pants
The less skin you have showing the less opportunity bugs will have to bite you. Many people opt for a mosquito head net worn over a hat or a hat/net combo that keeps the bugs away from their face and hair. These hats and nets are available for a few dollars at most outdoor supply stores. Additionally, wear long sleeved shirts and pants tucked into socks to prevent bites on your arms and legs. You may get a bit hot wearing all that gear but that’s what the lake is there for!
Smoke ‘em out
There are many safe, flammable products that can help keep the mosquitoes away from your campsite. Mosquito coils are made from a chemical paste and are designed to burn slowly while releasing bug-repelling incense. For another mosquito repelling trick, try tossing a little bundle of sage or rosemary into your campfire, or add a few bundles over hot coals. Finally, try lighting a few citronella candles to ward off the bugs—mosquitoes don’t like the citrus scent.
Keep bugs outside
Check and double check your tent, cabin, clothing, and equipment to ensure it’s in good shape. Inspect door and window screens for any spots in need of repair. Make sure your tent is zipped securely at all times. Ensure doors and windows are kept closed. Having a mosquito buzzing around your head in the middle of the night is almost as irritating as getting bitten!
Treat your bites
Even if you follow all these precautions it’s likely you’ll still get a bite or two (or five). Be prepared for when that happens. Pack some After Bite lotion, calamine lotion, or anti-itch cream and apply to the bites as soon as you can. In the event you don’t have any store-bought anti-itch creams, there are a few DIY solutions that may help. Try applying a cool compress. Mix a little baking soda with water and apply as a paste or try a bit of apple cider vinegar on the bite. All of these home remedies have been known to help with irritating itching.