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Chemical Free Insect-Bite Prevention

Ex Officio Halo Check Shirt with Insect Shield
Ex Officio Halo Check Shirt with Insect Shield

Last year, I used 4 squirt bottles of Ben's 100% DEET to prevent mosquito bites. I'd slather Ben's on my legs, arms, and head every time I went backpacking and hiking near my home in Boston or when I visited my favorite backpacking haunts in the Catskills, the Gunks, or the White Mountains in New Hampshire.

However, this year I made a decision to hike in long pants and a long sleeve shirt to avoid black fly and mosquito bites on my end-to-end hike of the Long Trail in Vermont. This change took some adjustment on my part, but it worked wonderfully, and I only received 2 bug bites over the course of 270 miles of backpacking!

My conversion away from DEET was not motivated by any great health concerns that I have about putting this chemical on my skin, but by the conclusion that DEET wouldn't provide me with enough protection against Vermont's ferocious black flies and their painful bites. I was also concerned about contracting Lyme's disease from tick bites and wearing long pants seemed like the only 100% effective strategy to significantly reduce this risk.

The biggest problem I faced in switching from shorts to long pants was sweat ventilation and the resultant increase in thigh chafing, particularly on hot days when I was hiking 8+ hours and doing high mileage or tough ascents. I experimented with a number of different anti-chafing lubricants and several brands of underwear to protect my upper thighs from the diaper rash-like symptoms of thigh chafing. I also found some excellent hiking pants from Railriders that have fine mesh side vents that are two small for bugs to enter and significantly improve sweat ventilation. 

Despite all of these factors, I still haven't mastered a fool proof way of preventing moisture buildup and thigh chafing in long pants but here are some rules of thumb that can help you manage the issue in warm and hot weather:

  1. Wear very thin, long nylon pants. I recommend Railrider's Eco-mesh pants in summer.
  2. Experiment with different non-cotton boxer shorts. Boxer shorts provide longer lasting protection against thigh chafing than briefs because they cover the upper inner thighs.
  3. Bring along several pairs of boxers, if you are on a multi-day hike and can't get used pairs to dry between days.
  4. Add a tube of zinc oxide to your first aid kit. If you experience the diaper-rash like symptoms of thing chafing rub it on the effected areas to heal them overnight. This stuff is magic.


  1. I have similar problems with chafing while hiking in warm weather. I found that these were the best solution. Plus, wool doesn't smell like synthetics. I actually ran a marathon with these on under my shorts and had no chafing. Great product: Ibex Balance Runner's Short

  2. I've heard great things about wool underwear and base layers and was going to try them next. Thanks for recommending these Ibex shorts. I love their clothing.

  3. “two small for bugs” should be “too small . . .”
    Thanks for your great work!

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