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Past Stories

Skeeter Beaters

When it comes to bad wildlife encounters, the littlest critters create the biggest concerns.  If you doubt that, ask a camper anywhere which is worse: a bear roaming the woods nearby or a cloud of mosquitoes in camp. The answer will be close to unanimous: a scourge of skeeters makes camp life nearly unbearable.

The high-pitched buzz of rapidly beating insect wings just millimeters from your ear rates second on the annoyance scale, coming in only just behind the incessant itching that results from being bitten by the blood-suckers.

Fortunately, you can beat back the biters. A host of products provide solid options for repelling mosquitoes, black flies, and no-see-ums and the like. Some even repel ticks and chiggers.

Area-wide Airborne Protection

A host of products promise to rid a broad area of pesky bugs, but we found only one that comes close to upholding that promise. The ThermaCell Lantern (www.mosquitorepellent.com) does what citronella candles and sonic blasters can’t: repel mosquitoes and most flies from a reasonably large area around camp. The ThermaCell Lantern sports 8 LEDs that provide nice evening illumination around camp, but more important, it also provides a cloud of Allethrin to push back the bugs. Like permethrin, the synthetic chemical allethrin mimics a naturally occurring insect repellent found in chrysanthemums. Unlike permethrin, allethrin works as an airborne compound, create a ‘force field’ against mosquitoes and black flies. The EPA has endorsed its use, and the U.S. Army protects its troop bases in heavily infested areas with similar devices.

Four AA-batteries power the lighting component of the ThermaCell Outdoor Lantern, while a small butane-fired heater releases the allethrin from a replaceable pad atop the lantern. We found the Lantern created a buffer extending about 10 feet away – effectively creating a 20-foot diameter ‘bug-free zone’ – though even a slight breeze will effect that. Therefore it’s important to always have the lantern located upwind of your outdoor living small.

Effective DEET-tails for Skin Products

Countless research studies conclude that the most effective skin-applied insect repellent is DEET. The U.S. Army first developed this repellent option for troops serving in the Pacific during World War II. The war ended before receiving final approval for use by combat troops, but it went to U.S. Marines stationed in the South Pacific in 1946. Civilians got their first DEET-based repellents in 1957.

DEET, which not only repels mosquitoes but works against biting flies, gnats, chiggers, ticks and no-see-ums as well, comes in a variety of forms. Pure 100% DEET is an oily yellow substance that is best applied as a spray-on ­– trying to apply as a rub-on treatment usually results in uneven coverage with lots of product left on your hands. While 100% concentrations is most effective for the longest time, lower concentrations generally work as well with less mess and fuss – they’ll just require a reapplication or two in the course of a day. Note, too, that heavy sweating (such as when hiking) can flush even the high-percentage versions away, thus requiring reapplication.

Our testers dubbed 3M’s Ultrathon (www.3m.com) lotion their preferred DEET-based repellent. The 34.5% concentration in Ultrathon provided up to 10 hours of repellency in most cases (the marketing literature claims 12 hours). Meanwhile the lotion-base of the product feels light and non-oily on the skin. Part of that smooth texture comes from the micro-encapsulation of the DEET. Rather than being freely suspended in the lotion, the oily DEET is encapsulated and those micro-capsules break down on your skin over time, slowly releasing the DEET throughout the day. In effect, the lotion reapplies itself for you.

Even though DEET has more than 60 years of research behind it to verify its low health risks, it should be used carefully. Because DEET acts as a solvent – just get a little 100% concentration on some plastic to verify that! – it can exacerbate existing skin problems. No DEET products should not be used on any broken or damaged skin, nor should it be applied where chafing may occur. For instance, it should not be applied under clothing, which may scour the solvent into the skin during physical activities.

Use of DEET on children can be done safely, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends DEET concentrations of less than 10% be used by children between 2 and 12 years of age, and nothing more than 30% for kids 12 years and older. The OFF! Family Care repellent line (www.off.com) proved popular with testers with kids. The OFF! FamilyCare Insect Repellent IV employs a 7% DEET solution in a pump-spray bottle that makes application on squirming kids easy and effective.

(to be continued)

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