I grew up in southwest Louisiana, so I’m well acquainted with the insect the CDC calls “the world’s deadliest animal”: the tiny mosquito. And then are all the ticks and chiggers — with all the camping and hunting I did, I spent much of my youth covered in bug bites.
All of this was in the years before climate change really set in, and lately I worry more and more about insect-borne illnesses that are making their way north — West Nile, Zika, Dengue, Chikungunya, and Lyme.
Deet is obviously my go-to for all types of biting insects — it works against both mosquitos and ticks — but what to do if there’s none around? Maybe I’m caught in a short-term emergency without bug spray or it’s a long-term SHTF scenario and commercial Deet is long gone.
These two DIY options don’t work as well as proper chemicals, but they are easy, use materials commonly found in local corner stores, and will make a difference in a pinch.
Ticks and chiggers: pantyhose
Nylon panty hose is a great insect repellent strategy because it provides a physical barrier between biting critters and your skin. In our experience, it mainly works against ticks and chiggers (and leeches, we hear second-hand), but it doesn’t work at all against mosquitos.
Nylons will stretch quite a bit, and can fit around all four limbs and your neck. But it’s more important to wear them on your legs, which is where ticks are likely to attach.
The big downside to nylons is heat — they trap heat next to your body, which is fine in the winter but can be miserable during the summer.
Nylons also have many other survival uses, from water filtration to improvised cordage. As ZZ Top would say, you just have to know how to use them.
Mosquitos: Avon Skin So Soft
You can find all kinds of commentary online about using SSS as an insect repellent — that it really works, that it barely works, and that it doesn’t work at all. But I can tell you from first-hand experience that it does work, at least for some people.
We used it in Boy Scouts all the time, and after a while it does make your skin feel like jello. But it will keep the bugs off you. You have to really put a lot on, but if you get good and greased up it will totally keep the mosquitos off of you.
SSS also smells way, way better than most other repellents. This may seem like a silly thing to care about, but personal hygiene can have a big psychological affect in an emergency.
The protection you get from this bath oil product doesn’t seem to last as long as Deet, though, so I’d only consider it as a backup or as something to put on in the evening not long before you have to bed down in your tent. That way, you go to sleep smelling like SSS, and you wake up feeling slightly less gross.