Summers in the High Sierra typically warm up in late July, and visitors to many mountain lakes, rivers, and valleys can expect a comfortable stay in the mountains. But like everything else in 2023, life is slightly different this year in the mountains. “Mosquito”geddon is alive and well in the High Sierra as we enter August.

Every summer, you hear stories of backpackers or early-season fishermen at backcountry lakes getting eaten alive by early-season swarms of mountain-starving mosquitos. But typically, by late July, the multitudes have died off, and visitors can peacefully enjoy a summer lake visit without too much annoyance.

We just returned from a weekend in the Hoover wilderness, where we can confirm that this is no typical end of July Summer. The army of Mosquitos we faced for three days in the wilderness was nothing short of a typical warm May weekend as if the mosquitos had just hatched and were starving after a long winters nap.

Mosquitos have a life span of approximately 4-6 weeks, and the females need blood to lay eggs, so one could assume that with Backpacking season at its full throng in the Sierra, there is plenty of blood for these pests. I expect the Mosquito Swams to last longer this season in the Sierra.

Photo by Leonid Danilov:

Backpacking Bliss: Proven Techniques to Outsmart Mosquitoes and Ticks

Are you tired of battling pesky mosquitoes and ticks during your backpacking adventures? Here is some general information about mosquitos and ticks and some of the best wilderness advice for turning your “mosquito “geddon trip into a bliss-filled weekend in the mountains.

Understanding mosquitoes and ticks – their habits and habitats

Mosquitoes and ticks are common nuisances encountered during outdoor activities, and understanding their habits and habitats is crucial for effective protection. Mosquitoes are attracted to areas with standing water, such as lakes, ponds, and marshes. They are most active during dusk and dawn when the weather is warm. Ticks, on the other hand, thrive in wooded areas, tall grasses, and shrubs. They latch onto passing animals or humans to feed on their blood. By knowing where these pests are most likely to be found, you can take appropriate precautions to avoid them.

It’s important to note that mosquitoes and ticks serve a purpose in the ecosystem, but their bites can cause discomfort and transmit diseases. Mosquitoes are known carriers of diseases like malaria, dengue fever, and West Nile virus. Ticks, on the other hand, can transmit Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and other tick-borne illnesses. 

Understanding the potential dangers associated with mosquito and tick bites will motivate you to take the necessary steps to protect yourself during your backpacking trips.

To effectively protect yourself against mosquitoes and ticks, it’s essential to invest in the right gear. Start by choosing a reliable insect repellent that is proven to be effective against these pests. Look for repellents containing ingredients like picaridin, lemon eucalyptus oil, or IR3535. These ingredients have been proven to repel mosquitoes and ticks. Apply the repellent to exposed skin and clothing, following the instructions on the product label. Remember to reapply as needed, especially if you’re sweating or swimming.

Natural remedies and repellents for backpacking

If you prefer a more natural approach, several remedies and repellents can help keep mosquitoes and ticks at bay. Essential oils such as citronella, lavender, and tea tree oil have natural repellent properties. You can create your own homemade repellent by combining a few drops of essential oil with a carrier oil like coconut or jojoba oil. Apply the mixture to your skin and clothing before heading out on your backpacking adventure. Keep in mind that natural remedies may not be as effective or long-lasting as commercial repellents, so consider your options and choose what works best for you.

Another natural option is to use insect-repellent clothing. Long sleeves and long pants help protect the arms and legs. Many outdoor brands offer clothing treated with permethrin, a synthetic insecticide that repels mosquitoes and ticks. These clothes provide additional protection and can be especially useful when hiking through heavily infested areas. Remember to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for washing and re-treating the clothing to ensure continued effectiveness.

I take a bug net for my head, neck and ears, which makes camping much more enjoyable, and I can avoid repellants as much as possible. For my trip in 2023, I do wish I had brought a light pair of gloves, possibly to keep them off my hands. 

DEET and other chemical repellents – pros and cons

DEET is one of the most widely used and effective chemical repellents available. It repels a wide range of insects, including mosquitoes and ticks. However, it’s important to use DEET products with caution, as they can cause skin irritation in some individuals. If you choose to use DEET, opt for a concentration of 30% or less, especially when applying it to children. It’s also advisable to wash off the repellent once you’re indoors to minimize prolonged exposure.

If you prefer to avoid DEET, there are alternative chemical repellents available. Products containing picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus are effective alternatives to DEET and have been found to provide similar levels of protection. These repellents are generally considered safe for use and are suitable for individuals with sensitive skin or allergies. Always read the product label and follow the instructions for proper application.

Clothing and clothing treatments for mosquito and tick protection

Choosing the right clothing can make a significant difference in protecting yourself from mosquitoes and ticks. Opt for lightweight, long-sleeved shirts and pants that cover as much skin as possible. Mosquitoes can bite through thin fabrics, so consider wearing clothes made of tightly woven materials. Tuck your pants into your socks and wear closed-toe shoes to prevent ticks from latching onto your skin. Additionally, consider wearing a wide-brimmed hat and a bandana or scarf to protect your head and neck.

To further enhance your protection, treat your clothing with permethrin. Permethrin-treated clothing repels and kills mosquitoes and ticks on contact. You can purchase pre-treated clothing or treat your clothes using a permethrin spray or soak. Follow the instructions carefully and allow the clothing to dry completely before wearing it. Remember that permethrin is toxic to cats, so avoid exposing your pets to treated clothing.

Setting up camp to minimize mosquito and tick encounters

When setting up camp, there are certain precautions you can take to minimize mosquito and tick encounters. Choose a camping spot away from standing water and dense vegetation, as these are prime mosquito and tick habitats. Set up your tent in a cleared area and keep the surrounding vegetation trimmed. Consider using a mosquito net or a tent with built-in insect netting to create an additional protection barrier.

To further deter mosquitoes, you can create smoke by burning mosquito-repellent coils or using citronella candles. The smoke is a natural repellent and can help create a mosquito-free zone around your campsite. However, please consider that many places in the Sierra Fires are not allowed, and wastefully burning fire also takes precious resources away from the wilderness.

Precautions to take when hiking in mosquito and tick-infested areas

When hiking in mosquito and tick-infested regions, it’s crucial to take additional precautions to protect yourself. Start by staying on designated trails and avoiding areas with dense vegetation. Ticks often crawl onto passing hikers from tall grasses and shrubs. Stick to the trail’s center and avoid brushing against vegetation whenever possible.

Wearing light-colored clothing can also help you spot ticks more easily. Before heading out:

  1. Apply insect repellent to exposed skin and consider tucking your pants into your socks for added protection.
  2. Perform regular tick checks during breaks and at the end of your hike.
  3. Pay close attention to areas like your hairline, behind your ears, and under your arms. If you find any ticks, remove them promptly using tweezers or a tick removal tool.

First aid for mosquito and tick bites

Despite your best efforts, it’s still possible to get bitten by mosquitoes or ticks. If you get bitten, you can take a few steps to alleviate the discomfort and minimize any potential complications. Wash the affected area with soap and water for mosquito bites, and apply a cold compress or an ice pack to reduce swelling and itching. Avoid scratching the bite, as it can lead to infection. Over-the-counter creams and lotions containing hydrocortisone can also provide relief.

Tick bites require a slightly different approach. If you find a tick attached to your skin, remove it promptly using tweezers or a tick removal tool. Grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible and pull upward with steady, even pressure. Clean the bite site with antiseptic and monitor it for any signs of infection or unusual symptoms. See medical attention if you develop a rash, fever, or flu-like symptoms after a tick bite.

Dont let Mosquitos stop you from enjoying the outdoors

Mosquitoes and ticks don’t have to ruin your backpacking adventures. By understanding their behavior and habitats, using effective repellents, and wearing the right clothing, you can enjoy the great outdoors without the constant annoyance and worry of insect bites. Whether you prefer natural remedies or chemical repellents, there are options available to suit your preferences. Take the necessary precautions when setting up camp and hiking in mosquito and tick-infested areas, and always be vigilant for signs of mosquito and tick-borne diseases. You can confidently embark on your next backpacking adventure and experience true bliss in the great outdoors. Happy backpacking!



Publisher of Sierra Rec Magazine. An avid hiker and explorer of mountain lifestyle and adventure. I love to discover new trails, hike along rivers and hang a hammock along the shores of a mountain lake. I often great people on the trail and have found some of my favorite places from the advice of people I meet in the Wilderness. I love the sierra and just like sharing what I know.

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