What fly repellent do I want?
May 30, 2015 7:04 PM   Subscribe

I hike a lot in Northern California. I've been getting swarmed by flies, and today several of them bit me. I'm not allergic or hugely reactive to the bites, but the constant buzzing in my ears is really annoying. What product or ingredient should I be looking for to keep the flies away? If it also repels ticks, even better.

I'm not opposed to manmade chemicals nor to natural remedies. If you think I should avoid DEET and have a reason deeper than "chemicals are bad!", I'm all ears.
posted by jaguar to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Mega vitamin b supplements.
posted by brujita at 7:48 PM on May 30, 2015

Biting flies and mosquitos love me. I use 100% DEET when I am potential lunch for the bugs. I do worry some about the toxicity, but I would do about anything to avoid the biting and endless itching I suffer for days on end.
posted by cecic at 8:19 PM on May 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've become a fan of this product. Not sure if it's available in California. It works fairly well against the bush flies in Australia.
posted by michswiss at 8:38 PM on May 30, 2015

Mosquitoes and flies mostly leave me alone, but I have close family members who get eaten alive on the same hikes that we've taken. I've heard that eating bananas attract mosquitoes (something about the sweat you secrete after eating bananas attracts them... who knows), but I have no idea if this is true or not. I just know from sharing a room with my siblings that some people are more attractive to mosquitoes than others. Flies, I don't know. Here's the Snopes POV on the subject in case you're interested and some natural suggestions you may want to try.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 9:07 PM on May 30, 2015

Response by poster: I am absolutely a mosquito magnet. I don't eat many bananas. I have no idea if being a mosquito magnet equates to being a fly magnet, but I'm willing to believe it. I'm ok with getting bitten by mosquitoes -- or, at least, I can manage that part of it -- but I really need flies to leave me alone in the middle of the day.
posted by jaguar at 9:12 PM on May 30, 2015

Best answer: Any of the popular bug sprays. Anything 30% DEET or better would do it. I spend a lot of time in the woods and fishing on a river in Minnesota, where the state bird is the mosquito.

My wife is all fruity and nutty, and I have tried every single natural (sorry) bullshit she has come across in whatever godforsaken magazine she has read. None of them work. None. Zero.

30% DEET seem like the sweet spot. Anything less ( there are 10% for kids and 20% too I think) and I get bothered by bugs. Nothing will bother you with the 30% DEET stuff on. It also keeps ticks off for sure. Never found a tick in several years.

Also I generally only go fishing in jeans and a long sleeve shirt. It's not real fun when it's 90 and humid and I have to walk almost 2 miles carrying everything, but it's better than picking a bunch of ticks off later. And you only have to spray your clothes then, and the back of your head/neck. Definitely spray your clothes though, those mosquito bastards will bite right though a t-shirt and long sleeve shirt combo.
posted by sanka at 10:07 PM on May 30, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I have found that repellents made with picaridin work as well as DEET for me. The advantage is that picaridin doesn't damage plastics and clothing made from synthetic fibers the way DEET does. It also doesn't make my skin feel weird, as DEET does. I also use permethrin on clothing and gear, which helps a lot. You can get clothes that are impregnated with permethrin (usually sold as some trade name like Insect Guard), or you can buy it in a spray bottle and apply it yourself.
posted by jkent at 1:17 AM on May 31, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Following up on jkent's comment - some information about picaridin can be found here and here and here plus wikipedia page - there are a few names it's known by, apparently. Looks like it also repels ticks. I've used it but only a few times.

Not sure if this is real, but might be worth keeping in mind as well - but flies seem to be attracted to blue, so it might be worth wearing yellow?
posted by you must supply a verb at 2:23 AM on May 31, 2015

This is dorky as hell but when the bugs are bad and I've slathered myself in DEET, I will wear a head-net. I know the DEET will prevent the mosquitos or blackflies from biting (mostly) but the humming and buzzing around my head drives me nuts. A full bug jacket is also a good investment for bugs. I like the ones with some fabric, not full netting because I find those catch and tear on branches. Now I'm talking crazy bad bugs - Arctic and Northern Maine level. No one there would look at you twice in a bug jacket. For regular places, it may be overkill.
posted by hydrobatidae at 8:37 AM on May 31, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks, all. I'll look at what the local hardware/outdoors store has and try a few with either DEET or picaridin based on your recommendations.

hydrobatidae, I'm just doing 2- to 4-hour day hikes, so netting and jackets seem a bit of overkill, as you said. I think it's more that I tend to hike on bridle trails, so there's a lot of horse manure attracting the flies.

you must supply a verb, interesting about the blue! I was wearing a deep blue shirt yesterday and the flies kept landing on me, much more so than usual; I wonder if that's why.
posted by jaguar at 9:42 AM on May 31, 2015

I don't do any crazy hikes, but I bought a headnet for the most recent backpacking trip after an AskMe plea for help from the buzzing gnats around my face. It's amazing--I only pulled it out when the bugs got bad, but it completely stopped me from having panic attacks (I'm phobic of bugs). Yes, I look dorky, but for me it's 100% worth it.
posted by serelliya at 8:18 PM on May 31, 2015

In case it's relevant/of interest, tsetse.org actually says they like black as much as blue: the numbers of tsetse attracted to a target increased in the order yellow < green < red < blue. Black was roughly as attractive as blue but, importantly, tsetse land on black in preference to any other colour. (not that tsetse flies speak for all flies.)

In a paper in the Proceedings of the Royal Society (B) the authors try to work out the reasons for the preference. (abstract only without subscription.)
posted by you must supply a verb at 6:36 AM on June 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

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