Swamp Things
May 7, 2006 8:01 AM   Subscribe

I do a lot of photography in swamps and woods lugging a big (4x5, 6x12, or 6x17) camera around. Up here, the sun is fierce, the swamps are wet, and the bugs are vicious. What hat, sunscreen and bugspray do mefi-ers recommend from personal experience?

I'm looking for recommendations for:

I normally use a Filson Packer Hat, but mines now so disgusting, with layers of sunscreen, bugspray, dirt, oil and diesel on it, that I have to retire it. I recently got one of these MEC Safari caps after a bad sunburn on the back of my neck. I was thinking about the Filson Bush Hat. NB I refuse to wear Tilleys for reasons which I hope are flippin' obvious.

I'm thinking about a pair of goretex hiking boots. I like the ones with high ankles and lots of support.

I've been using the 30 SPF gel stuff, which I like a lot except that when you get it up your nose it's like being tear-gassed. Also, it seems to wear off after a few hours.

Ah, the sweet smell of Deet! The strongest stuff generally available here in Canada these days is 30%, which works fine but wears off *very* quickly. Can I import stronger stuff? What recommendations?

I have one of those cheap camping-store bugshirts for the days when the mosquitoes are just driving you insane. Are these optimal or are there better ones if you spend more money?

And yes I do look and smell like a nightmare when fully clad.
posted by unSane to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This is the stuff I took with me through the jungles of Cambodia and Laos. It's 100% deet. It will probably give you cancer if you wear it continuously for a few months in a row, but for short excursions You can't beat the Deet. It was particularly fun when, after slogging through a marsh, I'd emerge covered with leeches: a quick spray of this stuff and they'd shrivel up like grapes, spitting out whatever blood they'd already sucked up. I was all like, "That's right, bitch!" Seriously, it was kind of a perverted pleasure.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:01 AM on May 7, 2006

Best answer: For insect repellent, your best bet is actually a cream, 3M Ultrathon. It's a bit of an oddity in that it's "only" 33% DEET, but the cream contains particles encapsulated in a controlled release coating and gives 12 hours of the best protection on the market. Considering that DEET is known to do things like dissolve eyeglass frames, I'm all for maximum effectiveness with reduced exposure. I've used it on several camping trips and been very satisfied. See this Ultrathon epinion, too. (3M sell a spray version of Ultrathon, but as far as I can tell it's just another DEET product without the unique benefits of the cream. Skip to the spray and stick to the cream.)

For sunscreen, I've been very happy with Banana Boat Sport 30. It blocks UVA and UVB and it's waterproof. But as far as its claimed non-greasyness, I do not think that phrase means what they think it means, but that's probably not your top priority.
posted by NortonDC at 9:16 AM on May 7, 2006

Those photographs are extraordinary.
posted by nev at 9:39 AM on May 7, 2006

Anytime I know that my feet are going to get wet and the temp is above 60 F or so, I don't bother with gor-tex boots. They eventually become soaked with either sweat or water and take a full day to dry out. The are unnecessarily heavy, hot, and make walking quietly impossible.

Go with a mesh running shoe. One that you can wash out without it falling apart. Combine them with some wool sock and they can go from soaked to bone dry in 30 minutes (take the insoles out) and once you accept that your shoes are going to get wet it frees you to go into places you other wise would have avoided.

As for the whole support issue. I've put down several hundred miles in a summer of hiking and I have never once notice any support from my boots that I don't get from my shoes. What I have noticed is that the sole's rigidity is a good thing on loose material like snow or scree. But how often are you on that?

Bug spray?
Head net and Permethrin.
posted by 517 at 9:40 AM on May 7, 2006

On the topic of bugspray... nothing, and I mean NOTHING workes better than Ben's 100.

Ben's 100

Here are stores you can find it at. They say it's sold worldwide, so maybe one of these is in your (soon to be not bitten) neck of the woods?
posted by Nenna at 10:36 AM on May 7, 2006

An alternative to DEET is Picaridin.
posted by found missing at 11:22 AM on May 7, 2006

Just curious, what's the matter with Tilley hats ?
posted by GreenTentacle at 12:24 PM on May 7, 2006

Response by poster: Just curious, what's the matter with Tilley hats?

If you want to look like a retired dentist, nothing.
posted by unSane at 12:37 PM on May 7, 2006

To help with insect problems, you might consider buckskin and/or deerskin apparel. Bugs can't bite through split leather, and generally, depending on the tannage, it's effective in absorbing and evaporating perspiration and can stand getting wet.
posted by paulsc at 1:37 PM on May 7, 2006

I spend a lot of time in the Yosemite backcountry in bug season, and have grown fairly comfortable with the bugs. For repellent, I'm still nursing a bottle of 100% deet I bought about 20 years ago. I'm told that lesser concentrations are equally effective, but my main use for it is applying it to a bandanna, and occasionally to the legs. It is incredibly destructive to plastics and I wouldn't want to use it around expensive camera gear.

On long backpacking trips I prefer to avoid applying anything to the skin that will make accrete grime and cause environmental problems when bathing in the streams and lakes. So, most of the time I will go deet and sunscreen free. The bugs are mainly a problem at dawn and dusk. At these times I'll have every inch covered with protective material:

I use noseeum (the material your bug shirt is made of) only over the head. An oversized head bag that you can fit hands inside to eat is handy. A wide brim hat like the one you use is key for keeping the netting off of the ears. In the desert I'll often go with a straw hat for the air-flow. Most backpacking outfitters will stock lightweight button-down backpacking shirts with a tight-weave which will repel critters. Avoid any with venting holes that bugs can get through. The classic button-down dress shirt design is really the most temperature adjustable design ever invented. You can cover every inch with it (and turn up the collar for neck protection), yet when hot you can roll up the sleeves and open the buttons while still remaining well protected. A tight-weave set of zip-off adjustable pants cover the legs, thick socks for the feet and leather gloves for the hands.

This keeps me bug and oil free for the most part. When on the move in warm weather I need to strip down a bit to deal with the heat. I'll open up the shirt (its easy to keep the bugs off of your chest), lift the front of the netting over the brim, zip off the legs, and dowse the bandanna with deet. You can wave the bandanna around absent-mindedly as you stride and keep bugs at bay, and occasionally flick it at your legs in much the manner that horses use their tails. If I'm moving slow and the bugs are particularly brutal I'll apply deet to the legs, and clean them with a rag later.

For sunscreen, the Bullfrog alcohol-based gel is fantastic. The only sunscreen I've found that leaves no residue on your hands.
posted by Manjusri at 1:54 PM on May 7, 2006

your photos are great , i checked your website for your photoshop actions but couldnt find them (sob).
posted by sgt.serenity at 2:30 PM on May 7, 2006

I don't think there's a sunscreen that's going to protect you more than a few hours. Even if it will stay on your skin protecting you, SPF 30, for instance, means you can stay out in the sun without burning 30 times as long as you could have without sunscreen. And if you're sweating a lot even waterproof stuff will come off, and the solution to that is just to take some extra. I do a lot of running in hot humid weather, and Coppertone Sport is pretty grease-free, and it stays out of my eyes.

Slate reviewed sunblock last year.
posted by Airhen at 2:31 PM on May 7, 2006

Response by poster: I made new (better) versions of the sharpen actions -- see this thread on Streetphoto.
posted by unSane at 3:01 PM on May 7, 2006

Best answer: Ah swamps! My old stomping grounds.

Boots, if there are not leeches or debris concerns I'd say sandals but since there probably are the newer fabric hip waders would be good for you. Get them in a durable fabric, sock style and wear them over thrift store sneakers- they are pretty light and cool and you can wear shorts underneath or fold them down. As a bonus they keep mosquitos, ticks etc. off your legs.

Buy mineral sunscreen: zinc oxide or whatever blend you find. It is pretty much the only thing that will last all day plus it's non toxic to aquatic life unlike chemical sunscreens. I like the kind that is like a large Chapstick and you rub it on your face.

For bugs, I say go with the mechanical barriers and also try peppermint oil, and Avon Skin So Soft, both of which seem to repel mosquitos at least as long as DEET without poisoning you or melting your stuff. Bug shirts make you look like a dork but do work OK. I have also been known to wrap my head in a lightweight cotton scarf/shawl to keep the bugs and sun off while leaving my eyes free for taking pictures. As a bonus you can dunk them in water and keep your head cool.

Waxed Aussie style cotton hats are always popular with the field crews and they work great. Newer options are fancier and lighter but you can't really improve on the broad brimmed style much. A ball cap with bandana is another favourite.
posted by fshgrl at 3:41 PM on May 7, 2006

Best answer: When it comes to bug spray, times have changed, and so has the technology behind bug spray. The active ingredient in most bug sprays/lotions up until now has been DEET, which for a long time was the only chemical approved by the FDA for protection against mosquitos. That has changed, as there is a newer active ingredient called Picaridin (mentioned above) which as now been FDA approved for the same purpose and is recommended by the Center for Disease Control as an effective protection against diseases carried by mosquitos. I think in the US one of the only products which carries this active ingredient is Cutter Advanced, which comes as a pump spray. It has been one of the best selling active ingredients in Europe and Australia, and is recommended by the World Health Organization as the best protection against mosquitos carrying Malaria (however Malaria is not a problem in the US, but the Mosquitos can bother you). The advantage of Picaridin containing repellants is that the active ingredient is odorless (unlike DEET), lasts as long as DEET, does not harm plastics or synthetic materials like DEET, and does not leave a slimy feel on your skin like DEET containing products. I've used Cutter Advanced in the wet mosquito infested forests of Thailand and found it very effective, and nice knowing it was not going to harm the synthetic materials in all my gear and quick-dry shirts/pants. I highly recommend it over DEET containing products.
posted by jldindc at 5:47 PM on May 7, 2006

The latest Consumer Reports has their tests of repellents.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:07 PM on May 7, 2006

Avon Skin So Soft now comes in a Picaridin formulation too.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 8:57 PM on May 7, 2006

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