Pro Tip: Keeping it Pono While Avoiding Bug Bites

Several years ago, there was one of those emails making the rounds about keeping a Bounce dryer sheet tucked into your gardening hat, in the pockets of your

Dryer Sheet Dress Not Included
Dryer Sheet Dress Not Included

shorts, into your socks, to keep the bugs away while enjoying an evening game of croquet or frolicking in the tall grass.  When mentioned at dinner with friends one night, someone said, “Sounds like it was written by someone at Bounce.”  We all laughed, but many years later, I decided to try it.  Before heading out on a training hike with new guides, I stopped at the Pukalani Superette and strolled down the laundry aisle.  All they had was Downy–it’s April fresh!–and so I checked out and threw a few sheets into my hiking sandals, into the waistband of my shorts, and into the sleeve of my tee shirt.  Scroll down to find out how things turned out.

“Is that toilet paper stuck to your shoe?” someone asked me, pointing to my foot.
“I’m experimenting,” I said, citing the viral email of long ago. If it worked, I thought, it would be nice to offer an authoritative point of view to other experimental adventurers looking for an alternative to “the hard stuff.”

If you’re cultivating an awareness of how your visit to Maui can create less of an environmental impact on the fragile island environment while still being fun and adventuresome, thank you! The truth is: There are simple, painless measures that can make your visit pono, loosely translated as “right” or “good.”  For example, you can use reusable bags when you go shopping, or you can use physical barriers to the sun (like SPF fabrics) to reduce introducing sunscreen chemicals into the reef system.   Today we’ll tip you off on how to enjoy your hike in rainforests and near waterfall pools while telling insects to bug off. And it’s for those of you who might be chemically sensitive, especially to products containing higher concentrations of DEET, and those of you who know you’re going to be swimming in the waterfalls along the way.  (Whatever your convictions, it’s prudent to avoid introducing DEET into the freshwater streams.) It’s also for those of you who want to do the right thing, AND avoid scratching yourself to ribbons all the way home.

ProTip 1: Know Yourself

Are you especially sensitive to mosquito bites? Are you allergic to some insect bites or stings? When you’ve spent time outdoors in the past, do you spend the next week nursing your welts and tying your hands behind your back to stop the scratching? If that sounds like you, speak to your guide.  Not only can he or she keep the right repellent handy for you, your guide will know when it’s most appropriate to apply, and which waterfalls and trails are buggier than others.  For example, if you’re about to swim, it’s NOT the best time to apply DEET-based repellent.

If you’re not bothered by bug bites, or if you’re rarely bitten, you may want to wait until conditions are especially biting bug-friendly.  Often guides carry a natural repellent as an alternative to products containing DEET.  Try one of those as an alternative.  And finally, if you’re the experimental type, try keeping a dryer sheet tucked into your hiking sandal or waistband of your shorts. Remember, there’s no West Nile, no malaria, no dengue fever in Hawaii.

If you’re bitten early and often, ask your guide for bite relief remedy–it really does work, but it has to be used properly.  Shake well and apply the solution to bites soon after you notice them.

ProTip 2:  Choose When Wisely

Your guide can help you decide when it’s a good idea to apply repellent.  He or she will carry a few varieties, but if you have a favorite that works for you, bring it with you and ask if it’s a good time and place to apply.  Note that, if you’re wearing a rain poncho and socks, covering your whole body with repellent is unnecessary. A little goes a long way.  Mosquitoes also have a tough time navigating in stiff breezes. If it’s windy, you’re not likely to be bitten. Likewise for fog–and its Hawaiian cousin, vog.  Although mosquitoes can fly in the rain, heavy fog disorients them.

ProTip 3: Choose What

Instead of or in addition to using chemical methods for keeping the bugs from getting the munchies near you, try a few tried and true physical ones.  You can make yourself a less attractive target by:

Covering up your skin with light colored clothing and, oddly enough, avoiding the color blue. If you’re not opposed to contact with pesticides, there’s also clothing that’s treated with the pesticide permethrin.

Showering before your hike and changing into fresh, clean clothing.  It seems counter-intuitive, but it’s wise to clean up before you head out. Body odors and smelly socks can attract the bugs that bite.  So do fragrances and skin care products containing ingredients called “lactic acid” or “alpha hydroxy.”  In other words, take the shower and skip the smell-good products and beauty creams.

Waiting until after your hike to enjoy a beer.  Studies show people who’ve had a few beers score the most mosquito bites at the barbecue.

ProTip 4: Before You Leave

Putting bug-busting techniques on your radar before you leave for the islands can make  you a more comfy and happier traveler.  If you have the time and the climate, try out a few products before you leave, so that you’ll know what works for you before you go.  If you’re really interested in cooking up something natural for yourself, try one of the many recipes out there that use ingredients such as essential oils.

So what were the results of the experiment in which I spread the April-fresh goodness worthy of a toddler’s towel around the forest?  The results, as you can imagine, were inconclusive.  I ended up with a few bites on my legs, one on my torso and one on my arm–about the usual number. If you decide to try it yourself, let us know how it goes. YOU could be featured in an upcoming blog post!


1 thought on “Pro Tip: Keeping it Pono While Avoiding Bug Bites”

  1. Hi Hike Maui, I read the blog about bug bites and saw your suggestions. Our wonderfull guide Pali had a anti bite potion that she shared on our hike in October last year. A few drops from a dropper on the tongue was all it took and no bites. You should consider providing that potion her “Auntie” markets on your website. Pali did not solicit me in any way but I chased her down from San Diego to find out how to get some and with your websites help she was contacted and provided me with the website.

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