Bears, Bugs + Bathrooms Pt 2 – There Will Be Bugs


That’s right folks we’re talking about the scary, annoying and literally shitty elements of backcountry travel in Alaska. There are three main questions we receive from potential guests:

      • What about bears?
      • How bad will the bugs be?
      • What is the bathroom situation?

We’ve already chatted about bears in a prior blog post, so today we are tackling another persistent question. Perhaps you’ve heard horror stories about the Alaska mosquitoes? Or bad jokes about the mosquito being the state bird of Alaska. That may have just you wondering: “How bad will the bugs be?” 

Unfortunately, the answer to that persistent question we get is ….. it depends. Bugs are a part of backcountry travel in Alaska, but we try to schedule our trips and plan our destinations to avoid the worst of them.  

So if the answer is “it depends”, what exactly does it depend on? Well, a number of factors: 

      1. Time of year
      2. Location
      3. Weather

Time of Year: The first Alaska mosquitoes emerge in mid-June, followed by no-see-ums, biting flies, ‘white-socks’ flies and others. Early June is usually the least-buggy time of the summer, but you trade fewer bugs for a landscape not yet green and the possibility of snow along your route. Likewise late summer, once killing frosts resume typically sees fewer bugs as well. But in late-summer, the trade off is cold nights and cooler days. 

Location: A swampy river delta is going to see far more mosquitos and other bugs than a breezy ridgeline. Fortunately for us at Tundra Travels, we’re mountain people and we go on trips in mountainous regions. This alone means that we are unlikely to see the biblical numbers of bugs that might be found in wetter environments. 

Weather: Temperature, wind, sun and rain all play a part in whether or not you’ll see lots of bugs on your trip. Cold temperatures can freeze and kill bugs. Extremely hot temperatures can also reduce the number of bugs you see – but Alaska is rarely warm enough to really achieve this. Heavy rain can knock down the mosquitoes, but then of course you’re in pouring rain. Best of all is a nice breeze. Of course there are no guarantees when it comes to weather in Alaska, so come prepared to do battle with bugs if necessary. 

Preparing Yourself to Battle the Bugs

If you are sensitive to bugs and bug bites, a head net is an absolute necessity and bug spray is recommended. Keep in mind that 100% deet is very effective against bugs, but it is also powerful enough to eat through Gore-tex fabric, tent rain flies and even leather. I’d think twice before putting that on my skin. 

If the weather is going to be hot, but it is a buggy time of year, consider bringing very light weight long pants and a long sleeve shirt. Keeping your skin covered is the best defense against bugs, so don’t get stuck wearing shorts and a t-shirt due to the temperatures. Lightweight sun gloves might also help to protect your hands from marauding insects. 

Some folks also report good luck wearing clothing treated with permethrin. You can buy clothing pre-treated with permethrin or you can buy permethrin and wash it into your trip clothing yourself. Note, if you have cats at home, permethrin is highly toxic to cats, so be careful that you keep it away from your feline friends.

Final Thought: It might be worth reminding yourself that Alaska mosquitos are one of the main pollinators of blueberries …. Maybe that will help you stay zen as they buzz around your head? Just think about how much you like blueberries 🙂

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