How to keep midges away – insect repellent tips

Midges are the dark cloud that hangs over UK summer nights. Here’s how to keep them away!

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mosquito net

Midges descend in their swarms over highlands and bogs, surrounding hikers and campers in a haze. Midges can be found throughout the UK but their main breeding ground is in Scotland due to the mild climate and sodden landscape.

They’re annoying, but midges should not be a deterrent to your adventures. Here are some of our best insect repellent tips to fight off this army of insects! 

Editor’s notes

Always carry insect repellent in your rucksack! You never know when it might come in handy.

What are midges?

Midges are essentially small biting flies. There are many different types, but the most common we meet in the UK is the Highland midge. 

Midges are from the taxonomic order Diptera – which is really just a fancy way of saying they belong to a large group of two-winged flies.

midges swarm blue sky

They tend to breed around swamps, ponds, lakes, and boggy areas with poor water quality. Midges are often found alongside other biting flies, hanging over these wetland areas and descending upon unsuspecting adventurers.

These bugs look and sound like mosquitos, but they are slightly smaller and don’t have the same adapted mouthparts. Having said this they attack in swarms which can leave you riddled with bite marks if unprepared.

Are midge bites dangerous in the UK?

Female midges require a blood meal to lay their eggs, which unfortunately makes hikers and campers the perfect target. Midge bites are not dangerous in the UK and they don’t transmit any diseases to humans, but they can be very uncomfortable.

At the site of the midge bite wound, an itchy red welt is left behind. These can occasionally become infected, swell further, and release puss if left untreated.

How to keep midges away – our best tips

There are a number of insect repellent tips to prevent midge bites. Here are some of our favourites to help you make the most of the UK summer months.

Insect repellent 

Insect repellent is a surefire way to keep midges from biting you. DEET-based sprays are popular, but they use strong chemicals which may not be appealing to all hikers. Some users may also find their skin swelling and turning red upon applying DEET products.

Jungle Formula Insect Repellent

Smidge is a popular insect repellent spray most used in the Highlands. The brand doesn’t use DEET – instead, Smidge blocks the antenna receptors of midges to prevent them from biting you. DEET-free insect repellents are always our first choice for keeping midges at bay.

Campfire smoke is also an effective insect repellent if you want to keep bugs away at dusk. It can reduce midge numbers but sitting in front of a plume of smoke to keep midges away may not be worth the sacrifice!

Bug repellent clothing

Midges don’t have long mouthparts and can’t penetrate through layers of clothing, so you should try to keep your skin as covered as possible. 

This might mean tucking hiking trousers into your socks to create a good seal against midges and wearing long sleeve shirts. You can also tighten your fleece or jacket at the cuffs to stop midges crawling up your arms.

insect repellent hat

However, the most effective bug-repellent clothing you purchase is a head net. A midge net can be worn like a hat and uses protective material to cover your head and face from bites.

The Lifesystems Net Hat works against both midges and mosquitos and has a draw cord to seal yourself in. Your face and neck are often the most vulnerable and irritable areas of your body, so protecting them can make a world of difference.

Stay inside at dusk and dawn

Midges are both seasonal and temporal. In the UK, they’re only active in the summer months and as temperatures cool, the midges die off. The same goes for the time of day -midges are most active at dawn and dusk when weather conditions are calm.

camping at sunrise

It’s best to avoid being outdoors during these hours. If you keep indoors or stay zipped up in your tent, you should escape the worst of the midge bites.

If the weather is windy and clear, you should be safe. But if it’s mild and overcast, the midges will descend in biblical numbers so, much like a vampire, stay hidden at dusk and dawn!

Citronella candles

Citronella is a naturally occurring oil found in species of lemongrass (Cymbopogon). If you’re setting up camp for the night or sitting outdoors, you can light a citronella candle to keep midges away. The benefit of doing so is twofold.

burning citronella candle

Firstly, your camp will be surrounded by the pleasant fragrance of lemongrass rather than any strong chemical. Secondly, you will deter midges from descending en masse and biting you. Although this may not be as effective as some other insect repellent tips previously discussed, it is a natural solution that nature-lovers may find preferable.

There are plenty of citronella products out there for you to try – we recommend trying Chatsworth Citronella before committing to more high-end purchases.

How to treat midge bites

When you get bitten by a midge, you’ll know about it. Even if you don’t feel the urge to itch, you’ll see the visible red lump.

Often, the bite marks clear up in a few days and can be left to heal on their own. However, some bites can be particularly itchy or become infected. In this case, further treatment will be required. Here’s what to do:

  1. Begin by washing your skin with water and mild soap. This will remove sweat, dirt, and any skin oils that may irritate your skin. 
  2. Use a damp flannel or an ice pack to reduce swelling on the skin. 
  3. If suitable (this is not medical advice, we’re not doctors!), taking an antihistamine also can prevent further swelling from occurring.
wash skin thoroughly

If the swelling and irritation persist, you can apply bite creams and salves to the infected areas. These creams soothe the skin with antihistamines and use antibacterials to reduce further infection. It may also be a good idea to visit your doctor for a prescribed cream to combat the infection.

FAQ: The best midge repellent tips

Want to know more about preventing midge bits? You’re in the right place – check out our FAQ below and we’ll hopefully be able to help with any queries! 

Jungle Formula is a good choice for a DEET-based insect repellent, but Smidge is another great choice if you prefer to stay DEET-free.

Clean your skin with water and soap. Apply a cold compress to reduce swelling. Take an antihistamine or apply a bite cream to the itchy areas. 

Grind up lemongrass or eucalyptus plants to release the fragrance and deter midges. Create some midge traps by pouring apple cider vinegar and washing up detergent into a bowl.

Midges are supposedly attracted to darker colours as this more closely resembles their usual prey. Light colours are said to repel midge attacks.

If you’re still looking for the answer to a question – don’t hesitate to reach out! Send us an email and we will happily get back to you.

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