10 tips for midge-free cycling this summer

crowds of midges silhouetted by a sun setting
The dreaded midge at sunset. Photo: @Hans-2 via Pixabay
Midges are a nuisance which threatens to ruin any walk or cycle ride in afflicted areas at certain times of the year. But there are ways to deter them from making you their next meal: check out our tips to ensure midges are one less thing to worry about this summer

It’s midge season – the time of year when clouds of tiny but hungry biting midges hatch and go in search of blood from any tasty mammals they can find.

Midges can be found anywhere but are particularly fond of forested areas, boggy terrain and bodies of water. Unfortunately, this means that the most scenic parts of the UK are also potentially the most attractive to midges: the Highlands and islands of Scotland in particular.

The minute menace has caught out many an unwary visitor, especially those camping in the mountains and glens of the western Highlands; walkers attempting to enjoy sunset at Loch Lomond; or mountain bikers pausing for a breather in Glencoe.

The dread inspired by the sight of a black cloud advancing is equalled only by the discomfort experienced the next day when the raised and itchy red patches appear on exposed parts of the body. If you’re lucky, the bites are no more than mildly irritating and short-lived, but the unlucky among us can end up with swollen marble-sized lumps as an unwelcome souvenir of a trip.

However, it doesn’t have to be this way. With some preparation and good judgement, there are ways to minimise the midge menace. Follow our tips to enjoy walking and cycling all summer long.

1. The right repellent

First and foremost, repellent is essential. The choices boil down to two options: those containing DEET like Jungle Formula and those without, like smidge, which also protects against other biting nasties including mosquitoes, ticks and horseflies. Whichever you choose, make sure you apply it to every part of exposed skin for maximum protection.

The DIY option

If you fancy something different, there are some lesser-known repellent options which many people swear by. Cycling UK employee George Ewing from Caithness has an interesting suggestion of a mix of 50% each Dettol and baby oil. However, as he readily admits, the downside is smelling like a hospital worker. A more pleasant alternative is Avon’s Skin So Soft, which has long been reputed to have anti-midge properties.

2. Other midge-repelling scents

Peppermint, lavender, eucalyptus and citronella oils are all thought to be unappealing to midges, so make sure you stock up on citronella candles for any camping trips.

3. Cover up

If you are venturing into midge-infested areas for camping trips or any other activity which means spending time outside at dawn and/or dusk when midges are most active, it’s essential to cover up. Amanda Wagstaffe of Cycling UK’s Golspie Bothy has some advice: 

“Don’t leave home without a midge head net. If you are camping, you need to wear it any time you are outdoors – erecting your tent, cooking and anything else.

"If you are bikepacking and planning to sleep in a bivvy bag between mid-May and mid-September in the worst-affected areas, you will need to sleep with your head net on.”

Amanda also recommends covering arms and legs with thin fabric as much as you can: 

“The more you cover up the less of you is available to be bitten.”

4. Choose your time of day

Midges are most active at dawn and dusk, as they dislike strong sunlight, so take special care if you will be out at these times. If possible, try to minimise your time outside during these periods.

5. Check the weather

While the above is true, midges can emerge at any time of day if the conditions are right. They love damp, humid conditions with no wind, so try to time your outdoors activities for dry, sunny conditions (perhaps not easy in the UK!) to avoid them.

6. Go coastal

As midges can’t fly in any more than a light breeze, opt for the coast or other typically windy areas, for the best chance of midge-free walking or cycling. In fact, if you can find dry, sunny and breezy weather, you have hit the anti-midge jackpot!

7. Midge forecast

A slightly more practical approach than “stay on the coast and hope for good weather” is to check the midge forecast from smidge, which uses data from traps across Scotland to predict the midge level for the next few days. You can find out whether your preferred destination is midge free or midge full, and plan accordingly.

midge forecast map

8. Keep moving

Cyclists are less affected by midges than walkers, given that they are unable to fly at more than 7mph, so as long as you can keep your speed up, you should be fine. Having said that, steep hills are sometimes unavoidable and beware the lunch or toilet stop!

9. Last resort

Sometimes there’s nothing else for it but drastic action. Amanda Wagstaffe again: 

“I’ve been known to run into the water to avoid midges – once on the west coast, at Gare Loch, as it was the first time I’d experienced midges so badly. It was the only way to get rid of them – what a nightmare.”

10. Calm the bites

You may not be able to avoid being bitten, but you can lessen the discomfort from bites by taking anti-histamines and applying your preferred after-bite lotion. Aloe Vera gel works well too.

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