Midges – Repellents

mossieIt’s inevitable that at certain times of year, you’re going to find yourself visited by unwelcome guests while camping. Mosquitos and midges… not my friends!

A number of things will help keep these little critters away from you. Wood smoke works fine, but only if you’re sat in a cloud of it… watering eyes, a running nose and choking isn’t my idea of relaxation. There’s no shortage of wearable mosquito netting, hats and so on, but they’re not for me. I want to smoke a fag, eat and have a drink without navigating a netting yashmak. A decent repellent becomes a necessity.

So what are your choices? Deet is a chemical insecticide which is perhaps the most common mosquito and midge repellent, but there are alternatives.

Avon Skin So Soft

An alternative to Deet is Avon’s Skin So Soft product. I know many locals in Cumbria who swear by it as a midge repellent (and the midges here are evil, similar to the ones found in Scotland which can creep through all bar noseeum netting making a holiday misery).

A study has compared Deet (in concentrations of 95%) with Skin So Soft Bath Oil and a placebo. Skin So Soft did remarkably well, being 85% as effective as a highly concentrated Deet solution which was more concentrated than many commercially available insect repellents.

Now a word of caution as not all Skin So Soft products are the same or contain the same ingredients. I’ve been struggling myself to find which UK Skin So Soft product is the ‘miracle one’ since UK advertising regulations stop the company advertising the product as an insect repellent (while in the US, they have it proudly emblazoned on their bottles).

Is it the formula? I know products with citronella or picaridin are likely to be more effective, but finally the Royal Marines came to my rescue. An article in The Scotsman names the product of choice among our battle hardened finest who use it to protect themselves from Scottish midges while guarding our nuclear fleet at Faslane. A Royal Navy spokesman at HMS Clyde, near Helensburgh, said: “It’s not official kit but nothing works better and the Marines are buying it themselves because the midges are so bad up there.” It it’s good enough for them…

If you don’t have a handy Avon Lady to buy from, I can recommend one. Her name is Avril and follow the link to her online store and the product favoured by the Marines (and my Cumbrian friends):

Avon’s Skin So Soft Dry Oil Body Spray

Avril’s Cumbria based but supplies nationally via her site. She supplied my colleagues for 15 years with ne’er a complaint so I’m confident to give a recommendation.

Repellents in Naturebog

If you’re walking in Scotland or other parts of the British Isles and you’ve forgotten to take a repellent with you, watch out for the plant bog myrtle (a traditional midge repellent). It’s a shrub which can grow up to two metres tall. Bog myrtle can also be bought as an essential oil. Be aware that it can cause skin irritation for some people.

Remember, just because something is a ‘natural’ repellent rather than a man made one doesn’t mean it’s safe. They’re all chemically based, and arsenic is a natural substance found in apple seeds!

Deet based Repellents

Deet is an insecticide applied to the skin. Scary? Only if you’re somewhat gullible and follow Facebook wall posts, believing them to be scientific. Deet is generally quite safe to use, has been subject to numerous studies, and while reactions are possible, they’re extremely rare. Peanuts are more dangerous. A study in Thailand into the effects of Deet on babies born to pregnant women found no health risks (you can see the study here). Doctors recommend the use of Deet as it’s highly effective repellent. You’ll find one or two studies which raise concerns that a small number of deaths or neurological reactions may be due to Deet, but this has to be weighed against the approximate 200,000,000 people using Deet each year and 8billion applications since the 1950s.

In 2014, the US Environment Protection Agency conducted a review of Deet use and health risks. It found that a third of the population of the United States use products containing Deet, and concluded it does not present a health risk to adults or children.

A reaction is possible, but very rare. Use it sensibly:

  • Do not spray or apply to cuts;
  • Do not spray on the hands or around the mouths of young children;
  • Do not spray in enclosed areas and avoid inhaling;
  • Keep the bottle out of reach of young children;
  • Do not spray on plastic or synthetic material (as it can melt it).

Products using Deet include Jungle Juice, a very popular midge repellent. The one linked contains 50% Deet.


Crabbing – Making Memories

Velvet Crab

Crabbing is an essential part of childhood. I remember doing it on various childhood holidays. The excitement of dangling a bit of weighted string off a jetty with a lump of pork chop and hauling up monsters (and then watching parents trying to put the in a bucket without losing their fingers) stays with you.

Brown (or Edible) Crab

We’re a little more sophisticated now and use a crab snare, although there’s a range of equipment you can use (albeit a length of string, pebble with a hole in and a bit of chicken works perfectly well!). A crab snare is small, wire metal box which you put the bait in, and attached to the box are nylon free running snares.

Whether you take the crab back home (or to the campsite) and eat it, or simply set it free, your children will have the experience of being close to nature, being away from tablets and playstations, and… well… being being kids. Crabbing is a ‘quality time’ thing to do.

Your children are unlikely to remember hours on Minecraft, but they will remember catching their first crab. Make a competition out of it. A prize for the first caught, the biggest and the most caught.

There are 65 different species of crab in the seas around the British Isles. The brown and velvet crabs are particularly common (and make a very good meal!). Brown crabs have particularly strong claws used for crushing mussel shells (so be careful… don’t say we didn’t warn you!). The crab you’re most likely to find is the shore crab (and yes they’re edible, with a sweet flavour… very popular in Spain).


Crab Net

Crabs detect things by sense of smell, so the smellier the better. Raw food such as pork, chicken or fish is ideal but do make sure the kids wash their hands before eating ice cream after they’ve been crabbing! Oily fish works well, and a piece of mackerel (or mackerel head) is good to bail cage or net traps (I never did work out how to tie a fish head onto a string). Even better if you leave the bait out for a day or so to get a bit rank and even smellier!


Take your pick…

Go Traditional: A simple length of string (or paracord) tied around a rock to weight it down (or use a large fishing weight) and then wrapped around bacon, chicken or pork chop works well. It’s how I used to catch crabs as a kid. The crabs cling on, and you haul them up from a jetty or sea wall hoping they won’t let go (they usually don’t)!

Safety Lines

Safety Rigs: For a couple of pounds, you can buy a hand reel, line, with a weight and netting bag attached to the end. Quite why they’re called safety lines escapes me, but they work well, and I always have two in the boot of the car (no comments please that it’s about time I cleaned the car out).

Crabbing Nets: These are large nets much like a bucket, which you pop bait into, drop to the sea floor, wait and then can scoop up several crabs at a time.

My Crab Snare

Crab Snares: Little seen in the UK, but popular in America (and introduced to me by Thomas), the picture is of my very own crab snare. A small, plastic coated wire cage, with free running snares attached. You’ll need to attach your own line (string or paracord is fine) and weight down the cage (pebble or a fishing weight). You can also attach these snare boxes to a fishing rod! Use a decent strength line as weighted down with three crabs, these boxes can get heavy! The secret is to slowly haul (or reel) in the line so the snares draw closed on the crab legs and claws. Be warned, removing the crab from the snare can be an adventure (yes, those claws do nip).


Pyramid Star Crab Traps: If you find the idea of dealing with snares and pincers a little scary, why not try a pyramid trap. These are clever pieces of kit where, when lowered to the sea bed, the four sides open up, allowing the crabs to scuttle to the bait. Draw the string up, and the sides close shut! No risk of losing your catch, and once you’ve hauled it up, place it on the ground, lower the cage to the ground and the sides come back open.


You may want to put the crabs back, and that’s fine. It’s a matter of choice. Personally, I’d eat them if they’re a reasonable size (whoever said there’s no such thing as a free lunch never tried one of these!).

See our article on Guilt Free Crab Killing.


Catching Crayfish

North American Signal Crayfish

Crayfish are a wonderful delicacy, and in the right locations you can catch 20 to 30 in a couple of hours by simply tossing a trap into water where they’re present. Please be aware that you need a license to capture native white clawed cray fish. In many waterways, an invasive species, North American Signal Crayfish are also present, and these are a pest. They spread a disease which harms native stocks, and damage river banks and eat salmon and trout eggs.

You need three things to catch non-native crayfish in England and Wales:

1. A lawful trap;

2. The landowner’s permission;

3. Consent from the Environment Agency in England or National Resource Wales (this is free). This application form should be used.

White Clawed Crayfish

Once your application is approved, you will receive identity tags for your traps and a catch return form. Please be aware that if you catch crayfish without consent and using equipment which does not meet the Government requirements you may be prosecuted. If you catch a North American signal crayfish by mistake and throw it back in the water, this in itself could be a criminal offense. The maximum fine is £40,000 and you could face a year in jail.

If you want to catch crayfish in Scotland, contact Marine Scotland on 0300 244 4000. North American signal crayfish are still relatively rare in Scotland, and licenses may be more difficult to obtain than in England. If you’re going to catch them, do it legally. The risk to the environment from breaking the law (and to you personally if prosecuted for unlawful trapping) simply isn’t worth it.

Identifying Species: The colour of white clawed crayfish claws is lighter on the underside than on the top (hence the name) and the claws are smaller relative to the size of its body. The bottom of North American signal crayfish claws are red with a prominent white or bluish patch in the claw joints (and the claws are large!).

Compliant Traps: Crayfish traps must conform to specific criteria. This is to stop other species such as otters from being caught and drowning. Trap entrances must be no more than 95mm wide, be no longer than 600mm, be no wider than 350mm and have mesh no wider than 30mm.

Be cautious of buying collapsible traps online. Some are not UK compliant. We like the Swedish Crayfish Trap, which is! If you want one which collapses for convenient transportation, don’t buy the ‘luxury’ ones online which tend to be too long (over 600mm). Jackal Outdoors sell one which is the right legal length and width.

Baiting Crayfish Traps: Fish heads, cat food or even salami is used. Most crayfish nets have a small zipped or drawstring bag for you to put the bait in. You’d be amazed at how many you can catch in some waterways, with 80 being caught by one friend in an afternoon.

Placing Traps: In the South of England, crayfish have spread all over the river system. You’ll find it easier to get a license in the south than in the north or Scotland. Place the baited trap in the water course (some take a can of cat food, drill holes in it and use that as the bait. Weight it down with a couple of stones inside to stop it floating away. Tie a length of paracord to the net and stake the other end down firmly on the river bank. It really isn’t harder than that. Come back and check in a few hours. Make sure you wash and disinfect the trap thoroughly to stop the risk of transferring crayfish diseases to other water courses.

Preparing Crayfish: Boil them, skewer them and cook over a campfire, or put straight onto a barbecue. Mr Mears shows you how to humanely despatch them in the video below. You’ve done the difficult part… you’ve got your license, get permission from the land owner, bought a suitable trap, waited patiently… was it worth the effort? For a bucket full of baby lobster… HELL YES!



Spring Snare Trap

Before we get started, it is illegal to use spring snares in the UK. So why are we posting details? It’s a fun engineering project. Once you’ve made one and tested it, take it back down.

Snares are still legal as a means of hunting in the UK, but the snares must be used only to catch (not kill) the animal, and the eyes must be free running, and not locking or sprung. They must slacken off when the animal stops struggling. It’s also important to be aware that you must check a snare at least daily, and that certain animals cannot be caught by snare (including red squirrels, otters, pine martens, hedgehogs, badgers and domestic animals). Snares must be firmly attached to the ground and not used in such a way as the animal is hung or suspended when caught. The laws in Scotland are more restrictive, and snare users must obtain a registration number from the police which must be placed on the snare.

The main purpose for using a spring with a snare is to lift the animal into the air and away from predators. All you need to make the snare is a good knife, nylon string (the inner cords from paracord are ideal), a live bending sapling and some sticks.



Paracord Heaven

I love paracord. Whether as a ridge line for the tarpaulin, as guy lines to stop the tarp flapping about, or a small piece hung from the hammock suspension rope to stop rainwater running down into the hammock (as a wick), it’s probably my favourite and most versatile piece of kit.

I always have 100ft of it with me when camping. It’s cheap and versatile, and can also provide entertainment. Paracord crafting is a hobby in itself, and you can make everything from bracelets to fishing line, fishing lure, hammocks to belts.

For the survivalist, inside the paracord sleeve are 7 to 9 nylon cords (depending on the quality) which can be used as snares, sewing thread or fishing line.

Paracord Bracelets

Not just a fashion accessory, paracord can be woven into a bracelet to provide a 7′ to 9′ piece of paracord (when you pull the bracelet apart) whenever you need. Add a buckle with a built in whistle, and you give your kids entertainment and a way for them to call for help if in trouble. You can even buy buckles with built in fire starter kits. There are many different designs and knots used for the weave, but the simplest (to get you started) is the cobra bracelet. Glow in the dark paracord bracelets are a great way to keep an eye on the kids at night (I use luminous paracord to hang my torch up at night… handy when it’s pitch black and you need the loo).


There are many other kinds of knots which give different styles. You can even splice together two different coloured cords to give you a two tone bracelet.


Want to make something even fancier. Try the wide dragon’s tongue design!


Fishing… no kit? Paracord to the Rescue

As we mentioned above, inside a paracord sheath are thin cords which can be used as fishing line. What about bait? If you can find worms, you can do a spot of worming. This involves attaching worms to a hook, and then a weight to keep the worms bouncing along the bottom of the stream or river. A problem most anglers will be aware of is conventional weights getting caught on the river bed, and suddenly you’re playing a tug of war game which you’re likely to lose (along with that hook and your worms). Line left in rivers isn’t a good thing for wildlife, so why not rig yourself a paracord slinky weight. The following video shows you how! This is less bulky than normal worming weights, and therefore less likely to get snagged between rocks.


What happens if you dig and can’t find worms though. You’ve got some hooks in your survival kit, but no fish is going to bit on a bare hook! Make a fly from paracord!


No hook? Well, so long as you can find a thorn bush, you can rig this up with a paracord line. Thorns were still being used as fishing hooks at the turn of the 20th Century.


No hook, no bait, no thorns… well the vultures will eat well (just joking). Make a paracord net and make a fish trap!


Paracord can be used to make fishing nets, net bags and even hammocks!


If you want a paracord hammock (we use one slung underneath a tarp to hold our equipment and keep it off the ground), while you can make one (and for the fun of it, why not), they are incredibly cheap to buy.