Mosquito and Midge 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 is therefore a necessity.

So what are your choices?

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… this includes your hammock, bug netting and tarp!!!).

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

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).

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. It also makes your skin soft!

Now a word of caution as not all Skin So Soft products are the same or contain the same ingredients. To have worth as an insect repellent, you want ones which include citronella or picaridin (hence some people say Skin So Soft works wonders, while others get bitten). Picaridin is a synthetic compound

Repellents in Nature

If you’re walking in Scotland or other parts of the British Isles, 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!

 

 

 

 

 

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Hammock Suspension: Make your own whoopie slings

dyneemaLet me introduce you to a magical cord made from a substance called Dyneema. It’s used in both hammock and tarpaulin suspension.

Dyneema is incredibly strong, pre-stretched, packs very small, is very light, and even better, durable. With these qualities, it’s probably the most popular material for suspending a hammock, as the cord most commonly used is only 2.5mm thick (and light enough to float on water). You may come across a product called Amsteel-Blue. This is the name of cord or rope made from Dyneema (it comes in different colours, but it’s still called Amsteel-Blue). For those of you who don’t like metric measurements, 2.5mm is the same as 7/64th of an inch.

Cord used for suspending hammocks needs to be low stretch, and have a load bearing weight which is significantly greater than the weight of the item that it needs to support (YOU!). The cord has to cope with shocks and strains caused by you moving about and getting in and out of your hammock. A good rule of thumb is the cord should have a minimum load strength which is 5 times your body weight. 2.5mm Dyneema braid has a minimum load strength equivalent to 1,400lbs (635kg).

2.5mm is suitable for people up to a weight of around 20 stone (127 kg). If you’re heavier, consider 3mm thick Dyneema/Amsteel-Blue, which should be fine for people up to 33 stone (209kg).

An example of an unsuitable material for hammock suspension is paracord. US military paracord has a load rating of 550lbs, but stretches! Chinese paracord can be weaker. Stretching causes additional weakness, which can end with a rather painful meeting with the ground. Paracord is suitable for suspending a tarpaulin (using it as a ridge line) but be aware it does stretch so you may find your tarpaulin sagging a little in the morning. Again, we really don’t recommend paracord for hammock suspension.

Whoopie Slings: These are adjustable cords which you use to suspend your hammock. The video below shows whoopie slings being fitted to a hammock, and shows how easy it is to adjust their length.

 

You can buy whoopie slings from companies like DD Hammocks, or if you wish make your own. DD Hammocks also sell Dyneema braid, and their price is the lowest we’ve found in the UK (email us if you find cheaper!). They sell 2.5mm braid for only £0.99 a metre.

The video below shows how to make your own whoopie slings. You don’t need shop bought specialist tools although some people use them. The tools I use are a size 5 knitting needle, a length of thin garden wire and a pair of kitchen scissors. It’s not hard!

 

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Guilt Free Crab Killing

Crabbing is a great activity with kids (or without), and more than this, you can get an amazing free meal as a reward at the end of the day.

The poor old lobster and crab are two creatures which are still boiled alive. A study in 2013 found that (contrary to earlier beliefs), crabs and lobster do experience pain. Don’t just dump your crab alive in boiling water…. there’s a humane way to kill them where you’ll minimise pain and discomfort for them. The eat GUILT FREE!

There are two ways to humanely kill crab; by electrical stunning or by chilling and slipping a knife through their two main nerve centres. We’re not recommending you attach jump leads to the car battery and give them 12 volts of a Focus’s finest (although it’s a thought) but using the chilling and spiking method.

Chilling crabs (lobster and crayfish) anaesthetises them, so when you kill them they don’t experience pain. If you’re taking your crabs home or to a campsite with a freezer, pop the crab inside the freezer for ten minutes.

When picking up crabs, grab the from the bottom to avoid their pincers. Yes, if you get nipped it hurts (it it will entertain the children as they watch).

If you aren’t near a freezer during the day, take a cool box with you loaded with ice (you can also buy the ice from a supermarket on the way to the beach) and leave it in the boot of your car. After catching the crab, pop them in the cool box while you head back to the campsite. After you chill crab (or lobster) right down (ideally for 20 minutes), then you need to spike them. This is ideal for larger crabs. The following video shows you how.

 

The key is to sever both nerve centres within 10 seconds. With smaller crabs, once chilled, quickly pop the shell off by grabbing the legs down one side and prising the top shell away. Pull off the mandibles and face, remove the girls (dead man’s fingers), then flip over and towards the bottom of the shell you’ll find a plate which lifts. Tear this plate away too. Rinse in water and you have a dead and dressed crab ready to cook!

 

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Arapuca Bird Trap

We’re not suggesting you necessarily ditch your sausages for breakfast, but learning ancient hunting techniques is both fun and educational for kids.

With two lengths of paracord (or boot laces) and a bundle of sticks, you can show your kids how to make a bird trap and turn yourself from couch dad or mum into survival expert. Arapuca traps are used to catch live birds in Brazil, either as lunch or as pets.

A nice, easy, lazy project.

 

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Biscuits and Gravy… No Cookies Here!

biscuits
This is a Biscuit.
cookies
This is a cookie.

OK. OK. I know that we have conflict here with international language but while you may have invented English we improved upon it! First off, the word biscuit here in the States refers to dumpling sized bread with a firm golden brown crust and soft interior. A cookie is what we call your biscuits. Don’t ask me why, I never made any of this stuff up.  If you really want to know, I mean really want to know, Google it!  Now that we have all that out of the way.  Biscuits and gravy is a meal in its own.  It can be served for breakfast, lunch or supper.  I have never found anyone that doesn’t like a big hot plate of biscuits and gravy.  Talk about your comfort food.

All of this can and has been made at a camp site with the right tools and know how.  Being just a bit lazy, I prefer to bake my biscuits ahead of time and smother them with piping hot gravy at the campsite to warm them up before eating.  Biscuits will keep just like bread.  Place them in a plastic bag and seal them up and they are good for days.

The best part about biscuits is that you don’t have to be a master baker to make them.  This is all you need.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup lard or shortening
  • 2/3 cup milk

Directions

  • Preheat oven 450F, 230C or Gas Mark 8.  Make sure the rack is in the center.
  • In a large bowl stir together flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut in lard until it resembles small peas.
  • Stirring with a fork, gently add milk to make a soft dough. With floured hands knead dough gently 4 times in bowl.
  • Put the dough on lightly floured surface. Roll or pat the dough to about 1/4″ to 1/2″ thick.
  • Cut with a floured 2″ cutter. Place the cut-out biscuits about 1″ apart on ungreased baking sheet. (I normally use a coffee cup to cut out the biscuits.)
  • Bake on a large ungreased baking sheet, until biscuits are golden brown, about 12 minutes.

I keep mentioning gravy and it just dawned on me that most of you might not know what I am talking about with this ether.  To be more descriptive I am talking about Milk Sausage Gravy.  I think you all might know it better as a Bechamel sauce or something like that.  I don’t know but that sounds way too French to me.  Who knows maybe the French did do something right with food.  We just had to fix it up a little.

sausage_gravy
Perfect Sausage Gravy

Now the gravy make over the fire in a cast iron skillet.  I start by browning a half pound of ground sausage.  I mean minced sausage (I have to remember you speak different English).  I prefer an Italian sausage but you can use any kind you like.  Once the minced sausage is good and browned take out the meat but leave the grease in the skillet.  If you do not have very much grease in your skillet because you used some of that healthy turkey so called sausage you can add bacon grease or a couple of table spoons of butter to make up for it.  Now add all purpose flour slowly while constantly stirring with a fork until you get a smooth texture.  Keep stirring so that it does not stick or lump up to much.  Once it starts turning brown slowly add milk (Still Stirring!) Add milk and stir until any lumps are gone and it is a nice and creamy.  Now add your sausage back into the skillet and salt and pepper to taste.  I like the fresh cracked black pepper in this.  That don’t make me French or anything, does it?  Anyway.  Let it simmer until it thickens then pull it off the heat.  If it gets too thick just add a touch more milk.  And POOF! you have done it… you made good old fashioned milk sausage gravy!

Biscuts_Gravy
Now don’t this look good!

Now take two of those homemade biscuits and split them in half and lay them on a plate and smoother them with the sausage gravy.  Dig in!

 

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