A recent weekend in the northwestern Adirondacks during May gave me a new perspective on surviving black fly season in a year with a prodigious amount of rainfall. The size and intensity of the swarm continuously hovering around my head not only necessitated a plethora of insect repellent but the frequent use of a piece of equipment that rarely sees the light of day: the head net.
Although a good head net is a necessity during black fly season, it probably should be carried at all times during the warmer months. A head net can sometimes come in handy beyond black fly season when camping in a mosquito-frequented area or anytime no-see-ums congregant on your head in large numbers.
An effective head net should be black in color and have mesh small enough to keep away even the tinniest of blood sucking insects. An elasticized closure at the bottom of the head net is helpful to seal off the mesh around your neck. In addition, it should be compact and lightweight enough to easily and conveniently fit within an overstuffed backpack on a multi-day trip.
The dark color of the mesh has little to do with making a fashion statement. The dark color reduces the amount of glare from the sun when wearing the head net. This can be of critical importance if you plan on doing any birding while wearing the head net.
Despite their porous nature, head nets can be very hot when worn. Although this can be an advantage on cold days when a hat is not available, it is usually an added annoyance on warm days especially with a swarm of ravenous blood-sucking insects about your head.
On those days when the swarm is especially intense, drinking and eating can be done without taking off the head net. Drinking should be done right through the mesh but it is best to refrain from drinking anything other than water since any residue left behind may attract larger, and potentially more dangerous, wildlife.
Eating is also possible while wearing a head net. With the right type of head net, eating can be accomplished by placing the food inside the head net and then manipulating the food article with your hands from outside the head net. This is an excellent technique for keeping the swarm of insects from landing on and potentially ruining your meal as well. Take care not to attempt to eat anything sticky this way though, as any residue left behind will create the same problem as non-water drinks.
A lightweight head net will alleviate any associated anxiety of carrying a potentially extraneous piece of equipment for the extremely weight-conscious backcountry explorer. Compactness ensures the fine mesh does not get ripped during the packing process, preventing a potentially painful breach in your insect protection barrier (repairable with duct tape, if necessary).
Head nets tend to come in two different types. One resembles a mesh hood while the other tends to incorporate one or more rings into the mesh so as to keep the mesh away from one’s face. The hooded type should be avoided as the mesh tends to end up resting on one’s face more often giving the ingenious little buggers an opportunity to do some blood-sucking.
The head nets using rings are definitely superior to the hooded type. The rings, made of hard plastic, foam or metal, keep the mesh away from the face and therefore provide more effective protection. The rings’ material should not be too easily bent or anyone with even a moderate case of obsessive-compulsion disorder may spend many hours attempting to get them back into their original shape.
Two head nets made by popular outdoor manufacturers are the Sea to Summit Mosquito Head Net and the Outdoor Research Deluxe Spring Ring Headnet.
The Sea to Summit Mosquito Head Net is a perfect example of the hooded type of head net. It is a very lightweight head net with a true black mesh that packs up into its own very small stuff sack. This head net weighs only 1.3 ounces and the typical prices online range from $8 to $10.
Unfortunately, this head net has one crucial flaw. With 500 holes per square inch the head net is completely ineffectual for no-see-ums. This flaw became painfully apparent to me on a trip to Big Shallow Pond in the Five Ponds Wilderness several years ago. This flaw makes the Sea to Summit head net ineffectual for use in the Adirondack for all those who do not enjoy no-see-um bites.
In contrast, the Outdoor Research Deluxe Spring Ring Headnet is one of the better ring head nets available from the major outdoor equipment manufacturers. The mesh is very finely woven; not even the runt of a no-see-um litter could possibly penetrate it. This head net packs down to a small size and is very lightweight, weighing a mere 2.2 ounces. This head net has a manufacturers suggested retail price of $19.
An important feature of the OR Deluxe Spring Ring head net is the aluminum ring sewn within the mesh located about chin-level. This ring keeps the mesh away from your face and therefore keeps the little bloodsuckers from biting you where the mesh rests against your skin. Unfortunately, it needs to be worn with a hat otherwise the blood suckers can easily bite your scalp through the mesh (and your hair) on the top of your head. When twisted this aluminum ring collapses into a smaller size so it can be packed within the attached stuff sack and stowed away in your pack.
One minor flaw of the OR head net is the color of the mesh. Although the mesh is dark in color, it is not quite black. It appears to be more charcoal in color and therefore does not provide all the reduction in glare possible. Unless the head net is going to be used in direct sunshine where glare can be an issue (e.g. birding), this should not be a major concern.
During the height of bug season it is important to use any means available to maintain your sanity when surrounded by hordes of blood-sucking insects such as black flies, mosquitoes and deer flies. A head net can be one of the best ways to protect your head and maintain your mental health during this time of the year. Just be sure to use one that is effective against all of the possible pesky blood-sucking insects present.
Photos: Outdoor Research Deluxe Spring Ring Headnet by Outdoor Research and Sea to Summit Mosquito Head Net by Sea to Summit.
Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.