Kayak Camping and Midges - a Strategy for Scotland's West Coast

The female Culicoides Impunctatus has the power to remind you of your place in the food chain, but she should not stop you exploring the delights of kayak camping on Scotland's west coast.

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This explains how to avoid their worst effects. First, know your enemy.

The Highland Midge is the scourge of the Scottish summer, active from the end of May until September.

This tiny creature hunts in packs, swarming into eyes, mouth and nose and can turn the hardiest camper into a screaming, arm-wailing mass of beast-swatting rage.

If one or two squeeze into your tent you may not see or hear them and only become aware of their presence when you wake covered in small, red, itchy boils. Some people have an even more violent allergic reaction.

Midges love still, damp, overcast or shady conditions and are most active around sunrise and sunset, just the time you will be landing or launching. They can't cope with wind or heavy rain, so perversely, you might find yourself hoping for bad weather.

Most kayak campers have anti-midge strategies. As outlined in my guidebook to The Scottish Sea Kayak Trail, this is ours.

Requirements - don't go kayak camping in Scotland in summer without this kit
* midge-proof head nets which are kept in PFD pocket or close to hand
* tent with midge-proof netting like our Terra Nova Ultra Quasar Tent
* midge repellant of choice - and here you just have to experiment. High concentration DEET used to be the only thing which worked for me, but now I find Avon Skin So Soft offers some protection so I rarely use DEET.

Funny how this has changed, and I don't understand why!

When landing: Aim to find a campsite with a breeze, ideally on a headland or with some wind exposure. If you set this as your goal, chances are you'll find somewhere.

As you land, if the midges are active, get your head net on immediately.

Set up the tent first, but don't open the inner door.

Light an anti-midge smoke coil (or three!) and put them in the vestibule, ideally in a coil holder which you can hang it relatively safely without the risk of setting fire to a nylon tent.

Bring the rest of the kit up from the kayaks. By now the tent vestibule is full of smoke and there are no midges in the immediate area. Get changed, cook etc. all in the midge-free environment of the tent. Be aware, these coils add a certain aroma to the tent, but it's not unpleasant.

If you want to go out to watch the sun-set or generally explore, then either use the head net or apply the midge repellant sparingly on face and hands, especally under watch strap.

I remove my watch.

If using DEET, don't get it on the walls or floor of the tent as it can melt them.

Once you return from your walkabout, whip out the baby-wipes and clean the repellant off your face and hands as it's awful to sleep in.

This sounds like a lot of fuss, but you quickly get into the routine. When we kayaked the route of The Scottish Sea Kayak Trail we rarely needed DEET or any repellant. By picking a site with a breeze and always using coils we were usually midge free.

Before going to bed, line up some anti-midge coils in the vestibule ready for lighting first thing in the morning.

Get them going when you wake, and you'll be able to cook midge-free.

Get dressed, put your head-net on, and strike camp, making sure all smouldering midge coils are extinguished.

They're a pest but nothing more, and certainly should not prevent you enjoying this world-class sea kayaking area.