After a truly mind boggling year it looks as though we're on the right side of this corona madness. And with that our minds inevitably turn to thoughts of our next adventure in the great outdoors. But there's just one thing that can put a bit of a dampener on those seriously epic views found only in the Scottish Highlands. Well, more accurately, a swarm of things.
Or midgies (mi-jees), as they're known in Scotland (although just as often you'll hear them referred to as ‘wee beasties'). But these bloodthirsty little buggers don't need to ruin your trip. We've put together the ultimate guide to midges in Scotland: what they are, where they are, and most importantly – how to get rid of the notorious Scottish Midge.
The good news is that there are plenty of parts of Scotland where midges aren't even a problem. The Lowlands, for example, and anywhere when there's a high wind - queue the dad joke. No seriously the tiny little nuisances can't take off when the wind speed exceeds 5mph - the not so mighty Scottish Midge ladies and gentleman...
However, midges can be a major pain in places like the Western Highlands, which is home to a number of adventure hotspots like Glen Coe, Fort William and Great Glen. If you fancy ticking any of those off your bucket list, it's worth upping your midge defence game. We'll get onto the specific anti-midge strategies soon.
That's right, 'midge season' is a thing. It tends to run from spring to the early autumn (May and September), although you can get some early birds in April depending on weather conditions. July and August are usually the worst time of the year and can be close to torture. Check out this guy doing the one-minute midge challenge.
If you're unfamiliar with Scottish dialect, you'd be forgiven for mistaking midges for mosquitos. Both the midge and mosquito bite and draw blood, albeit only female midges are biters. However, mosquitoes are much, much larger than midges.
Mozzies are more often found in warm climates and make a distinctive and loud buzzing noise. Scottish midges, on the other hand, are only about 1-3mm, and often grey in colour (unless they've just been guzzling blood, in which case they turn red. Lovely).
Midges are found in the Highlands of Scotland because they like to lay their eggs in wet soil. All the damp moss and rushes in the Highlands, therefore, makes it a paradise for midge egg-laying. Only half of them bite – male midges prefer chilling and eating – but the females need the protein in their blood to help grow her eggs. And that's where you come in.
They feed on sweet things like flowers and plant sap but are also attracted to humans and animals thanks to the Carbon Dioxide (CO2) we produce, unluckily for us. In midge season, they hunt in swarms, and the bites can be itchy and painful (more on this later). So instead of spending your trip frantically scratching yourself like a flea filled dog, be ready and prepared before you even set off.
The male midge usually emerges in early May. Shortly after the females join the party. They then get it on and then the male midge dies... ah, nature.
About a week later the midge offspring mature. The eggs then hatch to become soil-dwelling larvae. They then go through a number of stages before bursting into a beautiful butterfly...not really that's when they become a fully-fledged midge. This is known as the first generation.
For the rest of the summer, they then inflict midge mayhem on us. Sometimes there's a second generation or even a third generation. Their life cycle usually comes to an end as the weather become colder, or, hopefully, when they fly onto your Avon Skin so Soft laden forearms.
So let's get into how to deal with midges in Scotland. Do we approach it like we do the weather and check the forecast? No really, believe it or not there's a Scottish midge forecast. Throw a few essential items into your pack to make sure your trip is unforgettable for all the right reasons.
A good old-fashioned insect repellent (we like Smidge midge repellent) can be really effective for combatting midges. As well as biting, midges can fly up your nose or into your eyes (they're just delightful, really) so it's a good idea to don a wide-brim hat, which is apparently due to come back into fashion any day now so my mate Ray told me. Some hats come with a built-in net, or you can go for a full anti-insect head net. Midge hoods are another option.
Feeling crafty, or just want to save some pennies? Make your own midge net from mesh – just make sure there are at least 600 holes per square inch to really stop the determined beasties getting through and biting you. Because if they can, they will.
You can also choose to go for a 'stronger' alternative to Smidge with DEET. DEET comes in different strengths - 25% (the standard), 50%, and 100%. Whilst we're not scientists (far from it) and aren't offering an opinion, just note that there have been worries about DEET being carcinogenic so probably best not to bathe in it.
There is also some evidence to suggest that 100% doesn't provide significant benefits over 50% so that should be more than enough. 25% strength should offer about 5 hours midge repellent of protection.
If you'd prefer not to use DEET, Avon Skin so Soft is an effective alternative. Whilst DEET works to block midge antennal receptors (meaning they can't smell you), Avon Skin so Soft works because once the midges land on you they ain't coming off. It sounds a bit gross and it may weigh on your conscience (probably not) but after the first few hundred Scottish Midge bites, you'll be happy you brought it.
Many people like Smidge because it doesn't contain DEET. Instead, Smidge midge repellent contains 20% Picaridn (also know as Saltidin). Just because it's not thought to be as strong though doesn't mean it's not effective. It's still endorsed by the WHO, Public Health England, and Health Protection Scotland. Smidge works in a similar way to DEET in that it also blocks midge receptors, only this time CO2 receptors.
Another DEET-free option is the all natural, 'free from nasties' Beastie Be Gone insect repellent for midges, mosquitoes and ticks. Tried and tested by hundreds of wild campers, hikers and fishermen, Beastie Be Gone is a natural and child-friendly alternative to DEET. Plus, it comes in a recyclable metal tin, so we're onboard.
Midges can smell us from a mile away, so to speak. Those little rascals are attracted to the smell of our breath. Smidge midge repellent blocks the midges ability to detect that smell. It's like wearing an invisible smell cloak...kinda.
If you've got little ones or are pregnant then it may be best to go with Smidge. Or if you're an 'I don't do chemicals' kinda person then there are completely natural alternatives like citronella.
The jury is still out on the effectiveness of citronella as a midge repellent. Many swear by it. Many claim it's useless. I've personally had mixed results so you could always try it but have some Smidge in your back pocket just in case.
Finally, we recommend packing a handheld fan. Not only will this come in handy while hiking on hot days (yes, they do happen in Scotland), but you can pop them on the table or close to you when you're eating. Given midges can't fly in higher wind speeds, your battery fan should stop them from landing on your lunch.
Despite these great tips and tricks though, we're going to level with you, one or two midge bites are pretty much unavoidable. When it does happen, have a soothing after-bite cream handy to stop you itching and let you get on with your exploring in peace.
Anything cooling, like calamine cream or tea tree oil, should do the trick nicely and take away that infuriating urge to scratch. This is a great reason to bring mum along on your adventure...mums always have loads of that kind of stuff with them.
Now you've got your midge repellent arsenal sorted, here are some practical tips you can use while you're out there in the wilderness.
As we mentioned, midges, and particularly Scottish midges, like damp, marshy ground and still air in the warmer season. Going sailing is pretty much the opposite of that. Take the opportunity to explore some of Scotland's famous lochs (there are a LOT, so look past good old Nessie) or it's infamous West Coast.
Good news, midges love dark clothing. Opt for whites, creams and light greys and they're less likely to spot you. Simple, but oh-so effective.
Midges don't like hot and dry weather. They also love dawn and dusk. They prefer mild temperatures and wet conditions, which is what makes bonny (code for rainy) Scotland during the summer such a perfect habitat for them. Equally, midges aren't a big fan of the cold, and can't survive frost.
If you don't mind chilly temperatures, take a winter adventure to the Highlands and stay bite-free, well maybe not frostbite-free.
Due to their tiny jaw-span, midges aren't very adept at biting through clothing. It's a good idea to opt for full-length trousers and long-sleeved tops. Your very own midge trap. Keep materials lightweight and breathable if you're hiking in the summer.
Midges tend to stay near the ground in low winds and where there's lots of brush. If you're climbing hills and mountains over 700m, it's unlikely you'll encounter them. Plus, we promise that the views are worth the hike almost anywhere in the Scottish Highlands. Seriously.
A cheeky ascent of Ben Nevis, Britain's highest mountain, should keep you midge free.
Midges are most active during low-light conditions. If you can, stay indoors at these times. If you're a hardcore great outdoors fan and you're camping, slather yourself in plenty of insect repellent before the sun starts going down.
If you're stopping for a snack or a break, make sure to do so out of damp, long grasses or wet shrubs where there might be swarms of biting midges. Trust us, it's worth walking that extra kilometre to find bare ground.
At your wit's end? Here are some more… unconventional methods to rid yourself of midges. Bog myrtle is a plant found throughout the Highlands which is apparently effective at repelling midges. Tie it to your hat for maximum protection (but don't tell anyone else what you're doing, just own it).
Midges don't like fire. If you're camping and it's safe to do so, light a small bonfire. Bonus: campfire sausages. And dare we say it again, Leave No Trace (LNT). I'm beginning to think there should be an LNT drinking game with a shot downed for every time it's mentioned in our articles...but yeah, it's important. Now back to midges!
Just like us, midges also have their foodie preferences. And apparently they're in the ‘Marmite's gross' camp. Slather this yeasty spread on your breakfast and suddenly midges won't find your blood so tasty anymore. Vitamin B tablets are said to have the same effect if you're not keen on Marmite, as is chewing garlic (no snogging for you).
You can browse the forecast by different locations to get a better idea of things for exactly where you plan to go. If you have the option of heading out on a few different days, checking the forecast can mean the difference between a pleasant day out and an infuriating bout of midge wars.
Each area is given a rating of 1 to 5 so you can see how things are looking.
The forecast uses data from biting midge traps and mini-weather stations across Scotland.
Sometimes though you just won't have an option and you'll have to grab your midge repellent and get out there whatever the forecast. In that case, use the tools and tactics in this guide to do your best to keep things from getting out of hand.
Unfortunately, midges are just one of a motley crew of insects who can prove a bit of a bother on Scottish adventures. Here's a quick run-down to help you tackle them before they get a nibble in.
Bigger than midges and more stealthy, clegs often land on the back of your arms or legs and can take a bite before you even know they're there. They love warm days, so that's when they're most active. Luckily, there are fewer of them than midges, and insect repellents (like the Smidge spray) are just as effective against them.
While clegs and midges are annoying enough to probably elicit a few expletives, ticks are a bit more of a serious issue. They look like little spiders, and once they're filled up with blood they bloat to about the size of a pea. A small amount of ticks carry Lyme disease, which is potentially very serious.
Don't let that put you off, though. Contracting something nasty from a tick is rare, and there are plenty of ways to avoid ticks. When hiking in Scotland – particularly in long vegetation and around bracken – carefully inspect your skin and clothing afterwards.
Take extra care to check any furry friends! We reckon a tick-remover deserves its place in your pack, so you can safely get rid of the little pests before they've had too much contact with your skin.
As long as you've put a bit of thought into packing your essentials and know how to avoid midges, they're unlikely to cause you too much of an issue. Armed with this guide and your midge repellent (or Avon Skin Soft), you're now ready to take off into the wilds of Scotland and face any little critter that crosses your path.
Although midges, clegs and the like might be a nuisance, they definitely shouldn't put you off exploring the rugged wilderness that is the Scottish Highlands. Trust us – the views of misty Loch Katrine from the rugged Ben A'an are more than worth a midge bite or two.
If you're keen to get out and about why not join us on one of our Scottish adventures? How about summit Ben Nevis and learn winter mountain skills? Given the time of year this trip runs, there's not a midge in sight. Leave your Skin so Soft at home and bring your ice axe instead (or you can just borrow one for the weekend).
Midge season Scotland usually runs from April to September (the summer months) but depends on the temperature and so can come a bit sooner or last a bit later.
There's usually a first generation (or wave) and a second generation of midges. In the early autumn midge numbers are on the decrease, which is why September and October are great hiking months in Scotland.
Lowland areas with consistent wind and away from water are your best chances for midge free areas in Scotland. Coastal areas (West Coast beaches, we're looking at you) can often be midge free. Scotland's great outdoors is vast and expansive, so you should be able to find somewhere in the summer that's less likely to be a midge fest.
Wet, boggy, sheltered highland areas are the worst possible places for midges in Scotland. Glen Coe, the surroundings of Fort William, Great Glen and Torridon can be very bad.
October, November, December, January, February, and March (early autumn and early spring) are usually midge free months in Scotland because the weather is too cold for them...but it may be chilly for you too!
Wear bright coloured clothing, visit when it's very hot or colder, wear long sleeved tops, get up high, take to the water, avoid stopping in long vegetation, try midge repellent spray.
Dusk and dawn are the most active times for the Highland Midge in midge season. They feed according to light intensity and prefer low-light conditions. Days with lots of cloud cover can, therefore, be some of the worst weather conditions for getting overrun by midges.
Scotland is famous for it's the weather. One such forecast you don't hear many other places is 'midge weather'. Midge weather is overcast, humid, mild, and still.
Normally no. At least not until afterwards and even then it's usually not too bad. Most of the time we're completely oblivious to midge bites. They usually feed for about 3 or so.
They can itch though. It's best to avoid itching if possible. Get some anti-histamine cream on it and you should be good to go.
Our immune systems all react differently to midge bites so some people may experience swelling and itching from the biting whilst others might barely notice.
You bet they do. Midges, like us, find some people irresistible and others to be just a bit meh...Midges base most of their decision on the way you smell and body temperature.
Sure, for some anti-midge hikers it is a deal-breaker. But Scotland and the highlands has so much to offer that it would seem a shame to let those beastly midges get the better of us. If you really want to explore Scotland, try go out of midge season (September to April) when the weather is cold and windy (yep, this is the trade-off sadly!) and the biting insects are hiding!
Still keen? Fancy a real immersive experience on a Scottish Great Trail? Check out our West Highland Way Wild Camping Guide!