How to Prevent (and Properly Treat) Bee and Wasp Stings In the Backcountry

Almost everyone has experienced a bee or wasp sting at some point in his or her life. For most of us, it’s no big deal. But for some, it can be deadly.

According to a recent study in Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, 220,000 people visit the emergency room each year due to a bee, hornet, or wasp sting … and 60 of those visits result in fatalities.

If you leave them be they’ll likely leave you alone as well. Photo: Pixabay/Pexels

When you’re in the backcountry, it’s important to take precautions to avoid bees and wasps and know the proper protocol should you get stung (especially if you’re allergic).

We’ve rounded up some tips for avoiding bees/wasps, what to do should you encounter one, and how to properly treat a sting.

Where They Live

When you’re in the backcountry, you’re in their home. Treat it as such. Photo: Courtesy of Hubert Moussei/Unsplash

There are 20,000 known species of bees and over 200,000 species of wasps worldwide. Both reside in every continent in the world, except for Antarctica.

Bees live in colonies with one queen bee and thousands of female worker bees. Bees will build their hive anywhere that is protected from the elements but common locations include hollowed-out trees, rock crevices, caves, and under ledges.

Wasps, on the other hand, fall into two categories: solitary or social. Solitary wasps live and operate alone while social wasps live in colonies, similar to bees. Their nests are typically found in meadows, orchards, and woodlands and can be found above or below ground, depending on the species.

Precautionary Measures

Hiking boots, or other closed toed shoes, are a good way to protect your feet. Photo: Courtesy of Wes Hicks/Unsplash

Bees are attracted to sweet smells so it’s best to leave your scented soaps, lotions, and oils at home when you’re out in the wilderness. It”s also important to avoid brightly colored clothes or fabrics with floral patterns as bees are drawn to those. If possible, avoid loose fitting clothes as bees can get trapped between the fabric. Wear closed-toe shoes while outdoors as many stings occur while barefoot. Be sure and scout for nests before setting up camp.

When sitting down for a backcountry meal, be weary of bees or wasps in the vicinity. Keep food covered until it is ready to be served and note that bees can easily climb undetected into soda or juice containers. Store food and drinks away from your campsite when you’re finished eating.

What to Do if You Encounter Bees/Wasps

You never want to mess around with the swarm. Photo: Courtesy of Massimiliano Latella/Unsplash

Should you an encounter a bee or wasp on the trail (which is more likely than not), there a few things to keep in mind. To state the obvious, do not attempt to approach the nest or the individual insects. Should one approach you, remain calm and refrain from swatting or flailing your arms – doing so will make you appear threatening. On the contrary, if you’re being chased by a hive, the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests running full speed ahead until you reach shelter. Do not stop, do not jump into water, and pull your shirt up to protect your face.

Treating Mild Stings

Having a first aid kit on hand can be helpful for treating minor stings. Photo: Courtesy of Rawpixel/Unsplash

First thing’s first: Check for a stinger and remove it as quickly as possible using tweezers or your fingernail. Next, clean the area with soap and water (or whatever antiseptic you have in your first aid kit). Finally, apply a cold compress.

If the sting proves to be bothersome or you’ve suffered multiple stings, the Mayo Clinic recommends following the above steps as well as taking an over-the-counter pain medicine and elevating the affected area. If the site is itchy, apply calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream and take a Benadryl.

Emergency Allergic Situations

If you know you’re allergic, carry an EpiPen with you at all times. Photo: Courtesy of Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

According to WebMD, symptoms of an allergic reaction include trouble breathing, tightness in the throat, hives, trouble speaking, abdominal pain, vomiting, nausea, fast heartbeat, or a loss of consciousness.

If you know you’re allergic to bee/wasps carry an EpiPen with you at all times – inform your party of its whereabouts and how to administer. Should you be stung, call 911 and inject epinephrine in the outer thigh muscle immediately. If there’s no improvement after 5 to 15 minutes, administer a second injection (do not exceed two doses). If the victim stops breathing, perform CPR until medical personnel arrive.

Recommended Gear

The men’s Salomon Crossamphibian Swift Water Shoes. Photo: Courtesy of REI

Closed-toed hiking and waterproof shoe like the Salomon Men’s Crossamphibian Swift Water Shoes ($90) or the women’s Teva Arrowood WP Shoes ($120).

And if traditional hiking shoes are more your style, then you cant go wrong with the men’s Merrell Moab 2 WP Low Hiking Shoes ($120) or the women’s KEEN Terradora Mid WP Hiking Boots ($140).

The women’s Terradora Mid WP Hiking Boots. Photo: Courtesy of REI

And it’s always a good idea to bring along a solid first aid kit. We recommend the HART Health Extended First Aid Kit ($54.50) or the Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight/Watertight .7 Medical Kit ($28.95) that come equipped with just about everything you’ll need if you run into problems.

The HART Health Extended First Aid Kit. Photo: Courtesy of REI

Top layers that are fitted and breatable without being overly baggy, like the BugsAway Men’s Tarka Shirt ($50-$68) or the ExOfficio BugsAway Lumen Women’s Hoodie ($68) are always a great thing to pack for any outdoor excursion.

The ExOfficio BugsAway Hoodie is breathable without being overly baggy. Photo: Courtesy of ExOfficio

And if you’d like to go the natural route for insect repellent, it can’t hurt to bring along Natrapel 8-hour insect repellent ($6.95) that will keep bugs away without harsh chemicals such as DEET, or All Terrain Herbal Armor DEET-Free Natural Insect Repellent ($9).

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