The scourge of the Scottish Highlands! Introducing the midge

Packa Shack, as well as offering you freedom, privacy and shelter it's the the perfect hiding place from the great Scottish midges

The highland midge (scientific nameCulicoides impunctatusScotsMidgieScottish GaelicMeanbh-chuileag) is a species of small flying insect, found across the Palearctic (throughout the British Isles, Scandinavia, other regions of Europe, Russia and Northern China) in upland and lowland areas (fens, bogs and marshes). In the north west of Scotland and northern Wales it occurs from late spring to late summer Female Highland midges are well known for gathering in clouds and biting humans, though the majority of the blood they obtain comes from cattle, sheep and deer. The bite of Culicoides is felt as a sharp prick and is often followed by irritating lumps that may disappear in a few hours or last for days.

How to keep midges away

Midges are tiny - just 1mm long and 2-3mm across - but anyone who has ever been camping in Scotland in the summer will know what a pain they can be. You know it's an issue when a midge forecast exists, while biting midge expert Dr Alison Blackwell recently estimated that there were as many as 21 billion biting females in the Highlands and Islands each season!

For Scotland at least, generally you'll have an easier time on the east coast. Swarms of Scottish midges are a particular problem in the Highlands and Western Scotland during warmer months, where damp and humid conditions provide perfect breeding grounds. Midge season gets going in May and peaks in August, whereas cooler months are much less of an issue and therefore perhaps the best time of year to visit midge prone areas.

It's not just a Scottish problem though - midges can be found all over the UK. Believe it or not, there are nearly 40 midge species in Scotland, though only a handful that bite humans:

In the Highlands, almost all bites (perhaps 90%) are from Culicoides Impunctatus - the Highland Midge or Scottish Biting Midge.

Another biter is the Culicoides Halophilus midge (Coastal Midge) which can be found in salt marshes on the Scottish coast.

Culicoides Nubeculosus midges (Farm Midge) occasionally bite humans, but are generally more interested in farm animals.

Culicoides Obsoletus midges (Garden Midge) are more common in town and around the lowlands. Their bites are much less painful, but they are still persistent!

Knowing how to keep these girls (and it's only the females that are the issue - male midges feed on nectar and other natural sugars) away can make a big difference to your camping trip.

As it happens, knowing how to avoid mosquitoes will put you in good stead for avoiding midges too. Like mosquitoes, they are attracted to carbon dioxide (detecting it in your breath from a distance of 200 metres!), sweat and certain scents our bodies give off - and they are also most prevalent at dusk and dawn.

They like damp areas such as boggy bits of ground as well as lake and river edges, and they frequent areas under trees or with dense foliage, so stay away from these areas when choosing where to pitch camp.

So, what keeps midges away? How can you stop them biting you?

Unfortunately, some people just seem to attract bites more than others. If you're particularly badly affected it might be worth avoiding hotspots altogether, or certainly wearing a midge hood on warm evenings after rain! Strangely they also tend to prefer darker clothing to light, so covering up in whites makes a big difference.

Fortunately, midges don't do well with wind speeds greater than that of a breeze (6 mph or so), so picking a camping spot that is exposed to wind will help keep midges away. If there is a slight breeze, it's also worth facing your tent into the wind, as midges will shelter behind your tent for protection and you won't open your tent into a faceful of them!

They also can't fly as fast as you can walk, so if you encounter a midge cloud, the best thing you go do is keep going.

Midge repellents have got more effective in recent years too, with Smidge (the same company who produce the forecast) perhaps the most popular way of keeping midges away. You'll see lots of "does Smidge work" type articles on Google - and reports are normally positive for UK biters. Avon Skin So Soft is popular too, even with the Royal Marines and SAS if claims are to be believed. The price compares very well to more traditional insect repellents - and it even smells nice!

Campfires, coils and candles such as those from Purple Turtle can help get rid of midges too, but they're not a replacement for repellents.

So, to summarise, here are our top tips for how to avoid midge bites:

Cover up exposed skin as far as possible with white and light-coloured clothing

  • Use Smidge or Lifesystems Natural repellents (products containing Icaridin or Citriodiol)
  • Pitch camp in more exposed and breezy areas, facing your tent into the wind. Avoid any damp and boggy areas, or those with dense foliage
  • Have a campfire if allowed
  • Use the midge forecast to avoid midge season altogether if you are particularly badly affected by bites (or invest in a midge hood and try to avoid dusk in summer after rain!)


Stay somewhere with a MidgeMagnet or similar device which gets rid of midges

If you are bitten, an anti-histamine cream is again your best bet - and like mosquito bites, scratching will only make it worse.