Working as a forester and volunteering for search-and-rescue...
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Harsh environmental conditions such as driving rain, heat, or cold can all sap our strength when working in the outdoors, but few things have the ability to challenge our focus and health quite like stinging and biting insects. Trying to maintain a pace count while dead reckoning a course through the woods and simultaneously slapping your ears every few seconds to ward off mosquitoes is trying at best, and at worst, carries the risk of vector-borne illness transmission.
When you finally reach your destination, throw your pack down, and start to strip off some sweaty clothing only to find ticks embedded in your skin, that also has a way of immediately reducing the fun factor. Just ask survivalist Megan Hine, who we interviewed in Issue 22, how debilitating it was to battle Lyme disease. The point is that there are items out there, aside from insect repellent, which can serve as a bulwark against these clandestine creatures.
Enter the Rynoskin line of undergarments. Intended to be worn underneath clothing, it’s designed to keep mosquitoes, ticks, and other bugs off of your skin. Utilizing a superfine mesh of blended
nylon/Lycra fabrics, it remains breathable without allowing bugs like ticks, chiggers, no-see-ums, and mosquitoes to bite you through the weave — and without the use of chemicals. Conceptually, it’s similar to this author’s experience swimming or waterskiing in jellyfish-infested waters when we’d wear pantyhose to keep from getting stung. Stop laughing; Navy SEALs in Vietnam would actually sometimes wear pantyhose to prevent leeches from latching onto their skin. It also helped reduce friction and blisters.
When we first opened the boxes of Rynoskin and started reading the instructions, we had our doubts. We’re supposed to wear this stuff underneath our clothing? No bother during cooler weather, when you might be wearing insulating layers anyway. But what about in the heat and humidity? “This body suit is so comfortable that the user will forget that they’re wearing it,” claims the marketing brochure. This sounded like just one more load of marketing BS to us, and it wouldn’t be the first or the hundredth time we’ve been let down by similar claims.
With temperatures in the high 80s F and high humidity, we reluctantly stripped down and layered back up with a pair of Rynoskin leggings under our cotton BDU pants, and a Rynoskin top under our T-shirt. Then, we got to work — and that’s when the magic happened. After the first 10 to 15 minutes of feeling hyper-vigilant, trying to figure out if anything was chafing (it wasn’t), and just generally getting used to wearing undergarment layers in hot weather, we literally did forget we had them on. The material is simply as breathable and incredibly effective at wicking sweat as it claimed to be. Hell, it actually felt better with the material underneath. The hype, apparently, is real.
We weren’t in a tick-prone environment, so we can’t comment on the effectiveness of the garment with that particular bug, but we can definitely confirm it kept the mosquitos off our skin in muggy western Florida. As the marketing materials say, with the Rynoskin underneath, you can get by with just a cotton T-shirt on top. Pretty impressive, considering that we’ve had some mosquitoes able to bite us through our blue jeans.
Besides the long-sleeve top and leggings, Rynoskin also offers a face hood, socks, and gloves to ensure nearly 100-percent coverage of your body. If you’re just dealing with mosquitoes or other flying insects, it shouldn’t be a problem to leave the socks at home, but the usefulness for areas with ticks and chiggers is obvious.
The hood, admittedly, looks a bit like a 1970s Russian cosmonaut load-out. However, if it means keeping bugs off of your neck and out of your ears, sometimes you have to sacrifice style for practicality. In a similar manner, the gloves seem a bit much, but after your first time coming back from the woods with tiny lumps and red marks all over your hands from bug bites, you might reconsider just like we did. It can be tough to just smear your hands and face with bug repellent, especially the really powerful and effective sprays. Rubbing your eyes and getting repellent in them can burn and cause you to tear up.
When we used the gloves, they didn’t seem to fit our fingers very well. We had to do a lot of pulling, and sometimes we were afraid of tearing the fabric by trying to pull the finger sleeves down over our fingers to get a tight fit. We could, however, use our smartphones, with a little bit of difficulty. We ended up having to pull the fabric around our “swiping” index finger taught by pulling with our other hand, which isn’t exactly an ideal situation, but still a functional workaround. It also helps to start by pulling the sleeves of the gloves all the way back on your forearm before starting to mess with the fingers.
If you’re going for full protection, plan to “shingle” the products from your feet up to your head. Basically, the lower layers should be lapped on top of the upper layers. In other words, tuck your face hood down into the turtleneck shirt so that the turtleneck is over the hood. Then, tuck the shirt down into the pants so that the waistband of the pants laps on top of the shirt, and so on. This way, for example, if an insect is crawling up your legs it won’t be able to crawl underneath your shirt when it gets to your waist.
We like the fact that these fabrics are chemical-free for several reasons. First, there’s nothing that’ll wash out of the clothes after 10 or 20 washes and cause the garments to lose their effectiveness over time. Second, if it means that we can carry less bug repellent and use less chemicals on our skin in the long-term, we’ll take that option all day long.
For similarly useful alternatives, we’ve also used mosquito-netting covers on our heads as well as mosquito-netting jackets. These products are inexpensive, but they’re also very effective at what they do. The main downside for us was that the head covers made it much more difficult to see what we were doing or where we were walking, especially when trying to stick to a faint trail in low-light conditions. Similarly, the netting jackets always seemed to interfere with gear, such as backpacks or rifle slings, by snagging easily or getting torn by brush.
We like the fact that the Rynoskin goes underneath our clothing, since we’re able to maintain 100-percent functionality with our existing gear and clothing systems we’re already used to wearing. The undergarment will last longer because it’s protected under your clothing, plus it’s machine-washable and dryable without shrinking (we verified this at home).
Long story short? Hot or cold, if you work in buggy environments and haven’t tried this gear yet, there’s just no reason to wait any longer. The price point is affordable for most people, the products are made in the United States, and best of all, the products actually live up to their promises. We’re sold.
Andrew Schrader is a licensed professional engineer and serves on the State of Florida’s Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Task Force. His company, Recon Response Engineering LLC, educates firefighters and search-and-rescue teams on the subject of urban search and rescue and building collapse. Most recently, he was deployed to the Florida Panhandle to support rescue operations following Hurricane Michael. www.reconresponse.com