CAMPING & HIKING

Best Insect Repellent: A User’s Guide to Repellents

Insect repellents review
Jerry Mueller
Written by Jerry Mueller

We all enjoy our outdoor activities but without the best insect repellents, there’s no way we’ll be able to walk, climb, hike or do anything else in the woods without feeling uncomfortable when there’s an army of mosquitos out for blood. It’s important to bring an insect repellent with you when you’re going for an outdoor adventure. But the question then lies in what are the best insect repellents?

A good mosquito repellent often means the difference between an enjoyable summer of outdoor fun and three nightmarish months in mosquito hell. But what kind of insect repellent will do the best job of keeping you bite free?

Read on and we will teach you how to find the best insect repellents so that you can enjoy your outdoor trips with no hesitation.

Insect-Borne Diseases

We provide a little information here from the CDC and FDA, so that you’ll get an idea of the diseases that are transmitted by insects.

  • Mosquitoes are carriers for the West Nile Virus and St. Louis encephalitis. Do apply EPA-registered products for effective results.
  • Ticks transmit diseases such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and babesiosis. A combination of active ingredients such as DEET and permethrin-treated clothing would act as a good tick defence.
  • Malaria. To protect travelers from aggressive mosquitoes that carry this disease, you are advised to use repellents, treated clothing, bed netting and preventative pre-travel medication.
  • Zika Virus. Similar to Malaria, the CDC recommends using repellent and other preventative pre-travel medication to prevent the mosquito bites. ‘

For more recent news of specific locations, do visit the CDC’s travel site.

The Active Ingredient to Look for In An Insect Repellent

The biggest concern with millions of people is mosquito-borne diseases that spread by these blood-sucking insects. Mosquito bites can cause skin irritation such as red spots and itchiness. This is because of a substance known as an anticoagulant which can be found in the saliva of the mosquitoes. Once the mosquito bites the human skin, the saliva flows into the epidermis. It then leads to skin irritation.

Insect Repellents

In the market, you can’t expect all products to be the same, and that includes insect repellents. You’ll find all sorts of different insect repellents in the form of gel, spray, cream and aerosol. There are also wristbands, but we’re not sure if that’s effective as there is insufficient evidence to prove its effectiveness.

To determine how long can the insect repellent stay effective for, you’ll have to look at the level of concentration of the active ingredient.

Despite a diverse range of products, you can only find that the most common active ingredients that can be easily found in the market are DEET and Picaridin. Both of these ingredients are effective at preventing mosquito bites. However, Picaridin is odourless and so is considered to be more pleasant to use.

Do note that there is some resistance to the use of these chemical repellents. And why is that? It is because they’re unpleasant to use, and they are usually thought to bring damage to clothing or belongings and is believed to pose adverse health effects. According to recent reports, there has been an increasing use of these two chemical ingredients and that there have been no serious adverse reactions reported.

Due to this reason, you’ll be able to find that most insect repellent products that are endorsed by health authorities internationally may contain these two ingredients, labelling it as a safe way to avoid mosquito bites.

Here, you’ll be able to find some information about these two active ingredients.

DEET

Since the year 1957, people have been using this active ingredient. It has since become the most commonly used repellent. There have been many reviews stating that DEET is safe to use and that there are no side effects on human health.

The idea is that those products that contain the lower concentration of this active ingredient would mean that you will have to apply frequently for effective results and that if the product consists of a higher concentration of DEET, it’ll be very effective.

Ultrathon with deet

DEET is successfully registered under EPA, so there’s evidence to prove that it is safe to use. You can also try combining DEET with clothing that are permethrin-treated, as they will be able to protect the wearer from ticks.

Picaridin

Another alternative ingredient other than DEET would be Picaridin, and became available in the US in 2005. The maximum concentration of Picaridin would be 20%, and it provides protection for up to 8 hours. Even one of the world’s biggest organizations, the World Health Organization(WHO), has recommended this active ingredient, so it’s safe to say that Picaridin is indeed effective.

The great thing about this active ingredient is that it does not cause damage to any fabric, surface or material. However, do keep in mind that this component is not suitable for kids under two months old.

Formulations

People often get confused on how the concentration of a repellent determines the level of protection. Just when you’re thinking of keeping those mosquitoes away from you, you’ll have to focus on finding the level of concentration of the ingredient contained in the insect repellent.

Many customers asked the same question: is there a difference between an insect repellent that has a concentration of 80% active ingredient and another with only a concentration of 10% or uses less active ingredient?

Well, hikers who are going to be in the woods for about 6 hours or longer will need the insect repellent with higher levels of concentration. The longer you need to protect your skin from these insects, the higher level of concentration of active ingredient you should be looking for in the insect repellent.

Insect repellent in the wild

When you’re looking to buy the right and suitable insect repellent for yourself, make sure to consider what kind of activity you’ll be needing it for. If you’re only going for a short and quick trip outdoors, such as to your backyard to do some gardening or to the park, you can always go for a low concentration insect repellent, which should be able to do the trick.

As for a major hike, camp or fishing trip which means you’ll be staying outdoors longer, you’ll need to look for an insect repellent with a higher level of concentration.

If you’re wondering whether the formulation matters, the answer is, not really.

The formulation probably doesn’t make much of a big deal here, but the choice of the active ingredient is more of an important decision.

‘Natural’ repellents

Are insect repellents that are made of natural ingredients the best choice? You’ll find that natural repellents are safe to use, but studies have shown that it may cause skin problems.

Do not confuse yourself with essential oils. According to recent marketing strategies, most businesses often have the notion that as long as they advertise the product as a ‘natural’ or ‘chemical-free’ product, they would be able to attract customers and this may mislead them into thinking that these products may be a better option in comparison to products made of chemicals.

As advice, not all ‘natural’ products are as effective as they have been advertised to be, as researchers have yet to come up with conclusive results to demonstrate its effectiveness. Products containing botanical extracts may offer protection, but because it is free from chemicals and purely ‘natural’, you’ll have to apply it more often.

Natural insect repellents may be very popular in the market, but it is no doubt that one of the most popular ingredients, DEET is still the most popular and effective ingredient.

Natural tick insect spray repellent

Have you seen ultrasonic repellents? It’s been very popular in the past few years but one tip on this, it just doesn’t work.

To conclude from this, DEET and Picaridin-based repellents are still the best as they are cheaper and more effective. They’re also able to provide protection from mosquito-borne disease, still, the chemical ingredient that most would go after.

Registered and Unregistered Repellent

Before you’re thinking of making a purchase, do check whether the insect repellent that you’ve picked is a registered product or an unregistered product. Before these products can be put on the shelf of the stores, they must first be registered with the EPA.

There is a diverse range of repellents made of plant oils and approximately thirty of them are exempted from the EPA registration. So not all botanical plant-based or natural based insect repellent would necessarily mean that they’re effective and safe.

Tips for Using Insect Repellents

Insect repellents are only limited to adult and children ages four months old and above. For babies older than three months, we recommend that you look for a child-specific insect repellent.

  1. Do not just spray it as if you’re using a perfume! The effective way would be to spray it evenly on your skin.
  2. Be careful of direct contact with your eyes. To be safe, spray it on your palms and apply it on your skin.
  3. If you’re going to get wet either sweating or going for a swim, you’ll have to apply it frequently.
  4. Consider what kind of activity will you be going for and from there, you’ll be able to tell how long you would want to be protected for. Are you going for a short trip outdoors or a longer trip in the woods? Decide on the different levels of concentration needed for the type of activity.
  5. Try not to wear dark color clothes or perfume as these will attract mosquitoes.

We hope that after reading this, you’ll be able to understand more about insect repellents and that you’re able to come to a decision on what kind of insect repellent you should be purchasing.

Using Insect Repellents

Also, we’ve included our reviews on a few of the best insect repellents that we think you should try. It may not be suitable for all activities, but you can have a look at the reviews here and find out which one suits you best before deciding on purchasing it.

Top Products

All Terrain Kids Herbal Armor DEET-Free Natural Insect Repellent

All Terrain Kids Herbal Armor DEET-Free Natural Insect Repellent

Weight: 10.9 ounces

Dimensions: Not Specified

Product features: All Terrain Kids Herbal Armor is very safe, natural and DEET-Free. It uses 6 natural-repelling oils at 25% total concentration. It is sweat and water resistant and it won’t damage clothing or equipment. It has been clinically proven to be 100% effective for 2 hours, 95.8% effective for 3 hours.

Best use: Made for outdoor enthusiasts, Herbal Armor is non-irritating, allergy tested and safe for sensitive skin.

Related: All Terrain Herbal Armor DEET-Free Natural Insect Repellent

Sawyer Products Premium Maxi-DEET Insect Repellent Pump Spray

Sawyer Products Premium Maxi-DEET Insect Repellent Pump Spray

Weight: 3 ounce

Dimensions: 7 x 2 x 1 inches

Product features: This product features an exclusive low-odour formula with 98% DEET which offers excellent levels of repellency in areas of extreme bug density.

It protects against mosquitoes, chiggers, fleas, gnats, and ticks and the diseases they carry. It can be applied to skin, mosquito nets, head nets and clothing and it is effective for up to 10 hours. Besides that, it can also be used in combination with Sawyer Permethrin Spray for full body repellency.

Best use: It is suitable for on exposed skin in areas of extreme bug density. It is a great spray to bring along to the wilderness as it offers the best, most technologically advanced solutions for protection against the sun, bugs, water and injuries.

Related: Sawyer Products Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent Trigger Spray, Sawyer Products Premium Ultra 30% DEET Insect Repellent in Liposome Base Lotion

Ovvio Oils Deet Free Insect Repellent

Ovvio Oils Deet Free Insect Repellent

Weight: 4.8 ounce

Dimensions: 1.5 x 1.5 x 6 inches

Product features: The Ovvio Oils Deet Free Insect Repellent is 100% natural, with all of its ingredients derived from nature, which makes it non-toxic and therefore a safe alternative to chemical-based repellents. It contains no DEET or pyrethrins. It is safe to be applied on the skin and is recommended for use on kids and household animals.

It consists of a pleasant aroma. The product also features a long lasting effect, keeping insects and bugs away from 4 to 6 hours and is sweat and water resistant.

Best use: Enjoy a safe barbecue in the backyard or a camping trip in the woods with no worries when you’ve got this Ovvio Oils Deet Free Insect Repellent, which is a safe and natural alternative for your outdoor activities.

Sawyer Products Premium Ultra 30% DEET Insect Repellent

Sawyer Products Premium Ultra 30% DEET

Weight: 3-ounce

Dimensions: 9 x 1.25 x 2inches

Product features: The non-greasy, odourless Ultra 30 Insect Repellent lotion from Sawyer combines 30% DEET with a comfortable liposome base for up to 11 hours for protection against mosquitoes, ticks, flies, chiggers, fleas and no-see-us.

It is airline friendly in its 3-ounce bottle. It is also non-staining, compatible with sunscreens and is sweat proof. The formula of the spray is comfortable for the skin, easier to wear and practically odourless.

Best use: It is great for use in the backcountry or in the backyard.

Related: Swamp Gator Natural Mosquito Insect Repellent (6 oz) Deet Free Spray

Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent Pump Spray

Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent Pump Spray

Weight: 0.15 pounds

Dimensions: 5.68 x 2.11 x 1.26 inches

Product features: The Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent is designed to repel mosquitoes for up to 6 hours. The product contains lemon Eucalyptus oil and repels mosquitoes that may transmit the Chikungunya, Zika, Dengue and West Nile viruses.

You can use it with confidence, knowing that it will not harm your fishing line, camping gear, watch crystals or tackle box when used as directed.

Best use: It is suitable for outdoor use. Campers and hikers should bring this product with them when they’re going for their activities in the wilderness.

Related: Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Natural Insect Repellent 4-ounce Pump Spray

Sawyer Products Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent Trigger Spray

Sawyer Products Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent Trigger Spray

Weight: 12 ounce, 24 ounce

Dimensions: 3 x 3 x 9 inches

Product features: Sawyer Products Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent Trigger Spray is odourless after drying and it will not stain or damage the clothing, fabrics, plastics, finished surfaces or any of your outdoor gear.

It features an insect-killing formula that is effective against ticks that carry Lyme disease and other fairly common diseases like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. It consists of an active ingredient: Permethrin (0.5%).

Best use: It is great to be used on clothing, tents and other gears. As it does not only repel insects, it can actually kill ticks, mosquitoes, chigger, mites and more than 55 other kinds of insects. You can use it while hunting or hiking for an odourless way of protection.

Related: 3M Ultrathon Insect Repellent lotion (2 ounce)

Sawyer Products Premium Insect Repellent with 20% Picaridin

Sawyer Products Premium Insect Repellent with 20% Picaridin

Weight: 4 ounce

Dimensions: 6.63 x 2.75 x 1.25 inches

Product features: Sawyer Products Premium Insect Repellent with 20% Picaridin is safe and effective against mosquitoes, ticks, and flies. It is available in both spray and lotion and it is long-lasting. It consists of 20% Picaridin which is effective for up to 12 hours against mosquitoes and ticks and 14 hours for lotion.

Both would provide up to 8 hours of protection against biting flies, gnats, chiggers and sand flies. It is an advanced solution for protection against sun, bugs, water and injuries.

Best use: It is best use for any outdoor activities.

Related: Mosquito Repellent Bracelets by Maky Outdoors Natural Citronella, 36 Hour Mosquito Repellent Patch Non-toxic DEET Free Spray

3M Ultrathon Insect Repellent Lotion, 2-Ounce

3M Ultrathon Insect Repellent Lotion, 2-Ounce

Weight: 2.4 ounces

Dimensions: 4.5 x 2.5 x 1.5 inches

Product features: The advanced 3M Ultrathon Insect Repellent Lotion features controlled- release technology developed to give military personnel long-lasting protection in challenging situations. It has been tested in the world’s most demanding insect environment, such as the infested jungles of central America.

It consists of a low percentage of DEET which is safe enough for the entire family to use and it allows time released protection for up to 12 hours. It is also splash and sweat resistant to ensure consistent protection through all your outdoor activities. It repels deer ticks that may carry Lyme disease and mosquitoes that may carry West Nile virus.

Best use: For all outdoor enthusiasts, whether you’re going for fishing or climbing or backpacking, the advanced 3M formula is the right product to bring to such outdoor trips for better protection.

Related: Sawyer products SP543 Premium Insect Repellent with 20% Picaridin Pump Spray, Mosquito Repellent Bracelet by Neor Natural Insect Repeller with 4 Refills

Avon SKIN-SO-SOFT Bug Guard PLUS Insect Repellent Lotion

Avon SKIN-SO-SOFT Bug Guard PLUS IR3535® Insect Repellent Moisturizing Lotion

Weight: 0.8 ounces

Dimensions: Not specified.

Product features: Avon SKIN-SO-SOFT Bug Guard PLUS IR3535® Insect Repellent Moisturizing Lotion is non-greasy and it provides moisturizing protection with Aloe and vitamin E.

The product has been dermatologically tested and is hypo-allergenic. It is also DEET free and PABA free, suitable for the entire family to use. It is waterproof and effective against insects.

Best use: It is great for short outdoor activities such as gardening or short walks in the park as it is DEET free and PABA free.

Related: Foot Soak with Tea Tree Oil and Epsom Salt, Swamp Gator Natural Mosquito Insect Repellent DEET Free Spray

Conclusion

With all of these insect repellents to choose from, it can be difficult to find out which one is best for you.

Insect_repellents

However, by knowing what to look for, taking into account the activities you’ll be engaging in as well as other considerations, you’re better prepared in finding one that is most suitable for you and your family. Are there any great insect repellents that we’ve missed? Leave a comment below and share your recommendations with us!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jerry Mueller
Jerry Mueller

Jerry ‘Boy Scout’ Mueller spends 99% of his time camping or teaching others how to live in the wild. He became an Eagle Scout which is the highest rank attainable in the Boy Scouting division when he was 17 and after that he still lives the scout life. Jerry always plans neatly every trip, takes leadership very seriously and if you listen to his tips and stories, you can learn tons of useful things.

  • Elliot Giles

    I’ve been using the Sawyer Products SP649 Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent for years. THE best repellent I’ve ever purchased. Took this bad boy out to Lake Okeechobee for a camping weekend. The site was infested by flying insects but not one bit me or got in my tent/hammock. I sprayed the entrance to the tent and also the bottom/sides of the hammock. During our night kayak paddle I sprayed my clothes before we left as an extra precaution and not one insect bite. TONS of gnats and mosquitoes were present but not one bug bite. I am a believer!

  • Mark Foster

    Those products are indeed helpful in getting rid of unwanted pests. Investing in a good insect repellent is a must for every camper. I’m glad you chose the Sawyer Products SP646. Am sure you tested a bit on your skin to see if you have any allergic reaction to it. Thanks for dropping by Elliot!

  • Jerry Mueller

    Those products are indeed helpful in getting rid of unwanted pests. Investing in a good insect repellent is a must for every camper. I’m glad you chose the Sawyer Products SP646. Am sure you tested a bit on your skin to see if you have any allergic reaction to it. Thanks for dropping by Elliot!

  • Carl Thompson

    I was a wildlife biologist in the tick-infested woods of NE for many years. When I wore the Avon skin-so-soft bug guard plus insect repellent Lotion I never had a tick attached to my skin and it kept the mossies and biting flies at bay. When I did not wear it, I occasionally had a tick attached. It protected my sensitive skin, even my face, and wasn’t greasy so I didn’t break out on my face as I do with other lotions! Now I teach environmental education classes and canoe avidly, and even for a hike in the woods or day at the beach- I use this multi-purpose miracle. I love it.

  • Jerry Mueller

    Thanks for this valuable input Carl! I hope you teach more hikers to invest in a good insect repellent to protect their health. Camping is a great experience and making sure those pesky insects don’t ruin your time out with friends and families is a must. You can try other products in the list to see if it works for you, too. I find that after using one product for a couple of months, it’s best to change to another product. See how this tip can help you in your future trek.

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