CAMPING & HIKING

Best Mosquito Repellent: Staying Bite-Free and Carefree

Mosquito repellent review
Dennis Owens
Written by Dennis Owens

Whether you enjoy hiking, camping, hunting, fishing or simply sipping cocktails, as the sun sets into the sea, on a tropical island, you will need to be armed with the best mosquito repellent to ensure a fantastic trip doesn’t end in itchiness or disaster.

It is worth remembering that mosquitoes are amongst the deadliest animals on earth, spreading diseases such as yellow fever, dengue, and malaria, and causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

But with so many repellents out there how does one start to defend themselves? It sometimes seems as though there are as many repellents out there as there are mosquitoes in the everglades.

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Read on as we discuss the several types of active ingredients used in mosquito repellents, how they work and which environment might be most suitable for each type. We’ll also review 8 different types of popular mosquito repellents. After all that, you will surely be able to swat away your concerns and choose the perfect repellent.

The Main Types of Mosquito Repellents

All mosquito repellents contain an active ingredient, i.e. the component responsible for repelling bugs, and preventing them from eating you alive.

Types of mosquito repellents

The more common active ingredients are listed below:

  • DEET
  • Permethrin
  • Picaridin
  • Natural oils
  • Alcohol

Diethyl-meta-toluamide or DEET

DEET, originally developed for military use, is the most common active ingredient found in mosquito repellents. Some people are put off by the effect it has on plastics – being a solvent it is capable of melting plastic, rubber, leather, and nail polish among others.

Insect repellant

It is available in varying strengths, from 5% up to 100%. The higher the concentration, the longer lasting the repellent will be, up to 10 hours generally.

DEET is an effective repellent and has proved its mettle around the world, its downsides being the apparent toxicity of it. For a small number of people, it may irritate the skin, but the majority of people have been using it with no medical issues, as long as manufacturer’s recommendations are followed.

Permethrin

Permethrin is applied to clothes and kit rather than directly on skin, and is deadly to mosquitoes and ticks. It is commonly used in both the US and British military to treat uniforms. It works by bonding to the fibers of the fabric it is applied to, to create a long-lasting barrier, which depending on brand, can last as long as 6 months, or 20 detergent washes.

Permethrin

This is a relatively odorless synthetic compound that works well in all environments and has proved its effectiveness in areas of extreme mosquito density.

Icaridin/Picaridin

Picaridin is widely considered to very safe and is recommended as the number one active ingredient used to battle malaria by the World Health Organization. It is not known to irritate skin or even eyes, though care should be taken when applying to the face.

After issues with DEET arose, Picaridin emerged, offering a more user-friendly active ingredient, being more or less colorless and odorless, and not sharing the toxic qualities of DEET.

It’s effective as well, with great results around the world. It does not evaporate from the skin as quickly as other repellents and offers up to 12 hours protection.

Natural oils

Since people have become warier of DEET-based products, a surge of more natural insect repellents have entered the marketplace. Most of these work through their sheer potency. We all have different taste receptors, and thus are sensitive to different flavor and aroma compounds. This is worth bearing in mind, as what is too much for some, may be pleasurable to you.

Take a look through reviews of most repellents and you will see that some people love the smell and others can’t tolerate it.

Natural oils

Natural repellents, while they work, do not have the same effectiveness or longevity as other repellents, so may not be suitable in more extreme circumstances. More common natural oils used include;

  • Lemon Eucalyptus
  • Citronella
  • Lavender
  • Cinnamon
  • Thyme
  • Clove

Application – Armoring Yourself

Mosquito repellents can be applied a number of ways and are available in several forms:

  • Lotions
  • Sprays
  • Wipes

Lotions may apply very well, but may also feel too thick or greasy. It is widely believed that lotions containing DEET will last longer than sprays, as the evaporation of the DEET is slowed.

Sprays, on the other hand, are often far easier to apply and are generally less messy, they can also be applied to clothes and equipment, giving more overall protection.

Applying mosquito repellent

Wipes are the easiest method of applying repellent, however, the layer is very thin and will not last long, and you may find yourself reapplying several times a day.

If, when applied, a repellent feels painful, like sunburn, stop and wash off. Also take care with animals and pets when applying repellents. For instance, cats cannot tolerate repellents derived from essentials oils, DEET, or wet permethrin.

Best practice is to apply away from any pets. Also, permethrin is toxic to fish, so swimming in a lake while wearing clothes treated with permethrin is likely to have bad consequences for the ecosystem.

Now that we have a better idea of what goes into mosquito repellent, let’s take a look at eight of the most popular out there.

8 oft The Best Repellents Available

Sawyer Products Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent

Sawyer Products Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent

Type: Spray

Sizes available: 12 or 24 ounce

Active ingredient: Permethrin (0.5%)

Specific Features:

  • For use on clothes and gear rather than directly onto skin
  • Effective against disease carrying ticks, mosquitos, and mites
  • Kills certain bugs on contact
  • Odorless and stain free
  • Long lasting (six washes, 42 days exposure)

Best use: Sawyer Products Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent is an excellent alternative for people who are wary of spraying their bare skin with repellents, perhaps people with sensitive skin will appreciate this idea. Sawyer’s Permethrin spray for clothes and gear claims to not only repel a large number of bugs, but will also kill the vast majority of them.

It works by forming a protective, armor like layer on your clothes, and is said to be effective for 6 washes, or 42 days of exposure to the sun. So rather than spraying yourself several times a day, you can spray your clothes and kit once, leave it to dry and be insect free for weeks to come.

A large bottle is said to cover 4 outfits, consisting of a shirt, pants and a pair of socks each.

The spray is odorless after drying. On initial spraying an odor can be smelt, however, this is mostly from the aerosol propellants.

The good news is that it actually works as well. The overwhelming consensus is that this is a very effective repellent and has kept people largely bite free all around the world. While few products can claim to be 100% effective, this isn’t far off.

In fact, the main complaints people have had are regarding the spray bottle itself, with some people having issues with the repellent dripping, or the nozzle being broken. It may be worth spraying in advance, rather than waiting until you are actually on your trip, first to ensure the spray nozzle works, and secondly, until the repellent has fully dried, it seems it is not so effective.

Related products: Also available in aerosol form

Sawyer Products Premium Insect Repellent with 20% Picaridin

Sawyer Products Premium Insect Repellent with 20% Picaridin

Type: Lotion

Sizes available: 4 ounce

Active ingredient: Picaridin (20%)

Specific Features:

  • Effective for up to 14 hours
  • Effective against mosquitoes, ticks and many types of biting flies
  • Safe for children
  • Low odor
  • Non-greasy

Best use: Sawyer Products Premium Insect Repellent with 20% Picaridin is a lotion to consider for the family, and for anyone who is put off by DEET-based products. It is a low odor lotion that is easily applied and doesn’t feel greasy, however, note that it can be difficult to apply this lotion everywhere you’d like to, and the places you’ve missed are where you are likely to find bites.

The repellent itself seems to work for the vast majority of people, being effective against mosquitoes with people claiming that they will land on their protected skin, only to fly off again shortly after, appearing drunk.

It’s not 100% effective of course, and in conditions with swarms of mosquitoes and flies, you will inevitably get bitten, although far less than you would, had you not put the lotion on. There are reports that this product has had absolutely no effect on certain people, so if you’re a real mosquito magnet, it may be worth considering something a bit stronger.

It seems also that you need to apply the lotion quite liberally for the best results.

The best thing about this lotion is that the active ingredient Picaridin is widely acknowledged as one of the safest insect repellent ingredients available, and is considered safe for use on children. With a light and pleasant aroma, this is a favorite for many people.

Related products: Also available in pump spray form

Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Natural Insect Repellent

Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Natural Insect Repellent

Type: Pump spray

Sizes available: 4 ounce

Active ingredient: Oil of lemon eucalyptus (30%)

Specific Features:

  • Effective for up to 6 hours
  • DEET free
  • Strong scent
  • Effective against mosquitoes and ticks
  • Natural

Best use: Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Natural Insect Repellent is another alternative to DEET-based repellents for those who are looking for a more natural mosquito repellent. It gets mixed reviews, but on the whole, this seems to be a good spray and seems to be most effective in areas that are not too heavily populated with mosquitos, such as in the garden or around town.

It works by simply confusing the unfortunate mosquitoes that get a whiff of the pretty potent citrusy smell. In fact, the main criticism for this repellent is the overpowering smell, which seems to be a little too much for some, while others actually quite enjoy it. Like anything, it seems it’s down to personal sensitivity. Unlike DEET-based repellents, it’s a smell that doesn’t soon fade away either.

There are some reports that it can irritate the skin slightly, and this can be down to the citrus element in the repellent, rather than any chemical toxicity. Again it doesn’t affect everyone in this way, however, a number of people have described the feeling as uncomfortable after application.

Finally, it’s a long lasting spray, and while the bottle claims up to 6 hours of protection, other sources say that it can be effective against mosquitoes for 7 hours or so. However, others say they need to top up every couple of hours for the best results. It seems this one is really down to personal taste, however, the majority have good things to say about it.

Related products: Repel 100 Insect Repellent (Pump Spray)

Sawyer Products Premium Maxi-DEET Insect Repellent

Sawyer Products Premium Maxi-DEET Insect Repellent

Type: Pump spray

Sizes available: 3 ounce

Active ingredient: DEET (98%)

Specific Features:

  • Effective for up to 10 hours
  • Effective in areas of high bug density
  • Effective against mosquitoes, fleas, ticks etc
  • Can be applied to skin and/or gear
  • Not recommended for children

Best use: Sawyer’s Maxi-DEET may seem crazy strong, perhaps a bit overkill, and with so many concerns over the safety of using DEET products, it may seem a strange choice.

However, it’s an incredible popular mosquito repellent, and under the right circumstances may be the only one that can keep you relatively bite-free. This product is particularly recommended for use in areas of extreme mosquito density, such as swampland or rainforest.

Application is easy enough and a little does tend to go a long way. While for the most part, it is more or less odorless, some sensitive noses have reported that it can smell a little, but of more concern is the oily texture when applied.

This can be uncomfortable for some, causing stickiness, however, as previously stated you do not need to apply too much at once. Also, be aware that if you sweat, it will wash off as this is not a waterproof repellent, and you will need to reapply.

On the whole the majority don’t have any issues putting this repellent on their bare skin, however some report rashes, welts and a sunburn-like sensation, so it may be worth testing a small amount on a small patch of skin first of all. Also, you are advised to avoid getting any of the spray on plastic, nail polish, watches etc, as it does tend to eat through such materials.

In a nutshell, many people are uncomfortable putting something so apparently toxic on their bare skin, but it’s really down to the risk you want to take. Do you risk potential irritation from a DEET-based repellent that is proven to have worked in the vast majority of cases, or do you risk catching a potentially deadly disease from a mosquito bite?

Related products: Sawyer products Ultra30 Liposome / DEET

All Terrain Kids Herbal Armor DEET-Free Natural Insect Repellent

All Terrain Kids Herbal Armor DEET-Free Natural Insect Repellent

Type: Spray lotion

Sizes available: 4 ounce

Active ingredient: 6 natural repelling oils (25%)

Specific Features:

  • Safe for children and sensitive skin (allergy tested)
  • Natural ingredients (DEET free)
  • Effective for up to 3 hours
  • Sweat and water resistant
  • Safe for clothes

Best use:

All Terrain Kids Herbal Armor DEET-Free Natural Insect Repellent is targeted specifically for children. It is DEET free, which will certainly put the minds of several concerned parents at rest, and has a natural, herbal odor. It is this odor (Citronella is most commonly described) that repels the mosquitoes and as with most herbal repellents, the smell is described by some as mild and pleasant, and others as overly potent and unbearable.

More sway to the fairly light and pleasant side of the spectrum, but there are many who are wary of applying this to their child’s face, due to the potent smell. The repellant, though in spray form comes out of the bottle in line of creamy lotion, and is easily applied and rubbed in, though a mist spray would be more effective and less messy.

It claims to be allergy tested and irritant free, and there are few complaints to argue against this.

As for the effectiveness of the product, the majority of reviews are positive, and mosquitoes have been kept away from children on the whole, but there are several cases in which the repellent has had absolutely no effect whatsoever. Whether this is down to the occasional bad batch, or it just simply doesn’t work for some people is hard to tell.

The biggest plusses are that it is widely considered a safe product, with respect to allergies and sensitive skin, it is natural and DEET free, it is cheaper than many repellents, and while there are several who claim this hasn’t worked for them, there are many more success stories.

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

3M Ultrathon Insect Repellent Lotion

3M Ultrathon Insect Repellent Lotion

Type: Lotion

Sizes available: 2 ounce

Active ingredient: DEET (34.34%)

Specific Features:

  • Time release protection (effective up to 12 hours)
  • Formula developed for and used by US military
  • Splash and sweat resistant
  • Effective against mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, biting flies etc.
  • Low odor

Best use: 3M Ultrathon Insect Repellent Lotion was originally formulated for US military use in some of the harshest mosquito environments in the world, including Central and South America. It claims to be different to other, not so long lasting repellents, in that it has a special time-release formula, that doesn’t use alcohol – unlike many of its competitors – which is prone to evaporating after a few hours.

This time release formula comes at a price however, with many people describing the feeling of the lotion on their skin as sticky, greasy and uncomfortable. Even those who rate the product describe the feeling as “kinda gross”, but worth it for the protection it gives. With this lotion a little goes a long way, and the tube may seem small, but even a thin layer will provide effective protection.

The protection offered is very good, with positive results in various areas around the world, and really does seem to be long lasting. It is as waterproof as it claims, staying on even after profuse sweating in humid climates. In fact, in can be a bit too waterproof as it seems to be difficult to wash off at the end of the day.

This lotion may be better suited to those who are spending time away from civilization, on hiking and camping trips, where they’re not too fussed about looking their best. This is simply due to the greasy, sticky feeling on the skin, which isn’t a fantastic look at a wedding, for example.

Of course, like any repellent, this doesn’t work for everyone, but for the vast majority, it keeps the mosquitoes at bay. Biting flies are another issue, with many people still being troubled by them, but if you’re looking to avoid disease-carrying mosquitoes, this is an effective repellent. Just be prepared to get sticky.

Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent

Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent

Type: Pump spray

Sizes available: 4 ounce

Active ingredient: Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (30%)

Specific Features:

  • Effective for up to 6 hours
  • Natural product – DEET-free
  • Easily applied, stain free and non-greasy
  • Strong odor
  • Not suitable for children under 3 years of age

Best use: Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent is another popular alternative to DEET-based products. It is generally well received with people happy with the protection that is offered.

The spray pump is easy to use and gives control over how much you spray at a time, and the repellent itself comes out clear and fairly thin, making it very easy to apply to harder to reach areas of skin. It doesn’t leave your skin feeling overly sticky or greasy, however, once again it is the smell that has caused some issues for people.

Many say the smell is strong, but not too bad, but there are a fair few that say it is too much, and some cases of people washing it off straight away. With any natural repellent, it’s always going to be a case of whether the inevitable smell is something you can live with or not.

As for its ability to repel mosquitoes, for the most part it enjoys good feedback, and fared well against DEET repellents in research carried out to compare natural repellents to DEET based ones, and their effectiveness over time against two types of mosquito – the yellow fever mosquito and the Asian tiger mosquito.

Obviously, it isn’t effective for everyone, but the overwhelming complaint about this product is based only on its smell, rather than its effectiveness at deterring mosquitoes. Overall, this is a good repellent under the right circumstances, it probably won’t be an awful lot of good in dense rainforest, but for everyday life and light activity – as long as the smell doesn’t put you off – this is a good choice.

Related products: Cutter Backwoods insect repellent, Cutter Dry, Cutter All family, Cutter Skinsations.

Sawyer Products Premium Ultra 30% DEET Insect Repellent

Sawyer Products Premium Ultra 30% DEET Insect Repellent

Type: Lotion

Sizes available: 3 ounce

Active ingredient: DEET (30%)

Specific Features:

  • Controlled release formula effective for up to 11 hours
  • Odorless
  • Non-greasy and sweat proof
  • Effective against mosquitoes, ticks, fleas etc.
  • Liposome base for comfortable application to skin

Best use: Sawyers liposome-based lotion enjoys very good reviews and overall seems to be a very effective product. It is different to similar products, in that while it still contains DEET, it is easy to apply and unlike other brands, doesn’t leave your skin greasy or sticky. The lotion is liposome-based which ensures that it is absorbed into the skin, rather than leaving a film on top.

This, combined with the controlled release formula – ensuring the DEET is released slowly over the course of several hours – makes for a product that is comfortable to wear while providing protection for the majority of people for up to 11 hours. For a concentration of only 30% this is a very long time. The bottle will claim that this lotion is odorless, and while it certainly isn’t as pungent as natural repellents, some sensitive noses will pick up a smell, however this soon fades after the lotion has dried.

It has had success in many areas around the world, but while it is an effective repellent, many would reach for the stronger stuff under more extreme mosquito densities.

Best used for hiking, day to day use and camping in areas that are not too heavily infested. Especially useful for people who are sensitive to the more pungent natural repellents and feel a little awkward wearing such strong smelling products around other people, and also want to avoid high concentrations of DEET. This product is not suitable for children under three years of age.

Related products: Also available in 4 ounce bottles.

Summing Up and Buzzing Off

Having seen our eight of the best mosquito repellents, let’s hope you’re better able to choose the best repellent to save your skin.

To sum up, the choices you will need to make come down to:

  • Which active ingredient do you think you will need/feel comfortable using?
  • How do you want to apply the product?
  • How long will you need protection for?
  • Does it need to be sweat proof/water resistant?
  • Will you need to be socially acceptable?

Most importantly you need to consider the environment you will be using it for.

  • Are you heading to the rainforest or to swampland where infestations of mosquitoes are common? In which case a longer lasting, sweat proof, stronger repellent may be necessary, such as a combination of a spray for clothes, with a long lasting lotion rubbed onto any exposed skin.
  • Or maybe you need protection for a BBQ at a friend’s house? Perhaps a natural repellent will be more effective, or if the smell worries you, try a low odor, low concentration Picaridin based repellent.
  • Possibly your walk home takes you through a patch of woodland, and you know mosquitoes are lurking? Wipes might work best for you.

Aside from covering yourself in repellent, you can battle mosquitoes by taking other simple precautions, such as wearing long pants and long sleeves to cover as much skin as possible.

Best mosquito repellent mosquito crossing

Whatever repellent you go for, just remember that mosquitoes can pose a real threat to your health, and if you’re in an area where disease-carrying mosquitoes are rife, sometimes sacrificing a little comfort is worth it.

What’s your repellent of choice? Let us know in the comments section!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dennis Owens
Dennis Owens

Dennis Owens is a graduate of National Camping School and REI Outdoor School. He knows everything about what gear to take with you, how to plan your trip to stay safe and what to do if you get lost in the mountains. We are lucky to have Dennis with us as he is a ‘walking encyclopedia’ when it comes to the wilderness.

  • Freddie Wilson

    This is one of the things that shouldn’t be missing in my backpack. Among the mosquito repellent listed, my best pick is deet. I’m using it for the past years not only during backpacking trips, but also at home. What I like the most about it is that most of its ingredients are natural so it’s safe for the skin.

    • Dennis Owens

      I always recommend having a mosquito repellent wherever you go, even if the destination is not known as a mosquito-infested area because it would be best to be protected anticipating any kind of mosquito bite.

  • Zack Lorigan

    My wife and I recently used the Sawyer Maxi-DEET on a trip to Puerto Rico, where we spent 2 nights camping in the jungle. Although there were plenty of mosquitoes to be seen, thanks to the Sawyer spray, we managed to go the whole weekend without a mosquito or bug bite of any kind. Though, it should be noted, that we coupled the spray with the Sawyer clothing repellent.

    Perhaps the only downside, is that the spray does feel a little hot on your skin after the initial spray, however, it passes after around 5-10 minutes, you should also be careful not to get it on your face as Sawyer suggest, I caught my lip with the spray and it went numb for about an hour.

    Fantastic spray and worked wonders for keeping us bug bite free.

    • Dennis Owens

      This is one of the most potent mosquito repellents that you can get nowadays, Zack. I’m glad it helped you and your wife to have a pleasant vacation.

  • Jake Clark

    I’m a living magnet for mosquitoes. If there were 100 people in the street, those blood suckers would attack me first. In the past I used deet repellents, but now I use only Cutter Eucalyptus repellent. The best thing is that it doesn’t contain any deet and it doesn’t have the smell or toxic effect. It leaves no stains on my clothes. The only downside of this product is that it has quite strong smell when first applied, but it gets weaker over time.

    • Dennis Owens

      In general, most insect repellents have a strong smell which is either herbal or chemical in nature. They are more potent most of the time, compared to water-based insect repellents.

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