OUTDOORS

The Best Insect Repellent that Will Actually Let You Enjoy Nature

Insect repellent review
Dennis Owens
Written by Dennis Owens

For some people there’s nothing better than being outdoors, hiking, exploring, camping or spending a day at the seaside. On the other hand, others would love to enjoy all those experiences too but have a morbid fear of bugs and their bites.

And the truth is that getting bitten all the time by mosquitoes really sucks the fun out of any outdoor experience. Which is why knowing what the best insect repellent for you is and bringing that along can be a real life-saver.

The Factors that Impact Your Choice

But first, it’s important to know how to choose one that actually protects you.

Ingredients

The main ingredients used in insect repellents can be placed in two categories: chemical or synthesized plant oil. Some people stay away from chemical ingredients, because they’re very strong, and work like insecticides, leaving a burning sensation on your skin and sometimes a foul smell.

Synthesized plant oils are natural, smell nice and don’t burn through your skin, but might not be as effective in the long-run.

Man with repellent spray

Besides, some sprays have ingredients that allow skin applications, while others are made especially for fabrics and should be applied only on clothes and equipment.

Place

If you’re going away in a place that’s swarming with dangerous bugs and you want to avoid getting a dangerous viral disease like the ones transmitted by the Zika or the West Nile viruses, you might want to consider a more powerful repellent. Most times, this sums up to a chemical-based product, though some plant oils work well too.

Duration

Depending on how long you want to be protected, you should know that:

  • The chemical DEET resists 8-10 hours and more.
  • The chemical ingredient Picaridin has an effect of 6-8 hours.
  • Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, a natural ingredient, will protect you for 4-6 hours.
  • IR3535, a synthesized plant oil, will resist 4-8 hours depending on its concentration in the spray.

Main insects you want to avoid

While it’s best to choose a repellent that covers a vast array of insects, from spiders and chiggers to mites and fleas, some products are custom-made to target and exterminate a specific bug.

Main insects you want to avoid

So if you’re more afraid of mosquitoes than anything else, get a product that was specially designed to fight them off.

EPA Registration

It’s better to choose a registered product, that’s been tested and approved, rather than risk your safety and use a dangerous pesticide on your skin. Besides, if it’s a really cheap product, it might not even work.

Our Top Choices

After taking all these factors into account, you can make an informed decision and browse our selection of items confidingly to decide which product is more appropriate for you.

Ovvio Oils Deet Free Insect Repellent

Ovvio Oils Deet Free Insect Repellent

Weight: 4 ounces

Dimensions: 1.5 x 1.5 x 6 inches

Specifications: 100% natural; pleasant aroma; long-lasting; non-toxic; DEET-free

Best Use: backyard camping trips

Description: Ovvio Oils Deet Free Insect Repellent 3.8 stars has a number of features that render it a good choice for camping trips. For instance, it has only natural ingredients, both active and non-active.

As such, this is a non-toxic product  with no chemical substances like DEET and pyrethrins. It also has no alcohol, synthetic insecticide, nor animal-based ingredients, which is why the official description states it’s 100% natural.

Since this is the case, you don’t have to worry about applying it directly to your skin. The same goes for young children and even your pets. Plus, the natural ingredients have another advantage: they make it smell really nice and fresh. The main fragrance notes include citrus, fresh leaves, lavender and floral aroma.

Thanks to this, you can even spend a night out at the beach with your friends without having to smell like chemicals.

And that is no exaggeration because this item is also very resistant to both water and perspiration. Its long-lasting effects don’t wear off until 4 to 6 hours after you’ve applied it on your skin. The effectiveness is due to its main ingredient, Lemon Eucalyptus. This plant, as well as cedar and lemongrass, are all natural repellents for all sorts of bugs, which is why their mixture is even stronger.

Besides, the Ovvio Oils repellent is 100% guaranteed by the company, which is a trusted brand in this category of products.

So now you may be wondering why this item isn’t rated close to 5 stars. Well, some reviewers are dissatisfied with the fact that it’s not a spray, but a cream that you have to rub in your skin, while others claim it doesn’t work in areas swarming with mosquitoes, though it does decrease the overall number of bites.

Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent

Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent

Weight: 2.4 ounces

Dimensions: 1.3 x 2.1 x 5.7 inches

Specifications: effective; natural; works for up to 6 hours; contains oil of Lemon Eucalyptus

Best Use: trips in Mosquito-land

Description: If you’re the type of person who’s generally attacked by mosquitoes, or if you’re planning a trip somewhere with lots of them, Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent 4.2 stars item is definitely something to add to your backpack.

That’s because mosquitoes transmit all sorts of viruses, some of which may be deadly like Chikungunya, Zika, Dengue and West Nile. So if you’re in an area where cases of infections with these viruses have been reported, it’s better to prepare yourself. Plus, the mosquitoes are not only dazed by this spray, but they actually keep their distance from you – a few feet away.

And what’s even better about this product is that it can fully cover you against swarms of mosquitoes, by up to 6 hours although it doesn’t contain chemicals like DEET, nor insecticides that are usually the ones that work. So having an effective, but also natural protection against insects is pretty nice.

The oil of Lemon Eucalyptus is the magic ingredient that does the trick, and it gives out a pleasant aroma, although some reviewers consider it quite strong for the first few minutes. But most importantly, the product works even when you spray it onto your clothes, and it doesn’t stain.

Sawyer Products Premium Insect Repellent with 20% Picaridin

Sawyer Products Premium Insect Repellent with 20% Picaridin

Weight: 4 ounces

Dimensions: not specified

Specifications: 20% Picaridin; odorless; doesn’t damage gear; 12-14 hours effectiveness

Best Use: hiking trips

Description: Sawyer Products Premium Insect Repellent with 20% Picaridin 4,5 stars is based on the chemical substance Picaridin, which explains its very powerful effects against all sorts of flying insects you may think of that bite. In fact, it contains the maximum EPA approved concentration of 20%, which is probably what accounts for its durable effects, that persist for 12-14 hours.

Since it meets all the legal standards of production, you can safely apply it to all family members. Besides, if you’re going camping and decide to spray your clothes with it, you can rest assured that it won’t damage your equipment.

As it doesn’t contain natural ingredients like the items above, it doesn’t have a very strong odor either, which is what many people prefer. Even its soft citrus aroma doesn’t last for long and disappears quickly once the spray is dry. You can therefore even consider using this on hunting trips when staying stealth is a top priority to approach your prey.

Generally, an adult needs about 1.5 ounces per day to withstand most bug densities, but you can buy it in bigger bottles or as a lotion. Though the spray creates a wider barrier against bugs when applied on clothes, the lotion works well too, even in combination with sunscreen.

Repel 100 Insect Repellent

Repel 100 Insect Repellent

Weight: 4 ounces

Dimensions: 2.2 x 0.8 x 6 inches

Specifications: 98.11% DEET; lasts 10 hours; works against mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, biting flies

Best Use: extreme environments

Description: Repel 100 Insect Repellent 4.3 stars item is considered one of the best in its category. So if you’re not reticent about using a DEET-based product, this is an effective item that can do its job for about 10 hours. That means it will keep away all sorts of insects like mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers and biting flies, even from infested areas.

So if you’re going in an area with advertisements about the Chikungunya, Zika, Dengue and West Nile viruses, you definitely need extreme protection. The 98.11% DEET content is EPA approved, and it provides the maximum amount of chemical power allowed against pesky insects that might transmit dangerous illnesses.

Some people don’t really approve of the smell and feel, though because it doesn’t have the natural touch of products with naturally-based ingredients. The thickness and oiliness might even make you feel a bit nauseous at first, but in some cases, the eucalyptus products really don’t work.

To avoid this, don’t coat your body liberally because a thin coat is all it takes for the product to work. Otherwise, it also leaves oily stains on your clothes, without much-added effect. The smell completely disappears only when you wash it off so until then it’ll do its job of squandering off insects.

Sawyer Products Premium MAXI-DEET Insect Repellent Spray

Sawyer Products Premium MAXI-DEET Insect Repellent Spray

Weight: 2 ounces

Dimensions: not specified

Specifications: 98% DEET; low odor; lasts 10 hours; can be applied on skin and clothes

Best Use: jungle trips

Description: Since Sawyer Products Premium MAXI-DEET Insect Repellent Spray is another DEET based product, with a 98% content, you can be safe and sound from insects bites even in high-density areas. The main bugs that will leave you alone are mosquitoes, chiggers, fleas, gnats, and ticks, and you can rest assured they won’t bug you, pun intended, for about 10 hours.

You can apply this 4.5 stars product any way you prefer: either on your skin or on your clothes because it doesn’t have any odor, nor does it stain.

But the best thing is that you can safely enjoy your trip, even if you decide to go in extreme environments like the jungle where you’ve got lots of exploring to do, apart from following the trail. For instance, you can even safely explore dark, humid environments like caves which swarm with mosquitoes and other insects.

And you don’t have to stay on solid ground either: sailing on the river and getting a bit wet won’t lessen the effect of this spray. Plus if a tick or a bug happens to land on the clothes you’ve sprayed, they instantly die.

The only downside is that the high DEET concentration leaves a brief, burning sensation when you apply it, but that should pass. Just try not to use it on your mouth or eyes.

Sawyer Products Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent

Sawyer Products Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent

Weight: 12 ounces

Dimensions: not specified

Specifications: stops and kills insects; active ingredient: Permethrin; resists for 6 weeks or 6 washing cycles; used on fabrics

Best Use: hunting trips

Description: If you want a good item that will ward off and kill insects that get near you, getting a good item like this 4.4 stars Sawyer Products Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent Trigger Spray is the optimal choice. That’s because it can be safely sprayed on your clothes and camping equipment without damaging them. And if a bug happens to land on them, they’ll instantly meet their doom.

Besides, since the active ingredient called Permethrin (which is, in fact, a synthetic molecule similar to the natural one found in Chrysanthemums) is odorless and doesn’t stain, you can enjoy its marvelous insect-fending abilities while hunting.

You’ll stay protected for up to 6 weeks or 6 washing cycles, and you can apply it on every piece of gear you have: tent, sleeping bags, furniture, bed sheets, and pillows. That will ward off any unwanted ticks, spiders or mosquitoes that might consider feasting on your nutritious blood.

Plus Permethrin doesn’t damage most fabrics, not even silk. Though it bonds easier with softer fabrics like cotton and takes longer to bond with tight fabrics like rain flies, the good news is that water and perspiration don’t hinder its effects, and you’ll still stay protected through your trip.

Cutter Backwoods Insect Repellent

Cutter Backwoods Insect Repellent

Weight: 6 ounces

Dimensions: 1.4 x 2.6 x 7.5 inches

Specifications: 25% DEET content; repels mosquitoes; lasts for 10 hours; sweat-resistant; 360° spray pump; unscented

Best Use: seashore trips

Description: Although Cutter Backwoods Insect Repellent has a low content of DEET, of about 25%, this 4.2 stars item from Cutter does a wonderful job keeping mosquitoes at a distance. It works best against these bugs, but it can certainly keep off other insects too.

For instance, it repels deer flies great too because it doesn’t just confuse them, but actually keeps them at a significant distance of several feet away from your face. Therefore, they have no interest in landing on your skin and biting you, and the same goes for mosquitoes too. The non-DEET products may not have a similar success, especially in a damp, moist marsh-like environment.

Its 10 hours protection is great if you want to enjoy a whole night out, or a whole day exploring, without having to renew the application. And you can certainly look around as much you want, even if that involves a lot of effort and perspiration because this Cutter item is also resistant to sweat.

The fact that it’s unscented is another cool feat most DEET-based products don’t have. So a poignant chemical smell is nothing to fear in this case. Besides, it has an easy to use spray system, that sprays at any angle thanks to its 360° spray pump. And as a piece of trivia, according to some Internet reviewers, this product works like a charm on clearing sun fogged headlight covers.

Coleman 40 Percent DEET Insect Repellent Twin Pack

Coleman 40 Percent DEET Insect Repellent Twin Pack

Weight: 15.2 ounces

Dimensions: 1 x 1 x 1 inches

Specifications: 40% DEET content; at least 8 hours protection; wards off most insects; non-greasy; odorless; sweat-resistant; 360° spray

Best Use: mosquito swamps

Description: The content of DEET you’ll find in Coleman 40 Percent DEET Insect Repellent Twin Pack 4.7 stars product is 40%, but that’s high enough to keep you safe from all the nasty bugs you might come in contact with during various trips. You’ll remain protected for at least 8 hours, which gives you plenty of time to get a good night’s sleep with no ticks, fleas or chiggers to bother you.

Besides, flying insects are kept at a considerable distance too and the chances of you getting a dangerous disease like Zika, West Nile Virus, Dengue Fever, or encephalitis are significantly decreased.

Apart from being long-lasting, this item is furthermore unscented although it’s DEET-based. And if you’re in a warm, damp environment or get a lot of cardio from your daily hikes, that will not lessen the overall effect of this good insect repellent, as it’s sweat-resistant too.

The can itself is a good argument for buying this product since it’s very lightweight, it doesn’t rust and can spray at any angle. The product is, therefore, user-friendly, apart from being effective and conveniently priced, which explains its high ratings.

The only downside, according to some users, is that it can damage cheap plastic materials it comes into contact with.

What Should It Be?

Now that you’ve read through our selection of items, you can better understand the issues we’ve talked about at the beginning that affect your choice of a good insect repellent.

For instance, although some people may not particularly approve of DEET items, they might decide it’s worth risking a potential adverse reaction to chemicals, rather than putting their life in danger when traveling in a mosquito-infested country and contract a deadly disease. Basically, your destination and beliefs influence your choice.

Applying insect repellent

If you have a favorite product that has really worked for you during your trips, let us know in the comment section below. Same goes if you’ve stumbled upon an item which really does nothing for you, we’re curious to see if we’ve missed anything.

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.

  • Chase Oliver

    I’m convinced mosquito see me as a walking buffet, even when I’m with groups of people, these little guys seem to hone in on me.Over the years I have tried various tricks to ward off the little nasties, and I’ve finally come up with an all-round solution that seems to be effective.

    I spray all of my clothing, gear, bag and anything else fabric that comes near me with a Sawyer Premium product.

    I make sure I was my body with a scent masking soap, usually the bar soap by Wildlife Research and then spray myself with Repel.

    I know this probably sounds a little extreme to some of you, but honestly, bugs seem to love me.

    • Dennis Owens

      I’m not sure about the science behind it but yes, some people are more prone to insect bites than others. However, our recommendations can surely address your insect-repelling needs. Glad you found the Sawyer series!

  • Rob chang

    Through the years I have heard lots of hints and tips on how to keep mosquitoes at bay, however, a lot of the homely remedies, such as eating oranges or garlic are only so effective.

    The best advice I can give is:

    1. Use an insect repellent containing which contains at least 25% DEET. I appreciate many people out there are concerned with the fact that DEET can be classified as toxic, however, if it were not safe to use, it wouldn’t be on the market and I’d personally rather expose myself to a product that has been safe to use by health authorities than run the risk of being exposed to the diseases these insects can carry.

    2. Wear clothing that has long sleeves, avoid wearing shorts if possible and tuck the legs of your pants into your socks.

    3. Treat your clothing with a spray that contains permethrin.

    The above will be sure to minimise your risk of being bitten.

    • Dennis Owens

      While I agree that DEET is a component that improve the potency of insect repellents, I highly discourage its utilization because the risks outweigh the benefits especially when traveling with younger campers. I would still recommend using water-based repellents and just re-apply them as necessary.

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