Bug Sprays: The 8 Best Insect Repellents

Going out into the wilderness, there’s a possibility that you could be eaten alive by a mountain lion or a grizzly bear. Far greater is the likelihood that you’re going to be a snack for mosquitoes, ticks, and any other bloodsucker or biting crawler that is lurking around. Your sweet human scent is like a dinner bell for these creatures, and the only way to protect yourself is with either a good insect repellent, bug spray, possibly both.

These sprays are usually most effective when they use DEET (scientifically known as N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide) as their major ingredient. DEET confuses biting mosquitoes by short-circuiting their radar and making you invisible to them. If you avoid DEET, there’s the choice to go with something less caustic – for those who prefer a natural solution or have skin issues when using DEET – such as lemon of eucalyptus balm oil, picaridin, and BioUD. BioUD is the only one that can compete with DEET for fighting off bugs, but they all work better than nothing. To help you keep the bloodsucking pests from sinking their fangs into you, we found the 8 best insect repellents on the market.

Repel Sportsmen Max

Repel Sportsmen Max

Pro: Absorbs well for a minimum of stickiness
Con: Highly toxic

Scent of a Man: This is not a sweet, kindly bug spray that politely asks skeeters to move along. With a 40% DEET saturation, it’s one of the most balanced levels of protection you can get short of mixing your own. A few spritzes gives you 8 hours of coverage that can handle days in the rain forest or casting off your fishing kayak in the deep south during the height of summer. The DEET level is high enough to protect nearly as well as 100% but without the resulting stickiness that turns you into walking fly paper. It’s also safer to use on your gear and equipment without gumming it up. [Purchase: $4]

Tender Bens 30 Deet Travel Wipes

Tender Ben’s 30% Deet Travel Wipes

Pro: Formula is water-based
Con: Easy to apply inconsistently

Rub Down: Bug sprays, spritzes, and lotions are the most common ways to apply any of these repellents to your skin, but if you prefer to use wipes for direct contact and less waste, then we liked Tender Ben’s products. By putting it directly onto your skin, it evaporates more slowly, offering up to 8 hours worth of protection that holds true to its timetable. The 30% DEET formula is strong enough to stay on guard but mild enough that skin issues and rashes are rare. They also bear no noticeable fragrance, which is a far cry from any of the aerosol options. [Purchase: $6]

Repel 100

Repel 100

Pro: Highly concentrated
Con: Strong chemical smell

Heavy Hitter: Outside of a hermetic bubble, you’re not going to find a spray that works as well without causing innumerable problems. The DEET level here is 98% to keep off mosquitoes, chiggers, ticks, biting flies, and probably any ladies you meet out on the trail. You never need to apply this liberally since a little goes a long way and creates a noxious aura of the surrounding area. You probably won’t require this level of coverage outside of Africa or South American jungles, but having it and not needing it is the key to preparedness. [Purchase: $8]

Bite Blocker BioUD Insect Repellent Pen

Bite Blocker BioUD Insect Repellent Pen

Pro: BioUD-based
Con: Does not last long

Pocket Protection: Though clinical tests have shown the efficacy of BioUD at keeping biting insects at bay, very few products use it to full effect. The pen is a handy backup carry if you want to avoid DEET but still receive similar effects when headed to areas that are densely populated with flying and crawling insects. The protection is on par with 20-30% DEET products, so it won’t stop every sucker that comes your way, but it also isn’t nearly as harsh on your skin and can be used on children without fear. The single problem is that it doesn’t last more than 4 hours or so, meaning reapplication throughout a long day is mandatory. [Purchase: $9]

Repel Lemon Eucalyptus

Repel Lemon Eucalyptus

Pro: Light, summery scent
Con: Concentrated chemical compound is not truly “all natural”

Effective DEET Alternative: You’re just not going to find anything that can battle bugs as effectively as DEET, but this is the most effective DEET-free product on the market that we could find. It uses lemon eucalyptus in a lab-borne, concentrated form for a scent that is refreshing and a consistency that isn’t as sticky or as harmful to your gear as more toxic options. You’ll get about six hours of backyard-grade protection that works equally well when taking a walk in your hiking sandals or heading out to a little league game. If you’re going into the deep woods where critters abound, you won’t be eaten alive, but you’re going to get a few nibbles. Though, at least you’ll smell pretty while it happens. [Purchase: $9]

OFF Botanicals

OFF! Botanicals

Pro: Keeps skin moist
Con: Must be rubbed in manually for best effect

Plant Powered: OFF! used to be the gold standard of insect repellents, but they have fallen by the wayside in recent years, supplanted by more powerful, more comfortable, better smelling brands. Oddly enough, the DEET-heavy manufacturer has still managed to concoct a win with their Botanicals line. This is based around the natural repellent used by eucalyptus plants which is better for general use than DEET, which focuses primarily on mosquitoes. It is slightly oily without being greasy and helps keep your skin moist rather than becoming tacky. We found that even work sweat didn’t completely kill its effectiveness, though you will want to reapply if you get too damp. [Purchase: $10]

3M Ultrathon Insect Repellent Lotion

3M Ultrathon Insect Repellent Lotion

Pro: Can survive in adverse weather conditions
Con: Works primarily on mosquitoes

Long Lasting Lube: 3M – the people who make paperclips and floppy disks – have created a shockingly effective insect repellent lotion that goes for hours and hours. Made for the military, this does use a DEET concentration, but when suspended in a lotion matrix, it tends to be less abrasive on sensitive skin. It manages to be effective when frozen and thawed, and resists sweat and splash. Pack it away with your rooftop camping tent when the snow flies and it will wait for summer. Wear it with your water shoes and you’ll still find your feet protected. While it claims 12 hours worth of bug resistance, in highly infested areas you should reapply in half that time. [Purchase: $10]

California Baby Natural Bug Repellent

California Baby Natural Bug Repellent

Pro: Contains no toxic ingredients
Con: Needs to be reapplied often

For the Little Ones: Kids are not nearly as hardy as adults, and dousing them with chemicals is never a good idea. If you have sprouts running around, we’ve found that this bug spray from California Baby is perfect. It works for youngsters and babies alike using a gentle combination of citronella, lemongrass, and cedar to keep fleas, flies, and mosquitoes from digging in to supple young flesh while also causing no problems to most sensitive skin. It’s non-toxic so long as it is kept out of eyes. Due to the gentle nature of the spray, it is only mildly effective and should be reapplied liberally for best results. [Purchase: $15]

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