Mosquitos can be some serious… fun suckers… on hiking and camping trips. They can make an awesome trip itinerary absolutely miserable if you don’t come prepared. During the summer months, these pesky bugs come out from hiding and love to hang out in popular outdoor areas. Check out these Mosquito Repellents for hiking and camping!
Let’s Talk About Mosquitos…
One thing I never fail to hear when I am in a mosquito-infested area is “it’s really bad over there, watch out!”. Nearly everyone passing you on trail will tell you about the mosquitos, and might likely have a familiar DEET smell to them, or be dawning full a full mosquito net suit. To better protect yourself from mosquitos or bugs in the wilderness, I think it’s useful (and interesting) to learn more about the mechanisms that make these bugs tick.
Mosquitos tend to be most active in the warmer months, and that can vary from state to state. They love moist and humid environments, especially near water sources like lakes or streams, and breed in calm and still waters. Here are some interesting facts about them:
↟ Only female mosquitos bite. They use the protein and compounds found in blood to reproduce
↟ Mosquitos can bite through most clothing fabrics but tightly woven textiles are the best protection against them. The thicker the material, like denim or corduroy, the better the protection. Unfortunately, courds are not the most comfortable or breathable hiking fabric in the heat of the summer.
↟ Mosquitos use multiple methods to find people. They use their keen sense of smell to detect the CO2 that we produce, and then zero in on their target by odor and warmth.
↟ Mosquitos have 6 (SIX!!) needles that they use to feed. The outer two are used to saw the skin, the next two are to pull the skin apart, the 5th is to inject saliva into the skin (to keep the blood flowing), and the 6th is to suck up blood.
Let’s go through some popular and useful ways to protect yourself from Mosquitos in the outdoors
DEET, or N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide, is the most common active ingredient in insect repellent. It works well at repelling mosquitos and ticks by making it hard to smell us. It comes in a wide variety of products, from lotions to sprays and an even wider range of percentage in the product. Many people choose to avoid products with DEET in it, because it is a very strong chemical. If used or handled poorly, it can lead to DEET poisoning. It is important to read to directions when applying it, and use it properly.
Because DEET is used on the skin and not on the environment directly its environmental impact is minimal (according to the EPA), You should still wash off DEET before entering any water sources, as it is slightly toxic to aquatic life.
DEET is also harmful to some materials such as certain plastics, and synthetics like rayon, spandex or vinyl. Make sure to wash your clothes as soon as possible upon getting back from your trip if you used DEET on these kinds of clothing or gear.
BEST DEET PRODUCTS:
- Sawyer Jungle Juice 100 Pump Spray Insect Repellent – 98 Percent DEET – 2 fl. oz : This is my favorite of the mosquito repellants I have tried for backpacking trips now, because I am a magnet for mosquitos as soon as I leave the tent. This formula lasts a long time on my skin and I normally only have to apply it once (and maybe again if I change clothes). I also really like that it comes in a 2oz bottle, and I can keep it handy in my backpacks waist belt or porch.
- Ben’s Eco Spray Insect Repellent – 30 Percent DEET – 6 fl. oz : This stuff is great and we usually have a bottle of the Aerosol Spray in my car during camping trips. The Bens formula also comes as Ben’s 30% DEET Mosquito, Tick and Insect Repellent Wipes, (12 Count) and they are lightweight, convenient, and effective for backpacking or hiking so you don’t have to pack out an entire bottle during your trip. We bring at least 3 of these on all our trips.
- Ultrathon Insect Repellent Lotion – 34 Percent DEET – 2 fl. oz. : If you are not a fan of the sprays or wipes, give this lotion by Ultrathon a try! It isn’t as greasy or oily as some of the other DEET options on the market and is long lasting. I find it is easily removable with a washcloth or a wet wipe.
Picaridin repels insects and makes them less likely to bite. Like DEET, it blocks mosquitos from being able to sense their prey. Studies show that Picaridin is just as effective as DEET, but unlike DEET it is is odorless, non-greasy, and does not dissolve plastics or other synthetics.
Picaridin is available in a wide variety of products and strengths. It preforms very similarly to DEET, and might be more effective at repelling other bugs like no-see-ums, but not as effective on ticks. Like DEET, is is mildly toxic to aquatic life.
BEST PICARIDIN PRODUCTS:
- Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent – 3 oz. and Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent Lotion – 4 fl. oz. : Sawyer has great Picaridin products ranging from lotions to sprays. Their bottles are small enough to throw in a backpack or fanny pack, and is a great alternative to DEET products. Their 3oz spray is also allowed for airline travel.
- Natrapel 12-hour Insect Repellent Pump – 3.4 fl. oz. : This is a 20% Picaridin formula that is safe to use on gear and claims it lasts for 12 hours. The formula is not greasy and pretty odorless
Permethrin is a great Mosquito Repellent for hiking and camping and it works by actually killing mosquitos instead of repelling them. Permethrin overexcited the nervous system of the mosquitos, eventually causing them to die. It has minimal effects on wildlife, and breaks down by sunlight and organic matter.
Permethrin normally come in the form of sprays to be used to treat camping and hiking gear. There are a number of clothing items (mentioned later) that come pre-treated with permethrin technology in the clothing fibers. You should avoid contact with the skin, and use caution when applying it to your own clothes. Follow the directions tediously.
BEST PERMETHRIN SPRAY:
Sawyer Permethrin Pump Spray: This spray is the best permethrin product on the market and I swear by it for my gear and clothes before hiking and backpacking trips. The Sawyer spray comes in a 24oz or a 12oz bottle and lasts up to 6 washes before it is recommended that you reapply it. You’ll want to spray your gear and clothes liberally and allow the recommended time to try before touching or using your gear.
Natural Remedies for Mosquito Repellents are all over the place with ingredients and effectiveness. Picaridin, as mentioned above, does fall under the “natural” category because the main ingredient is synthesized to mimic chemicals in plants (piperine, found in the plants that produce black pepper). Other natural remedies include lemon eucalyptus oil and botanicals like lemongrass and citronella.
Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE) is one of the only natural remedies, besides picaridin, that the EPA regulates because it considers it a biopesticide. This compound is different than Lemon Eucalyptus Oil, which is from the Lemon Eucalyptus Tree.
Other botanicals can include lemongrass, soybean, rosemary, citronella, and peppermint and will likely have the word “natural” on the label. They are not tested as rigorously as other products like DEET or Picaridin because they are not considered dangerous or harmful chemicals. Because of this, the effectiveness is also not tested as much and the products that contain these ingredients are not required to prove that they actually work at repelling mosquitos in order to market and sell them.
My personal experience with botanicals is that they are not my favorite or first product I gravitate towards because I feel that the products I have now work better. That being said, I have tried natural products I do feel as worthwhile.
BEST NATURAL PRODUCTS:
- Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Pump-Spray Insect Repellent – 4 fl. oz : Repel has a good line of Lemon Eucalyptus Products and they are definitely worth the try if you are looking for something more natural.
- Natrapel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent Spray 6 oz: Natrapel also carries a Lemon Eucalyptus product that does decent at repelling mosquitos. I feel that it does not last as long as the chemicals but it is a nice natural alternative.
One of the most intriguing Mosquito Repellent products for hiking and camping that are on the market are Portable Repellers. Thermacell is the most well-known maker of these products and there are two notable ones to use as a mosquito repellent for hiking and camping.
- Thermacell MR300 Portable Mosquito Repeller: This product has over 1000 reviews on REI and over 11,000 on Amazon. This had convinced me to get one for our next few trips. This device uses an active ingredient called Allethrin to repel mosquitos. The device itself weighs 5.2 ounces and it will last 12 hours on one cartridge (which are changeable) and when on it creates a 15ft mosquito free zone.
- Thermacell Backpacker Mosquito Repeller: Thermacell also make a device that is specifically used for repelling mosquitos on backpacking trips and uses a piece of gear that nearly ( not all ) backpackers have, an ISO can. With the same Allethrin formula, this device screws on top of an ISO can and uses the fuel to disperse the protective zone, and weighs a light 4oz. There are some other things to consider about this product like:
→You cant cook and run it at the same time
→It uses up fuel
→Ultralight backpackers are known to cold-soak food and don’t bring stove
→This product only lasts for 4 hours, compared to the other device that lasts for 12
→It claims to be good up to 7000ft elevation, which is low compared to our usual hikes that around around 9,000ft.
As always with REI products, their return policy is great so if it is not for you- return it and try something else!
Protective Clothing & Nets
Protective Clothing are often pre-treated with products like permethrin in the fibers of the clothing. One of the best purchases that I have made this year falls into this category of protective clothing. These pieces of gear can come in a wide variety of pieces like shirts, jackets, pants, bandanas and hats.
Mosquito nets are recognizable yet effective on trail. During peak mosquito season, it is very unlikely you will go your whole trip without seeing someone decked out in mosquito net gear. Mosquito nets work by not repelling mosquitos, but protecting you from them. They are meant to be loose around your body so that mosquitos cannot access your skin. Mosquito head nets best protect you when wearing a wide brim hat, to keep them as far away from your face and neck as possible. With a baseball hat, for example, the neck area is much closer to the net and more at risk.
BEST PROTECTIVE CLOTHES AND NETS:
- Ben’s InvisiNet Insect Head Net: Ben’s makes some great bug net gear from head nets, to jackets. You can also get great net jackets and pants from Coghlan’s, and they are really inexpensive!
- ExOfficio has an excellent line of protective clothing called BugsAway. I recently bought the ExOfficio BugsAway Rhyolite Shirt and wore it for the first time on a recent trip to Thousand Island Lake, which is known for its mosquitos during peak season. It did a great job protecting the upper half of my body from bites, as I normally get a lot of bites on the backs of my shoulders when I am walking. The shirt is also white so it keeps me cooler during the day, is very breathable and has a UPF Rating of 50. ExOfficio also makes a really popular hoodie option: the ExOfficio Bugsaway Lumen Hoodie which is great at protecting your head quickly and is super lightweight.
- If you are a fan of Buffs on the trail, check out the Buff CoolNet UV+ Insect Shield. They come in a wide variety of colors, has a UPF of 50+, and can be worn in a multitude of ways.
I hope this guide helps you find the right mosquito repellent for hiking or camping! Have you tried any of these products and have an opinion on them? Do you have another option or a great natural deterrent that needs to be said? Leave me a comment down below!
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“How Safe Is DEET?” – consumerreports.org
“DEET” -Environmental Protective Agency
“Picaridin” -National Pesticide Information Center
“Picaridin vs DEET: Which Is the Best Insect Repellent?” -outdoors.org
“Permethrin” -Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services
“Do ‘Natural’ Insect Repellents Work?” – consumerreports.org