Best Mosquito Repellents for Camping in 2022


Mosquitoes don’t just suck blood, they also suck the fun out of camping, and if you want to both, you’ll need to prevent a mosquito repellent for camping. Repellent comes in various forms and formulas from natural essential oils to harsh chemicals and lotions to aerosol sprays. If you need help separating the hype from the ineffective, this is the review for you. I tested the best mosquito repellents for camping in my buggy woods to find products that actually work, and here are my picks.

Choosing a Mosquito Repellent for Camping

Mosquitoes find humans by first detecting the carbon dioxide we exhale, then they cue on our odor. Finally, body heat is their final signal before landing when they use their feet to taste our skin to find a bite location. Most mosquito repellents work by disrupting the mosquito’s ability to smell. The repellent evaporates off our skin and the vapor doesn’t allow them to pinpoint our location.

When you’re choosing a mosquito repellent for camping, the first consideration is the product’s effectiveness. The best way to determine that, beyond reading this review, is looking at the ingredients.

Ingredients: DEET vs. No DEET
Products with at least 20 percent DEET effectively deter mosquito bites. Most commonly, you’ll see 70 or more percent DEET in mosquito repellents. While DEET is highly effective it can have side effects such as rash, irritation, as well as vomiting, nausea, and upset stomach if swallowed. DEET isn’t the only option though, and there are other natural and chemical ingredients that repel mosquitoes with fewer side effects. A 2015 study found products with Picaridin, IR3535, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, or Permethrin effective at repelling mosquitoes.

Application

Once you’ve decided on the active ingredient you would like to use, you’ll next want to consider how you’ll apply the repellent. If you’re wearing shorts and a shirt, then you’ll want a spray that can cover a wide surface area. But, if you’re wearing long pants and a long shirt, especially if they’ve been treated with Permethrin, you only need to cover a small area. In that instance a lotion or small pump bottle is ideal.


Key Features

  • Protects Against: Mosquitoes
  • Odor: 2
  • Application: Aerosol spray
  • Size: 6 ounces
  • Active ingredients: 20 percent IR3535

Why It Made the Cut

If you’re opposed to DEET, this Coleman SkinSmart is a great alternative that’s effective at repelling mosquitoes.

Pro

Cons

  • Must shake before using
  • Aerosol

Product Description

The active ingredient in Coleman SkinSafe is IR3535, which is very close to DEET in efficacy, but with a lower odor and according to the WHO oral or skin exposure to IR3535 is less toxic than DEET. It’s still a chemical that will irritate your eyes and degrade plastics. In my testing I found SkinSafe to be very effective for about three hours and then the effectiveness tapered off. The aerosol dispenser is easy to use for full-body application, but you do need to shake it well or you’ll have intermittent dry sprays where nothing but aerosol comes out. The odor was minimal, and it left no uncomfortable residue on my skin.

Coleman Skin Safe Spray
The Coleman Skin Safe makes a solid DEET-free alternative. Scott Einsmann

Best for Your Pack: Repel 100

Repel 100 product card

Key Features

  • Protects Against: Mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, and flies
  • Odor: 5
  • Application: Pump
  • Size: 1 fluid ounce
  • Active ingredient: DEET 98.11 percent

Why It Made the Cut

These small bottles fit nicely in a side pocket or a hip belt pouch, and the 98 percent DEET formula is a proven mosquito repellent.

Pro

  • Easy to care
  • Non-aerosol
  • Effective

Cons

Product Description

If you’re hiking into tick and mosquito country, you want to break out the heavy protection and reapply as needed. That’s when I’d recommend bringing Repel 100. It’s a small bottle that uses a pump applicator to spray a 98 percent DEET formula. Just a few squirts onto your exposed will keep biting insects away for hours.

There are two main drawbacks with Repel 100. Frist, the pump applicator shoots out a small amount of repellent, so it’s not great for covering your full body. Second, some campers simply don’t want to use DEET because it’s not a natural product, and it has an extremely strong odor. But, if you don’t mind a little DEET then this is one of the best mosquito repellents to store in your pack for keeping the little nasties away.

Sawyer Picaridin Lotion

Key Features

  • Protects Against: Mosquitoes
  • Odor: 2
  • Application: Rubs into skin
  • Size: 4 fluid ounces
  • Active ingredients: 20 percent Picaridin, 1-Methylpropyl-2-(2-hydroxyethyl)-1-piperidine carboxylate

Why It Made the Cut

The Sawyer Mosquito Repellent Lotion lasts much longer than sprays and won’t leave a greasy residue on your skin.

Pro

  • Good for areas that are difficult to spray like hands, ears, and around the face.
  • Lasts up to 14 hours

Cons

  • Doesn’t easily apply to your whole body

Product Description

We typically think of mosquito repellent as something that comes in a bottle, usually aerosol, and is fogged onto our clothes and skin. But, repellent lotions are an effective alternative, which I found ideal for applying to my ears and neck. You apply the Sawyer Picaridin Lotion like sunscreen, and it doesn’t leave a film on your skin. It’s also fairly odorless and lasts a long time. So long, in fact, that my eight hour test day wasn’t long enough to hit its max protection window. However, it’s not easy to apply to your whole body. And while this repellent lotion isn’t a complete solution, it does fill a niche in your mosquito protection arsenal.

Sawyer Permethrin

Key Features

  • Protects Against: Mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, and flies
  • Odor: 1
  • Application: Spray on clothing
  • Size: 24 ounces
  • Active ingredients: Permethrin

Why It Made the Cut

Permethrin is the best tick repellent, but it also keeps mosquitoes away.

Pro

  • Repels more than mosquitoes
  • Lasts multiple washes

Cons

  • Not for applying to skin
  • Must be applied to clothing in advance

Product Description

If you camp and hike in an area with ticks or chiggers, there’s no better solution for keeping them off your skin than treating your clothing with Permethrin. But, it’s also an effective mosquito repellent. The caveats are that Permethrin only goes onto clothing, so you must be wearing long pants and sleeves treated with this repellent for it to work. And you’ll still need to hit spots not covered by clothing like your hands, neck, and ears with a skin safe repellent.

Sawyer Permethrin Spray
As long as your spray your gear well before heading out, Sawyer’s Permethrin has you covered for most situations. Scott Einsmann

Permethrin isn’t like a standard insect repellent because you don’t apply right before you head outdoors. You have to apply it to clothing in advance and allow it to dry. Sawyer claims that once treated, it lasts for six weeks or six washes. If you treat your best hiking shoes, hiking shirt, hiking pants, and even your tent before you leave for the trip, you’ll be covered for tick and mosquito protection all week.

Thermacell Mosquito Repellent Device

Key Features

  • Protects Against: Mosquitoes and gnats
  • Odor: 2
  • Application: Turn on device
  • Size: 7.8 x 2.9 x 1.8 inches
  • Active ingredients: D-cis/trans allethrin

Why It Made the Cut

I’ve spent hours in some of the buggiest swamps in the country, and the Thermacell MR450 made those enjoyable visits rather than horrific.

Pro

  • Works well on flying biting insects
  • Lasts for 12 hours
  • Easy to use

Cons

  • Doesn’t work in high winds
  • Doesn’t work well while actively hiking

Product Description

Thermacells require zero spraying or application of repellent to your skin or clothing. It’s a device with a heating element and a repellent mat warms over the element. The concept is similar to a citronella candle, but the Thermacell is far more effective. They are so effective that I won’t hunt or camp in the presence of mosquitoes without one of these devices.

You do have to refill the fuel and repellent mats, which adds up over time. And It also doesn’t work when there’s a strong breeze because the fumes it creates are pushed away from you. But, for sitting at a camp or while enjoying a meal in the backcountry this is an excellent option.

ThermaCell EX90

Key Features

  • Protects Against: Mosquitoes and gnats
  • Odor: 1
  • Application: Turn on device
  • Size: 4.5 x 4 x 2.5 inches
  • Active ingredients: Metofluthrin

Why It Made the Cut

The same protection as the classic Thermacell in a rechargeable device with an extended protection zone.

Pro

  • 20-foot protection zone
  • No fuel required

Cons

  • Not ideal for hunting, makes beeping sounds
  • Doesn’t work in windy conditions

Product Description

One of the drawbacks to the Thermacell MR450 is that it needs butane fuel cartridges and repellent mats. The EX90 addresses those by using a rechargeable battery and just one consumptive refill. While the EX90 isn’t ideal for taking on a backpacking trip or a hike due to its size, it is a great option for RVing, car camping, and the backyard.

Products that Didn’t Make the Cut

I tested two natural mosquito repellents and a repellent wrist band that didn’t make the cut. They were cut from my best mosquito repellent for camping list because they did not effectively repel mosquitoes. The wristband only protected the area around the band and did not offer full protection without using a lot of the product. And the natural repellents simply didn’t prevent bites. However, I am continuing my test on natural products and will update this review once I find alternatives that work.

How I Tested Mosquito Repellent

Does It Repel Mosquitoes

This was a straightforward test and a product had to pass this portion to be included in my list of best mosquito repellents for camping. I’ve had a warm and rainy spring which made for ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes. With no shortage of test subjects, I applied each mosquito repellent and went into the shady, damp, and mosquito infested area of ​​my property to see how each repellent performed at keeping bites at bay.

Odor

I know for a fact that 100% DEET is effective at keeping mosquitoes from biting. But, it also smells incredibly strong. There’s nothing pleasant about crawling into a sleeping bag wreaking of bug spray, or trying to enjoy one of the best camping meals of your life while getting wafts of bug juice. So, while odor is a key component of how mosquito repellent works, there are varying levels of offensiveness to the odor. I graded each repellent on a 1 to 5 point scale for odor with 5 being the strongest smell and one being the faintest.

Application

I evaluate the ease and consistency of each product. I looked for ones that were easy to apply and didn’t leave an unforgettable film on your skin.

In the field: Using the products while hiking, hunting, and fishing were an important part of my test protocol because it subjected the repellents to the elements, sweat, and a variety of environments.

FAQs

Q: What is the most effective mosquito repellent?

100 percent DEET is still the most effective mosquito repellent over long periods of time, but Picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, and Permethrin are also effective at repelling mosquitoes.

Q: How do I keep bugs away from my campsite?

The best way to keep mosquitoes away from a campsite is to use a mosquito repelling device like a Thermacell.

Q: How much does a mosquito repellent for camping cost?

Mosquito repellents for camping range in price from about $10 to $50. The price typically depends on the technology used and the amount of repellent in the bottle.

Final Thoughts

Camping is more fun without mosquitoes and while there are many products that work well, the key to finding the best mosquito repellent for camping is choosing the one that best fits your needs and camping style.





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