Best insect repellent for camping

There are a number of people who avoid camping because they are not real keen on bugs. Even those who don’t mind bugs are not necessarily thrilled to have them around.

While bites and stings are common , dealing with them can be more difficult when camping. Discomfort or illness may lead to discomfort and/or a change in plans.

Fortunately, there are options available to keep the bugs away. The following will discuss the types of insect repellent available and review a variety of options, to include natural insect repellent.

Hopefully this information will help you choose the insect repellent that works best for you when camping.

Picardin, Deet, IR3535, Permethrin, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus

There are several types of insect repellent that you can choose from: Picardin, Deet, IR3535, Permethrin and Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus


Picardin is an insect (and mosquito) repellent that is considered to be of similar strength as Deet. Picardin’s website states that Picardin is “more pleasant to use” (than Deet) and should cause less skin irritation in the user.

Picaridin (also known as Icaridin and Bayrepel) is a Piperidine derivative that was created by Bayer ®. It has been an option as a repellent throughout the world since 1998 (available in the US since 2005). Its website states that it is one of the best-selling repellents in Europe.

In 2000, the World Health Organization announced that Picaridin was its recommended product for repelling mosquitos that carry malaria, pointing to its safety and effectiveness and that in some situations it was more effective than Deet.

In 2005 the U.S. Centers for Disease Control added Picaridin to its list of repellents that are successful in preventing West Nile Disease. Picaridin is considered more effective than Deet when it comes to flies.


  • Nearly odorless
  • Does not irritate skin
  • Long lasting
  • Effective against mosquitos, deer ticks, common ticks, flies, biting gnats


  • Is a chemical


Developed in 1946 by the U.S. Army, Deet has been popular since 1957. With concentrations ranging from 10% to 98%, Deet offers anywhere from two hours to ten hours of protection. There are also controlled-release formulas with a concentration of 30-34% that can provide protection for up to 12 hours.

Deet has gone through significant safety testing and it is both registered with the EPA and has received endorsement for use from the CDC. The EPA believes (based on toxicology data) that normal use of Deet is not a health concern to the U.S. population in general.

Anecdotal reports that are few and far between have linked Deet to seizures, however there is no lab data confirming this. Deet can damage rubber, plastic, leather, vinyl, rayon, spandex, elastic and auto paint, therefore it is important to wash your hands after applying Deet before touching anything.

When children are using Deet, it is important that the concentrations be no more than 30%. You should not apply Deet to cuts, wounds or irritated skin.

Deet is particularly effective against ticks, especially when used in conjunction with clothing treated with permethrin.


  • A wide range of concentrations are available
  • Has been around for a long time
  • Very effective against mosquitos and ticks


  • Smells bad
  • ​Can cause damage to materials
  • Very rare instances of neurological effects


IR3535 stands for Insect Repellent 3535 and is a synthetic repellent that was created by Merck in the 1980’s. It is a synthetic amino acid that causes havoc with an insect’s sense of smell and can be effective for up to eight hours.

IR3535 has a similar structure to the natural substance B-alanine, which is a beta amino acid. This repellent has been utilized in Europe for over 30 years, and has an excellent safety record. It is one of just four repellents that have been recommended by the CDC for protection from mosquitos that are carrying the Zika Virus.


  • Great against mosquitos
  • Effective for up to 8 hours


  • Less information available on IR3535 than other options


A synthetic variety of Pyrethrum (Pyrethrin), permethrin is a substance that occurs naturally and protects plants from insects. Rather than work as a repellent, permethrin is an insecticide, meaning that it kills insects.

Users of permethrin will spray it onto their clothing and/ior other materials; permethrin is not to be used on a person, just their clothing. Should you choose to use along with Picaridin or Deet, Permethrin will be very effective in protecting you from mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, bedbugs, flies, chiggers and more.


  • No odor
  • Natural substance
  • Safe for clothing; in fact that is what it is meant for


  • Will have to be used on conjunction with another repellent
  • Kills insects, does not just repel them

Oil of Lemon Eucaplyptus

A plant-based substance, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus has proven to be as effective as low concentrations of Deet when it comes to repelling mosquitoes. The product is natural, coming from eucalyptus leaves and twigs, but then synthesized for production and sale.

Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus does have a sent, though it is thought to be “pleasant”. This natural product is much less likely to irritate the skin of the person wearing the repellent than Deet repellents.

Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus has not been tested against mosquitoes that are responsible for spredding malaria or other diseases outside of the U.S.; should you be where Malaria is a concern, you will want to choose a repellent that contains Picaridin or Deet.


  • A natural product
  • Pleasant scent.
  • Tests have shown it to be the most effective herbal repellent


  • Has not been tested against mosquitos that transmit malaria
  • Eye irritation occurs should the substance get into your eyes.

Best Insect Repellent Reviews

Now that we are familiar with the different types of insect repellents that are available, we can learn more about the different insect repellents that are available to be purchased. There are a great number of options available, making it difficult to know where to start.

The following insect repellent reviews are intended to provide the information necessary to make a decision as far as what the best repellent is for you. You will want to take into account where you will be camping and spending time outdoors when you plan to use the repellent, to be sure that you have the best option for your circumstances.

Repel 100 Insect Repellent

Consisting of a 98.1 percent Deet formula, Repel 100 repels mosquitoes (including those that transmit the Chikungunya, Zika, Dengue and West Nile viruses), ticks, chiggers, and biting flies and will last for up to 10 hours. The repellent promises to be great for areas where there are a lot of insects and/or when you will be outdoors for long periods of time.

Many people note that the smell of the product is not so great and it is thick and oily. While there are drawbacks, the protection is excellent.


  • Provides protection for up to 10 hours
  • Very high concentration of Deet
  • Reviewers confirm its effectiveness in environments that have many insects

3M Ultrathon Insect Repellent Lotion

Containing 33% Deet in a controlled release polymer, the 3M Ultrathon Insect Repellent Lotion evaporates more slowly in order to offer a great length of protection. First developed for the U.S. Military, it provides up to 12 hours of protection against mosquitoes and tics, as well as biting flies, gnats, chiggers, leeches and fleas; two hours longer than the Repel 100 Insect Repellent.

The lotion is resistant to sweat and small amounts of water and has been tested in the world’s most challenging environments. In its description on Amazon, it states that it is the number-one rated insect repellent for skin. Reviewers note that it is indeed effective though it has a strong smell.


  • Long lasting protection
  • A lotion versus a spray; apply as you would sunscreen
  • Contains less Deet than the Repel 100 Insect Repellent

Repel Sportsmen Max

Another option including Deet, Repel Sportsmen Max offers eight hours of protection against mosquitoes, ticks, gnats, biting flies, chiggers and fleas. The formula includes 40 percent Deet and is effective at keeping away mosquitoes that may transmit the following viruses: Chikungunya, Zika, Dengue and West Nile.

Reviewers confirm the effectiveness of Repel Sportsmen Max in a number of harsh environments. Those who used it report that it is sticky, thick and oily.

​Features :

  • Offers up to eight hours of protection
  • Contains less Deet than the Repel 100 Insect Repellent but more than the 3M Ultrathon Insect Repellent

Sawyer Product Premium Insect Repellent

Formulated with 20 percent Picaridin, the Sawyer Product Premium Insect Repellent is advertised on Amazon as more effective at repelling biting flies than Deet. Available as a spray or lotion, it is effective at repelling mosquitos and ticks for up to 14 hours and up to eight hours against repelling biting flies, stable flies, black flies, gnats, chiggers and sand flies.

Sawyer Product Premium Insect Repellent is successful at repelling the Yellow Fever Mosquito, which can transmit the Zika virus. Considered the Fisherman’s Formula by Consumer Reports in its list of safe and effective repellents.

Features :

  • Available as a spray or a lotion
  • Can be applied to skin, clothing and gear; won’t harm the items you have with you on your adventures
  • ​Advertised as having minimal odor and that it is not oily
  • Longest lasting of the products reviewed

Sawyer Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent

Sawyer Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent is repellent for your clothes. Advertised to be as effective as 100% Deet, it successfully repels (and kills) the Yellow Fever Mosquito that is responsible for Zika, as well as ticks, chiggers and mites.

A 12-ounce bottle will be sufficient to treat two complete outfits and the repellent will last for six washings, while not damaging your clothes or any outdoor gear that it is sprayed on. The repellent is odorless, offering protection without the toxic smell.

The Sawyer Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent can also be used on gear; spray it on your tent or backpack, for example. When treating clothing, apply the repellent outdoors before it is worn and then let it dry for two hours (or four in humid conditions).

​Features :

  • Specifically used on gear and clothing
  • Lasts for six washes of your clothing
  • No smell once it dries

Best Natural Insect Repellent

In addition to repellent options that contain Deet or Permethrin, there are natural insect repellents available. Many folks that spend a significant amount of time out in nature prefer products that do not have chemicals in them, perhaps out of concern for how it will impact their body and/or how the product will impact the environment.

A natural insect repellent will contain all natural products (no Deet or Permethrin) and will typically be less sticky and oily than the synthetic options. An often asked question is whether the natural repellents are as effective as those that contain Deet or Permethrin.

The following natural insect repellent reviews will help with your decision-making.

Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Natural Insect Repellent

Made of Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, this natural insect repellent has no Deet and will not cause harm to your gear. Its strong scent (considered to be cool and refreshing) will repel mosquitoes and deer ticks for up to six hours.

Several reviewers on Amazon felt that the scent was not a particularly good one. As far as what else the repellent is made of, the label notes that while Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus makes up 30%, the other 70% is “other ingredients”. For some, that is understandably concerning. Reviewers not that ethanol is a part of the ingredients, leading to warnings to keep it away from eyes and flames.

Features :

  • Deet free/chemical free
  • Mystery ingredients
  • Effective for up to six hours; less than the other options already discussed

Bite Blocker Insect Repellent

Bite Blocker Insect Repellent is proven to be 97% effective against mosquitoes, offering between four and eight hours of protection. This all-natural product is safe for children and won’t harm any of the gear it may get on.

Bite Blocker Insect Repellent is made of products that are listed as minimum risk by the EPA, to include: coconut oil, soybean oil, purified water, geranium oil, glycerin, lecithin and vanillin. The product is even safe for infants, though you will want to be careful with the amount you apply on the skin of a baby.

​Features :

  • All natural/non-toxic with no mystery ingredients
  • Safe to use on babies and young children
  • Offers four to eight hours of protection

Bite Blocker Organic Insect Repellent Spray

Made of an “Xtreme botanical formula”, Bite Blocker Organic Insect Repellent Spray offers protection against mosquitoes, blackflies (up to eight hours), and ticks (more than two hours). Active ingredients include soybean oil, geranium oil, and castor oil, while inert ingredients include purified water, coconut oil, glycerin, lecithin, wintergreen oil, citric acid, sodium bicarbonate and benzoic acid.

Bite Blocker Organic Insect Repellent Spray is waterproof and advertised as “safe for the entire family”. It is recommended that users apply the repellent every 3.5 hours to their skin and it can be applied to clothing for added protection.

The repellent does have a scent that users may or may not find to be pleasant.

Features :

  • Natural ingredients
  • Waterproof
  • Can be applied to skin and clothing
  • Repels insects for longer than Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Natural Insect Repellent

Natural Insect Repellent for Babies

Some repellents, particularly those that contain chemicals, are not safe for babies. Parents are understandably concerned about how to protect their babies under six months old when spending time outdoors. Fortunately, there are options.

California Baby Bug Repellent Spray

For those seeking a repellent for their baby, California Baby Bug Repellent Spray is an option to consider. Made with vegetable and plant based ingredients, it is non-toxic, chemical free, non-invasive and non-irritating.

Advertised to smell like a citronella candle, its ingredients include citronella, lemongrass and cedar. It can also be used on your pets. The repellent is organic, and contains no nuts, gluten, soy, oat or dairy. Adults with sensitive skin can also utilize this repellent.

​Features :

  • Natural ingredients
  • Gentle for your baby
  • Per reviews, this product may or may not be effective.

Home Made Bug Spray Recipes

There are a variety of reasons that one may choose to make their own bug spray. For one, making your own bug repellent allows you to be sure of exactly what the repellent contains. This is particularly important for those who tend to be sensitive to chemicals.

Making repellent at home can also be very cost effective, particularly if you use a lot of repellent. Check out these links below for recipes you can follow to make your own natural and economical repellent.

Recipes from Wellnessmama : http://wellnessmama.com/2565/homemade-bug-spray/

Recipes from The Prairie Homestead :http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2013/07/natural-homemade-insect-repellent-recipes.html

Recipes From Survival at Home : http://survivalathome.com/5-homemade-mosquito-repellents/

Common Mistakes when using Bug Spray

Best insect repellent for camping

As with most things, it is possible to make mistakes when using bug spray. By getting an idea of the mistakes you can potentially make ahead of time, you can be aware of how to avoid them. Here are some common mistakes to keep in mind:

  • Don’t put your bug repellent on first. Put sunscreen on and THEN put on the bug repellent.
  • Make sure that you read the label of the bug repellent you are using. Be sure that it will repel the bugs that you will be encountering. Not all repellents work against all insects.
  • Don’t put your bug repellent on inside. Putting in on outdoors will help you avoid breathing in the chemicals that are in the repellent.
  • You want to cover all areas of your body. No need to overdo it. Putting on two layers (or three) of repellent won’t be more effective than one layer.
  • After using bug repellent, take a shower and wash the repellent off. No need to exposure yourself to more chemicals.
  • Look for a black and yellow repellency awareness graphic which will tell you how long the repellent has been proven to be effective against mosquitoes and ticks. The graphic also means that the company has given the EPA the necessary data to back up their claims of effectiveness

Other Ways to Prevent Insect Bites

Insect repellent is not the only option when you are looking to keep insects away. One possibility is to purchase a repellent candle.

Candles are great for camping and for outdoor events. With a candle, those who did not put on repellent will still be offered protection from insect bites.

For those that don’t want to put on an oily or greasy substance, the candle will offer some protection.

Repel 94116 Citronella Triple Wick Candle

The Repel 94116 Citronella Triple Wick Candle is an option to consider. The 20-ounce bucket candle will burn for up to 40 hours and is made with real citronella oil. The candle is said to repel mosquitoes and other flying insects.

According to its advertisement on Amazon, the Repel 94116 Citronella Triple Wick Candle is developed especially for those who are into the outdoors. The candle has a wide base, making it stable for when you are outdoors.

The candle is said to reduce the number of mosquitoes, however bites still do take place.

Features :

  • Lasts for a long time
  • Citronella scent
  • Easy to keep stable

Clip-on Mosquito Repellent

Another option to consider is the Off! Clip-on Mosquito Repellent. This unique product provides you with full body protection for up to 12 hours. The product is a small fan that takes two AA batteries to operate, along with a refill of the repellent.

According to reviewers, each refill will last for 12 hours (four refills come with the fan).The product received mixed reviews on Amazon though it seems like it might be a good option to try for those who prefer to not have to put on spray or lotion repellent.

Features :

  • Offers protection for your whole body
  • No oily or greasy substance to put on
  • Requires two AA batteries

While the variety of options for insect repellent may seem overwhelming, the availability of so many options means that there is something available to meet the needs of everyone. When looking at what is the best option for you, first consider where you will be outdoors and what insects you will need the repellent to be effective against.

Next consider whether you prefer a natural repellent or whether you are comfortable with a product that includes Deet or Permethrin. You can then make sure that the type of product you prefer will be effective against the insects that you will encounter.

Fortunately, there are numerous reviews of different products available, so that you can get an idea of the experiences others have had with the product. Choosing a good repellent is key to avoiding distractions and discomfort on your adventures!

What insect repellent has worked best for you? Please share your experiences.


My name is William, a family man with two kids and the passion for camping. I started Pandaneo with sharing memorable camping experiences back as a newbie camper, introducing my family to the love for the great outdoors. As time passed, we started traveling across states, trying to hit as many campsites we can!