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Best Overall: Sawyer Premium Insect Repellent at Amazon
"More effective at repelling biting flies than DEET."
Best Value: Bug Protector All-Natural Repellent at REI
"One of the most cost-effective, DEET-free options."
Best Wipes: Ben's Tick and Insect Repellent Wipes at REI
"Offers better control and placement than with liquids or sprays."
"Provides a no-chemical solution to protect you and your loved ones."
Best Lotion: 3M Ultrathon Insect Repellent Lotion at Amazon
"Lets you place the repellent where you need it most."
Best Electronic: Thermacell Radius Zone Repeller at Amazon
"Generates a 15-foot dome of protection that’s easy to use and mess- and scent-free."
Most Portable: Thermacell MR300 Mosquito Repeller at Amazon
"Provides protection against mosquitoes in a pocket- and travel-friendly package."
Best for Severe Conditions: Repel 100 Insect Repellent at Amazon
"Offers serious protection against all types of insects."
Best for Gear: Ben’s Clothing and Gear Insect Repellent at Amazon
"Another layer of protection without worrying about damaging your high-end gear."
Bugs are a necessary evil of traveling and exploring the great outdoors. And though mosquitos are the most common pest, travelers also have to contend with a host of other insects like ticks, biting flies, and gnats, just to name a few. But using the correct bug repellent is about more than avoiding a few bites. Some of the most pernicious bugs are also carriers of Lyme disease as well as the Zika, West Nile, Dengue, and Chikungunya viruses. If your travels include locales where instances of infection are a real possibility, or for really bug-dense environments, repellents with DEET is a must. But that volatile chemical comes with risks and a host of warnings in the instructions. For destinations with lesser invasions, opt instead for repellents with a lower percentage of DEET or those with all-natural active ingredients in the formulas.
With those considerations in mind, here are the best bug repellents available.
Our Top Picks
Best Overall: Sawyer Premium Insect Repellent
The highly-rated Sawyer Premium Insect Repellent contains 20 percent Picaridin — meaning it's more effective at repelling biting flies than DEET and helps ward off disease-carrying mosquitos, ticks, chiggers, and more insects. In particular, it fights off yellow fever mosquitos, which can transmit Zika. Get all-day protection, as the Sawyer spray is effective of up to 12 hours against bugs. Even more, the long-lasting, fragrance-free repellent is safe to use for the whole family and won't damage clothing, bags, accessories, or other synthetic fabrics. This twin pack comes with 4-ounce pump sprays.
Best Value: Bug Protector All-Natural Repellent
You can easily score a two-ounce bottle of Bug Protector All-Natural Repellent for almost half the price of other bug repellents and sprays, making it one of the most cost-effective, DEET-free options. Instead of that powerful chemical, it uses a variety of bug-repelling oils — lemongrass, geranium, peppermint, and cinnamon — in a recipe that also includes water, glycerin, castor oil, vitamin E, citric acid, and a few other ingredients. It works pretty well, though unlike DEET products, which typically have a wide window of effective duration, this one needs to be re-applied every two hours. For locales with dense bugs, you may want to upgrade to DEET, but because of its modest chemical composition, you can apply this repellent to anything with confidence, including kids, pets, and all manner of fabric and materials.
Best Wipes: Ben's Tick and Insect Repellent Wipes
Sold in packs of 12, Ben's 30% Tick and Insect Repellent Wipes offer easy application of bug repellent liquid — simply tear open the package and apply directly, offering better control and placement than with liquids or sprays. Made of 30 percent DEET, the fragrance-free water-based formula contains no alcohol, so that it evaporates slowly and avoids direct skin absorption. It repels bugs and insects for up to eight hours, and is very travel-friendly — just take as many as you need for a few days, and leave the rest behind without adding bulk to your kit or risk spillage of a lotion or spray.
Best Band: Cliganic Mosquito Repellent Bracelets
The Mosquito Bracelets from Cliganic provides a no-chemical solution to protect you and your loved ones from mosquitos. Rather than direct on-skin application, it uses a mixture of active ingredients like geraniol, lemongrass, and citronella oils to repel Aedex, Culex, and Anopheles mosquitoes — but, notably, does not fend off other bugs like gnats or ticks. Each ten-pack comes in a resealable bag that helps maintain the life of the product. The bands themselves are non-toxic and water- and sweat-proof and have proven to be non-irritant on children of all ages. If you're in places with lots of mosquitos, use them frequently — the one-size-fits-all bands easily wrap around your ankle or wrist, as well as chair legs/arms and tree branches.
Best Lotion: 3M Ultrathon Insect Repellent Lotion
3M's Ultrathon Lotion insect repellent provides 12 hours of protection thanks to a chemical formula that includes 34.4 percent DEET to fend off mosquitos, gnats, ticks, and all the other bugs that can ruin any potential outing. And unlike sprays, the lotion application lets you place the repellent where you need it most — your face, hands, and neck, and at the seams of your sleeves or above your socks. It absorbs quickly with an “outdoor” scent that almost smells like pine. Bonus: some users say that the lotion has also helped heal dry skin patches.
Best Electronic: Thermacell Radius Zone Mosquito Repeller
Anyone looking to extend mosquito repellency in a wide radius while on a boat, deck, or patio will love the Radius Zone Mosquito Repeller from Thermacell. Simply press the button at the center, and the device generates a 15-foot dome of protection that’s easy to use and mess- and scent-free. Its active ingredient, pyrethroids, naturally occurs in the chrysanthemum flower, so the protection is also DEET free. It runs for up to 6.5 hours on a single charge, and its battery is a travel-friendly, lithium-ion that can be charged while the device is in use, reaching full recharge in five hours. It also comes with a lock option to avoid accidentally turning the device on when it’s locked in your suitcase, as well as a shut-off timer that can be triggered after two hours of continuous use. Each repellent cartridge will fend off bugs for up to 40 hours.
Most Portable: Thermacell MR300 Mosquito Repeller
The MR300 from Thermacell provides a 15-foot radius of protection against mosquitoes in a pocket- and travel-friendly package that’s both portable and lightweight. Just strap it on the outside of your pack or toss it on your camp table, and though it doesn’t fight off other insects, the trans allethrin active ingredient keeps the targeted mosquitoes at bay. It “ignites” with the flick of a button for spray-, DEET-, scent-, and flame-free coverage. Each package contains one repeller and 12 hours of refills, along with three repellent mats and one fuel cartridge.
Best for Severe Conditions: Repel 100 Insect Repellent
With a formula that includes 98.11 percent DEET, the Repel 100 pump spray offers serious protection against all types of insects, including mosquitos, ticks, gnats, biting flies, chiggers, and fleas for up to 10 hours in a single application. As with other DEET products, it should not be applied to synthetic fabrics like rayon or spandex as well as leather, plastics, and painted and varnished surfaces, but won’t damage cotton, wool, and nylon.
Best for Gear: Ben’s Clothing and Gear Insect Repellent
The highly volatile chemicals in DEET can have a lasting impact on certain fabrics, which means that your clothing is at risk of damage when using those products. To help fix this, use Clothing and Gear Continuous Spray from Ben’s, which uses a formula of .05 percent permethrin to repel mosquitos, ticks, and other insects. Spray it on your shoes, socks, jackets, and even your tent to add another layer of protection without worrying about damaging your high-end travel, hike, or camping gear. The formula bonds with the fabric fibers to deliver up to two weeks of protection that can survive several washings. The six-ounce can provides enough protection for two complete outfits or one set of gear (depending on how big your kit might be), and it sprays out in a clean, continuous fashion to make application a breeze.