The Best Bug Repellents
Sawyer Products Premium Insect Repellent
The best bug repellent
This EPA-approved picaridin formula is safe, effective, and comes in a bottle that’s better than competitors at spraying evenly and accurately.
Our research led us to seek a spray with a 20 percent concentration of picaridin, a repellent chemical that’s as effective as DEET without the drawbacks. Picaridin is endorsed by the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, and independent tests prove it can repel mosquitoes and ticks for up to 12 hours. We zeroed in on Sawyer’s repellent in particular because it has approval from the Environmental Protection Agency, and its smart bottle design makes it easy to apply evenly and accurately. Its pump spray is less likely than aerosol competitors to over-spray or puddle on your skin, and its secure two-capped design prevents accidental leaks inside a backpack or other bag.
Natrapel Tick and Insect Repellent
Effective formula, messier application
Natrapel’s pump bottle spray is as effective as other 20 percent picaridin formulas, but it can puddle on your skin and has a lingering floral odor.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $8.
If you can’t find Sawyer, look for Natrapel Tick and Insect Repellent—with 20 percent picaridin in a pump bottle, it’s pretty similar. But its wetter spray puddles on the skin and its floral scent sticks around once it dries, whereas the Sawyer is odorless soon after application.
Cutter Backwoods Dry
The best DEET-based repellent
DEET formulas work and are widely available—but they aren’t more effective than picaridin (they tend to smell bad and feel oily, too). Cutter Backwoods Dry, with its even aerosol spray and locking cap, is the best DEET repellent we’ve found.
(pack of two)
*At the time of publishing, the price was $3.
DEET isn’t our first choice because it smells bad, feels oily, and can damage plastic and synthetic fabrics. There’s no question it’s effective—decades of tests and studies have established it as the gold standard in bug repellents—but it’s no more effective than picaridin. If you can only find (or prefer) this classic formula, the best version we’ve found is Cutter Backwoods Dry. It protects against mosquitoes and ticks for up to ten hours, and it smells milder and feels less oily than other DEET formulations we tried. Its locking cap is a design improvement many aerosol sprays lack.
Sawyer Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent
For clothing and gear, and tick protection
For clothing and gear (but not skin), Sawyer’s permethrin repellent is as effective as similar formulas at repelling ticks and mosquitoes, and its trigger spray is easier to control.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $10.
To give your clothing and gear (but not your skin) an added level of protection against ticks, we recommend Sawyer Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent, a formula with 0.5 percent permethrin. Like the other permethrin sprays we looked at, each application gives about six washings (or six weeks, whichever comes first) of protection. This bottle’s trigger spray is easier to control and apply evenly than others we tried; the 12-ounce size is enough to treat two outfits (shirt, pants, socks).