It’s summer, so you should be living the good life. Grilling outside, hiking outside, just… existing outside. That’s what summer is for. But for many of us with sweet, delicious blood, mosquitos make the great outdoors a lot less fun.
Fortunately, there are solutions.
Best mosquito repellents
Sure, you’ve probably used bug spray, but what’s the best bug spray? Like most things in life, there isn’t one simple answer. Instead, you should combine layers of mosquito protection by using a repellent for your skin (what we typically think of as bug spray), repellent specially designed for clothing, and if you’re really feeling the buzz, an airborne repellent designed to cover a large area.
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Mosquito repellents for your skin
Here you’ve got two main options, DEET and picaridin, and some less effective but more natural options like lemon eucalyptus oil.
DEET is considered the best at repelling not just mosquitos, but a whole bunch of different creepy crawlies, like ticks. If you’ve ever used bug spray before, it was probably a DEET-based spray. It’s good and works well, but you should keep in mind that DEET does degrade some plastics, so it’s important to keep it away from your expensive camping or backpacking gear where possible.
Picaridin is considered a close second to DEET’s repelling power, but you’ll notice that products based on Picaridin are quoted as offering protection of up to 14 hours, two more than 100 percent DEET products.
When you search for picaridin repellents, you’ll probably notice that they only go up to 20 percent. My hunch is that this whole percentage business is mostly marketing, because Sawyer’s picaridin wipes (shown below) are “20 percent” but are also rated at 14 hours of protection.
Let's talk about lemon eucalyptus oil. Right off the bat, I wouldn’t exactly call lemon eucalyptus oil repellents “natural” because they use a refined version of the oil. That little nitpick aside, lemon eucalyptus oil repellents do actually work, just not as well as DEET or for as long. The big thing to keep in mind with these repellents is that they do cause eye irritation, making them a poor choice for young children.
Best mosquito repellents for your clothes
If you live in a mosquito-dense area or hike or climb in one, occasionally seasoning your skin with mosquito repellent likely won't be enough. Instead, you'll probably have to double up with clothing and gear that's been treated with mosquito repellent called permethrin. You can do this yourself at home or buy clothing and gear that's already been treated, and yes, the treatment will last for some number of washes, at least according to manufacturers.
Permethrin is pretty cool stuff — it’s a synthetic chemical based on the stuff you can find in chrysanthemum flowers, and it was originally used by the military to keep insects away from soldiers.
Best mosquito repellents (and traps) for your yard
Keeping mosquitos out of your yard is even harder than keeping them off your skin. After all, there’s a lot of ground to cover. You’ve got a few main options: airborne repellents, traps, and zappers.
Let’s start with the airborne repellents. The clear market leader here is Thermacell, which offers a number of devices that put allethrin, a compound similar to permethrin, into the air.
I did a little poking around to see whether breathing allethrin is safe, and as you might imagine, huffing the stuff is probably not a good idea. At the same time, this piece from Wilderness Instinct raises a good point: mosquito-borne diseases can potentially be much more dangerous.
If you don’t want to breathe chemicals, another option is to use traps. These use a mosquito attractant to lure the little bloodsuckers into special cages where they can get in but can’t get out.
Like the yard traps shown above, bug zappers use an attractant to lure mosquitoes in, but instead of trapping them it just wipes them out with electricity. Brutal, yes, but perhaps more humane? I’m not sure where we stand on flying vampire insect ethics, but these devices will definitely eliminate lots of mosquitos if that is what you desire.