Lifetime Fitness

7 Best Mosquito Repellents to Keep Bugs at Bay

These bug-banishing sprays, devices, and treatments will help you make the most of your time outdoors.

Nature is awesome. Until it starts biting. We’re talking about mosquitos—those pesky, almost invisible creatures that may serve some equally unseen role in our ecosystem, but from our backyards, they simply exist to ruin the great outdoors. 

I live in the Southern Appalachians, famous for its moonshine and vibrant mosquito population. I can tell you from vast experience that nothing ruins a camping trip, backyard cookout, or stroll in the woods like an onslaught of mosquito bites. And it might get worse. 

Some research suggests that as temperatures continue to warm as a result of climate change, mosquito season will start earlier in spring and last later in fall.  

Related: 7 Ways to Mosquito-proof Your Summer Camping Trip

The solution? Be vigilant about mosquito repellent. You could stay inside all summer long and just watch Discovery documentaries to get your virtual nature fix, or you could arm yourself out there with the best products designed to repel the peskiest creature on the planet. We’ll opt for the latter.

How Does Mosquito Repellent Work?

Most mosquito repellents break down into two different categories: sprays and liquids containing chemicals like DEET, picaridin, and permethrin, which you apply directly to your body and clothes; and slow-release chemicals that emanate into the air from devices designed to repel mosquitoes in a defined space.


DEET is the most commonly used active ingredient in mosquito repellents applied to your skin, and it’s long been proven to work. It doesn’t kill the mosquitoes, but it makes it hard for those bugs to smell us, so they can’t find us. The EPA continues to study DEET and still upholds that it’s perfectly safe for humans, though it has been shown to be slightly toxic to birds and fish. It can also be greasy on your skin. 


Picaridin is the most common and effective alternative to DEET, and studies show it to be just as powerful in repelling mosquitoes. It’s less greasy than DEET and is an actual deterrent—so instead of simply masking your smell, it forms a vapor barrier at the skin surface that keeps the bugs away.

Related: The Best Subscription Boxes for Outdoor Gear 


The active ingredient in devices that discharge repellent into the air is metofluthrin—an EPA-approved chemical that’s been labeled “non-toxic” to humans. It’s safe to use around pets too, as long as you follow the instructions. It has proven to be an effective deterrent for mosquitoes, as long as it’s not windy, as the wind will blow the deterrent out of the designated mosquito free-zone.

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Then there are the permethrin-based products that are applied to your clothing and gear, like tents. Permethrin over-excites the bug’s nervous system and paralyzes it. The benefit of this type of repellent is that treated clothing will be effective after multiple washes without the need to reapply it. 

Related: The Most Versatile Backpacks a Man Can Own

Natural Mosquito Repellent

You can make your own chemical-free bug repellent with essential oils like lavender, peppermint, lemongrass, and/or cinnamon oil. There are also sprays that utilize geraniol and sodium lauryl sulfate to deter mosquitoes. 

The CDC recommends permethrin-treated clothing as a safe mosquito repellent, but you should consider tripling up on your protection by wearing treated clothing, using a skin repellent, and sitting next to a mosquito-repellent device. To that end, here are seven products that actually work to repel mosquitoes.  

Best Mosquito Repellents: Devices, Sprays, and Treatments

1. Thermacell Glow Light

Instead of applying repellent to your body, Glow Light disperses a metafluthrin-based repellent into the air, creating a 20-foot mosquito-free barrier. The device runs on a rechargeable battery, which heats up the active ingredient in a replaceable cartridge, offering several hours of protection. Thermacell offers a variety of products that work the same way, each with varying barrier levels. We like Glow Light because it doubles as a table lantern, and its 20-foot radius is a reasonable size for a picnic table.

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2. Tiki Bitefighter Lights

Everyone likes string lights. They add a certain festive sophistication to your outdoor space. String lights that also double as mosquito repellent? Now that’s a win-win. Tiki Brand’s Bitefighter Lights intersperse commercial grade outdoor lights with individual mosquito-repellent devices that use metafluthrin to create a mosquito-free zone. Hang the 36-feet of lights to fit your space, and together, the replaceable pods offer up to 200 hours of mosquito repellency for a 330-square-foot area.

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3. Thermacell Backpacker

Just like Thermacell’s Glow Light, the Backpacker is a device that heats up and disperses metafluthrin to create a 15-foot, mosquito-free zone. Unlike the Glow Light, the Backpacker runs on tiny propane canisters, so you can take it into the backcountry and enjoy a mosquito-free evening while you’re camping in the wild.

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Related: The App That Helps You Build a Better Backyard

4. Sawyer Fabric Treatment

Designed to use on clothing and gear, this permethrin-based fabric treatment gets bugs so excited they enter a state of paralysis and can’t function (i.e. bite). Instead of applying this treatment to your skin, you spray your clothing and tent. You’ll only be able to treat a handful of layers with each bottle, but one treatment lasts six washes.

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5. Cutter Backwoods Dry Insect Repellent

Cutter Backwoods is arguably the standard-bearer of mosquito repellents, and in more camping boxes than any other product out there. Why? It works. The aerosol spray is easy to apply to your skin and the 25 percent DEET solution is proven to keep mosquitos from biting for several hours. Some users complain about the greasy skin and chemical-ish smell, but for us it’s an easy tradeoff.

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6. Natrapel Eco-Spray

Here’s the alternative to DEET-based products that works almost as well. Natrapel uses picaridin, which is an odorless chemical that forms a vapor barrier around your skin, helping to keep bugs from landing on you. It’s not as greasy as DEET, and can be applied to your clothing without ruining it.

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Related: The Ultimate Primitive Camping Checklist for Overlanders

7. EcoBuggy Max

If you’re looking for a chemical-free alternative to standard repellents, EcoBuggy 100-percent, plant-based solution repels mosquitoes more naturally with a pleasing lemongrass/peppermint oil smell. The key ingredients are geraniol and sodium lauryl sulfate—both of which have been proven in labs to work better than other popular natural options like citronella. 

[$20 for a two pack;]
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