7 Best Insect Repellents

We tested the best insect repellents on the market for 2024 and this is how they performed.

Updated on January 22nd, 2024
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We tested the best insect repellents on the market today according to price, weight, packability, and effectiveness. Read on to see how they performed, which is best for you, and receive some valuable buying advice.

Best Insect Repellents

The best insect repellents are:

The product comparison table below is sortable. Click the arrow in the heading cell to sort the models by preferred spec.







1. SAWYER 20% Picaridin Insect Repellent $8.95 4 oz Topical Spray Ticks, Mosquitoes, Stable flies, Black flies, Gnats, Chiggers, Sand flies 8-12 hours 9/10
2. BEN'S 100 Max Pump Spray $6.99 1.25 oz Pump Spray Ticks, Mosquitoes 10 hours 9/10
3. REPEL Lemon Eucalyptus Natural Mosquito Repellent  $10.99 4 oz Pump Spray Mosquitoes 6 hours 8/10
4. BITE BLOCKERS Organic Xtreme Insect Spray  $8.95 6.7 oz Pump Spray Ticks, Mosquitoes 2-8 hours 8/10
5. SAWYER Permethrin Fabric Treatment $14.00 12 oz Pump Spray Ticks, Mosquitoes, Spiders, Chiggers, Mites, and 55 other kinds of insects 6 weeks or 6 washes 7/10
6. NOW Essential Oils - CITRONELLA OIL $7.99 1 oz Oil Mosquitoes, Flies 30 minutes 7/10
7. KONG NATURALS - CATNIP $10 1 oz Pump Spray Mosquitoes, Flies, Roaches, Mites, and other insects 30 minutes 7/10

Best Overall Insect Repellent

SAWYER 20% Picaridin Insect Repellent

Price: $8.95

Sawyer Products 20% Picaridin Insect Repellent (PICARIDIN)

✅ Inexpensive

✅ Very effective

✅ Lasts up to 12 hours


❌ Chemical repellent with little safety data


  • Weight: 4 oz
  • Type: Topical Spray
  • Protects Against: Ticks, Mosquitoes, Stable flies, Black flies, Gnats, Chiggers, Sand flies
  • Duration: 8-12 hours

Picaridin was developed in Europe as an alternative to DEET in the 1980s. It was chemically synthesized to mimic the natural compound piperine, which is found in the plants used to make black pepper.

We like that it’s as effective as DEET at being one of the best tick repellents and one of the best mosquito repellents.

Our favorite picaridin spray is the Sawyer Products 20% Picaridin Insect Repellent. This 3-ounce bottle offers a lot of concentrated sprays, which last for up to 8 hours. We like that ounce-per-ounce this spray is cheaper than DEET.

Like DEET, this is a chemical spray, which we only like to use when absolutely necessary. Unlike DEET, picaridin is colorless, odorless, doesn't irritate the skin, and won't damage gear or clothing.

This, coupled with its superb effectiveness and low cost, makes the Sawyer Products 20% Picaridin Insect Repellent our pick for the best overall insect repellent.

Best Lightweight and Packable Insect Repellent

BEN’S 100 Max Pump Spray

Price: $6.99

Ben's 100 Max Pump Spray (DEET)

✅ Very effective

✅ Packable

✅ Lasts up to 10 hours


❌ Chemical repellent with safety concerns


  • Weight: 1.25 oz
  • Type: Pump Spray
  • Protects Against: Ticks, Mosquitoes
  • Duration: 10 hours

The synthetic compound N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide (DEET) is the gold standard to which all other bug sprays are compared.

DEET was developed in the 1940s for the US Army during World War II and was first used publicly in the 1950s. DEET is one of the best tick repellents and one of the best mosquito repellents. It’s also good against black flies.

We like Ben’s 100 Max Pump Spray for its superb packability. The small, 1.25-ounce spray bottle fits in a pocket or hip pouch with ease. And because it’s highly concentrated stuff that lasts up to 10 hours, it should last you up to a week. We also like the orange color of the bottle, which makes it easy to keep track of.

The biggest drawback for us with DEET is its chemical repellent with questionable safety for your skin and the environment. It also can cause damage to gear containing rubber, plastic, leather, vinyl, rayon, spandex, or elastic.

Still, if you're in heavy bug country, we found Ben’s 100 Max Pump Spray is one of the most effective and lightweight bug sprays around.

Best Natural Insect Repellent

REPEL Lemon Eucalyptus Natural Mosquito Repellent

Price: $10.99

Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Natural Mosquito Repellent

✅ Best natural repellent

✅ Affordable


❌ Less packable

❌ Smell can permeate gear and food


  • Weight: 4 oz
  • Type: Pump Spray
  • Protects Against: Mosquitoes
  • Duration: 6 hours

The Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Natural Mosquito Repellent is a concentrated version of lemon eucalyptus oil, which is extracted from the leaves and twigs of the lemon-scented gum eucalyptus plant, Eucalyptus citriodora.

PMD is the active ingredient in the Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus and is equally as effective as DEET. We found it doesn’t last as long as DEET and needs to be reapplied every few hours. Possibly more if the bugs are really bad. The biggest bonus is that it is much less caustic.

Repel’s 4-ounce bottle is larger than other insect repellents we tested, but if you’re hiking as a pair or in a small group, it’s usually enough to last for a week-long trip.

A big drawback is its smell. It smells good on you, especially nice after a few days of hiker funk. However, forget to close the bottle, and the strong smell of OLE will permeate everything in your pack. (Author's note: I once shipped a bottle of Repel in a resupply box, and for the next week, all of my food tasted like OLE 🤢).

The price of Repel is reasonable, falling slightly cheaper than average. If you’re looking for the most effective natural insect repellent, Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Natural Mosquito Repellent is our top pick.

Be careful when shopping for Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus products. Some bug sprays contain lemon eucalyptus oil which is an essential oil extract that contains small amounts of the active ingredient PMD. Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus is a concentrated version of this essential oil and contains up to 70% PMD.

Best Insect Repellent for Clothing & Gear Treatment

SAWYER Permethrin Fabric Treatment

Sawyer Permethrin Fabric Treatment (PERMETHRIN)

✅ Inexpensive

✅ Most effective clothing and gear treatment


❌ Not for use on skin

❌ Needs to be pre-applied


  • Weight: 12 oz
  • Type: Pump Spray
  • Protects Against: Ticks, Mosquitoes, Spiders, Chiggers, Mites, and 55 other kinds of insects
  • Duration: 6 weeks or 6 washes

Sawyer Permethrin Fabric Treatment is a permethrin spray that is applied to clothes and gear before you head into the backcountry. We love this stuff for many reasons. It kills bugs on contact rather than repels them.

Although it is a chemical insecticide, because it is pre-applied to clothes, it’s less harmful to your skin.

We like that permethrin spray can be applied to gear too. Spray your tent or hammock in permethrin for extra protection against insects.

Not only is it great against ticks and mosquitoes, but just about any insect that comes in contact with permethrin is toast. You should note that Sawyer Permethrin Fabric Treatment is not for use on the skin, so you’ll still want to bring an insect repellent for any exposed areas when hiking.

The only real downside for us is the time it takes to apply beforehand. But the good news is it lasts up to 6 washes. And the really good news is if you buy an article of clothing already treated with permethrin spray, it can last up to 70 washes!

You can read more about Permethrin in our overview.

The Other Noteworthy Models

BITE BLOCKERS Organic Xtreme Insect Spray

Price: $8.95

Bite Blockers Organic Xtreme Insect Spray

✅ Inexpensive


❌ Less effective


  • Weight: 6.7 oz
  • Type: Pump Spray
  • Protects Against: Ticks, Mosquitoes
  • Duration: 2-8 hours

Among the neutral plant oils, BiteBlocker® Organic Xtreme Insect Spray soybean oil is one of the most effective. It doesn't compare to DEET or even concentrated OLE, but it does provide protection in small doses.

We like that this product is all-natural and organic. We found the 6.7 ounces bottle to be the heaviest on our list. We wouldn’t recommend taking this backpacking unless you were sharing it around.

It is the least expensive bug spray per ounce that we tested. However, it needs to be reapplied every couple of hours, so you will go through it faster than chemical options.

NOW Essential Oils - Citronella Oil

Price: $7.99


✅ Lightweight packaging


❌ Less effective

❌ Expensive


  • Weight: 1 oz
  • Type: Oil
  • Protects Against: Mosquitoes, Flies
  • Duration: 30 minutes

Now Essential Oil citronella or lemongrass oil is derived from the Cymbopogon citratus plant. We found it was effective against mosquitoes and flies, but its limited lifespan means it needs to be reapplied every 30 minutes, making it one of the least effective in our review.

It’s also more expensive than other options, including more effective natural options. We’d recommend this for those with sensitive skin, for short hikes, or in areas with low bug activity.

This is the same oil that is most commonly packaged into candles that are burned as a backyard repellent. The strong citrusy smell is very distinctive and can make everything in your pack smell like citronella if it leaks.


Price: $10

Kong Naturals - CATNIP

✅ Lightweight

✅ Packable


❌ Expensive

❌ Not as effective


  • Weight: 1 oz
  • Type: Pump Spray
  • Protects Against: Mosquitoes, Flies, Roaches, Mites, and other insects
  • Duration: 30 minutes

Catnip is known for its ability to drive cats wild, but it also works as an insect repellent. Kong Naturals catnip is our favorite catnip oil spray.

We love the tiny, 1-ounce spray bottle that packs away easily into a pocket or fanny pack. While the Kong spray is effective, it wears off quickly, lasting just 30 minutes before you need to reapply. We also found it to be expensive, at almost $10 per ounce, the most expensive we tested.

The small travel size is hard to beat, and we like the Kong Naturals catnip spray for short walks, or when you want a small, natural spray just in case the bugs get bad.

Key Factors To Consider When Choosing


When comparing prices of insect repellents, look at the cost per ounce and how often you’ll need to apply the repellent.

Repellents that are more concentrated might only need to be applied a few times a day.

Essential oils are generally the most expensive and need to be applied the most frequently, a double whammy on your wallet.

Insect repellent that provides the greatest value:

Most Affordable insect repellent:

Premium insect repellent (most expensive):


Insect repellents come in all shapes and sizes. For backpacking, make sure your spray is lightweight. No more than 4 ounces. In most cases, 1 or 2 ounces should be more than enough for a trip.

Packability is important too. You don’t want the bottle to break or leak in your pack. If you have a pump spray, make sure it has a cover to avoid accidentally depressing the spray button.

The lightest & most packable insect repellents:


Effectiveness is a mix of how long a product works for and the number of insects that it protects against. Chemical repellents such as DEET, Picaridin, and Permethrin are the most effective. Natural repellents, like oil of lemon eucalyptus, are effective but need to be reapplied more often.

We recommend using a natural repellent in mild to moderate bug conditions and saving the chemical options in the worst conditions when it’s really needed. Later in the article, we’ll give a full breakdown of each type of repellent.

The most effective insect repellents:

Other Things to Consider


Let’s take a deeper dive into each of the main ingredients found in insect repellent.


One of the most effective when used in high concentrations. It’s long been the gold standard to which all other repellents are compared.

Most commercially available DEET is sold in concentrations ranging from 10% (about 2 hours of protection) up to 100% (up to 10 hours). Some versions feature a time-release formula that can provide up to 10 hours of protection.

DEET will come off when you sweat, so you should plan to reapply as needed or use a sweat-resistant lotion. Some people also find it to be greasy when applied to the skin.

It is widely used in repellents against biting insects like black flies, mosquitoes, and ticks. It is sold as either a spray, a lotion, or in wipes that you apply to your skin or clothing.

Be careful when you apply; DEET is a plasticizer and can damage rubber, plastic, leather, vinyl, rayon, spandex, or elastic.


Picaridin is a DEET alternative that was developed in Europe in the 1980s and made available in the US in 2005. While relatively new, it is equally as effective as DEET when used at lower concentrations (20%).

As a bonus, it lacks some of DEET's unpleasant side effects. It is odorless, non-greasy, and doesn't damage gear or clothing. It is available in concentrations between 7% and 20% which provides about 8-12 hours of protection. It is sold as either a spray, a lotion, or in wipes.


Permethrin is a treatment for clothing and gear (not your skin) that needs to be applied before heading into the backcountry. It works a little differently; it kills (not repels) ticks, mosquitoes, and other arthropods.

This insecticide is typically sprayed on gear and clothing because it is odorless and won't cause any stains. Once treated, Permethrin can last for up to 6 washings. Clothing that is purchased with a pre-applied Permethrin treatment can be washed 70 times before it needs to be re-treated.

Permethrin is not used on the skin because there are no benefits to applying it topically.


Oil of lemon eucalyptus is moderately effective but widely considered to be safer. The best plant-derived formulas provide about 3-6 hours of protection, the equivalent of a low dosage of DEET.

Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, a chemically synthesized or refined version of lemon eucalyptus oil, is the most effective plant-based formula.


Other natural bug sprays include essential oils such as lemongrass, citronella, peppermint, geraniol, soybean, and rosemary. These products don't last as long as the Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus providing less than an hour of protection.

These oils are available as sprays or lotions. You can even buy them separately and make your own custom repellent mix.

Insects You're Trying to Avoid

Before you even pick up a can of insect repellent, you need to think about the insects you are trying to avoid and whether you actually need a chemical repellent to deal with them.

Some insects carry diseases that can harm you, while others are just a nuisance that makes your trip uncomfortable. Mosquitoes and ticks are by far the two most common insects you will encounter on the trail and the two most pressing to deal with.

MOSQUITOES: West Nile Virus and encephalitis in the USA; Malaria and Dengue fever in tropical regions.

In tropical areas, mosquitoes carry a wide range of diseases, including malaria, Dengue fever, and other serious illnesses. You need to be aware of these diseases when traveling internationally, but they are not a significant concern if you are staying within the US.

In the United States, mosquitoes carry fewer diseases - but that doesn't mean we can be complacent about them. Mosquitoes can transmit the West Nile virus and encephalitis.

West Nile virus is one of the most common mosquito-borne diseases and produces a flu-like illness in most people. There were 2,002 reported cases of West Nile Virus in 2021 in the USA.

Encephalitis, which is an inflammation of the brain, is a much more severe disease. It causes flu-like conditions and in rare cases, brain damage and death. Thankfully, it is relatively obscure, with only a handful of cases reported each year.

TICKS: Lyme disease and rare fevers.

Probably the most challenging pests that you'll encounter on the trail. They are small, sometimes too small to see, and can bite you without you noticing.

There are about a dozen different ticks in the US, but only a few spread disease. The diseases they do carry range from mild flu-like symptoms to severe infections that lead to hospitalizations and long-term antibiotic treatment.

The most common ticks encountered on the trail are the deer or black-legged tick and the dog or wood tick. Though the dog tick can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, it is very rare. It's the deer tick that is responsible for the majority of reported tick-borne illnesses.

Lyme disease is the most well-known disease you can get from a tick and one of the most serious. If you contract Lyme disease, you can expect a two- or three-week course of antibiotics. Don't mess around with ticks and Lyme. If left untreated, Lyme disease could lead to life-long complications that affect your quality of life.

BLACK FLIES: No diseases in the USA; onchocerciasis and mansonellosis in tropical regions.

A great example of an insect that doesn't really require a repellent. These tiny biting flies are a nuisance, but they don't commonly carry disease.

In the spring, when the air gets thick with these biting flies, your best strategy is to cover your exposed skin with clothing and bug netting, hike quickly through the swarms and get to a higher elevation where they are present in much lower numbers.

Thankfully, the black fly season is short and not something hikers have to contend with for the whole season.

insect bites mosquito black fly tick

The most common insects you will encounter on the trail are mosquitos, ticks and black flies.


DEET: Questionable.

DEET's safety record has been questioned, but studies have shown that it is safe to apply at commercially available concentrations (10% - 100%) when used as directed.

Most problems with DEET arise from overuse or from ingesting the chemical. DEET is registered by the EPA as a biopesticide and has been studied extensively since its development in 1946.

Adults can use any concentration of DEET, while children should use concentrations of 30% or less. You should not use repellents on infants younger than two months.

If you are concerned about DEET, then apply it only when needed and use lower dosages under 30%. A higher concentration DEET is no more effective than a lower one. It only lasts longer. You also can apply the repellent to clothing and not your skin.

PICARIDIN: Undetermined.

Available in the US only since 2005, Picaridin is a relative newcomer to the repellent market. Though it is regulated by the FDA, it doesn't have the decades of research and usage behind it like DEET.

Existing studies show that Picaridin is safe to use, but not enough time has passed for any long-term health effects to show up.

PERMETHRIN: Generally considered safe.

As long as you follow the manufacturer's instructions and don't ingest it. See our full Permethrin Spray Safety Guide.


Also known as "OLE", it is unique among botanicals. It is the only plant-based bug spray classified by the government as a 'biopesticide". It contains a chemical, PMD, that is an effective repellent.

The repellent can be refined from lemon eucalyptus oil to contain up to 70 % PMD or synthesized chemically and sold commercially as PMD. Be careful not to confuse the PMD-rich Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus with lemon eucalyptus essential oil, which is low in PMD and not nearly as effective against bugs.


The essential oils (lemongrass, citronella, peppermint, geraniol, soybean, and rosemary) are not regulated by the EPA because their use does not pose any serious health risks. They are safe to use, so the EPA doesn't bother to test them to see how well they work.

Synthetic vs. Natural

There are two broad categories of repellents - synthetic compounds that are man-made and natural repellents that are derived from plants and plant extracts.


The most popular synthetic repellent is N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide, otherwise known as DEET. An estimated one-third of the US population uses DEET each year. The repellent Picaridin and the insecticide permethrin also are synthetic compounds used as an alternative to DEET.


Natural formulas work just like chemical counterparts and, in some cases, are equally as effective at lower concentrations. Most of these natural formulas are "essential oils" or other plant-based extracts and are considered to be kinder and gentler than their chemical counterparts. They don't stain clothing or ruin gear like chemical repellents.

Even though they may be natural, it doesn't mean they are without problems. Just like synthetic formulas, you need to be careful when applying natural solutions to your skin, as they could cause a rash, especially if you have sensitive skin.

permethrin vs lemon eucalyptus

(Permethrin Chemical and Lemon Eucalyptus)

Other Oils

There are several common essential oils that are used in bug sprays, including geranium oil, cinnamon oil, lavender, and tea tree oil.

When combined, these alternative oils have been shown to ward off insects for 30 minutes or less, making them useful for short adventures that don't require the heavy-duty protection of DEET, Picaridin, or OLE.

If you prefer not to use a topical repellent but still want protection from insects, then you are out of luck. Most alternatives, like sound-emitting bracelets or garlic capsules, have not been found to be effective against insects.

Even repellent-infused bracelets have limited usage, as most bug sprays are effective only over a small distance. A repellent on your wrist won't help your exposed calves.

bug insect repellent geranium oil cinnamon oil lavender tea tree oil


If you are looking to make your own insect repellent, you'll have to visit your local essential oils supplier to get your components. Once your essential oil cupboard is stocked, making a homemade repellent is simple.

Add the following ingredients to a 2-ounce spray bottle, shake to mix, and apply as needed. Make sure to shake each time before using and store in a cool, dark place.

*Recipe 1: 1 teaspoon sweet almond oil (carrier oil), 12 drops lemongrass, 6 drops eucalyptus, 2 drops citronella

*Recipe 2: 6 ounces witch hazel, 2 ounces castor oil, 5 drops cinnamon oil, 15 drops eucalyptus oil, 15 drops citronella oil

Justin Sprecher photo

About Justin Sprecher

Justin is a thru-hiker and writer with a passion for wild backcountry. He's thru-hiked the Pacific Northwest Trail, LASHed the Great Divide Trail and Arizona Trail, and clocked up 1,000s of miles on long-distance trails around the world.

About Greenbelly

After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage created Greenbelly to provide fast, filling and balanced meals to backpackers. Chris also wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail.

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