Which Insect Repellent Is Best?

There are two main reasons for wearing insect repellent. Insect bites are painful and annoying, but more importantly insect bites can cause illness and disease. According to Consumer Reports about one-third of U.S. adults use insect repellent during the summer. Only half of them actually read the label before buying bug spray, however. Not all bug sprays and insect repellents are the same. Choosing the right ingredients, and the right concentration of ingredients, is important. Here is some information to help you decide which insect repellent is best for you.


DEET has long been the standard for bug sprays. It’s proven effective against ticks and mosquitoes.┬áConsumer Reports found that concentrations of 15-30% DEET effectively prevent mosquito and tick bites.

However, DEET has also been known to dissolve plastics and harm gear, and concentrations over 30% could present a risk for rash, disorientation, or seizure. Here’s one hiker’s test where DEET dissolves a waterproof membrane on a pair of hard shell pants.

Basically, when it comes to DEET you need to find the right balance. A concentration too low won’t provide protection, and concentrations too high can be dangerous. You want a DEET concentration of more than 7%, but no more than 30%.


Picaradin is as effective as, or more effective than, DEET in the same concentrations. Unlike DEET, however, picaradin is safe to use on gear. This means that insect repellent with picaridin won’t dissolve your waterproof membranes or put a hole in your synthetic hiking shirt. Also, there’s currently no information suggesting health risks with picaridin.

Sawyer’s Fisherman’s Formula with a 20% concentration of picaridin was Consumer Report’s top pick. It provides hours of protection against mosquitoes, ticks, and chiggers.

Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE)

Oil of lemon eucalyptus is the only natural plant-based compound that effectively protects against ticks and mosquitoes, according to Consumer Reports. Although OLE proved to be an effective bug spray it was not as effective as insect repellents with picaridin or DEET.

A 30% concentration provided 7 hours of protection from ticks and mosquitoes, whereas a 20% concentration of picaridin offered 8 hours of protection.


Permetherin is not used in insect repellents for direct use on skin. It is, however, a safe and effective treatment for clothing and gear. It’s used as an insect repellent treatment for clothing, backpacks, tents, trail shoes, hiking boots, etc. Sawyer’s permetherin insect repellent treatment lasts 6 weeks or 6 washings.

So, which insect repellent is best?

Insect repellents with a concentration of 20% picaradin, 15-30% DEET, or 30% OLE all provide long-lasting protection against ticks and mosquitoes. According to Consumer Reports, Sawyer’s Fisherman’s Formula with 20% picaridin performed the best overall, and is the mosquito repellent that best protects against Zika virus. We carry Fisherman’s Formula along with other insect repellents and bug sprays. Stop by and see us at Uncle Sam’s Safari Outfitters!

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