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There’s only one thing worse than hauling a camping tent and canoe along a dirt path on a backwoods camping expedition: hauling a tent and canoe across a dirt path while being eaten alive by insects. But the best insect repellent can protect you against bug bites for hours, allowing you to be active outdoors in any condition. With a strong bug spray, you can hike through any woodsy trail without running in a frenzy from unwanted pests or taking periodic breaks to itch that hard-to-reach bite behind your knee.
Insect repellent, aka bug spray, can be a godsend during mosquito season, but it’s not just about keeping you comfortable outdoors. Pests like ticks can carry blood-borne diseases such as Lyme disease, and the best bug spray can help protect you from serious health risks. The top bug sprays defend you against viruses known to be carried by mosquitoes, like the Zika, West Nile and Dengue viruses. Insect repellent contains ingredients such as DEET, picaridin or citronella to ward off bugs.
It’s important to pack a bottle of bug spray before any outdoor excursion, even if it’s just lounging in your backyard. Check out SPY’s list below and get your hands on the best insect repellent available right now.
The Best Insect Repellent at a Glance
1. Best for Camping: Cutter Backwoods Dry Insect Repellent — $6.48 on Amazon
2. Runner Up: Sawyer Products 20% Picaridin Insect Repellent — $5.97 on Amazon
3. Best for Sensitive Skin: Cutter Skinsations Insect Repellent — $7.12 at Walmart
4. Best for Babies: Babyganics Insect Spray — $20.78 on Amazon
5. Best Plant-Based: Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent — $4.97 on Amazon
6. Best for a Large Area: OFF! Outdoor Bug Fogger — $6.99 on Amazon
7. Best Lotion Repellent: Ultrathon Insect Repellent Lotion — $9.98 on Amazon
1. Cutter Backwoods Dry Insect Repellent
BEST FOR CAMPING
Nothing beats the Cutter Backwoods Dry Insect Repellent when it comes to protecting yourself from bug bites outdoors. This top bug spray can protect you against bugs for up to 10 hours. It repels several outdoor pests, including mosquitoes, deer ticks, biting flies and more. Its sweat-resistant formula contains 25% DEET, so it is strong but still safe for use on children. Because of its long-lasting effects that you won’t sweat off, we think this is the best insect repellent available for serious outdoor activities like camping and hiking.
Why It’s the Best: If you prefer DEET-free bug spray, then we’ve included some alternatives below. However, when we’re in tick country, we say bring on the DEET, and Cutter Backwoods Dry has everything we’re looking for in the best insect repellent.
2. Sawyer Products 20% Picaridin Insect Repellent
This option from Sawyer uses a unique formula and is one of the best bug sprays. Its active ingredient, Picaridin, replaces the more traditional DEET and is effective in repelling mosquitoes and ticks for up to 12 hours. It can protect against ticks and gnats for up to 8 hours. Picaridin is pretty comparable to DEET when it comes to repelling bugs, but it is gentler on synthetic fabrics and plastics, meaning it won’t damage certain clothes and outdoor accessories. This is the best insect repellent if you’re curious about a bug spray that doesn’t use DEET.
3. Cutter Skinsations Insect Repellent
BEST FOR SENSITIVE SKIN
Cutter Skinsations Insect Repellent is the best bug spray for people with dry or sensitive skin. With a gentle formula that contains 7% DEET along with Aloe and Vitamin E, you’ll repel bugs and soften your skin all at once. This bug spray never feels oily or greasy and has a fresh, clean scent. It’s not quite as strong as other options by Cutter, so we recommend this top bug spray for casual outdoor activities or everyday use.
4. Babyganics Insect Spray
BEST FOR BABIES
This insect spray from Babyganics is formulated with plants and essential oils, such as citronella, rosemary, peppermint, lemongrass and geranium. The spray smells great to humans but pungent to mosquitoes, gnats and flies. While this option doesn’t contain the traditional ingredients for repelling bugs, it relies on the powers of natural oils to keep your baby bug-free.
5. Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent
This DEET-free insect repellent is made from the oils of the Eucalyptus citriodora tree and leaves you with a cool, refreshing scent. It repels mosquitoes for up to 6 hours and won’t leave you feeling greasy or sticky, so it’s perfect for short outdoor excursions or everyday use. If you value natural products, this is your best insect repellent.
6. OFF! Outdoor Bug Fogger
BEST FOR LARGE AREA
This bug repellent spray from OFF! can kill and repel bugs in a 900-square-foot space for up to six hours. This is not meant for skin or clothing; Outdoor Bug Frogger is intended to be sprayed on outdoor surfaces like garbage cans and compost piles. While we think some personal insect repellents would be a better choice, this is great for using in a pinch or as an extra precaution on a buggy day.
Read More: The Best Mosquito-Proof Clothing
7. Ultrathon Insect Repellent Lotion
While not exactly a bug spray, we felt we had to include at least one insect repellent lotion. Bug sprays are certainly more popular, but a lotion repellent can be convenient and easy to travel with. This Ultrathon 2-oz. tube of insect repellent lotion is TSA-approved, so it’s great for packing on trips. Containing 34.34% DEET, this option boasts 12-hour protection against mosquitoes and other biting insects.