The Best Outdoor Insect Repellents for Camping


Insects are generally a nuisance while camping and hiking outdoors. Some insects carry pathogenic viruses and bacteria. West Nile, Zika, Malaria, and Lyme Disease are just a few of the pathogens that insects carry. Bites causing these infections often require medical treatment.

There are several options for protecting your skin from the bites of mosquitoes, fleas, flies, gnats, chiggers, and ticks. Choosing the best outdoor insect repellent for camping depends on your personal preferences.

Quick Comparison Table​

​Choosing the Best Insect Repellent for Camping

​There are a few key factors to consider when choosing the right insect repellent for you.

Ingredients of the product are often the first thing to consider. You might want a strong proven chemical based repellent that is also moisture and sweat proof. An alternative to that is an all natural repellent that does not contain any chemicals or potential skin irritants.

​The desired type of application is the next thing to consider. There are sprays and wipes that are applied directly to your skin or clothing. Lotions can be applied to bare skin, but don't apply well to clothing. There are also repellants that are not topically applied directly to the skin. These would be found in the form of wrist and ankle bands or pouches that attach to a belt loop or button hole.

​Choosing Ingredients

​DEET (chemically known as N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamideis) is the most common and effective chemical found in many commercial insect repellents. It has been used as a repellent in the United States since the 1950s.

There have been fears raised around the safety of DEET when applied directly to the skin or inhaled. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, DEET can be used on children as young as two months in concentrations up to 30%. When choosing a DEET based product for children, look for products with a 30% or less concentration of DEET.

Products containing higher concentrations should be used only on adults, and at the discretion of the user. Some manufacturers of repellents prepared with DEET have claimed that the chemical is viable for up to 12 hours. This is ideal for getting a full night's sleep. It is advisable to initially test a chemical based insect repellent on a small area of skin to be sure it is not an irritant.

​Natural insect repellants mostly consist of combinations of essential oils. They do not contain chemicals like DEET. This is advantageous for people who are uncomfortable with using a synthetic product or those who have an adverse skin reaction to a chemical based product.

Some of the oils found to be most effective are citronella, geranium, lavender, lemongrass, peppermint, and rosemary. These oils are suspended in a carrier oil, such as mineral or jojoba oil, and have been shown to be quite safe when used on the skin.

If possible, smell the product before you purchase it. Or, read online reviews about the aroma. I happen to like the smell of essential oils, but they can be too strong for some, especially citronella. Natural repellants likely need to be reapplied every more often than synthetic ones.

​It is advisable to test a small area of skin with either type of repellent to make sure there is no irritation or allergic type reaction. As with most topical products, avoid ingesting, inhaling, or getting them near your eyes.

​Application Types

​Most spray and wipe applied repellants can be used on areas of exposed skin and on your clothing. Lotions are best applied only to bare skin, as they can stain clothing. Some products have ingredients that make them moisture resistant or even waterproof. This can be especially helpful while hiking and working up sweat, or while swimming.

​The wrist and ankle bands are great for wearing while sitting around the campfire or while hiking. Unless the product claims to be waterproof, they aren't reliable if you intend to swim with them on.

These types of repellents are mostly recommended for deterring flying insects, especially mosquitoes. They are less effective against ticks. They might not offer as much overall protection as the topically applied repellants, but they are not as messy to deal with. The same is true for the types that you can be clipped onto your belt or through a button hole.

​Options for Some Top Rated Repellents for Outdoor Camping

I have researched a variety of different applications and ingredients of products that have received a high number of positive reviews. I have tested some products on myself and my family. Some of these are manufactured by well know companies and have been on the market for a long time. These can all be purchased at outdoor sporting goods stores, many chain hardware stores, or easily online.

Ultrathon Lotion by 3M

The primary active ingredient in Ultrathon lotion is 34.45% DEET. The application type is a 2 ounce squeezable lotion in a plastic tube.

Ultrathon is a good product for maximum protection against a variety of insects for a long period of time.


  • This product targets a variety of insects, such as, mosquitoes, ticks, flies, chiggers, gnats, and fleas.
  • It is time released and claims to last for a full 12 hours, making it ideal for sleeping through the night.
  • It is waterproof, making it great for swimming or working up a sweat without having to reapply.
  • The package is small and easy to slip into a backpack.
  • This is available in affordable 2 and 3 packs.


  • The consistency is thick, which makes it a little messy to apply.
  • Applying the lotion to clothing is difficult.
  • It is not recommended for use on children.

​OFF is likely a household name to many. OFF Deep Woods is marketed specifically to the outdoor camping and hiking enthusiast. The primary active ingredient is a 25% concentration of DEET. The application type is an aerosol spray from a can. Sizes are available in 6, 8, 9, and 11 ounce cans.


  • This product targets a variety of insects, such as, mosquitoes, ticks, flies, chiggers, gnats, and fleas.
  • The manufacturer claims that the repellent lasts up to 8 hours. This is good for full day hikes and getting several hours of sleep.
  • It is easy to apply to the torso, legs, and arms.
  • The variety of sizes available makes the product competitively priced.


  • Safe application to the face area is not easy with the spray.
  • The cans are somewhat cumbersome to carry on a hike. They are better suited for use at a campsite.
  • The cans are marked as flammable. Keeping them away from a campfire is a must.

​Strikeback is an all natural insect repellent made up of a combination of the essential oils geraniol, peppermint, and rosemary in a mineral oil base. The application type is a 4 ounce plastic pump style bottle. I have used essential oils many times to repel insects and find them very effective for shorter periods of time.

​Strikeback is a good alternative to synthetic insect repellents. This product is most easily purchased online.


  • This product targets a variety of insects.
  • The pump spray makes it easy to apply to the skin or clothing.
  • It lasts up to 6 hours.
  • The slim bottle is easy to slip into a backpack.
  • There are no synthetic ingredients, making it ideal for the entire family.
  • The aroma of the essential oils is pleasant for most people.


  • Having to reapply every 6 hours might not be ideal for long hikes or sleeping through the night.
  • The cost is slightly higher than synthetic repellents.

​The primary active ingredient in Cutter Wipes is 7.15% DEET. The application type is a disposable soft wipe or towelette.

​The reason I like Cutter Wipes is because they are so convenient to carry and use. I also like that the ingredients dry well on clothing. I use these to apply repellent to my socks and hiking shoes, as well as on my skin. The lower concentration of DEET is appealing to me. Reapplying after a few hours is not an issue because I can carry a packet in my back pocket.


  • This product is easy to apply to bare skin, especially around the face. It can be wiped on clothing as well. The ingredients are not oily and will dry quickly.
  • The 3 ounce resealable packets have 15 wipes. They slip easily into a pocket or backpack for hiking.
  • The small concentration of DEET makes this repellent suitable for children.
  • Cutter wipes are competitively priced, especially when purchased in bulk.


  • Although the product contains DEET, the manufacturer only claims that the wipes are mosquito repellents.
  • There isn’t sufficient information on how long the application lasts.

​The ProtectUS mosquito repellent kit consists of a wrist or ankle band, a clip, and four repellent inserts. The repellent inserts are made from an essential oil blend of citronella, geranium, lavender, and peppermint.

​The most appealing thing about the ProtectUS repellent kit is not having to deal with direct skin contact or applying lotions and sprays that can be considered messy. This product seems best suited for outdoor camping and hiking in cooler and dryer conditions when extensive protection might not be as necessary.


  • There is no direct skin contact. The repellent inserts are worn inside the wrist or ankle band, or the clip. Possible skin irritation is not a factor.
  • The bands and clips are compact, lightweight, and easy to travel with.
  • Each insert last up to 15 days.
  • The materials are waterproof.
  • The essential oils make this ideal for use with children.
  • The price is competitive for the amount of time the manufacturer claims these will last.


  • The product is only advertized as being a mosquito repellent. The oils used are repellents for many types of insects.
  • The repellent may not offer as much overall protection as some of the products that can be applied to cover a larger surface area.


​The selection of the best outdoor insect repellent for camping and hiking is a personal choice. You can choose to use a product with a synthetic chemical as the primary active ingredient, or opt for a product with all natural ingredients. There are at least five types of applications to choose from.

Both chemical based and natural products are generally available in all types of applications. You may want to use more than one product tailored to different activities. Remember to test a small area of skin for irritation before applying a repellent. Always be mindful not to ingest repellents or to get them in your eyes.