The Best Bug Repellents | Reviews by Wirecutter

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Our pick

Sawyer Products Premium Insect Repellent

This EPA-approved picaridin formula is safe and effective, and it comes in a bottle that’s better than competitors’ bottles at spraying evenly and accurately.

Our research led us to seek a spray with a 20 percent concentration of picaridin, a repellent chemical that’s as effective as DEET but without the drawbacks. Sawyer is our favorite, but any repellent with 20 percent picaridin should have the same effectiveness. We zeroed in on Sawyer Products Premium Insect Repellent with 20 percent picaridin in particular because its smart bottle design makes it easy to apply evenly and accurately. Its pump spray is less likely than aerosol competitors’ to overspray or leave a puddle on your skin, and its secure, two-capped design prevents accidental leaks inside a backpack or other bag. Sawyer’s repellent is widely available in a variety of sizes—smaller ones for the backpack and a larger size to keep by the front door.

Also great

Proven Mosquito and Tick Spray

Just as effective as our other picaridin-based picks, Proven’s spray comes in a convenient transparent bottle, but it has only a single cap and limited sizes.

Buying Options

*At the time of publishing, the price was $0.

Proven Mosquito and Tick Spray is another 20 percent picaridin repellent, and it should work just as well as the others. We like the clear bottle, but the spray can be a little spitty. Proven’s bottle comes in only one size and has a single cap. It’s available in odorless or Gentle Scent.

Also great

Natrapel Tick and Insect Repellent

Natrapel’s pump-spray bottle offers the same protection as other 20 percent picaridin formulas, but it can puddle on your skin and has a lingering floral odor.

You can get effective results from Natrapel Tick and Insect Repellent—with 20 percent picaridin in a pump-spray bottle, it has the same effectiveness against ticks and mosquitoes as the others. But its wetter spray puddles on the skin, and its floral scent sticks around once it dries.

Also great

Ranger Ready Picaridin Tick + Insect Repellent

Ranger Ready’s protection from ticks and mosquitoes equals that of the other picaridin formulas. We had trouble with the bottle’s pump spray, but we appreciated a variety of size and scent options.

Ranger Ready Picaridin Tick + Insect Repellent has a pump spray, but it’s really spitty. There were times when it just shot out a little stream of liquid with almost no spray cloud at all. Still, the 20 percent picaridin provides the same protection as the others. It’s available in a variety of sizes (3.4 ounces to 24 ounces) and scents.

Also great

Ben’s Tick Repellent

Same picaridin, same protection. We found Ben’s aerosol spray tough to apply in a breeze and easy to overspray. But it was handy for treating shoes, since it sprays well even when it’s upside-down.

Buying Options

*At the time of publishing, the price was $10.

Although marketed for ticks, Ben’s Tick Repellent contains 20 percent picaridin, making it just as effective against mosquitoes as the other brands we are recommending. It comes in an aerosol can that delivers a heavy load of repellent and is prone to overspraying. But it also sprays well upside down, so it’s easier to apply to feet.

Also great

Natrapel Tick and Insect Repellent (aerosol spray)

This picaridin spray also works. We find aerosol sprays generally harder to apply than pump sprays, but their tendency to overspray can work well for treating shoes.

Buying Options

*At the time of publishing, the price was $12.

Natrapel Tick and Insect Repellent is very similar to Ben’s Tick Repellent, and it has the same 20 percent picaridin effectiveness as the others.

Also great

Off! Defense Insect Repellent is like the other 20 percent picaridin formulas. It has a light floral odor which dissipates over time and is available in a 5-oz aerosol or a 4-ounce pump spray.

Also great

Cutter Backwoods Tick Defense contains 15 percent picaridin and not 20 percent, like the others. This means it has the same repellency strength, but the effective duration is not as long—up to 10 hours instead of up to 12 hours. It goes on with a strong smell, but once dried, it’s odorless. Up to 10 hours is plenty of protection, so we see this as a worthy competitor to the 20 percent formulas, like Sawyer.

Also great

Repel Tick Defense

Like Cutter’s Backwoods Tick Defense, Repel Tick Defense uses less picaridin than the others. It works, but for less time

Repel Tick Defense is another 15 percent picaridin formula. It’s very similar to Cutter’s Backwoods Tick Defense, down to the size, shape, and red color of the spray nozzle.

Also great

Cutter Backwoods Dry

DEET formulas work and are widely available—but they aren’t more effective than picaridin (they tend to smell bad and feel oily, too). Cutter Backwoods Dry, with its even aerosol spray and locking cap, is the best DEET repellent we’ve found.

DEET isn’t our first choice because it smells bad, feels oily, and can damage plastic and synthetic fabrics. There’s no question it’s effective—decades of tests and studies have established it as the gold standard in bug repellents—but it’s no more effective than picaridin. If you can only find (or you prefer) this classic formula, the best version we’ve found is Cutter Backwoods Dry. It’s 25 percent DEET formula protects against mosquitoes and ticks for up to 10 hours, and it smells milder and feels less oily than other DEET repellents we tried. Its locking cap is a design improvement many aerosol sprays lack.

Also great

Sawyer Products Premium Insect Repellent Clothing & Gear

For clothing and gear (but not skin), Sawyer Products’s permethrin repellent is as effective as similar formulas at repelling ticks and mosquitoes, and its trigger spray is easier to control.

Buying Options

*At the time of publishing, the price was $13.

To give your clothing and gear (but not your skin) an added level of protection against ticks, we recommend Sawyer Products Premium Insect Repellent Clothing & Gear, a formula with 0.5 percent permethrin. Like the other permethrin sprays we looked at, each application of this one provides about six washings (or six weeks, whichever comes first) of protection. This bottle’s trigger spray is easier to control and apply evenly than others we tried; the 12-ounce size is enough to treat two outfits (shirt, pants, socks). A 24-ounce size is also available. We have more tick advice including what to do if you find one on you here.

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