The best bug sprays of 2021
Nothing ruins a sojourn outdoors quite like an entourage of pesky mosquitoes chowing down on your arms and legs. Sure, bug spray is great and all. But between the various active ingredients and concentrations, it’s hard to know what actually works, let alone find a spray that doesn’t smell like a chemistry class or make you feel like you took a dip in a vat of oil.
That’s why we went hands-on with bug repellents to test how they feel, how they smell and everything else you’d want to know about a bug spray before you use one. All this after consulting with multiple experts to ensure we included repellents that are actually effective at, well, repelling bugs. We tested only bug sprays that have an active ingredient approved by both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, p-Menthane-3,8-diol (which is in oil of lemon eucalyptus), IR3535 and 2-Undecanone. DEET was the resounding favorite among the experts we interviewed, but they all praised the effectiveness of the other ingredients as well, especially picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus.
To be clear, we didn’t test each spray for its efficacy at repelling bugs, since there are so many external variables that go into that. Instead, we used our extensive research and the opinions of experts to choose a pool of sprays that science has proven to be effective.
After multiple weeks of testing, we found three bug sprays that stood above the rest:
- Best overall bug spray and best DEET-free bug spray: Proven Insect Repellent Spray
- Runner-up: Coleman SkinSmart DEET-Free Insect Repellent Spray
- Best DEET bug spray: Cutter Backwoods Insect Repellent
May 7, 2022
In my side pouches, you can find tent poles (right) and a SmartWater bottle (left). A sawyer squeeze is placed inline from the SmartWater bottle and attached to my Osprey mouthpiece to drink fro, as I walk.
The EWG sees picaridin as a reasonably good alternative to DEET—although it hasn’t been tested as long, it doesn’t have the same neurotoxicity concerns. They recommend a concentration of 20 percent for Lyme protection. Common brands include: OFF!, Cutter, Sawyer, Natrapel, Insect Guard.
Fill them up with tap water and it slowly passes through a filter system. Then the main reservoir below collects the filtered water.