Sawyer Products 20% Picaridin Insect Repellent
This EPA-approved picaridin formula is safe and effective, and it comes in a bottle that’s better than that of competitors at spraying evenly and accurately.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $17.
Our research led us to seek a spray with a 20% 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% picaridin should have the same effectiveness. We zeroed in on Sawyer Products 20% Picaridin Insect Repellent in particular because its smart, compact 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, plus a larger size to keep by the front door.
If our top pick is not available, our next choice is Ranger Ready Picaridin 20% Tick + Insect Repellent. It has the same 20% concentration of picaridin as the Sawyer repellent, so it provides the same amount of protection. Ranger Ready comes in either a pump- or trigger-spray bottle; we like the even spread of the latter, but the bottle isn’t as compact as Sawyer’s, so it’s less travel friendly. (The trigger spray has a locking button to keep it contained during travel, though, or to help prevent kids from fiddling with it.) Ranger Ready also offers bulk refill bags, which not only reduce waste by letting you reuse your existing bottle, but also give you additional repellent at a much better price per ounce. This picaridin spray is available in a variety of sizes and scents (orange, night sky, and amber), and we like that you can bundle it with the company’s 8- or 24-ounce permethrin sprays.
Cutter Backwoods Dry Insect Repellent
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.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $6.
DEET formulas aren’t our first choice because they smell bad, feel oily, and can damage plastic and synthetic fabrics, but we’ve heard of some people having rash reactions to picaridin repellents. There’s no question DEET is 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 this type of classic repellent is all you can find (or if you prefer it), the best version we’ve found is Cutter Backwoods Dry Insect Repellent. Its 25% 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 feature many other aerosol sprays lack.
Sawyer Products Permethrin Fabric Treatment
For clothing and gear (but not skin), Sawyer’s permethrin repellent is as effective as similar formulas at repelling ticks and mosquitoes, and its trigger spray is easier to control.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $14.
To give your clothing and gear (but not your skin) an added level of protection against ticks, we recommend Sawyer Products Permethrin Fabric Treatment, a formula with 0.5% permethrin. Like the other permethrin repellents we looked at, each application provides about six washings (or six weeks, whichever comes first) of protection. The 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. If you can’t find our pick, look for other brands with a 0.5% concentration of permethrin, like Ranger Ready Permethrin Spray, Ben’s Clothing and Gear Insect Repellent, or Coleman Gear and Clothing Insect Treatment. We have more tick advice, including what to do if you find one on you, here.