The 8 Best Bug Repellents For Camping

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by Andrea Hannah

Between the ticks, gnats, and mosquitos, insects can seriously ruin an otherwise relaxing camping trip. The best bug repellents for camping keep bugs at bay when you’re outdoors, and they come in a bunch of different styles and protect against a wide range of bugs, depending on which one you choose. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you shop.

First things first, consider whether you’re looking for a skin-applied repellent, or a wearable or candle. Skin-applied repellents tend to protect better against most bugs, but each has a place in a camper’s bug-fighting arsenal. If you go with a spray or lotion, you want to consider the ingredients before you buy.

DEET vs. Picaridin vs. Lemon Eucalyptus

Some of the most effective bug repellents use either DEET, picaridin, or lemon eucalpytus in the formula. While historically some people have chosen to avoid DEET, it is safe when used as directed, according to Consumer Reports and the CDC. But, I’ve also included a high-quality plant-based repellent that uses lemon eucalyptus, which has been proven to repel mosquitos when independently tested, if you’d prefer to avoid chemicals altogether.

If you’re shopping for children, keep in mind, no insect repellent is recommended for children under the age of two months, and lemon eucalyptus oil is only recommended for children over the age of three years. There are non-skin-applied solutions on this list, like a kid-friendly wearable that campers love, which has less research to support its effectiveness, but can be useful for younger crowds.

As you shop, pay mind to the concentration, as well. Across the board, some picaridin, DEET, and lemon eucalyptus repellents will work, and others won’t, primarily because of varying concentration levels. When independently tested, DEET repellents with a concentration ranging between 15 and 30%, and picardin repellents with a concentration of 20% performed the best at repelling bugs. Similarly, a lemon eucalyptus repellent with a concentration of 30% performed well against mosquitos when tested.

Lastly, keep in mind which bugs you want to protect against. While mosquitos are a common pest that you’ll come up against when camping, ticks, gnats, and no-see-ums are also bugs you might encounter depending on where you’re headed. To make your choice easy, I’ve pointed out which bug repellents work on which variety of pest, so you can make the right choice for your camping trip. And, with any bug repellent, consider the length of your camping trip and how much protection each one will provide. It may pay to invest in a few bug repellents for your campsite to cover all your bases, especially if your trip is more than a few days long.

Not sure where to start? Here's a roundup of the best bug repellents for camping to help you find exactly what you need.

1. The Overall Best Bug-Repelling Spray

  • Active ingredients: 20% picaridin
  • Bugs this works on: Mosquitos, ticks, flies, gnats, and chiggers

With more than 15,000 reviews, this bug repellent spray is undoubtably one of the most popular options you can get on Amazon. It's formulated with 20% picaridin, and offers up to 12 hours of protection against mosquitos and ticks, and eight hours of protection against flies, gnats, and chiggers. This spray is fragrance free and coats your skin in a lightweight mist that doesn't get oily or greasy throughout the day. While you can use this spray to coat your skin and clothes, there’s also a spray specifically designed to protect your clothing and camping gear further down on this list. If lotions or a continuous spray are more to your liking, this formula also comes in those varieties.

According to one reviewer: "Used this product for twelve days on African safari in Tanzania, five days in the Amazon Rainforest and three days in the Galapagos Islands and it was outstanding. I cannot recommend this product highly enough."

2. The Best Plant-Based Spray

  • Active ingredients: 30% oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE)
  • Bugs this works on: Mosquitos

If you prefer a natural formula, this plant-based insect repellent is made with a powerful, 30% concentration of oil of lemon eucalyptus that smells great and has been proven to prevent against mosquito bites. This repellent is effective at keep mosquitos away for up to six hours, according to the manufacturer, and is even registered with the EPA as a known skin-applied bug repellent.

One note on the health and safety of OLE repellents: The FDA does not advise using oil of lemongrass eucalyptus repellents on children under three years old. For children between the ages of two months and three years old, DEET is approved for this age group, and has been more widely tested, or you could opt for the wearable bracelets below which are formulated with essential oils that are completely chemical free.

According to one reviewer: "What a lifesaver this product is. I love camping but HATE those pesky mosquitos. This repellent is super effective. It really works! I love that it is plant based and doesn't use a lot of harsh chemicals. The scent is a bit strong, initially but quickly lightens.”

3. The Best DEET Spray

  • Active ingredients: 25% DEET
  • Bugs this works on: Mosquitoes, ticks, biting flies, gnats, and chiggers

This affordable two-pack of aerosol repellent is formulated with 25% DEET to protect you from mosquitos, ticks, biting flies, gnats, and chiggers for up to 8 hours. For less than $10, each order comes with two 8-ounce cans that reviewers report lasts for plenty of reapplications. With more than 20,000 Amazon reviews, this is a wildly popular insect repellent from a leading brand in the industry. And, while a common complaint with many DEET insect repellents is their greasy application, the brand’s powder-dry formula is designed to feel lightweight and non-sticky. One note: Though the brand does advertise that you can use this on clothing, there are other insect repellents on this list that are designed specifically to work on gear and camp clothes.

According to one reviewer: "Took on a hiking trip in Hawaii into the forest/jungle. The repellent applies easily and has a pleasant smell. After a 3 hour hike, neither of us had any bug bites whatsoever."

4. The Best Spray For Your Clothes

  • Active ingredients: 0.5% permethrin
  • Bugs this works on: 55 different insects, including mosquitos, ticks, spiders, mites, and chiggers

Designed to keep bugs away from fabrics, this spray repellent is a great buy for anyone spending time outdoors. It's formulated with permethrin, a powerful repellent that is safe for use on clothing. For safe usage, experts recommend using sprays formulated with permethrin only on outerwear to repels ticks, mosquitos, and other pests by binding and settling into fabrics. This 12-ounce bottle works on two complete outfits for up to six weeks of protection or six washes, whichever comes first. Still not sure? More than 5,000 Amazon reviewers have given this pick a 4.6-star rating overall.

According to one reviewer: "Very good product. It can withstand [six] hand washes. You can spray on mosquito nets, hiking gear and evening clothes too. I highly recommend this product."

5. The Best Lotion

  • Active ingredients: 34.34% DEET
  • Bugs this works on: Mosquitoes, ticks, biting flies, chiggers, gnats, fleas, and deer flies

This powerful lotion repellent comes in a 2-ounce tube and features a rich and creamy formula that glides on smoothly. This lotion is infused with a high concentration of DEET, which keeps bugs off your skin from the second you put on this lotion. The highlight of this repellent, though, is in its staying power. One application lasts for up to 12 hours, and it features a time-release formula so this lotion creates a barrier that's just as strong hours later as it is when you first apply it.

Some experts advise that increasing the amount of DEET in a formula over 30% provides only a little more protection and does increase your exposure to DEET. However, given that all DEET is safe when used as directed, and that this formula’s concentration is only marginally higher than 30%, it’s still earned a place on this list.

According to one reviewer: "[M]y doctor recommended this to me for a 4 day trek on the Inca Trail instead of bug spray, which she said evaporates easily and isn't as effective. I didn't get a single bite for 4 days until I forgot to apply ONCE during the trip to my shins (I rolled up my pants mid-hike and didn't think about it) and within 10 minutes had dozens of mosquito bites. Not using this for 10 minutes was the worst mistake I made that entire trip!"

6. The Best Bug-Repelling Wipes

  • Active ingredients: 30% DEET
  • Bugs this works on: Mosquitos, ticks, gnats and fleas, biting flies, no-see-ums, chiggers

For on-the-go protection, these bug repellent wipes are a game-changer. Each individually wrapped wipe is super slim and easy to slip into a bag or pocket, and each pack comes with 15 thick wipes. Whenever the bugs are bothering you, just pull out a wipe and slide it across any exposed skin and you’ll have up to 10 hours of protection. These wipes are pre-soaked with 30% DEET for effectiveness.

According to one reviewer: "It was too hot to wear long sleeves so I applied it liberally on almost all bare skin. After several hours photographing I was bitten only a couple of times - and that was on my back through the shirt - not one bite on my exposed skin! I was sold so I just bought some more to be prepared for future similar conditions."

7. The Best Candle

  • Active ingredients: Citronella Oil
  • Bugs this works on: Mosquitos and other flying insects

Candles and wearables do tend to be less effective than skin-applied repellents (and citronella oil is one of those ingredients that is highly marketed as effective against bugs, but has little proven research to suggest it works.) That said, worth including in this list is a fan-favorite citronella candle that many campers swear by. While the research doesn’t definitively prove this can repel bugs, reviewers are quick to defend it, and love that it can burn for up to 20 hours and comes in an easy-to-pack, lightweight tin that’s weatherproof. Simply place one of these candles on a heat-proof surface and you’ll get 3 feet of protection, according to manufacturers. For best use in a larger camping area, you can pick up a few candles and place them 18 inches apart on a picnic table or stable surface.

According to one reviewer: "The last time I went camping I burned this candle almost the whole time except when we were sleeping in our tent. We were camping pretty deep in the woods and the mosquitoes and other bugs didn't bother us in our little area. I will always bring one with me when I go camping.”

8. The Best Wearable

  • Active ingredients: 15% Geraniol Oil, 5.95% Lemongrass Oil, 0.95% Citronella Oil
  • Bugs this works on: Mosquitos, bugs, flies, and other insects

For a wearable that reviewers love, these scented bracelets are a simple solution that lack some of the research to suggest they work, but have plenty of loyal fans. You can slip these bracelets on your wrists or ankles, and according to the manufacturer, they’ll repel mosquitos with a blend of essential oils including lemongrass, citronella, and geraniol oils. There may be more potent bug repellents on this list, there are few that are as easy to use as these bracelets. Best yet, they’re waterproof and each bracelet lasts up to 10 days or 250 hours.

According to one reviewer: “Great product. Our family went on a camping trip so I purchased these hoping for less mosquito bites. Not one bite!!!! Buy them. Wear them with confidence!!”