There are very few things in the outdoor world that I hate. I have had spiders crawl across me with no reaction. I spent my childhood wrestling with any snake I could find. But that irritating buzz of a mosquito that tells me the little bastard has my blood on his menu sends me straight into an animalistic rage!
At that point, you could place the biggest trophy buck dead in my sights and I would still trade my trusty bow for a flamethrower!
These somewhat harsh feelings have led me on a mission to find the best way to deal with the little vampires. I spend a LOT of time outdoors between hunting, camping, and fishing and I like to keep my blood where God intended, inside my body.
If you have a burning hatred for the various bloodsuckers in the wild, be that mosquitoes, black flies, or ticks, feel free to share in my findings. If enough of us do this, maybe the blood suckers will all starve!
It would be no stretch to say that I have tried literally every product that I could get my hands on to get rid of the mosquito menace. Having landed an inconceivable amount of bites in the first hour of a hunting trip in northern Michigan, I doused myself with almost all of them at once. While it was effective, it probably wasn’t healthy so after that trip, I decided to get a little more scientific.
These were my findings:
I tried a variety of bracelets that have the same active ingredient as a citronella candle, one worn on each arm. The Geraniol impregnated rubber had very little, if any, effect. So all those Mosquitavert and Invisband repellants are a waste of money. Sometimes a decent bit of money.
I also tried two clip-on repellants. The first was a sonic repeller that claimed to be safe to use and highly effective at making the bugs avoid the wearer. At best it was ineffective but I swear I had more trouble with mosquitoes while wearing it. Maybe my mosquitos are different that others but they seems to like the noise. There is also a battery issue and some sound which may not be optimal for the hunter
The second clip on was the Off Clip-On which uses the repellent Metofluthrin. This was one of the most effective single solutions that was mostly odorless and easy to use. Across the time I used the clip-on, I received less than 10 percent of the bites I did with the bands and sonic repeller.
DEET Based Sprays
I tried a variety of DEET based sprays ranging from 20% to 98% DEET. It should come as no surprise that the greater the concentration, the more effective the DEET was. I noticed almost no difference under 40% DEET concentration but all of the higher DEET percentages did offer some protection with the 98% performing quite well while doing who knows what to my body and dissolving any plastic it touched.
I found the DEET option to be a good repellent but worry about the long-term effects if used as much as I am outdoors. Because of its effectiveness and the variety of concentrations, it also makes a good benchmark.
Avon Skin-So-Soft has been touted as a great repellent for years so I gave it a shot with its active ingredient of 10% Picaridin. While that is a low concentration, I couldn’t find any product with more than a 20% concentration offered by Sawyer. It was just as effective as DEET of the same concentration, maybe a bit more but nowhere near as effective as a 60% DEET Solution.
Citronella-based sprays from a variety of companies made far more claims than their products could prove. Herbal Armor which has a variety of ingredients mixed together to form a strong repellent had next to no effect. Cutter offers a pure citronella extract spray and it was hardly effective at all. If it helped, I couldn’t tell.
Cutter lemon eucalyptus
The shocker was a product from Cutter that used Oil of lemon eucalyptus. When I say a shocker, it was every bit as effective as the 98% DEET. Despite its more natural origins, I am not convinced this is a safe alternative to DEET. It still dissolves plastic and probably does harm to the body over time. This is a product I will test further.
There were two other products that warranted testing that don’t cleanly fit into either of the above categories.
Thermacell is more of an appliance. It isn’t a clip on and it doesn’t spray but it is quite effective. About the same as a 40% DEET solution. Thermacell uses heated cartridges that release the insecticide Allethrin which seems a little more toxic than some of the other options. It advises against inhalation and I am not sure how you would avoid it if you stay within range of the unit. Thermacell systems aren’t cheap to buy or operate.
The last product I tried was Permethrin which is a spray but not one you want to spray on your body. It is a treatment for clothing and other items and should fortify against all forms of bloodsuckers. Once dry it is supposed to be non-toxic and is used in some of the better flea collars. I found clothing treated with Permethrin and left to dry to repel mosquitoes about as well as a 60% DEET solution.
After narrowing it down to 5 products that I found effective enough, I tested them again to see if I got consistent results. I wanted to be sure before I trusted a single product long term that it would be effective when I needed it to be.
The 5 products that worked best and I could live with were:
- Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus 30% Concentration
- DEET 60% Concentration
- Off Clip-On with Metofluthrin
- Permethrin Treatment 0.5% Concentration
- Thermacell Appliance
Other than effectiveness I narrowed these down based on ease of use and possible health effects. Any of these are potentially bad for you but so are the diseases that you catch from ticks and mosquitoes.
Gear damaging downside
Of these, the Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus and DEET are potentially damaging to gear. Both will melt plastic on contact and should be used with caution. They also leave a noticeable film on the skin and Lemon Eucalyptus has a noticeable scent.
Battery powered downside
Both of the battery-powered devices were effective but both require batteries and that’s just something else to carry. The Off Clip-On was more effective but had a more noticeable sound and smell. The Thermacell was odorless as far as I could tell but requires more refills to keep it up and running for the same amount of time as the Off Clip-On. It’s also much more expensive.
What is the most effective mosquito control
Permethrin was overall the most effective product that had no scent, was easy to use, and quite affordable. If Sawyer, the company that makes the product I used, is to be believed, it is also quite safe once it has dried on your clothing.
The truth is that none of these products is 100% effective. You will get bites no matter what you do. I would say that most of the products I selected as my favorites were a little better than 50% effective overall.
What do I recommend for keeping bugs off when outdoors
My recommendation for hunting and any other outdoor activity would be a combination. Permethrin is a product I will use every time. For times I would be moving around the woods during a heavy mosquito season, I would combine the Permethrin with something in t a 40-60% DEET concentration to get a somewhat better effect. This is a good blend for scouting trips. With these combined, I got no bites over the several hours I was in the woods.
For longer days hunting where I would be stationary, I see no issue in opting for the Permethrin treatment and a Thermacell unit. They are both odorless and easy to use. This combination seems to work well for me, ending with only a couple of bites over the course of a 4 hour period and only after the wind picked up.
Of course, on my overnight trips, I would switch back to DEET just to save on the cost of running a Thermacell unit for long periods of time. Alternatively, I have treated all of my gear with Permethrin and done well with just that. It may not be as effective as combining solutions but it is far better for your body.
I recall some time spent in northern Maine where you could see the mosquitoes as a dark cloud that would follow you ominously through the woods. I never want to be a part of a mess like that again. It is a fact that mosquitoes carry diseases and cause problems though I sometimes think a lot of the news on diseases spread by them in the U.S. is a little bit of sensationalism.
Sure, there is a threat but not as bad as they make it out to be. Whether that is true or not, I have no intention of willingly finding out. If you go into the woods, you will be safer and have a much better time if you can keep the blood-sucking beasts at bay.
I will always use Permethrin and when needed, combine it with another product that contains DEET. I have used this twice in the woods overnight and the results were exceptional. The last trip, I received no bites at all.
Hopefully, this has given you an edge in the war against the mosquito, black fly, and tick. I would personally eradicate them all but they say that’s a bad idea for biodiversity and all.