Mosquitoes and ticks can turn a pleasant day outdoors into a Biblical plague if you’re not careful. Those little bastards are miniature Nosferatus, coming for our blood and spreading diseases all along the way. The surest method of keeping the bloodsuckers at bay is to use a repellent that includes a decent percentage of the chemicals DEET or picaridin.
DEET can, however, damage rubber, plastic, leather, vinyl, rayon, spandex, elastic, and auto paint, so be sure to wash your hands before handling anything made of those materials — sunglasses, for instance. It doesn’t hurt cotton, wool, or nylon. To be safe, just use a product with picaridin instead. Another option is to wear clothing that incorporates permethrin, a chemical which can be bonded to fabrics.
Health and fitness guru Dave Asprey believes that DEET can cause “adverse effects such as manic psychosis, seizures, and cardiovascular changes.” So if you’re already a fan of his Bulletproof Brain Octane Oil, you can always try whipping up a batch of homemade bug spray, by mixing the product with water, witch hazel, and essential oils. Just don’t try adding it to your coffee.
Another point. There are websites that tout the effects of taking Vitamin B supplements, which supposedly makes your body smell less … delicious … to mosquitoes. Studies have shown that this inside-out technique probably doesn’t work. (Editor’s note: The jury is also still out on mosquito repellent foods.)
Finally, we address that other scourge of summer, poison ivy (or poison oak or sumac, depending on where you live). Just when you thought you were safe, a quick shortcut through the brush can make for an itchy, painful couple of days or weeks. “Leaves of three, leave it be”…but make sure you’ve got some of these products available as a backup.
REI shoppers — an outdoorsy lot for sure — give this lotion a five-star rating. It repels ticks and mosquitoes for up to 14 hours and flies and chiggers for up to eight. It’s particularly effective against the breeds of mosquito that live in Central and South America. So keep in mind if a trip to either is in your plans.
We also love these individual packets of the product that make it easy to grab-and-go. Easy to pack for a weekend trip, but also perfect if you’re just driving to a favorite local spot for a hike or picnic.
A DEET product that gets high ratings from consumers is this Total Home version from CVS. It’s more of a quick fix, lasting for about two hours, and in an easy to use spray. It’s great for a short outing with the kids.
The Centers for Disease Control supports using “natural” products with oil of lemon eucalyptus to ward off mosquitoes, but they aren’t sure that these countermeasures work against ticks. It is effective for up to six hours. We’d suggest using when you’re wearing shoes, socks, and long pants. Just be sure to do an all-over body check ASAP to make sure you haven’t picked up any errant ticks on exposed skin.
We’re always a fan of products that do double-duty. Protect your hide from bugs and the sun’s damaging rays with BullFrog’s aptly named Mosquito Coast Sunblock. It’s DEET-free and should repel mosquitoes for up to eight hours, although the company suggests reapplying every two hours or after swimming to continue sun protection.
We like a lot of ExOfficio’s travel-oriented clothing, and their BugsAway apparel collection provides a stylish solution to ward off the little bloodsuckers. As its website says, “The built-in insect repellent permethrin provides a carefree outdoor experience, letting you focus on your adventure, not the bugs.” Grab one of these bandannas to wear on your head, around your neck, or give Fido a little fashion flair.
When all else fails, just go old school. This hoodie is a mosquito net that you wear … and not too different from some of the things we saw going down runways during men’s fashion week in Paris.
Go high tech in taking back your camping area from bugs. This Thermacell repeller looks like an Alexa for your backyard. The device provides a 15-by-15-foot zone of safety by using butane to heat up a “mat” of natural insect repellent.
A kinder, gentler approach that may be perfect to take to those summer outdoor concerts. The NoBu.gs Blanket uses permethrin to provide a protective barrier between you and bugs.
According to the manufacturer of this product, it takes less than the equivalent of a grain of salt of urushiol—the “active ingredient” in poison ivy—to cause a reaction in most humans. Smooth on this gel to tighten skin’s pores and provide a barrier against those nasty florae before heading into questionable territory.
So you’re walking back up the bank from the river in your flip-flops when you look down and realize that yes, you are, in fact, walking through a big patch of poison ivy. Get directly to a shower and break out the Tecnu. This cleanser will break down the oily urushiol on your skin and rinse it away. Use it on those flip-flops and anything else that may have touched that demon weed, too.
Great for camping. Great to keep in the car. These little wonders are an excellent first defense after a poison ivy encounter. The moment you’re in the clear, grab a couple of these and wipe down.
If you’re looking to not only protect yourself against mosquitoes but actually get rid of them entirely, check out our guide to how to avoid them in the first place.
Article originally published June 5, 2017. Last updated June 26, 2018.
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