Do I Need Bug Spray While Backpacking?

Ugh, bugs. A persistent fly can annoy you on your backpacking trips, but more than being a mere nuisance, bugs can carry potentially deadly diseases as well. You want to take every precaution when backpacking. Should that include using bug spray?

Bug sprays and repellants are a must when backpacking or enjoying any other prolonged time outdoors. Insect bites can be itchy and painful. If you’re allergic to bugs or you get bitten or stung by some insects, the bite can be fatal.

In today’s article, we’ll talk in more detail about why bug sprays are a must. We’ll also introduce some other insect repellants to try and recommend some of our favorite bug-busting products, so keep reading! 

Why You Need Bug Spray While Backpacking

Even if you’re not afraid of bugs, that doesn’t mean you want to walk around in nature unprotected. Here are several very convincing reasons for backpackers to always bring bug spray or insect repellant with them on their adventures.

Bug Bites Are Itchy, Painful, and Distracting

When you wake up in the morning on the second day of your backpacking trip, your skin begins to itch. As you scratch it, you feel a lump. Then another area begins to itch, and a third area, and so on. You scratch at them all, and yep, they all have telltale bumps. 

If you didn’t think to bring any aloe vera or bug bite gel, you’re going to be in for a bad time. The itch can drive you insane, which makes it hard to concentrate on the beauty of the trees or the majesty of the lake.

You Never Know If You’re Allergic to Bites and Stings

Do you know everything you’re allergic to? You might think you do, but sometimes, it takes exposure to an allergen to realize that your immune system does not like that allergen. You don’t want to find out in the middle of a camping trip that you’re allergic to bee stings or mosquito bites. 

After all, you’re far removed from civilization, which means you’re also quite a while away from medical help. An allergic reaction could lead to anaphylactic shock, which requires treatment with epinephrine immediately to save your life. 

Insects Spread Deadly Diseases

Even if you’re not allergic to insect bites and stings, that doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods (figuratively, at least). As we said in the intro, insects are disease carriers, and some of these diseases can be deadly.

From anaplasmosis to ehrlichiosis, chikungunya, Lyme disease, Zika virus, dengue fever, and West Nile virus, you don’t want to come down with any of these diseases when adventuring in the woods. Time is of the essence, as fast treatment could potentially prevent death. 

Some Bites Can Be Fatal 

Outside of their propensity to spread disease, other insects are deadly in that their bites or stings can kill. 

The velvet ant is nicknamed the cow killer, which should tell you enough. This fuzzy insect has venom in its saliva, so when it bites you, it imparts its venom. Red fire ants will attack people and can survive even the blast of a firefighter’s fire hose. 

We can go on and on, but there are plenty of insects out there that with one bite, they can kill a person. It’s better not to risk it.  

Other Types of Insect Repellants to Consider

Bug spray is but one type of insect repellant at your disposal. Let’s talk about some others so you can decide if you’d rather use those.

Mosquito Net

If you bought a tent, tarp, or a hammock for your backpacking expeditions, more than likely, it includes a mosquito net, which might also be referred to as a bug net. 

The bug net simply covers the open areas of your tent or hammock so it’s more difficult for insects like mosquitoes to get through. Smaller insects still can enter unless your bug net is double-layered with mesh. 

Keep in mind you’ll still be able to hear the bugs buzzing and bustling, but they won’t be able to get to you. If you have especially bad heebie-jeebies around bugs, then a bug net might not be enough for peace of mind. 


Who would have thought that a simple accessory could ward off bugs? If yours is an insect-repelling bracelet or wristband, that’s exactly what it can do. 

Most insect repellant wristbands are designed to keep mosquitoes away, but others work for different bug species too. The wristbands come in all sorts of styles, including phone cord bracelets, waterproof sports watches, woven bracelets, and more.

Some are reusable while others last for up to 15 weeks. Those that don’t use chemicals will utilize essential oils that mosquitoes and other insects find most unappealing. 


Speaking of scents that bugs can’t stand, citronella is at the top of the list. Although citronella candles are the best-known means of warding off bugs, any citronella-scented product will work as a repellant. This allows you to bring citronella on the go! 

Sonic Repellant

Nowadays, insect repellants are smarter than ever, as sonic repellants prove. These handheld devices emit frequencies that are supposed to send insects and other pests such as mice running far away. 

What Should You Look for in a Bug Spray?

You’ve decided to start with bug spray for your backpacking trip. Then you might use a bug-repelling bracelet or some essential oils. 

Although the mile-long ingredients list of bug sprays can be confusing, you need to take a few minutes to read that list over before choosing a bug spray. Here are the ingredients you might come across.


Most sprays will include N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide or DEET as a primary ingredient. DEET was created by the United States military and has since made its way into common products such as bug spray. 

Different bug spray brands will use DEET in varying percentages. The higher the percentage of DEET, the better. A spray with 98 percent strength should suffice. You can safely apply DEET on your clothing or your skin. 

Why does DEET repel bugs? To them, it tastes terrible. (It would to us people too, but please don’t try to ingest it!) The Environmental Protection Agency or EPA has rated DEET as a safe product for children and adults alike. 

Skin rashes can occur after application for some people, but you shouldn’t experience further adverse effects.


If your bug spray doesn’t use DEET, then it will include permethrin as the main ingredient. This chemical can kill ticks on contact, so it’s quite useful. Other insect species will stay away from the scent of permethrin as well.

Using the stuff has been known to lead to skin burning and irritation in some people. You might want to keep permethrin application mostly to your clothes rather than directly applying it on the skin. 

Our 5 Favorite Bug Sprays and Repellants for Backpackers

From grocery stores to pharmacies and department stores, you can find bug repellants nearly anywhere. We’ve narrowed it down to 5 of the top options for keeping bugs away while backpacking.

OFF! Botanicals DEET-Free Bug Spray and Mosquito Repellant

For those who are concerned that the heavy-duty chemicals used in bug sprays could be dangerous for their health or the health of their loved ones, OFF! spray is just what you’re looking for.

This plant-based insect repellant includes active ingredients such as 8-diol and p-Methane-3. OFF! says the ingredients are sourced from synthesized pine oil extract. The spray is also dye-free and fragrance-free. 

Spraying the stuff on your skin or clothing will protect you for up to two hours against mosquitoes, no-see-ums, gnats, and black flies. 

Murphy’s Naturals Lemon Eucalyptus Oil Insect Repellant Spray

You might not mind the aromas of lemon or eucalyptus, but the same cannot be said for many species of insects. That’s why Murphy’s Naturals spray is another good product to keep on hand when backpacking.

DEET-free, the spray contains corn ethanol, 70 percent distilled water, and 30 percent citriodiol or lemon eucalyptus oil. For six long hours, you’ll be safeguarded against mosquitoes. The spray only wards off ticks for four hours even if you use the same amount.

S.O. Labs Ultrasonic Pest Repeller

If you’re interested in trying a sonic repellant, this one from S.O. Labs is a good place to start. You get six repellants to a pack for giving mosquitoes, ants, spiders, mice, and roaches a wide berth. 

According to S.O. Labs, once you begin using their ultrasonic pest repellant, in three to five days, pests will become irritated and vacate. If they stick around for two to three weeks, nerve damage from the high frequencies could occur. 

OFF! Deep Woods Mosquito and Insect Repellant Wipes

If you’d rather not deal with sticky spray residue on your skin or clothing, then try these OFF! Deep Woods wipes

You get 12 wipes to a pack. The unscented wipes are 25 percent DEET. You can take a pack (or several) and easily stow them in your backpack for use anytime. According to OFF!, the wipes don’t dry out easily. 

OFF! Deep Woods wipes are designed to prevent chiggers, gnats, biting flies, and ticks from invading your privacy while backpacking.

Cliganic 10-Pack Mosquito Repellant Bracelets

How about the convenience of a bracelet for repelling insects? The Cliganic phone cord bracelets come in a pack of 10. 

Loaded with essential oils such as citronella, lemongrass, and geraniol oils that mosquitoes and other bugs hate, the bracelets contain no DEET. Cliganic’s bracelets also meet PETA approval for being a Cruelty-Free product.

Each bracelet is individually wrapped so it holds onto the essential oils for longer. The bracelets stretch so they should fit small and large wrists alike. 

Feel free to splash around and have some fun, as the Cliganic mosquito repellant bracelets are waterproof. 

Final Thoughts

For your own protection, you should always use bug spray or repellant when backpacking. That’s the safest way to ward off disease-spreading bugs that can make you very sick. With so many great insect repellant options, there’s surely something out there that gels with your outdoor lifestyle!

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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