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Guide to insect repellent

In Great Britain we have insects that tend to irritate rather than harm us. In contrast, less developed countries are more prone to insect infestations thanks to their warm climates, so if you head across seas you may be at risk from Malaria, West Nile disease and other infections which are carried by biting insects. Insect repellents come in a variety of forms, all with differing levels of effectiveness. The choice you made should be down to your destination, as well as taking in consideration any skin complaints or sensitivity.

Spray on repellents

Easy to use, yet can be strong and pungent. May contain toxic
DEET (Diethyltoluamide)

Citronella candles

  • Ideal at driving away midges, perfect for at home use.
  • A natural solution that avoids using toxic chemicals.
  • Smell may not appeal to all users.
  • Not as efficient as a chemical based repellent.

Mosquito nets

  • Great for trapping out bugs as you sleep. Perfect for tropical areas.
  • Can be coated with insect repellent. Mosquito repellency can also be impregnated into clothing.
  • Read more in our Mosquito and Nosquito Guide.

Bite relief treatments (aftercare)

  • Perfect for relieving itchiness from bites.
  • Not able to prevent fresh bites.

Wrist/ankle guards

  • Usually containing DEET and/or natural citronella, these are discreet and ideal for all day wearing.
  • May not offer the same coverage as a spray repellent.
  • Requires the wearer to also take precautions such as
    avoiding perfume.
  • Best used in conjunction with other methods of repellency.

Application advice

  • Use a low concentration gel for applying to exposed parts, especially the ears.
  • Apply a higher concentration spray to clothing.
  • Rub-on treatments take longer to apply than sprays and hands will always need to be thoroughly washed after use.
  • Look at the estimated length of protection- 10 hours is substantial for most activities.
  • Make sure you have enough in a ‘dose’ for your length of time in
    the wilderness.
  • Help your repellent by also covering up as much as possible and not wearing perfume or aftershave.

Insect repellency for use in Europe

In Britain and Europe, you need enough coverage to avoid insects, but you do not need to protect yourself from tropical illnesses. You can look at lower percentages of protective chemical and can look for one main solution (a spray, pen or roll on for the duration of your trip.)

Choices include insect sprays; roll on solutions, and pens for dabbing at hot spot areas that tend to get targetd by insects such as knees, behind the ears and the neck and face.

Insect repellency for use in America/Asia/Atlantic areas

Look for stronger solutions for hot weathered conditions. You should consider using DEET which is a strong repellent. For the evenings you should look at purchasing a mosquito net that can cover your full bed, or facial area to keep out bugs as you sleep. For the day time, if adventuring in dense wooded areas, look at a full face style of mosquito mask that can keep bugs away as you walk.

You can also cover up all day with a wrist or ankle band that locks in a halo of DEET for all day wearing with no need to re-spray or top up. However this may not offer the ultimate protection, so for more infested areas, you may need additional protection from a stronger.

Prevention

You can help take your own preventative measures against mosquitoes by:

  • Not using perfumes.
  • Wearing a repellent treatment with DEET.
  • Using a mosquito net.
  • Making sure the room you sleep in has plenty of fresh circulating air, usually achieved by using a fan.

Mosquitos

Mosquito are a type of insect most commonly found in hot climates. There are around 3,500 species of mosquitoes and many of these breeds feed on human blood. Mosquitoes are more than a nuisance, as they carry diseases and viruses, most commonly:

  • Malaria
  • West Nile virus
  • Yellow fever
  • Dengue fever

These are passed on when mosquitoes feed, and the consequent diseases can be lethal without treatment.

Repellent options:

  • Mosquito nets - Standard Mesh Nets that prevent mosquitoes
    from entering.
  • Insecticide treated Mosquito nets - Nets treated with insect repelling chemicals.
  • Nosquito - Clothing treated with insect repelling chemicals.
  • Repellent sprays- Usually containing DEET.

Mosquitoes can be repelled with an insect repellent, but for most mosquitoes, natural repellents aren’t tough enough, so its important to have a strong solution particularly solutions containing DEET. Nosquito refers to clothing, created by Craghoppers but available with other brands that is impregnated with mosquito repelling treatments, in order to provide repellency without a spray.

Mosquito nets

Mosquito Nets are nets specifically designed to keep mosquitoes away from you, and can come in a size for both single and double beds.

Created with a fine mesh, and treated with a repellent, mosquito nets have very fine holes, small enough to allow fresh air to ventilate, whilst also being small enough to prevent insects from entering. Mosquito nets pack down light and small, making them particularly useful for camping and travelling.

Mosquito net sizes

Mosquito nets typically come in 'Solo or 'Duo' sizes for single or double beds respectively. Micro sized nets are even smaller and ideal for small trips, and minimising pack weight. Shapes vary from:

  • Pyramid - Hangs in a triangle covering the bed.
  • Wedge - Literally designed as a sloping wedge shape, this offers extra protection to the face and body as you sleep.
  • Geodesic - A freestanding dome style of net.
  • Box- A 5 sides box that covers around your sleeping area.

Your choice should be made on how the net will hang, how much space you have, both in your living quarters and in your pack.

Insecticide treated mosquito nets - ITN

Nearly all mosquito nets are treated with Permethrin or Deltamethrin and are known as Insecticide-treated nets (ITN). ITN treated styles have been considered nearly twice as effective at preventing bites than non treated nets. Permethrin and Deltamethrin are completely harmless coatings to people but kills mosquitoes that land on it.

Mosquito repelling clothing - 'Nosquito'

Nosquito is the name for Craghoppers own brand of insect repelling clothing. Able to repel insects, Nosquito has been proved to reduce bites by 90% by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

LLIN (Long Lasting Insecticidal Mosquito Nets)

The alternative are LLIN , or Long-lasting insecticidal mosquito nets where the polyester netting and the insecticide are blended with a slow release resin and a polyethylene fibre, allowing the treatment to be released slower.

These are more expensive and for most travellers a treated ITN net will suffice. Effectiveness of dipped treatments such as ITN’s and Pyrethoid blends decrease over a year, and should ideally be reimpregnated with a coating for maximum effectiveness, or replaced.

Protection from other Insects

Mosquito nets do not work to keep other insects such as midges away. This is due to the area of mesh gauge, which is too large to keep
midges out.

Smaller gauges cannot be used as this would hinder the air movement through the net, making the mosquito net uncomfortable in the heat of hotter climates so mosquito nets have to balance between the two needs. Typically a fan within a room in a hot climate can be enough to repel other insects.

If possible make sure you keep your room ventilated via fans and not open doors or windows during the day. Insects may be attracted to artifical lighting, so minimise this if possible.

Pyrethoid:

The clothing comes pre coated with Pyrethoid as used on ITN nets, and active tetramethrin, which as well as being anti-bacterial is also a non-irritant to humans. The Pyrethoid will kill mosquitoes as they land. The garments themselves are woven tightly to hinder entrance from insects, which also has benefits when it comes to protecting from UV rays, with a SPF, or Sun Protection factor of 30+.

DEET- How and when to use it

DEET (Diethyl Toluamide) is a very powerful and an effective deterrent to mosquitoes and other biting insects. DEET is a powerful substance that is highly effective in deterring disease carrying insects, such as mosquitoes. However DEET may cause problems for children, people with sensitive skin, or following prolonged use, so use should always be monitored.

How DEET is measured:

DEET is measured in concentrations (e.g 50% DEET) The lower the concentration, the less effective the level deterrent. DEET may damage some synthetic fabrics, though certainly safe on cotton and wool.No more than 20% concentration should be recommended for children. DEET has been shown to also be slightly toxic to birds, fish and although it's virtually nontoxic to mammals.

If children are using DEET under adult supervision, they should be sprayed with DEET by adults and not themselves in order to monitor the amount being applied.

Is DEET safe?

Here at GO Outdoors we believe that DEET is good in small amounts and in the right conditions, so a balance should be achieved between spraying a toxic cloud that chokes the area’s fish, and going without DEET and getting bitten by potentially disease carrying insects.

If you are worried about the effects of DEET, or have an adverse reaction then you can choose natural blends of repellent, such as Expedition Natural, which includes a blend of plant extracts, including Lemon Eucalyptus and Myrtle.

Other organic insect repellents include Citronella, also available as impregnated candles and patches. Mosquitoes can also be prevented from feeding via Mosquito repelling treatments on clothing, such as Nosquito, or through the use of Mosquito nets.

Related guide: Beginners guide to camping