Is Picaridin Bug Spray Truly the Best?

October 1, 2019
Picaridin Bug Spray
CREATIVE COMMONS ON FLICKRNew research on the the effectiveness of picaridin bug spray has emerged to answer the question: Is picaridin or DEET the best type of insect repellent?

Picaridin hit the U.S. market in 2005 as an alternative to DEET, the long-time (since 1946) champion of keeping insects at bay. As I wrote back in 2012 (Picaridin vs. DEET: Which Is the Best Insect Repellent?), the evidence at the time indicated that picaridin is at least as good a repellent as DEET. What’s more, unlike DEET, picaridin is odorless, non-greasy, and does not dissolve plastics or other synthetics—all significant advantages compared to its stinky, greasy, gear-damaging competitor.

Since 2012 several studies have looked at or tested different insect repellents to determine which ones are indeed the most effective at repelling mosquitoes. The basic upshot of these most recent studies? Picaridin is indeed as good as DEET, though concentration matters. In particular, for maximum and longest-lasting coverage you’ll want to look for products with 20 percent picaridin, the highest concentration currently available for sale in the US.

Here are three of the more notable studies and what they found:

  • A 2018 study in the Journal of Travel Medicine, Mosquito repellents for the traveller: does picaridin provide longer protection than DEET?, looked at all currently existing studies that directly compared the efficacy of DEET vs. picaridin. Eight field studies and three laboratory studies met the review criteria for inclusion. Overall, the study found that there was little difference between picaridin and DEET at similar concentration levels, though higher concentrations of DEET (>30 percent) may have a slight potential advantage in terms of protection time.
  • The Environmental Working Group (EWG) published a comprehensive guide to bug repellents in 2018 and reached a similar conclusion about picaridin: “Overall, EWG’s assessment is that picaridin is a good alternative to DEET with many of the same advantages and without the same disadvantages.”
  • Lastly, the 2019 Consumer Reports insect repellent buying guide (paywall) also found that 20 percent picaridin products were a top contender, though it actually recommended several inexpensive DEET products (concentrations 20 percent to 30 percent) more highly, in part because of their lower price points (you can see which ones here). Notably, the study also found that lower concentrations of picaridin (5 percent and 10 percent) performed poorly, so the 20 percent version is definitely the way to go.

If you’re interested in trying out a picaridin-based repellent yourself, Sawyer Products offers a complete line-up of options, including the front-running option, Premium Insect Repellent with 20 percent Picaridin Spray, which topped the ratings in the 2018 version of the Consumer Reports insect repellent buying guide (pack of two four-ounce bottles on Amazon, $13).


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Matt Heid

Equipped blogger Matt Heid is AMC's gear guru: He loves gear and he loves using it in the field. While researching several guidebooks, including AMC's Best Backpacking in New England, he has hiked thousands of miles across New England, California, and Alaska, among other wilderness destinations. He also cycles, climbs, and surfs.