Most of us probably grew up worshiping the liquid that sprayed out of the green canister that made it possible to spend life outside in the spring, summer, and fall in the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s. Sure it kept the mosquitoes and other biting insects away, but you could smell if someone was using it within a mile around you and it always left your skin feeling greasy, oily, and sticky for the rest of the day. Almost as if you had rubbed butter all over your skin! Did we really know what we were spraying on ourselves in order to keep those bloodsuckers off of us?
The most common chemical responsible for repelling those mosquitoes back then was N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide, or what many people know as DEET. It’s still found in many common insect repellents to this day. DEET is known to cause skin irritation and rashes in many people and has also been linked to many serious illnesses. But, DEET is seriously harmful 100% of the time to synthetic clothing (especially waterproof) and other outdoor gear.
Without getting into too much detail, DEET eats away at plastics and treated fabrics. Have you tried to store your DEET product in a plastic bag only to have it leak all over your stuff? Yea, it dissolved the plastic. So even the slightest bit of exposure of DEET to your $500 Gore-Tex jacket is enough to ruin it; permanently. It does this by eating away at and dissolving the thin plastic membrane and DWR that keeps your jacket waterproof and breathable. Remember though it’s not just jackets, it’s anything that has synthetic material in it. This includes: tent walls, tent rain flys, shoes, pants, shirts, backpacks, sleeping bags, and anything else that has synthetic fibers in it.
So, what can repel those biting insects while still keeping our gear in perfect working order? Well, the best stuff that is not harmful to the environment would be plant-based repellents. Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, which is the only plant-based mosquito repellent recommended by the CDC, is what Murphy’s Naturals uses in their Insect Repellent Spray.
This oil is incredibly powerful at repelling those pesky bloodsuckers and smells great too! You can spray it all over your gear without the worry of melting or destroying anything made of plastic/synthetic materials. Since it’s natural (i.e. without any of the chemicals), it is very environmentally friendly so you don’t have to worry about accidentally putting chemicals into the water when you hike through it.
Next time, when you hear that annoying buzzing sound in your ear, reach for something that smells great, is good for the environment, great on skin, and isn’t going to ruin the jacket you’re wearing.
Author: Thomas Briley of Gear Up, LLC