Bug Wars: DEET

I’ve been dreading this post. I’m going to get comments that include terrible and or funny stories about DEET. But I’m trying to help here and we are all adults. Life is hard and anyone who ventures into the forest without DEET is inadequately prepared.

Get a bottle of this, keep it in your pack (in a plastic bag), and use it when needed. I carry this exact bottle and it's plenty for one or many seasons. (Click for link to Amazon.)

Get a bottle of this, keep it in your pack (in a plastic bag), and use it when needed. I carry this exact bottle and it’s plenty for one or many seasons. (Click for link to Amazon.)

So this is how I do it; I wear permethrin treated clothes regardless of whether I expect bugs or don’t expect bugs. Under normal circumstances, and especially against ticks, that’s adequate. If bugs (especially mosquitoes) are hassling me while I’m hanging around a campfire, or standing still while fishing, or really in any stationary position (and yes that includes doing what bears do in the woods) then I use a Thermacell.

However, that’s not always enough. Sometimes things get totally out of hand and you need the “nuke it from orbit”solution. That’s when you use DEET.


DEET is bad shit! If it gets in your eyes it’ll sting. If you get very hot it may even sting your skin. It will melt certain kinds of plastics. It is brewed from sweat gathered from Satan’s ass mixed with the tears of unicorns who have been beaten with rocks. If it’s not bad for your health it probably should be.

But there comes a time and a place to engage in total war against the blood sucking hordes. That’s why God gave us DEET.

Aside from the fact that it is genuinely nasty shit there are some advantages to DEET. First of all it really does work. There are endless chemical concoctions that are supposed to repel bugs; most are bullshit and the rest are weak but DEET is supremely effective. Second of all a little goes a long way. A bottle of Ben’s 100 may last several seasons if you’re careful. That makes it a superior choice to things that come in aerosol cans or larger containers. Be careful, keep your bottle in a plastic bag. I have had DEET spilled in my backpack before and it’s nasty. Incidentally there are many brands but I recommend Ben’s 100 because the bottle can take a huge beating. I’ve never had Ben’s 100 spill.

If you have the luxury of backing off from total devastation, you might want to try wipes instead of the pump sprayer. The wipes actually seem a little bit more effective and I think it’s because you get a better coverage on your skin. Wipes cost a lot more but I prefer them.  (There are several brands but the one pictured is what I carry.) Wipes are better for kids too… don’t trust anyone too young or too stupid with your bottle of DEET.

Even if you have wipes you should still get a pump sprayer and keep in your backpack. The package of wipes is good for only 15 applications. What happens on the 16th? You’ll either die or wish you died (unless you’ve been carrying the spray bottle as a backup). Be aware that once you open the package of wipes they will gradually dry out. (The spray bottle lasts forever.)

Do NOT use this as a baby wipe! (Image is a link.)

Do NOT use this as a baby wipe! (Image is a link.)


About Adaptive Curmudgeon

I will neither confirm nor deny that I actually exist.
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8 Responses to Bug Wars: DEET

  1. doubletrouble says:

    I’ll skip the story and just mention that the stuff will melt the wood finish on some older rifles 8^(.
    Keep your hands clean of it.

  2. tljhound says:

    You’re the Man !!! If you don’t mind, I’ll combine my comments on both bug juice posts here.

    My life wouldn’t be worth living much of the year without permethrin and DEET. I recommend their use, proselytize for them, but the, in my opinion, pseudoscience fear of chemicals some folks have needlessly exposes them to Lord only knows how many tickborne diseases, old and new mosquito carried problems, secondary infections, and a lot of needless itching and scratching.

    For some reason I’m attractive to mosquitoes, sitting at a evening gathering outside I’ll be bombed by them while others sit peacefully unaware. More than a few times I’ve gone home with a pattern of welts on my back and ass designed by the type of lawn chair – woven or slats. And I’m sensitive to bites, mosquito bites itch for days, ticks for a week, those f…..g chiggers for a month.

    I live, work and recreate in the woods, I’ve been bitten or stung by them all. And suffered. But now, with regular and religious use of those chemicals I suffer only when I screw up. I treat my clothes, my hat, socks, shoes and boots with permethrin. I slather DEET on exposed skin when I expect to be in the thick of things. Both are always on hand at home and in my pickup, my wife buys it by the case from Amazon. I don’t know how much it costs per year and I don’t care.

    How much chemical exposure one gets from dry permethrin coated clothes I don’t know, but the stuff works. DEET on skin must result in some absorption but it works and has been around for ages. I spent 18 months in Vietnam, mosquitoes were a year round problem, we took weekly plus daily malaria pills, but near the end of the monsoon season the entire country was a flooded swamp surrounding high ground and mosquitoes swarmed in clouds like I’ve never seen before or since. Base camp areas were sprayed but in the field the issued DEET was the only thing between them and us and we used it liberally including in our ears and up our noses and when they were especially bad on our lips.

    Over decades I tried almost everything I read or heard about – I ate garlic, took specific vitamins, put stinky powdered sulfur on my socks and pant legs, and bought all sorts of guaranteed to work creams, lotions and liquids. Some worked, sort of, but I’ve never found a better combo than permethrin treated clothes and DEET covered skin. I may OD someday but I’ll take that risk over the very real chance of crashing from one of the many bug diseases or itching and scratching myself to death.

  3. John Matus says:

    Good series of post! I couldn’t believe that thermacells really worked at first, buut they sure damn do. Nobody here in Alaska turns deet away even though it probably turns your dna to crap or something. Never heard of permethrin, but I’m gonna look into it. Thanks again for the series!

  4. p2 says:

    alaskan cologne…. finally broke down & called a company named mosquito authority. (mosquitoauthority.com) they’re nationwide. couple guys showed up with a pickup and a tank full of permathrin. 15 minutes of spraying around the grounds once every 3 weeks and i havent seen mosquito 1 all summer. unheard of in the frozen freakin north…. these guys, like your handyman, are heroes. worth every damn cent.

  5. Chris Nelson says:

    DEET didn’t save me against the coastal mosquitoes in Galveston. Liquid Diphenhydramine did, but that’s a tale for the camp-fire after about four beers.

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