Consumers who don't wish to spray insect repellent directly on their skin or need added protection during backcountry excursions may be interested in permethrin, a synthetic insecticide you spray on clothing. This chemical compound can also be sprayed onto tents and other gear. Permethrin sprays have been shown to be so effective that the CDC currently recommends these products for people traveling abroad who will be exposed to disease-carrying insects (such as malaria-infected mosquitoes).
Permethrin not only repels pests, it's a contact insecticide, meaning that it actually kills mosquitoes, ticks and other bloodsuckers before they have an opportunity to embed themselves in a person's skin. Hand washing and line drying permethrin-treated garments, or even using gentle cycles to wash and dry, can help extend a single application through 12 washings. Permethrin spray is odorless once it's dried, won't stain fabrics and isn't likely to irritate skin. Permethrin is registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) but, like DEET, some users question whether it's safe to wear clothing that's been sprayed with an insecticide.
Sawyer Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent (*Est. $8.50 for 6 oz.) can be used on clothing, tents and other outdoor gear. Since permethrin isn't safe for the skin, the label states that sprayed clothing must be dried completely before it's worn. Sawyer Permethrin spray comes in several sizes and is also available as an aerosol or trigger spray. Users at Amazon.com, REI.com and Viewpoints.com say it's very effective at fending off ticks and preventing bites from mosquitoes, flies and chiggers. A few say the spray bottle drips, and so disposable gloves should be worn during application to keep the permethrin off your hands.
A more expensive option is to purchase clothing already treated with permethrin. ExOfficio, a Seattle-based clothing company, manufactures a line of clothing for men and women using a special process to melt waxy permethrin molecules into the fibers of the clothing. The manufacturer claims the protection from flies, ticks, mosquitoes, chiggers, midges and ants can withstand up to 70 washings. Clothing for men includes khaki pants for about $90, long-sleeved shirts for about $90, hats for about $35 and socks for $20. Two reviews for the ExOfficio Bugsaway Ziwa Convertible Pants - Women's (*Est. $90) at REI.com say the clothing kept the bugs away. Reviews are also available at the manufacturer's website.