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Mosquito Repellent Clothing: Helping Avoid Malaria, Dengue and Zika 

11 July 2017 - Mosquito repellant clothing (or repellent, depending on the dictionary) is not just about mosquitoes but about deterring ticks and the many other potentially terrible diseases carried by insects, from malaria to Zika to West Nile virus.

  • Where bugs are more of a nuisance than a danger, you might be fine with insect repellent hats and a shawl for evening wear. 

  • Where bugs begin to pose a danger but aren't dive-bombing you every second, you might be able to get away with a good mosquito shirt, some skin repellent at dawn or dusk, and a good head net and hat (and anti-malaria pills where needed).

  • Where infestation and danger are greatest, you'll need everything you can get your hands on: vaccinations, whatever pills are available, a head net, solid insect repellent clothing, chemical mosquito repellent and a mosquito tent in which to sleep at night. 

So please, as you're planning your travels, check the situation at your destination (see Resources below) and protect yourself as needed. Don't wing this one.

More than a million people die each year from insect bites (map courtesy of WHO)

No one likes to be bitten by an insect - that's a given. Whereas most bites are merely irritating and itchy, some can lead to diseases that are dangerous and should be avoided at all costs during your travels. Here are a few to watch out for:  

  • mosquito bites, which in some parts of the world can carry dengue, West Nile virus, Zika or malaria, which can be dangerous and even fatal 
  • tick bites that can lead to Lyme disease
  • ant bites from certain specific species found especially in tropical climates
  • spider bites

Catching a deadly disease during your travels is rare but not impossible, and bug bites can cause life-changing health problems.

I've traveled to places with horrendous diseases and I've been fortunate not to catch anything - partly luck, and partly by being well equipped.

Please NOTE: I am not a medical expert, just another traveler, and this page is for information only. I have researched this page and made reference to sources and to respected international organizations where I could. I also provide additional resources at the bottom of the page so you can make up your own mind. For medical advice please check with your medical practitioner.

For a run-down on mosquito-borne diseases, check the CDC page on mosquito bites.

Insect repellent clothing: your first line of defence

The traditional way of keeping mosquitoes at bay is by using some kind of mosquito repellent and yes, that often works well. But there are other ways.

The newer ranges of permethrin-treated clothing are more effective than ever and take a lot of the guesswork out of keeping bugs away. They have many advantages (and a few disadvantages) but will enhance your safety when it comes to fighting bugs.

You can also bug-proof your clothes yourself. After all, not everyone can afford an entire new wardrobe each time we travel, so here's what I do.

When it's time to replace my travel clothes, I try to buy a "treated" item to replace the one that fell apart or that (more realistically) doesn't fit anymore. I also carry anti-mosquito lotion and I've now discovered scarves and shawls that can help keep bugs away but look great.

Insect Shield is a company that supplies some of the best travel clothes retailers - ExOfficio, Tilley, Rohan, Sea to Summit and many other illustrious brands. IS is used to treat all sorts of clothes, and works by binding itself within the material or the weave. If you see the Insect Shield logo on clothes, you can expect the anti-bug treatment to last for 70 washes. If you use the DYI approach and spray your clothes yourself, treatment will last about six washes and six weeks in the sun. 

If you plan to go to war against mosquitoes - and win - here's my selection of the most reliable anti-mosquito clothes. 

White Sierra Women's Bug Free Gauze Scarf

Sometimes you have to dress up a little and this IS-treated scarf is perfect for those occasions (remember, IS means it's good for 70 washes). Side benefit: there's no smell of chemicals. Of course it doesn't cover everything (it is a scarf, after all) but if you want to repel bugs while looking great, use this and no one will know. It is made of 100% polyester so it dries quickly and weighs very little - easy to pack and take with you for an evening or a month. It is 64"/162cm long and comes in three colors. 

White Sierra Women's Bug Free Sun Hat with Insect Shield

This mosquito repellent hat comes in four colors and has a wide floppy brim that is 4.5"/11.4cm wide. This is a great hat for everyday travel - think dinner al fresco and pools and city evenings, or lightly infested shores, or evening BBQs, as long as there is no major bug problem.

ExOfficio BugsAway Mesh Brim Hat

This IS-treated hat also comes in four colors and is ideal if you're in a particularly bug-heavy place. Its headband has an insect mesh you can lower if there are too many bugs around. It has a decent rim (3 1/4"/8.5cm front and back and 3"/7.6cm made of nylon). This would be suitable for more adventurous travel out of the city although it might be a bit less ventilated that other hats. Buy from Amazon or ExOfficio

ExOfficio Women's BugsAway Breez'R Shirt

This shirt, or blouse, comes in five colors with "IS" built in. It has a traditional safari design and a proper collar you can turn up or do up to keep both sun and creatures away from your neck, and sleeves you can roll up for daytime wear. It also has built-in ventilation (actual openings in the fabric) and 30+ UPF, and washes and dries quickly. Some women report it sizes small and because of its tapered waistline, be especially careful when you choose your size. Buy from Amazon or ExOfficio

White Sierra Women's Bug Free Trail Hoodie

This shirt has a tight weight mesh-type fabric treated with "IS". It has the advantage of a hood you can use when evening arrives. It also comes in several colors. This is made from 100% polyester so it will dry quickly and shouldn't wrinkle. It's lightweight and easy to pack. To my mind this is more suitable on the trail than for city wear. It is also a slim cut so make sure you're comfortable with that. 

White Sierra Women's Bug Free Campfire Pants

These have an elasticated waistline and loose style with a slim cut on the ankles. The pockets are angled, so not quite "secure" and best not used for valuables. These are IS-treated and come in various colors and sizes. If you happen to be a Size 14 or under, you could try the ExOfficio Women's BugsAway Ziwa Pants, also slim-cut and cargo style, particularly if you are slim.

It's up to you: you can buy "IS"-treated clothes, or you can treat your own travel pants with permethrin clothing treatment for shorter-term protection. (I use Sawyer Premium Permethrin for Clothes.)

  • If you need serious bug repellent clothing for the fullest protection, consider clothes that have some sort of net, like the original Bugshirt. It may not be chic, but only you can know what level of protection is best for you.

  • Don't rely exclusively on mosquito clothing. It is effective, but it is not foolproof! Read up on travel disease warnings (see Resources below) and make sure you take all necessary medical precautions, including shots and pills. The clothes are an extra line of defence, not the only one.

  • Also, make sure you can cover up properly. For some reason women's clothing lines tend to leave more skin exposed than the men's lines, so make sure your collars button up and your sleeves cover your wrists. The more treated material between you and "them", the better.

  • Have mosquito protection products for your skin at hand. If you end up in a particularly infested place, you can supplement your permethrin clothing with anti-mosquito lotion. If I'm headed to particularly 'bad' areas where air-borne diseases are common (anywhere near the Equator, damp areas or rainforests, for example, or in mosquito country right in your backyard!) I always carry Ben's DEET (I talk about toxicity on this page) or Sawyer's picaridin and use it to spray myself. (Just beware of spraying DEET on some synthetics, which it can damage when at high concentrations.)

  • If you're headed to a place notorious for mosquitoes and other bugs, seriously consider taking a mosquito net or mosquito tent with you for use at night.

The mosquito head net: it may look strange, but would you rather get eaten alive?

What are the most vulnerable parts of our bodies?

What's most exposed, of course: your neck, eyes and hair.

Keeping mosquitoes and insects away from your face, eyes and mouth is a challenge which we usually meet with chemicals. Putting these around your face isn't recommended, nor is it pleasant.

But if you don't want to use special clothing or you are a bit phobic about flying insects around your head, a net might be the best answer.

Using a head mosquito net may look silly at first sight but if you combine it with a stylish travel hat that is either coated with permethrin clothing treatment or that you treat at home yourself, you'll end up more comfortable because the hat will keep the net from touching your face (and giving mosquitoes a chance to bite through the net) as well as offer protection from the sun. Nets can itch unless you put them over a hat or cap, and the greater your comfort, the more likely it is you'll wear it.

There are both advantages and disadvantages to using mosquito head netting.

Mosquito head net pros

 Inexpensive
 Highly effective if you tuck it in properly
 Easy to place over a hat
 Light, compresses to pack and weighs very little so easy to carry in your daypack or travel handbag
 No chemicals on or near your face - priceless!
 You can stop worrying about mosquitoes and other flying insects buzzing around your hair and face - much more enjoyable!

Mosquito head net cons

 Not very elegant - unless you're aiming for the "safari nostalgia" look
 Not suitable for dressing up - more for casual, camping, trekking or outdoor work wear
 A mosquito net hat is just one element of staying safe: you still have to protect the rest of your bare skin with creams and clothing (where there are ticks you'll need a combination of tucked-in clothes and treatments)
 If not tucked in properly, creepy crawlies can get in (and I don't like the idea of spiders or mosquitoes finding an entrance)
 An overlapping net entrance can allow insects in so I would treat the net (and my hat) with permethrin for clothing (unless I was using an "IS" garment)

Great examples of the mosquito head net

A word of warning: shop carefully because there are many cheaply made and poor quality mosquito net hat models on the market! And an important TIP: If you're not wearing treated clothes, don't forget to spray your hat or head net with Sawyer Premium permethrin spray for clothing to increase repellent power.

Item

Protection

Weight

Cost

Comments

⭐  ⭐ 

10z/28g

$

For everyday wear - less "technical" style. Big enough to wear over your own brimmed hat. Stretchy quality netting. No chemicals. Mesh will not exclude the smallest no-see-ums but does a great job with everything else. You can see well through the net and there is enough ventilation. It comes with its own storage bag and has a one-month guarantee. Does not come with a hat and you need one if you want the best mosquito protection. 

⭐  ⭐  ⭐  ⭐ 

N/A

$$

Light enough to be used by backpackers. Measures 2"/5cm high and comes in its own 14"/35cm ∅ travel bag. Protects against ALL bug sizes. The ring guarantees the net is held off your face if you're wearing a smaller travel hat, like a cap. Not quite as easy to see through or as well ventilated as the Even Naturals model but that's the sacrifice you make to prevent no-see-ums from getting in. Takes up a bit more space because of the metal hoop but ideal for badly infested areas.

⭐  ⭐  ⭐ 

1.3oz/37g

$$

For everyday wear, the Sea to Summit has a finer net than Even Naturals and blocks most insects. It comes in its own tiny stuff sack. The smaller mesh size means a bit less ventilation - about the equivalent of the Outdoor Research head net. It fits over most wide-brimmed hats.

Protection

⭐  ⭐ 

Weight

10z/28g

Cost

$

Comments

For everyday wear - less "technical" style. Big enough to wear over your own brimmed hat. Stretchy quality netting. No chemicals. Mesh will not exclude the smallest no-see-ums but does a great job with everything else. You can see well through the net and there is enough ventilation. It comes with its own storage bag and has a one-month guarantee. Does not come with a hat and you need one if you want the best mosquito protection. 

Protection

⭐  ⭐  ⭐  ⭐ 

Weight

N/A

Cost

$$

Comments

Light enough to be used by backpackers. Measures 2"/5cm high and comes in its own 14"/35cm ∅ travel bag. Protects against ALL bug sizes. The ring guarantees the net is held off your face if you're wearing a smaller travel hat, like a cap. Not quite as easy to see through or as well ventilated as the Even Naturals model but that's the sacrifice you make to prevent no-see-ums from getting in. Takes up a bit more space because of the metal hoop but ideal for badly infested areas.

Protection

⭐  ⭐  ⭐ 

Weight

1.3oz/37g

Cost

$$

Comments

For everyday wear, the Sea to Summit has a finer net than Even Naturals and blocks most insects. It comes in its own tiny stuff sack. The smaller mesh size means a bit less ventilation - about the equivalent of the Outdoor Research head net. It fits over most wide-brimmed hats.

Mosquito nets for your head weigh nothing and are cheap mosquito protection. Pop one into your bag and carry it with you if you happen to be in a bug-infested area - and would rather use a net than soak your face with chemicals. It's great to have for an emergency!

If you'd rather spray your net before using it - yes, it's chemical but it will help keep bugs away - then use a highly effective product like Sawyer's. At least it will work.

A mosquito suit - when nothing else will do

Admittedly this option is a bit extreme. If you're traveling to a severely infested area, the anti-mosquito clothing line from Bugshirt might be of interest. This is a Canadian brand, a country where mosquitoes and biting flies can seriously spoil your time outdoors in some parts of the country, especially in summer. (They do ship to the USA.)

Obviously this is not city wear but if you're off on an adventure, a photography shoot, perhaps or a trekking holiday in Canada, the US or off to parts of Africa or Asia, then at least consider their jacket and possibly the pants, especially if you're someone biting bugs adore.

This tightly woven range blocks out all sizes of insects, which means fewer chemicals for you. The face net has two zippers so you can open it up - to eat and drink or just to circulate the air - when you're not using it, without having to take it off. The shirt has a built-in storage pouch, and the loose-fitting pants look quite comfortable. That said, you won't be making a fashion statement with this medium-priced range - but I certainly wouldn't care, not for this level of protection.

And then there's the mosquito repellent bracelet...

There has been much fanfare about the mosquito bracelet - wouldn't that be wonderful? Just slip on a bracelet and mosquitoes go away?

Unfortunately, it's not that simple. According to Dr Cameron Webb of the University of Sydney, there is no evidence that the anti-mosquito bracelet is effective. It may ward off a few mosquitoes from your wrist, but won't do much for the dozens that whirr around your head and the rest of your body. Sadly, this product is more wishful thinking than effective so I can't in any conscience recommend it, not until its effectiveness is proven.

Mosquito bite resources

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