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.
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.
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:
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.
For a run-down on mosquito-borne diseases, check the CDC page on mosquito bites.
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.
Sometimes you have to dress up a little and this permethrin-treated scarf is perfect for those occasions. 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 80% polyester and 20% cotton so it dries quickly and weighs very little - easy to pack and take with you for an evening or a month. It is 38x70 inches (96x177cm) and comes in four colors.
This IS-treated hat also comes in several 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. This would be suitable for more adventurous travel out of the city although it might be a bit less ventilated than other hats.
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.
This pullover hoodie is lightweight and IS insect-repellant and protects you from ticks, mosquitoes and more. It's odor-free and the treatment lasts through 70 washes. There's a zippered pocket inside for your passport and valuables. The attached hood has an adjustable drawcord for additional bug protection.
These pants are 100% nylon (100% polyester for the mesh) and use IS technology to protect you from mosquitoes, ticks, fleas and other bugs. Like the rest of this range the pants are odorless and machine washable up to 70 times. They are lightweight and have drawstrings, which allow you to adap the style of the pants and increase your comfort. The fabric is rated UPF 30 to protect you from the sun as well.
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
✓ 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)
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.
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.
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.
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.