The east coast is supposed to have a really bad year for ticks with Lyme disease as well as the concern about Zika Virus and West Nile Virus.

I know DEET is effective at both keeping bugs off and melting technical gear. I'm worried that repeated use of DEET will destroy my nice Goretex jacket, my expensive bib shorts, my softshell trousers, synthetic jerseys, and technical overshorts.

What's the best option for repelling mosquitoes and ticks for mountain bikers riding in the woods that won't harm my technical gear?

See Example:
http://sectionhiker.com/deet-dissolves-breathable-fabrics-experimental-results/ https://www.outdoors.org/articles/amc-outdoors/two-common-hiking-items-that-deet-will/

  • It will probably do unpleasant things to your grips too. But if you're as covered up as you seem to imply, there's not much exposed skin to be a target. I've found wicking synthetic tops to be fine (hiking) with DEET on but blame it for a (cheap) waterproof delaminating.
    – Chris H
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 22:16
  • 1
    Depends on time of year. Spring/fall time i often have my gore tex jacket and softshell pants and goretex cycling boots when it's in the low temps and then shed to minimal cover of shorts and jerseys, sometimes overshorts and sometimes just bibs and jersey when it's super hot/humid. Always gloves and some headgear. Most of the times with a hydration pack.
    – Benzo
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 23:00
  • Wondering if permethrin would be safe to use on outer shorts and my hydration pack? Jersey?
    – Benzo
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 10:14

4 Answers 4


Check if icaridin (Wikipedia) protects against disease vectors in the region you would like to bike at.

Icaridin is less damaging to synthetic materials, less sticky, and repels many types of insects (and arthropods).

Icaridin also has down sides, for example, it may not be adequate for some disease vectors and a single application does not protect as long as DEET does.

Please note, that these draw-backs are particular relevant for 7% solution of icaridin. Most comparative tests that find an equivalent effectiveness of Icaridin to DEET use a 20% solution. The latter may not be available as a commercial product in your country.

The topic effectiveness of insect repellents is also covered on (travel) stack exchange.

  • 2
    I think Icaridin is known as Picaridin in the U.S.
    – Benzo
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 2:41
  • Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent uses a 20% solution and is available in the U.S. So it is readily available in these concentrations in the states at least. Availability in other countries may vary.
    – Benzo
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 17:37

The CDC Has the following recommendations other than DEET. CDC: Protection against Mosquitoes, Ticks, & Other Arthropods

  • Picaridin (KBR 3023 [Bayrepel] and icaridin outside the United States; chemical name: 2-(2-hydroxyethyl)-1-piperidinecarboxylic acid 1-methylpropyl ester). Products containing picaridin include, but are not limited to, Cutter Advanced, Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus, and Autan (outside the United States).

  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or PMD (chemical name: para-menthane-3,8-diol), the synthesized version of OLE. Products containing OLE and PMD include, but are not limited to, Repel and Off! Botanicals. This recommendation refers to EPA-registered repellent products containing the active ingredient OLE (or PMD). “Pure” oil of lemon eucalyptus (essential oil not formulated as a repellent) is not recommended;

  • IR3535 (chemical name: 3-[N-butyl-N-acetyl]-aminopropionic acid, ethyl ester). Products containing IR3535 include, but are not limited to, Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus Expedition and SkinSmart.

    UPDATE: EWG mentions that IR3535 can also melt gear like Deet. So would not recommend for use with technical gear.

    Standard Avon Skin so Soft also seems to be popular among Scottish mountain bikers against biting midges, though might not be as effective as the ones containing IR3535 specifically. This is not endorsed by the CDC.

  • Permethrin - CDC Also Noted that use of Permethrin on clothing and gear can be effective in repelling and actually killing ticks and other insects (which other repellents do not).**

    Repellents and Insecticides for Use on Clothing

    Clothing, hats, shoes, bed nets, jackets, and camping gear can be treated with permethrin for added protection. Products such as Permanone and Sawyer, Permethrin, Repel, and Ultrathon Permethrin Clothing Treatment are registered with EPA specifically for use by consumers to treat clothing and gear. Alternatively, clothing pretreated with permethrin is commercially available, marketed to consumers in the United States as Insect Shield, BugsAway, or Insect Blocker.

    Permethrin is a highly effective insecticide-acaricide and repellent. Permethrin-treated clothing repels and kills ticks, chiggers, mosquitoes, and other biting and nuisance arthropods. Clothing and other items must be treated 24–48 hours in advance of travel to allow them to dry. As with all pesticides, follow the label instructions when using permethrin clothing treatments.

    Permethrin-treated materials retain repellency or insecticidal activity after repeated laundering but should be retreated, as described on the product label, to provide continued protection. Clothing that is treated before purchase is labeled for efficacy through 70 launderings. Clothing treated with the other repellent products described above (such as DEET) provides protection from biting arthropods but will not last through washing and will require more frequent reapplications.

Sawyer Picaridin products and Permethrin products claim to be explicitly gear safe. I don't think OLE (Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus) is known to damage gear. However, IR3535 appears to not be gear safe as it can dissolve gear like DEET (see reference above).

A Consumer Reports Insect Repellant Buyers Guide said that A 20-percent picaridin product was their top repellent overall—and the only one to ward off both species of mosquitoes plus ticks for at least eight hours.

With the consumer reports and CDC recommendations in mind, I would probably choose a combination of Picaridin on skin and pre-treat some of my gear with Permethrin to kill ticks/mosquitos that get on my gear


Unfortunately, most comparison tests show that DEET is still the number one insect repellant.

One way to prevent it from melting your synthetic clothes is to wear cotton neckerchiefs, wrist bands, and ankle bands -- and to put the DEET only on the cotton and not on the synthetics. This only helps if the bugs aren't biting you through your clothes since it only blocks entry to areas of exposed skin.

Another option is to find a friend who's comfortable being completely doused in DEET and to draft them. :-)

  • Unfortunately, I typically wear zero cotton while mountain biking. I'm not much for effectiveness if it's going to mess up my shoes, shorts, and jacket, sunglasses, etc... I'll go for second best if it means I don't mess up hundreds of dollars worth of gear. Which is why I'm specifically asking for non-deet repellants.
    – Benzo
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 17:43
  • The idea is to put the DEET on sacrificial cotton arm/wrist/neckbands so that it doesn't get on your good synthetic clothing. Works for many folks. I wish there was a good DEET substitute but most seem to not work any better than nothing - and some worse than nothing.
    – RoboKaren
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 18:13

We have a fairly new product here in Scotland called Smidge which contains the active ingredient Saltidin 20%.

Here are some more details.

  • I think that Saltadin, used in smidge, is just another trade name for Icaridin / Picaridin according to the Icaridin wikipedia page en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icaridin
    – Benzo
    Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 16:52
  • 1
    Nice detective work, every days a school day :)
    – Andy P
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 10:10

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.