Insect Repellents For Africa

What are the best, most effective, safest insect repellents for Africa?

There is a myriad of insect repellent manufacturers, brands, ingredient concentrations in sprays, creams, sticks, wipes, odour-free, combinations with sunscreens etc etc.

The answer is to use what suits you best and works for you but you would be strongly urged not to use 'alternative' or 'natural' repellents as your first line of defence, if you are hunting in a malarial area. Malaria falciparum can be a deadly disease and it only takes 1 bite from 1 mosquito to be struck down. The other brands of malaria are none too pleasant though not quite so dangerous.

Preventing Insect Bites

You can expect a good African hunting outfitter to provide an insect proof tent (if you are going to a tented camp), insect window screening (if you are going to a permanent chalet camp) and a can of Doom. Short of this, it's up to you to protect yourself from insect bites which is especially important in malarial areas of Africa.

So unless you genuinely react badly to a DEET-based insect repellent the following measures offer the best personal protection against malaria...


Use all the herbal oils, sprays, soaps, garlic capsules, citronella and lemon eucalyptus and clove oil concoctions you want but in addition to sensible proven methods of insect repelling. If you are one of the increasing number of people averse putting 'chemicals' on your body, don't go to malarial areas of Africa - malaria is always a serious disease and may be a deadly illness.

"Travelers to sub-Saharan Africa have the greatest risk of both getting malaria and dying from their infection. However, all travelers to countries where malaria is present may be at risk for infection." CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Protection Against Mosquitoes

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  • If you are very worried about malaria, choose to hunt in a non-malarial area. There are plenty of hunts available in RSA in non-malarial areas.
  • If you are going to a malarial or border-line malarial area, check with the outfitter whether mosquito nets are provided. In some tented camps and chalet camps, nets are not provided as the whole tent/room is considered insect proof. If you want to bring your own mosquito net check whether the net design will work with the beds in the camp and that there is a way of hanging it.
  • A good quality permethrin impregnated net is better than a plain one. Tuck it in securely and any repair holes promptly. A good quick fix for holes is a band aid sticking plaster. Don't sleep with your skin touching the net, if possible - mosquitoes can stick their proboscis through the mesh.
  • Even if the area is not malarial you may want to use a mosquito net for protection against any other nocturnal insect bites.
  • Don't forget to set up and close/tuck in the drapes of your bed net before dark so no mosquitoes can get in there first.
  • Wear long sleeves and long trousers after dark as mosquitoes primarily feed between dusk and dawn.
  • Pay particular attention to ankle protection by wearing socks or ankle boots in the evening. If you can't bear to relax in boots and socks, smother your feet and ankles in repellent.
  • Use your personal insect repellent on all exposed skin areas.
  • Wear light coloured clothes in the evening as it has been suggested that mosquitoes are attracted to dark colours.
  • Wear clean clothes in the evening, especially socks as mosquitoes are attracted to sweat.
  • If your chalet has air-conditioning or a ceiling fan, keep it on in the evening to lower the room temperature which deters mosquitoes. Keep the windows or insect screens shut.
  • Don't forget your precautions in a hotel in town before or after the hunt. You are equally likely to get bitten in a 5 star hotel in Dar es Salaam as in a hunting camp.

Insect Repellents For Mosquitoes

DEET Based Insect Repellents

  • DEET (N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide) repels the mosquito by interfering with their sense organs or antennae which locate their victims. It is available in many preparations - lotions, sticks, gels, creams, aerosol sprays and in various strengths.
  • DEET is usually applied directly on exposed skin.
  • DEET may also be applied to cotton clothing in vulnerable areas like wrist and ankles, in the form of elastic wrist and ankle bands, or applied around a collar for neck protection.
    Note, in the USA, most elastic wrist and ankle bands are sold as DEET-free items, only impregnated with so-called 'natural' repellents like citronella or peppermint oil. These do not work and are not recommended. You need bands that are impregnated with a high percentage of DEET which come with a re-sealable bag to prolong the effectiveness.
  • Impregnated head netting gives good protection also.
  • DEET also protects against other insects such as ticks.
  • Apply carefully to avoid eyes and mouth.
  • Watch for any adverse reactions and stop using if you get a serious reaction.
  • DEET is harmful to plastics and paint.
  • Concentrations of less than 10% must be used on children 2-12 years of age.
  • For adults, the weaker the concentration of DEET, the shorter the time of protection. For example, 23.8% DEET will work for about 5 hours. However, there is a limit to the time of protection - 100% DEET concentration may only provide protection for about 10 hours.
  • When out hunting in the African open bushveldt country, you generally don't need mosquito protection during the day but may require protection from other insects such as ticks. If you are hunting thick, shady riverine areas or boggy, wet rainforests, you'll be well advised to put on the highest DEET concentration for the longest protection duration.
  • A combination of 33.3% DEET PLUS permethrin impregnated clothing will provide about 8 hours protection under severe mosquito pressure.

For high risk malarial areas use...

  • Trek 100 Insect Repellent Spray is an extremely strong (97%) DEET insect repellent and provides about 12 hours protection.
  • Lifesystems Expedition 100+ uses a dual-action formula of natural oils with a high concentration (95%) of DEET, for about 10 hours protection.
  • Trek 50 contains 49% DEET and provides about 6 hours protection.
  • Lifesystems Expedition 50+ contains 50% DEET and provides about 10 hours protection.

Note the protection time may be reduced if you are hunting in very humid conditions and/or are sweating heavily.

Applying Insect Repellents

  • Don't leave it too late to put on your repellent - apply repellent evenly over all exposed skin before dusk and the biting begins.
  • If you want to wear sun and insect protection at the same time, apply the sun cream first and the insect repellent on top.
  • It is easier to spray or apply the repellent on to your hands first and then thinly spread it over your exposed skin areas. Spraying your face directly is not recommended as the repellent can get into your eyes and mouth.
  • Don't put on too much DEET repellent or put it on your clothes or on skin under your clothes - it is not necessary and may damage your clothes, especially if they are synthetic.
  • Wash you hands after applying DEET - be careful not to get it on any plastic items such as sunglasses, phone, etc.
  • Don't apply repellent to cut or inflamed skin.

Permethrin Insect Repellents

  • Permethrin is a synthetic pyrethroid insecticide and kills mosquitoes on contact by destroying their nerve cells.
  • Permethrin must not be applied directly to the skin.
  • For Do-It-Yourself Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent - spray clothes 2-4 hours before wearing.
  • Permethrin products for clothes contain 0.5% permethrin.
  • Insect repellent clothes, such as those made with 'Insect Shield', are available which are impregnated with permethrin.
  • Ready-impregnated garments are said to provide protection for the duration of 70 washes.
  • Ready Permethrin-impregnated mosquito nets are available or you can treat a plain net with a Permethrin spray.
  • Permethrin-impregnated clothing also repels ticks.

'Natural' Mosquito Repellents

  • There are dozens of 'natural' or herbal insect repellent products that are credited with mosquito repellent properties including essential oils of Geranium, Cedar, Rosemary, Cinnamon, Citronella, Clove, Lemon Eucalyptus, Castor, Lemongrass and Peppermint.
  • However, certain factors can lower their effectiveness. They evaporate quickly in high temperatures, get diluted with sweat and some sunscreens lower their potency. Consequently 'natural' insect repellents need to be reapplied very frequently - at least 2 hourly.
  • Do not use these as a first line of defence against mosquito bites in malarial areas.

Other Mosquito Repellent Items

  • Mosquito repellent coils and vaporizing mats are all good measures to add to the repellent armoury for inside your room.
  • Electronic anti-mosquito buzzers have been proved to be useless.

Whatever you choose as insect repellents for Africa, make sure you actually use them. You won't believe the number of unopened bottles of insect repellents PHs get given by hunters over the years, when they offload items for their return journey.

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