I consider myself a lightweight hiker, carrying the lightest gear I can find that provides a
comfortable wilderness experience and supports my goals. Although my pack weight might label me as
an "Ultralight Weenie," I carry "luxury items" that hard-core ultralighters would shun;
e.g. a 23 oz (652 g) sleeping pad. Depending on the level of insects present and if I'm hiking
solo or not, I might pack a hammock, tent, or tarp. My base weight for three-season hiking is in the
sub-8 to 10 pound (3.5 - 4.6 kg) range, unless regulations force me to carry a bear canister.
|Manufacturer:||God's Country Botanicals (http://www.godscountrybotanicals.com)|
|Item:||Buzz-Off Insect Repellent|
|Size/Volume:||2 oz (59 ml) spray bottle|
|Weight as delivered:||2.6 oz (74 g)|
|Year of manufacture:||2007|
|Manufacturer Warning:||"Buzz-Off should not be used in mountainous areas where wild cats might be present. Catnip oil does attract wild cats, including mountain lions, cougars, and bobcats. Do not use this product if there is a danger of attracting a wild cat!" - from the product web site.|
An insect-deterring spray composed of the active ingredient catnip oil and the EPA-registered insect repellent lemon eucalyptus oil in a base of soya bean oil.
My interest in the God's Country Botanicals Buzz-Off Insect Repellent stems from its DEET-free blend of natural ingredients. I spend a lot of time in the outdoors, and one of my primary interests is outdoor photography. Of course, the best photos are taken in the early morning or late evening hours - the same time that mosquitoes are most active. Add to this the fact that mosquitoes absolutely LOVE me. I don't know what it is about me, but I'm pretty much a magnet for mosquitoes, ticks, spiders, and other pesky insects. Think of the Peanuts character "Pigpen" and replace the floating cloud of dust around him with bugs, and you've got an accurate picture of what I look like while on the trail. I get 100+ bites, while those around me get less than five. When hiking single file, with me in the lead, my fellow hikers watch in amazement, and delight, as bugs fly past them and make a bee-line for me. During times when others gauge bug presence as "average," I kill five mosquitoes on any given swat across my shoulders. Mosquitoes just don't seem to care whether they bite me in a "fleshy" or "boney" area - it's all good.
I've found that DEET-based solutions give me a headache, and at the same time I'm nervous about DEET's possible health issues if worn directly against the skin. DEET also tends to wear down synthetic materials, and with all the nylon I carry - from shelters to packs to clothes - this becomes a great concern. While some might say that DEET hasn't been proven to cause any ill effects in people when used as directed, I worry on two counts - that I may have allergic reactions or just be more sensitive to DEET than others, and that science tends to flip-flop over time (e.g. margarine vs. butter).
I've also found that "natural" insect repellents don't work very well, so my summertime hiking dress is typically made up of long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, a headnet that I've extended down to mid-chest level, and gloves made of bug netting that I've extended up to my elbow.
Of course, I would much rather stroll through the woods in shorts and a short-sleeved button down shirt. Enter God's Country Botanicals Buzz-Off Insect Repellent - a new product, a new hope.
The Buzz-Off product received for testing comes in a standard 2 ounce (59 ml) pump spray bottle. The repellent has an oil base, which makes it a little thick. It tends to come out of the bottle more as a "spit" than a spray. It has a citrus scent to it, which I don't find offensive in the least. The product's instructions suggest applying it every two hours making it, ounce for ounce, one of the more expensive options on the market. However, price is relative - if I can get through a bug-season with a few bottles, and the product actually works, then in my eyes it is well worth the cost.
I was a little disappointed at the product's less than commercial packaging. There's no UPC code, no list of ingredients, no warning labels, no expiration date, etc. The product's web page claims that its active ingredient, catnip oil, has been the subject of a University of Iowa study and shown to be 10 times more effective than DEET. A quick overview of the product and the study fails to list the amount or dilution of catnip oil used in the study - while catnip oil in itself might, at some level of exposure, be very affective against mosquitoes the amount that's in the Buzz-Off product may result in a completely different affect. Large-scale companies like SC Johnson spend millions of dollars on research to perfect their mosquito repellent products, so I'm more than a bit skeptical that such a small company can simply mix some catnip and lemon eucalyptus oils together and best the competition. Of course, that's why we test things at BGT - to let our readers get a feel for a product's performance before they actually buy it.
Bugs In My Neck of the Woods:
Michigan is a state known for its high levels of humidity. This is due to the number of inland lakes and streams we have, in addition to the Great Lakes themselves. The humidity, in turn, causes Michigan to have a highly active bug season, with multiple hatches occurring typically from late April through early September. The main difference I see between Michigan mosquitoes and those of other states is that ours are active in a wider range of temperatures - biting in thick swarms on cool spring nights in the 30's (~ 3 C), for example. The local mosquitoes also seem to be active throughout the entire day, rather than just in the morning and evening like in other areas of the country I've hiked in. I've also noticed that Michigan mosquitoes do not disappear altogether with the first freeze - while not biting, I've pulled mosquitoes out of the air while in the Michigan woods during all months of the year, including during sub-freezing winter conditions.
My sample of Buzz-Off mosquito repellent came just after the season's second hatch of mosquitoes in my area. I went for a walk at a local park that has a 120 acre (~45 ha) wooded area that has a creek running through it and lots of muddy ground that's a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. I wore shorts and a short-sleeved button down shirt. Temperatures were in the 90's (33 C) with humidity levels at 80%. I didn't notice any mosquitoes landing on me while walking, but as soon as I stopped there were suddenly over ten mosquitoes on each leg, with others flying around my arms and face looking for places to land. I felt a few bites and quickly exited the woods to apply the Buzz-Off mosquito repellent. I sprayed each leg with multiple "spits" and rubbed the oil in to ensure full coverage. I repeated the same procedure over my hands, arms, and neck. I used the residual oil that was on my hands to cover my cheeks and forehead. Then, I returned to my hike. When I got to the same spot where I initially encountered the mosquitoes, I came to a stop. Once again, I was immediately surrounded my mosquitoes, but this time the mosquitoes just flew in close to me, with a few landing on me but then immediately taking off. The product started to look promising.
I walked further down the trail and stopped to take a photo. Predictably, the mosquitoes started to swarm around me. This time, while most of the bugs avoided me a few (three) landed and bit into me. Disappointment began to set in, but I thought that perhaps the oil just had to dry a little and perhaps be absorbed into my skin. So, I continued my hike. I didn't notice any mosquitoes biting me while I walked, but over the course of an hour I would get bites at any given stop. At the end of my hike, I took inventory. I had bites on my arms and legs, on my knees and behind my knees, on my knuckles and between my fingers, even on my ankles. While I feel I had less bites over the course of an hour than I would have otherwise, I still had way too many for me to consider the product as effective. At best, it is a low-level deterrent.
Thoughts Thus Far:
At this point in my testing, this product isn't affective as a mosquito repellent to any sort of degree where I'd seriously consider using it, let along buying it. I'm really looking for a product that will work on mosquitoes period - not sometimes, not when mosquitoes are sort of biting, not on just a particular species of mosquito. That said, I will continue to use it and note my results in my upcoming field and long-term report.
That said, I encourage readers to examine the results of other reviewers contributing to this test series. As I said at the beginning of my report, I am a bug magnet and typically get many more bites than the average person. A product that doesn't work for me may work for others. Thus, I am also looking forward to reading about the experiences of my fellow reviewers with this particular product.
- End of Initial Report -
My methodology for testing the Buzz-Off Insect Repellent was to first walk into the woods and find the bugs. Once I confirmed that mosquitoes were actually about and biting, I would rush off into a sunny area and, before the mosquitoes found me, apply the repellant. I walked through thick dark woods, swampy areas, across low-lying muddy trail, and everything in between. Outside of a couple of hikes, there were no buzzing mosquitoes to be found. I looked for bugs in the morning, afternoon, and evening hours - NOTHING!
I've had to opportunity to do quite a bit of dayhiking this summer, and have also done some backpacking/trail maintenance on the section of the North Country Trail that I maintain in western Michigan. Unfortunately for this test, we've had some unusual summer conditions. Dry weather and low levels of humidity combined in a manner unfavorable for mosquitoes to breed in - the number of hatches have been very limited. I've lived in Michigan for my entire life, and have never experienced weeks and weeks of summer conditions devoid of mosquitoes. During the testing period, I hiked in temperatures ranging from 53-95° F (12-35° C) but, for most outings, daytime temperatures were in a comfortable summertime range of 76-85° F (25-30° C). Add to this shade from trees and a steady breeze and hiking conditions were perfect, unless one was testing bug repellant or rain gear.
As other hikers were quick to point out when I explained that I was testing a mosquito repellant, "first, there need to be actual mosquitoes to repel." Thankfully, I do tend to attract a lot more bugs than other people so while nobody was bitten on the few trips where I did see mosquitoes, they would still seek me out, land, and bite.
Late August rainfall brought the month's total rainfall to 3.5 inches (9 cm) above the historical average. Such wet conditions allowed for another mosquito hatch to occur and, by early September, the woods were buzzing with activity once again. As I encountered relatively few mosquitoes during my testing to this point, I took advantage of the recent hatch and went to Livingston County's Gregory State Game Area. In Michigan, a state game area can be described as a large unmaintained section of land that goes pretty much unused with the exception of fall and spring hunting seasons. In the summer, there are no discernable trails in these areas, not even game paths. Due to the thick foliage, hiking is more aptly called bushwhacking, with a weave of rose, raspberry, and other thorny vines blocking each step. To say the going is slow is an understatement - the pace of the hike allows mosquitoes to work on a hiker's defenses, not to mention patience.
As the mosquitoes were biting as soon as I got out of my car, I immediately applied the Buzz Off repellant, making sure to cover exposed skin completely. In the end, I can't say that the product made any difference at all. From the moment I stepped into the tall grasses of the game area the mosquitoes were on to me, and they would continue unabated for the next two hours. I had repellant on my arms, I got bit on the arms. I had repellant on my hands, I got bit on my hands, I had repellant on my knees, I got bit on my knees. I had a thick coverage of repellant on my neck and forehead, and found that the greatest concentration of bites were on my neck and forehead. Is this stuff supposed to deter or attract mosquitoes?
From the Gregory State Game Area I moved to the Stinchfield Woods. This is a field research area for demonstration of forest and sustainable ecosystem management - it is owned and managed by the University of Michigan's School of Natural Resources and Environment. Unlike the Gregory State Game Area, the trails here are well defined, wide and open, zigzagging between two ridges and allowing for a lot of up and down walking. The woods themselves are made up of conifer plantations and stands of native hardwoods, mostly oaks and hickories. While there are few terrain and ecological similarities between the Gregory State Game Area and Stinchfield Woods, on this day both segments had a hungry mosquito population in the air. After getting gorged on earlier in the day, I was not looking forward to a repeat experience. I applied a fresh layer of repellant, and the results were the same as on my morning hike - while there was a constant scent of eucalyptus in the air around me as I walked, it just didn't prove to be affective. The repellent didn't seem to work at all, whether it was just applied or had been on me for over an hour.
Back on the home front, I applied the repellant in the evening before mowing my lawn. As in my on-trail testing, I found that I continued to be bitten by mosquitoes.
Because I didn't find conditions where large swarms of mosquitoes were present, I cannot comment on whether the product noticeably decreases the number of mosquitoes landing or not, but I've certainly experienced enough bites in a short span of time where I wouldn't consider using the Buzz-Off product for my personal mosquito repellant needs.
Overall, the mosquito bites I received - both frequency and quantity - lead me to believe that the Buzz Off product simply does not work.
Based on my initial comments of effectiveness, the manufacturer did contact me with respect to my thoughts on increasing the percentage of catnip oil - the active ingredient - that the product contains. I think this is a good idea, and would welcome the opportunity to test a "high strength" version of "Buzz Off" in early Spring 2008.
- End of Field/Long-Term Report -
Read more reviews of Gods Country Botanicals gear
Read more gear reviews by Andrew Mytys