I used to get eaten alive by mosquitoes while hunting, camping, fishing, barbecuing, etc. That all changed when I got a Thermacell. Here’s why.
Most hunters, anglers, and others who just enjoy outdoor activities will probably agree that mosquitoes, black flies, sand flies (no-see-ums), and other biting insects can make it really unpleasant to be outside at certain times of the year. Few things are as annoying as mosquitoes constantly buzzing around your ears or biting any exposed skin when you’re trying to have a good time at a barbecue or sit absolutely still in a deer stand.
I got a firsthand lesson in just how brutal the bugs can in some areas when I moved to Savannah, Georgia as a young man. There are some fantastic hunting and fishing opportunities there, but that’s a very wet and swampy region similar to many parts of Florida.
Not surprisingly, that area is absolutely full of bugs.
For this reason, I soon realized I needed a way to deal with mosquitoes and other biting insects while I was bass fishing as well as hunting whitetail deer and feral hogs. I tried everything from DEET based bug repellent sprays, creams, and lotions to citronella candles with mixed results.
Obviously, it wasn’t practical to carry around and light a citronella candle while hunting or fishing. DEET would work ok for me for a little while, but I was sweating so much in that warm climate that it would lose effectiveness after a short period of time. Additionally, I found that even if they wouldn’t actually bite me, I’d still quite often have bugs constantly buzzing around my head when I was wearing DEET.
I’d almost given up on finding a practical and effective bug repellent when I discovered Thermacell mosquito repellent devices by accident. This was in the early days of the company and they weren’t very well known. However, I was getting sick of getting eaten alive every time I went hunting or fishing, so I decided to buy one and try it out.
The results were stunning the first time I took my Thermacell hunting and turned it on: it was as close to a magical way to repel mosques as I’d ever seen and the cloud of mosquitoes that surrounded me at the time completely disappeared. Over a decade later, Thermacell is still the most effective product I’ve ever used for mosquito protection.
In this article, I’m going to explain why I’m such a strong believer in Thermacell mosquito repellent devices and go over some of the pros and cons of their different products so you can make an informed decision regarding which one will work best for the sort of activities that you enjoy the most.
Before we get started, I have an administrative note:
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What Is A Thermacell And How Does It Work?
Thermacell devices use a heat activated repellent to create an invisible zone of protection from mosquitoes. Just turn on the device, let it warm up, and within a few minutes the Thermacell will vaporize the bug repellant, disperse it into the air, and thus repel bugs from the immediate area. While the basic principle is the same regardless of the model, some Thermacells (including the early model I originally purchased) utilize butane fuel while other models use a lithium-ion battery to power an internal heating element.
The butane fuel and lithium-ion powered models are DEET free and use slightly different repellents (allethrin and metofluthrin as active ingredients respectively), but both are very similar to the naturally occurring insect repellent found in the chrysanthemum flower. In each case, I’ve found that Thermacell devices do an outstanding job of repelling bugs (especially mosquitoes).
Additionally, not only does it discourage insects from biting you, but they completely leave the zone of protection, so you won’t have any mosquitoes buzzing around your head while you’re using a Thermcaell.
The photo below shows a battery powered Thermacell Radius device flanked by two different butane powered devices: my early model Thermacell on the left and a current production Thermacell MR300 on the right.
Note: I purchased my first Thermacell many years ago at full price, but the company sent me the Thermacell Radius and MR300 portable mosquito repeller pictured below for free. All butane powered Thermacell devices use the same butane cartridges and repellent mats. So don’t worry: regardless of the model you use, their regular butane cartridges and repeller mats will work just fine.
As you can see in the photo below, the butane cartridge screws into the bottom of the device and is covered by a plastic cap once installed. To install the repellent mat, just remove it from the package and slide it under the grill.Once the fuel cartridge and repellent mat are installed, turn the switch to the “on” position and wait 5 seconds. You’ll hear a quiet hissing sound. Then, push the start button just below the grill and you should hear the fuel ignite.
The hissing sound should continue as long as the device is running. There’s no open flame, but you can tell the Thermacell is running by looking for an orange/red glow in the window on top of the unit like in the photo below.
The butane cartridges will last for about 12 hours of use and the repellent pads will work for about 4 hours of use. The pads turn white when expended and the clear packaging of the butane canisters makes it easy to see how much fuel is left in one. When they’re used up, simply throw the expended fuel cartridge or repellent pad in the trash and replace them with fresh ones in your Thermacell.
Each device ships with a single fuel canister and three repellent mats, which is good for 12 hours of use. Thermacell sells 12 hour (3 mats, 1 cartridges), 24 hour (6 mats, 2 cartridges), 48 hour (12 mats, 4 cartridges), 60 hour (15 mats, 5 cartridges), 120 hour (30 mats, 10 cartridges), and 300 hour (75 mats, 25 cartridges) refill packs. Thermacell advertises that their butane powered devices produce a 15 foot zone of protection.
While I haven’t actually measured the area they repel bugs from when in use, I’ve found that my butane powered Thermacell will easily protect me while I’m sitting in a deer stand as well as a space big enough to accommodate several people sitting around a campfire. The Thermacell Radius goes about doing the same thing in a slightly different manner. Instead of burning butane to provide heat, the Radius uses a rechargeable lithium-ion battery to power an internal heating element and disperse mosquito repeller
Getting the Radius ready to operate is pretty simple. First, plug the Thermacell Radius into the wall to charge. Once it’s fully charged, remove the top of the Radius, remove the cap on the repellent refill cartridge, insert the cartridge into the indicated space on the Radius, put the top back on, and push the big black button to turn it on. A white light will display for a few seconds after you turn the device on. Push the same button again for about a second to turn the Thermacell Radius off.
The Radius has an auto-off timer that will shut the device off after 120 minutes of operation if you double click the power button. Additionally, the Radius also has a lock function that will prevent it from turning on if the button is pushed (like if it’s packed in a suitcase). To lock or unlock the Radius, push and hold the power button for five seconds.
The Thermacell Radius will operate for 6-7 hours on a single battery charge. For what it’s worth, it takes around 5 hours to charge a fully discharged battery, but the device will operate while plugged in and charging if so desired. The device ships with a single 12 hour repellent canister. Thermacell sells 12 hour and 40 hour repellent refills.
All Thermacell repellers are designed for outdoor use only. So, don’t use one in a tent or a building.
What’s The Best Thermacell For Me?
There are several different Thermacell products marketed for various tasks (like the Thermacell Patio Lantern and Thermacell Patio Shield Mosquito Repeller), but we’ll primarily discuss the three Thermacell repellents that are best suited for rifle as well as bow hunting: the MR300, the MR450, and the Radius.
All of these devices do a very good job of accomplishing their primary task of repelling mosquitoes. They’re all also very compact, lightweight, easy to carry, and easy to use. The Radius is slightly thicker than the others, but is also smaller overall. For most part, they’re all excellent choices for providing protection from mosquitoes, especially on an early season archery deer hunt or a turkey hunt where temperatures can be warm and the bugs can be fierce.
Just turn the device on and set it either underneath your seat (like in a climbing tree stand) or on a flat surface upwind of you for the optimal protection zone.
They’re all very quiet to operate and, while I wouldn’t describe them as completely odor or scent free, they don’t smell nearly as strong as typical DEET spray.
Can deer smell a Thermacell?
It’s tough to say for sure, but a deer probably can smell the odors emitted by all Thermacell devices. That being said, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Remember: you need to be in close proximity to the Thermacell for best results. So, if the deer can smell the Thermacell, it can probably smell you too. Take your normal scent precautions and hunt with the wind in your favor and it won’t spook game.
If you do those things, you probably won’t have any issues. I’ve killed several deer and hogs while using a Thermacell portable mosquito repeller without any problems whatsoever. If you’re really worried about it though, Thermacell sells some Earth Scent repellent pads that you can use as a cover scent.
However with all those things in mind, there are a few differences between them as well as a few shortcomings they all share that you should be aware of before purchasing one.
First, all Thermacell devices need a couple of minutes to warm up and really start working. Don’t expect instantaneous results, but you should see a big decrease in insect activity within 5 minutes and it will reach peak effectiveness within 15 minutes. Turn your Thermacell on as soon as you arrive at your hunting spot (or on the way in) so it starts to warm up while you’re getting settled to minimize your exposure to bugs.
Second, they’re most effective in calm conditions, so expect a big drop off in effectiveness in the zone of protection if it’s really windy outside.
Next, due to the limitations just discussed, Thermacells aren’t great if you’re moving from place to place. So, while they’re great for camping, cookouts, and hunting from a stationary position, they aren’t especially useful for a backpacker out hiking or for spot and stalk hunting.
Additionally, the Thermacell MR450 and MR300 models don’t work as well at extremely high elevation (over 7,000 feet above sea level).
Finally, you’re not allowed to take the butane fuel cartridges the Thermacell MR300 and MR450 models use on an airline. The Thermacell device itself and the repellent pads are fine, but you’ll need to purchase fuel at your destination.
With those things in mind, the Thermacell Radius is a clear winner if you need something that will work very well at high elevation. By the same token, the Thermacell Radius is airline friendly, so it’s a great choice if you’ll be flying on a commercial plane.
You’ll get varying amounts of mileage out of your Thermacell depending on how bad the bugs are in your area and how long you actually hunt for. For the most part, when using the MR300 or the MR400 one mat lasts long enough to get in a hunt with plenty of time to spare in the morning or afternoon (sometimes both).
With over 6 hours of run time from a single charge and 12-40 hours of protection from a single repellent refill, the Radius will protect you from bugs longer than the others before you need to take any action. The downside of the Radius is that you’ll need access to electricity to charge it up.
This is not a problem if you’ll be returning home or to a cabin with electricity at the end of each day. However, the butane powered MR300 and MR400 are better choices if you’ll be hunting out of a more remote camp without electricity. Just bring a bunch of butane cartridges with you and swap them out as necessary.
Aside from a couple of minor differences, the MR300 and the MR450 are virtually identical. The MR450 has a slightly different grip, a belt clip, and what Thermacell calls a “blue LED ZoneCheck feature” that lets you know when the fuel runs out.
The belt clip in particular is a nice feature, but you don’t necessarily have to buy a MR450 for hands free use. Thermacell sells a black or camo holster that fits the MR300, MR450, and the older MR150 and allows users to attach it to a belt, backpack, or other piece of hunting gear.
For what it’s worth, I’ve always just carried my Thermacell in my backpack then set it on the ground or in my tree stand when in use with great results, though I understand why some people would want to use it with a belt loop or holster.
Bottom line, the Thermacell is a great piece of gear that provides excellent protection from mosquitoes. Hang it in your climbing tree stand while deer hunting, set it on the ground next to you on a turkey hunt, clip it to your belt or place it in the bottom of your boat while fishing, or set it on your patio during your cookout to enjoy bite free outdoor recreation.
Enjoy this article where I explain why my preferred method of bug repellent is a Thermacell while hunting, camping, fishing, and otherwise enjoying the outdoors? Please share it with your friends on Facebook and Twitter.
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Endorsement Disclosure: Per the guidelines of the Federal Trade Commission, the product reviewed here is an endorsement and I received compensation by “in-kind” payment to review the product.