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We tested Thermacell Backpacker: It actually does keep the bugs away

Working in the garden, park, or other place in nature can seem idyllic… until the insects make an appearance.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Contributing Writer

I try and spend a good chunk of my time during the warmer months out of the office and working in nature.

It's nice.

Or at least it is until the insects find me.

In previous years I've experimented with a wide variety of insect repellants. From stuff you apply to your skin (I tend not to use DEET-based products for general use because they can damage and melt some plastics) to coils that you burn, and had pretty good success with them.

But they all have their weaknesses. What I've always wanted is a solution that allows me to click a button and the insects go away.

I've found the perfect solution.

The Thermacell Backpacker.

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This is a two-part system that consists of a tiny device that looks like a hiking stove that screws onto the top of an isobutane gas canister, and a blue pad of repellant that slots into the top.

From that point on the operation is simple. You flip a lever to "on", click a piezo-electric ignitor button, and wait for the unit to heat up and for the insects within a 15-foot radius to get the message and leave.

Each pad contains allethrin, an extract of the chrysanthemum plant, lasts for about four hours (it turns from a deep blue to a white when it's exhausted. There's no bad odor or smoke (sometimes I can see wisps coming from the unit, particularly with a fresh pad), low risk for fire or injury (the unit doesn't get all that hot), and when purchased by the dozen the refill pads work out at a little over a dollar each.

When the pad is done you slide it out, slide a new one in and you're ready to go again.

Note that the Backpacker version comes with four pads but doesn't come supplied with a gas canister.

The unit is very frugal when it comes to gas usage, too. I've been getting hours of runtime from a single 500g/16oz fuel canister. The manufacturers claim 360 hours, and I can believe that. I've gone through about a dozen pads during my time in the midge-infested wilds of Scotland, and it's barely made a dent in the gas canister I'm using.

Thermacell Backpacker

When I'm done, I flip the lever to "off," wait a couple of minutes for the unit to cool down before unscrewing it, and then pop it away in its own little carry pouch.

It really is simple, yet effective.

The unit is marketed as a mosquito repeller, but I'm in an area that's infested with midges and flying ants -- at least when the sun comes out -- and I find it to be very effective against these insects.

Thermacell do make a variety of different units, from ones designed for hikers to units that protect your patio or garden. There are also units that are battery-powered and do away with the gas canister completely.

For me, the small size and weight of the Backpacker model, in conjunction with the fact that I can use regular gas canisters as opposed to the bespoke ones that some of the other Thermacell units run on, gives me the best of all worlds. 

On top of that, I'm thrilled by how well it works. I was a little skeptical of it initially, but after having used it for a few weeks, I have to say that I'm impressed by its performance and convenience -- it's easy to use, and there's no mess or liquids to spill or acrid smoke to deal with.

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