If you’re a hiker, you’re probably aware of the risks that come with tick bites. Ticks can carry the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease. You can also catch other tick-borne illnesses from a tick bite – Elrichosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, among others. None of these diseases are good, so it’s best to avoid ticks while hiking.
The Blacklegged Tick, commonly known as the deer tick, is the most common tick known to carry Lyme disease. But, not all deer ticks even carry Lyme disease. So, if you’re bitten by a tick and it happens to be a deer tick, that still doesn’t mean you were exposed to Lyme disease. But, you should still take precautions to prevent tick bites.
Step 1: Don’t Go Where Ticks Hang Out
The best way to avoid a tick bite is to avoid ticks. It sounds simple, and it kind of is simple. But, there’s a strategy you should stick to in order to avoid ticks. If you can, avoid hiking trails that pass through overgrown grassy, brushy, or wooded areas. If the hike you’re going on has lots of bushwacking, your risk of coming in contact with a tick increases. If an area looks like ticks would thrive there, assume there will be ticks.
Ticks are tiny little insects that wait around for a mammal to latch onto. They’ll often climb to the top of a blade of grass or the edge and wait for dinner to pass by. If you avoid those places, you probably won’t be dinner.
Perform tick checks periodically throughout the day, especially after hiking through brushy sections. After you sit down for a break, check for any ticks that have just climbed onto your legs. You can also use a sit pad to avoid sitting directly on the ground or rocks.
Ticks like warm places, so do an especially thorough check on the backside of your knees, between your legs, and your upper arms near your armpits.
Step 2: Use Bug Repellant For those times when you do come in contact with ticks, use bug spray to repel them. Be especially vigilant with applying repellant from the waist down, since you’re more likely to brush against a tick with your legs.
If you prefer all-natural bug spray, lemon eucalyptus oil is a decently effective chemical-free option for repelling insects. However, no bug repellent works better than DEET. Chemical repellents that are at least 80% DEET are most effective at keeping mosquitoes, ticks, and other bugs away.
You can also treat your clothes with Permethrin. This is a bug repellant that will stay on your clothes for 6 weeks or through 6 washes, whichever comes first. To treat your clothes, hang them so they’re hanging flat and thoroughly coat them in Permethrin. Allow them to dry before wearing.
A combination of bug spray and Permethrin will give you a good defense against any ticks you come across on your hikes. If you’re in an area with a high concentration of ticks, you should use both of these defense methods.
Step 3: Wear Long Sleeves and Pants
Cover more of your skin to avoid giving those ticks something to latch onto. Wear long pants and a long sleeve shirt. If you know you’re in an area with lots of ticks, tuck your pants into your socks. Tuck your shirt into your pants as well. It may look a bit dorky, but it’s better than Lyme disease.
Wearing light-colored clothing makes it easier to spot a tick that made it onto your clothes. With a light colored background, you’ll likely be able to see that tiny little insect when in gets on your clothes.
However, there is some evidence that shows ticks are more attracted to light-colored clothing. This study found that people wearing light colored clothing were 20% more likely to have a tick on their clothes. However, there were only 10 participants in the study. That’s not a particularly large sample size.
So what’s the best option? Long pants and a long sleeve shirt, for sure. As far as what color clothing to wear, you should probably just treat whatever you’re wearing with Permethrin and wear whatever colors of clothing you like.
Step 4: Do a Tick Check After Your Hike
When your hike is over, closely double-check all of your clothing, gear, pets, and backpack for ticks. It’s easiest to do a thorough tick inspection on yourself in the shower, and you’re probably wanting to take one after you sweat on a hike anyway.
While in the shower, run your hands over your skin to check for ticks. Be especially careful to inspect around your ears, all over your head and hairline, under your arms, inside your belly button, behind your legs, and in between your legs.
Be sure to check any pets that went on your hike as well. What to do if you find a tick? If you find a tick, use this handy guide for how to remove a tick.
Luckily, avoiding ticks is easy enough. If you use bug repellant, avoid places where ticks frequent, and wear the right types of clothing, then you likely won’t have issues with ticks. If you’re hiking somewhere that has an especially high concentration of ticks, you should take some extra precautions. We’ve outlined all of that for you.
Most tick bites occur between May and July when tick larvae mature into nymphs. Unfortunately, this is also the best time of year for hiking. But, you don’t have to avoid the trails just to avoid ticks.
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