How do you protect yourself from ticks while hiking? This is a question almost all hikers ask themselves.
During the warmer months of the year, there’s no finer feeling than grabbing your backpack and gear, lacing up your hiking boots, and heading outdoors into the wilderness to embark on a hiking adventure on any one of Mother Earth’s stunning hiking trails.
Hiking is an awesome way to relax and unwind after a stressful week at work, not to mention the fact that it’s a great form of exercise that will also do wonders for your mental health as well.
As great as it is to go hiking and get some fresh country air, one of the biggest downsides to hiking and spending time outdoors, especially in the countryside during the warmer months of the year, is having to deal with the bugs and creepy crawlies.
In terms of sheer annoyance, fewer things will make hikers squirm more than ticks.
Ticks are awful little creatures that are not only vile to look at, but more importantly, they’re carriers of disease and can be very difficult to remove.
To help protect you on your next hiking trip, here’s a look at how to protect yourself from ticks while hiking.
What are ticks?
Before we can start talking to you about the steps and measures you can take to protect yourself from ticks while hiking, we first need to look at what these pesky little critters are.
Now, technically, ticks are a part of the Arachnida family that includes spiders, though they are of course very different in terms of appearance and behavioural traits.
To make matters worse, there are a number of different species of tick scattered around the US, and unfortunately some species can be more dangerous than others. This is mainly due to the fact that some ticks carry diseases such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
In order for them to complete their life cycles, ticks require blood. This next part is really disgusting, but, to allow ticks to get access to fresh blood, they’ll burrow under the skin and bury themselves under the skin to feast, and they can’t be removed easily. If you try to remove a tick and it breaks in half, you’re left with half a tick under your skin, which could lead to very serious health issues.
Ticks have a fairly complex life cycle, which begins with an egg, next comes the larvae stage, then comes the nymph, and finally comes the male and female adults.
As far as common species of tick go, these include, but are not limited to:
- Blacklegged tick
- American dog tick
- Gulf coast tick
- Lone star tick
- Brown dog tick
- Rocky Mountain wood tick
- Western blacklegged tick
How do you protect yourself from ticks while hiking? Top Tips
Okay, so now that we know more about what these nasty little critters are, let’s now take a look at a few useful ways in which you can protect yourself from ticks while hiking.
The first thing you need to know about ticks is that they aren’t like fleas, so they can’t jump, hop, or fall. In fact, they’re decidedly sloth-like in terms of their activity levels as the only way for them to latch onto a host is to reach out and grab onto it when it brushes by them.
As a result of this, it’s important for you to dress appropriately while hiking.
First off, always wear thick socks that are at least shin height as this will offer protection to your lower legs if you’re wearing shorts and hiking.
Ideally you should also try not to wear shorts while hiking, as the more of your skin that is exposed, the greater the risk of a tick hiding in the grass latching onto your flesh and burrowing in when you brush past it.
Experts recommend that you tuck your pant legs into your socks to really minimize the risk of a tick bite. To read more about how to layer clothing click here.
Basically, the less flesh that is exposed, the less risk you have of attracting an unwanted visitor.
Use the right repellent
According to various experts in the field, a potent insecticide known as Permethrin, which is used in antimalarial bed nets, is very effective at killing larval ticks or ‘Nymphs’ as well as adult ticks.
Therefore, it is recommended that you purchase clothing treated with Permethrin, including socks and shoes.
Oh, and before you grab a generic bug spray and throw it in your backpack, unfortunately this has not been found to be toxic to ticks so don’t go dousing your clothing with generic bug spray as that won’t work.
Try to avoid warmer days
This next tick prevention tip isn’t ideal for those of you who enjoy hiking in blazing sunshine, but it needs to be addressed.
In the spring and summer, especially on warm and sunny days, ticks are in the most dangerous growth stage, and there will also likely be more of them.
Even in the winter, you need to be careful because if you decide to go hiking on a warmer winter’s day that is much warmer than it has been in recent weeks, the ticks will be hungrier than ever and will be out in force.
Stick to the middle of the trail
As mentioned before, ticks are lazy little critters that generally like to simply sit on grass, plants, leaves, and foliage and latch onto an unsuspecting person or animal that happens to brush upon the foliage the tick has been chilling out on.
Because of this, one of the simplest and most effective ways of avoiding ticks is to simply stick to the middle of the hiking path or trail, where there won’t be overgrown vegetation.
If you walk down the middle of the trail, you won’t brush up against grass, leaves, and plants etc, which means that your chances of picking up a tick will be reduced dramatically.
Try to wear white or lighter colors
When you think of hiking clothing and gear, usually the colors that spring to mind are greens, browns, and orange. Basically, colors designed to help blend into the background so that you don’t stand out.
However, if you really want to protect yourself and other members of your party, from ticks, experts recommend that you wear white hiking gear for the simple reason that ticks are much easier to spot on light clothing than they are on dark.
If you do spot a tick on your clothing, you can then dispose of it accordingly, before it gets chance to go blood diving.
Don’t forget a jar and tweezers
When packing hiking gear, some items such as a water bottle and hiking boots, for example, are very obvious. When the time comes for you to pack your hiking gear, though, before you hit the trails make sure you pack a pair of tweezers and a jar or container with a top.
The reason for this is that, should you find a tuck half burrowed into your skin, or somebody else’s skin, you will need to firmly grasp it with the tweezers and remove it in one piece.
The jar or container is so that you can tack it back with you and potentially get it tested to make sure it isn’t carrying any nasty diseases that would require antibiotics and other medications. I would recommend always hiking with a multi-tool – this should offer you all the functionality you need.
Protect your head
When it comes to staying tick-free, please do not assume that ticks only hide in grass and bushes.
Ticks could quite easily also be hiding on the leaves and branches of trees, which means that when you walk under a tree, if your head or hair brushes against it, you could potentially soon find a tick half embedded in your scalp. Yuck!
When hiking, try wearing a hat and tying your hair back. You could even use a tick repellent spray and rub that onto your head and neck.
We have put together a list of the best hats for hot weather. These will offer you all the protection you need. Click here to find out more!
Avoid tall grass
This one should now be pretty obvious if you’ve been paying attention, but just to ensure that there’s no confusion, when out hiking, try to avoid tall grass unless absolutely necessary.
On hiking trails where ticks are known to be prevalent, stay clear of long grass, even if you are wearing protective clothing.
Stop and check
As annoying as this can be, dealing with Lyme Disease caused by a tick bite is a lot more annoying so throughout your hike, every so often take a break and check for ticks.
Now, you don’t need to strip down to your undies and inspect everything with a magnifying glass, but do a quick check of your clothing and gear, just to make sure there are no ticks catching a lift on your gear, waiting for the perfect opportunity to start feasting on you.
Check your damper areas
Ticks are like bacteria, in that they prefer warm, moist, and darker areas.
So, with that said, when you are looking for ticks, you’re likely to find them on parts of your anatomy that are warm and moist, especially when you consider perspiration.
Check your armpits, your feet, your groin, and the backs of your knees when looking for ticks, and for the female readers amongst you, don’t forget the bra line, as this is the ideal spot for ticks.
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