Hiking is a fantastic way to explore the great outdoors, but it also can come with the risk of exposure to rocks, mosquitoes, and encountering ticks. Being aware of ticks and learning how to avoid ticks while hiking can be important for avoid these little bugs from hitchhiking a ride.
In this blog post, we’ll share expert tips on how to avoid ticks while hiking covering:
- how to understand tick habitats, like woods and tall grasses
- What to wear when hiking in an area that might have ticks
- How to avoid ticks while hiking using repellents like DEET or permethrin
Understanding Tick Habitats
When you venture into areas such as woods, tall grasses, and leaf litter depending on the season you can increase your risk of tick bites and associated tick born illness. Having knowledge of where ticks typically reside can help you sidestep areas that might be infested with ticks during your hike.
To lessen your likelihood of running into these bugs, it’s advised to stay on the trail and avoid thickly vegetated regions.
Some ticks are fond of wooded areas, and they thrive in shady, damp spots, tall grass, low shrubs, and thick vegetation, which are ideal conditions. Shady woodlands and hardwood forests offer ideal habitats for ticks and their hosts, such as deer and rodents.
If your hike takes your through shaded and forested trails, exercise caution and implement preventative measures to avoid ticks while hiking and keep ticks from attaching.
Tall grassy areas provide ticks with the perfect environment. In which they can find shade, moisture, and easy access to latch onto passing hikers. Ticks grip onto grass leaves and stick out their first set of legs, waiting to climb onto any host that brushes up against the grass or leaves.
Therefore, to avoid ticks and mitigate the risk of tick encounters, it’s advisable to steer clear of tall grasses during your hike if you are able. If not just be sure to perform frequent tick checks.
Leaf litter on the ground can be another tick haven. The insulation provided by fallen leaves creates the perfect conditions of shade, humidity, and temperature for ticks to thrive and reproduce.
During your hike, remain alert of leaf-littered areas and refrain from stepping or sitting on them as a precautionary measure. I have made this mistake a few times stepping into a leaf littered tick nest and it was not the most enjoyable experience I have had.
Choosing the Right Hiking Attire
You can really make a difference by just making the right clothing decision out on trail. Choosing appropriate hiking attire is paramount in limiting exposure to ticks. Here are some tips:
- Wear garments of light colors to help you notice ticks easily.
- Wear long sleeves and pants to conceal exposed skin and diminish the risk of tick bites.
- Consider wearing gaiters and closed footwear to provide an extra layer of protection against ticks by covering your ankles and feet.
Wearing light-colored clothing on your hiking adventures has the advantage of making it easier to spot dark-colored ticks on your clothes. This allows you to remove them before they have a chance to latch onto your skin, significantly reducing the risk of tick bites.
Long Sleeves and Pants
Here are some tips that I recommend following for extra tick protection:
- Tuck your shirt into your pants
- Wear a base layer
- Wear long pants and tuck them into your socks
Clothing made from tight-weave materials offers an added layer of protection, especially when treated with tick repellent products like permethrin.
Gaiters and Closed Footwear
Gaiters and closed footwear serve as an extra layer of defense against tick bites. Gaiters prevent ticks from climbing up your legs, while closed shoes protect your feet from being exposed to ticks in the environment.
For optimal tick protection, choose gaiters made from waterproof, breathable, tick-resistant materials like nylon and treat your shoes and other hiking gear with tick repellent products containing permethrin, DEET, or picaridin.
Using Effective Tick Repellents
The use of potent tick repellents plays an important role in warding off tick bites and the diseases they can transmit. For skin application, DEET, picaridin, and oil of lemon eucalyptus are highly recommended. On the other hand, permethrin probably one of my favorite choices for treating clothes and gear, providing added protection against ticks.
DEET, Picaridin, and Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus
DEET, picaridin, and oil of lemon eucalyptus are effective tick repellents for skin application. DEET, for instance was found in various studies like this one, to be effective against ticks. Deet can provide protection in preventing tick bites when applied at a concentration of 20-30% on clothes. Picaridin, on the other hand, interferes with ticks’ sense of smell, making it a potent tick repellent.
For best results, use a product with at least 20% DEET or 20% Picaridin, and about 30% lemon eucalyptus oil extract (Citriodiol). Be sure to follow the instructions on the label. When using DEET I really like to use Off! Deep Woods. For Picardin which I use RangerReady and recommend REPEL Lemon Eucalyptus for a more plant-based spray.
Permethrin for Clothes and Gear
Permethrin is a powerful tick repellent that can be applied to clothes and gear for added protection. It kills ticks upon contact and can be applied either by spraying your clothes and gear or by purchasing pre-treated items from outdoor clothing companies.
Permethrin treatment on clothes and gear usually lasts for about six weeks or six washes, whichever comes first, providing long-lasting protection against ticks. I recommend using Sawyer Permethrin spray
Staying on the Trail and Avoiding Tick-Infested Areas
Sticking to the trail and steering clear of areas infested with ticks proves to be one of the best strategies to steer clear of ticks during a hike. Walking in the middle of the path and steering clear of brushy areas significantly reduces your chances of coming into contact with ticks.
Middle of the Path
Walking in the middle of the path is a simple yet effective way to reduce the chances of tick encounters. By staying in the center of the trail, you avoid brushing up against tall grass and vegetation where ticks usually lurk, waiting to latch onto passing hosts. This strategy helps keep the risk of ticks attaching to your clothes or skin to a minimum.
Steering Clear of Brushy Areas
Avoiding brushy areas where ticks may be hiding is another essential step in preventing tick bites. Ticks thrive in wooded areas, tall grass, leaf litter, and places with a lot of undergrowth. By steering clear of these environments and sticking to the trail, you significantly decrease your chances of encountering ticks and the diseases they may carry.
Conducting Thorough Tick Checks
This is one of the best ways to continue to avoid ticks from attaching. Performing thorough tick checks serves as a vital way in preventing tick bites and the illnesses they might cause. Checking yourself, your hiking buddies, and your pets for ticks during and after hiking can help catch and remove ticks before they have a chance to transmit diseases through a tick bite.
How to Tick Check During a Hike
Checking for ticks during is super important to prevent ticks from attaching. Ticks can be as small as a poppy seed and hide in places like between joints, behind the knees, and elbows. A thorough tick check helps minimize the risk of tick-borne diseases, as it ensures any ticks that may have attached during your hike are removed promptly.
The way I like to do a tick check during is:
- First, start at your feet checking your shoes, laces, looking for any ticks near the cracks of the surfaces. Make your way to your socks scanning up your legs or your pants for any ticks that are moving. If you find any just swipe them off your body
- Second, if you have a partner have them assist with checking the back or front of your shirt. Scanning and swiping them off if you find any.
- Lastly, scan your gear sometimes they like to hitch a ride on backpacks and such though in my experience this has always been a little less common than the shoes and lower legs.
Post Hike Tick Check
After your hike be sure to do a thorough tick check. The way I like to do a post tick check is to follow the steps for tick checking during your hike. Then, do another check when you are changing clothes or prior to bathing that night.
During this tick check be sure you scan places between joints, behind the knees, and elbows. Also, be sure to check personal areas and under your armpits.
Don’t forget to check your pets for ticks after hiking, as they can also pick up these unwanted hitchhikers. Ticks are usually found around the:
- other areas of your pet’s body
Regular tick checks on your pets can help catch and remove ticks before they have a chance to cause harm, especially when you spot a tick crawling on their fur.
Proper Tick Removal Techniques
Should you discover a tick on your skin or on your pet’s fur, understanding the correct techniques to remove it becomes imperative. Using tweezers and avoiding common mistakes, such as using heat or chemicals, can help minimize the risk of infection.
Using tweezers is the safest and most effective way to remove ticks. Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible with clean, fine-tipped tweezers, and pull upward with steady, even pressure. This technique reduces the risk of disease transmission by ensuring that the entire tick is removed.
What Not to Do
When it comes to tick removal, there are several common mistakes to avoid:
- Do not use heat, chemicals, or other home remedies, as these can increase the risk of infection.
- Avoid crushing or squeezing the tick, as its bodily fluids may contain bacteria that can cause infection.
- Stick to the proper tick removal techniques to minimize the risk of tick-borne diseases.
Protecting Your Pets from Ticks
Pets can also run the risk of tick bites and associated diseases. Using preventative medication and conducting regular tick checks can help keep your pets safe from ticks and the diseases they carry.
Using preventative medication is an essential step in protecting your pets from ticks. When I used to work in a pet store these were common topical medications I would recommend:
Can help prevent ticks. These medications are safe and effective, but it’s important to consult with your veterinarian to determine the best option for your pet.
Regular Tick Checks
In addition to preventative medication, it’s vital to conduct regular tick checks on your pets. Start with their lower extremities, moving up to check their back, belly, and against their fur for small bumps. Don’t forget to examine their eyes and ears, as ticks may hide in these areas as well.
Regular tick checks can help catch and remove ticks before they have a chance to transmit tick borne illness to your pets, contributing to effective disease control.
Seasonal Tick Activity
Despite ticks being most active in spring and summer, they are present throughout the year, underscoring the importance of year-round tick prevention.
Spring and Summer
Ticks are most active during spring and summer, with larvae and nymphs emerging in spring and early summer. During these warmer months, it’s essential to take extra precautions to prevent tick bites, such as wearing appropriate clothing, using tick repellents, and conducting thorough tick checks before and after hiking.
Ticks can be found in all seasons, as long as temperatures are above 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, it’s essential to maintain tick prevention measures year-round, especially in areas with mild winters and long, hot springs and summers, which are often referred to as tick country.
These measures include wearing protective clothing, using tick repellents, and conducting regular tick checks on yourself and your pets.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best tick repellent for hiking?
For maximum protection when hiking off-trail or camping in the backcountry, use a skin repellent like OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent as well as a repellent for clothing and gear, such as Sawyer Premium Permethrin Insect Repellent.
What keeps ticks away from you?
To keep ticks away, wear long sleeves and pants, treat clothes and gear with permethrin, and check for ticks every day. Repellents can also be used to help protect against these pests.
What are the most common tick habitats?
Ticks commonly live in wooded areas, tall grasses, and leaf litter, so these are the most common tick habitats.
How often should I check for ticks before and after hiking?
Check for ticks both before though it is most important to check during and after hiking to stay safe from tick bites and illnesses.
Ticks can be a real concern for hikers and their pets, but with proper preventative measures you can stay safe and have tick free adventures. By understanding tick habitats, choosing appropriate hiking clothes, using effective tick repellents, and conducting thorough tick checks, you can significantly reduce the risk of tick bites and tick-borne illnesses.
Use this guide for how to avoid ticks while hiking to help you prepare the next time you go out on the trails during tick season. Feel free to let us know if you have any questions or comments.