How To Avoid Ticks While Hiking
The best way to avoid ticks while hiking is to arm yourself with knowledge.
Understanding where ticks like to hang out will help you avoid them. Choosing the best clothing to wear will prevent them from latching on to you. And knowing how to perform a tick check — or how to remove a tick from yourself — will reduce the chance of catching a tick-borne disease.
Ticks are a part of life for hikers. Most of us have had a bite or two. But over thousands of miles hiked, I’ve only had four ticks. I got more ticks as a child playing in the woods than I’ve ever had on trail.
Generally, ticks are just a bit gross. But they can carry diseases and infections. Some of which, like Lyme disease, can cause serious long term health issues.
In this article, I’ll share my top tips for avoiding tick bites while hiking.
Table of Contents
Know Where Ticks Hang Out
Hiking in tall grass, heather or dense foliage increases the risk of coming into contact with ticks.
They sit on the end of long grasses, waiting for their prey to pass. From there, they grab on and climb until they find a warm dark place to begin feeding. Ticks don’t fly or jump onto you as you walk past. They’ll only grab on if you brush against them.
If you can avoid it, don’t rub against plants as you hike — stick to the middle of the trail.
It’s a good idea to read trail reports or talk to other hikers about the prevalence of ticks on any given trail too. This will let you know what you’re up against before heading out.
Wearing long pants and sleeves will prevent ticks from getting to your skin.
Of course, not everyone likes hiking in trousers or long-sleeved tops. I always hike in shorts but have found long socks to be a good compromise. They offer solid protection without being constricting like trousers.
If you do opt for trousers, tuck them into your socks. This reduces the chance of ticks being able to climb up a pant leg. Likewise, tucking your t-shirt into your trousers is an effective technique.
Although they’re designed to keep stones and debris out of your shoes, gaiters can add an extra layer of tick protection to your feet and ankles.
Wear Closed Shoes
Hiking sandals are great for keeping cool but offer an easy way for ticks to get to your feet.
Stick to closed-toe shoes for maximum protection.
Permethrin spray on your clothes and shoes is a good way to deter ticks. The repellent remains active for several weeks and makes you much less attractive to the little bloodsuckers.
You’ll need to spray your clothes every few hikes to ensure lasting protection.
It’s also a good idea to spray yourself regularly. Deet is the most effective repellent but can be harsh on your skin.
Pay Attention to Colours
Common wisdom says that light coloured clothes attract fewer ticks. However, recent studies have shown that dark clothing results in 20% fewer ticks.
The advantage of light colour clothing is that you can spot small ticks more easily. This allows you to brush them off before they get a chance to latch on.
So dark colours are better for tick prevention but light colours make it easier to spot ticks. No matter what colours you wear, check yourself regularly if you’re in tick country.
Showering within an hour or two of getting home gives you the chance to wash away any unattached ticks. The longer you wait though, the more likely they are to start feeding.
You should also wash your clothes as frequently as possible. If you have access to a dryer, use it. It will kill ticks very quickly.
Carry Tweezers or a Tick Remover
You can practice as much bite avoidance as possible but occasionally, a tick will still get to you.
Carrying tweezers or a tick remover means you’ll be able to get rid of them quickly and easily.
- After showering, have a good look at yourself. Use a mirror, or if possible, ask someone else to help. Pay attention to warm, dark places: armpits, behind your ears, belly button, behind the knees, groin, hairline, etc.
- If you’re hiking with kids or dogs, check them too! It’s not uncommon for ticks to travel into your house and latch on to you later.
- If you find a tick, remove it quickly. Using tweezers or a tick remover, grab it as close to the skin as possible. Gently pull it up in a smooth motion — sharp motions can cause the mouthpart to break off and remain in your skin. If this does happen, don’t panic, just clean the area and leave the skin to heal. Your skin will push the mouthparts out eventually.
- Over the weeks following a tick bite, it’s important to pay attention to any rashes, aches or fevers that appear. These can be the early symptoms of a tick-borne illness like Lyme disease. If any of the symptoms appear, consult your doctor and let them know about the recent tick bite.
Serious tick-borne diseases are rare but they do happen. It’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your health.
By practicing bite avoidance and following these tips, you’ll be able to enjoy hiking without fear of ticks.