How to Avoid Ticks While Hiking

Ticks can be found almost everywhere. A bite from one can sure put a damper on your hike. After removing a tick from my two year old’s ear, I became a lot more vigilant in avoiding ticks while hiking and at home. Preventing bites isn’t too difficult if you take the proper precautions and learn about how ticks behave and where they live.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

Tick Species and Regions

Tick Diseases- How they Spread

Habitats- Where Ticks are Found

How Can You Avoid Tick Bites?

How to Check for Ticks After Hiking

What to Watch for After a Bite

Tick Species and Regions

Ticks can be found all over the United States. Different tick species reside in different regions and can carry diseases different from other species of ticks.

American Dog Tick

Found east of the Rocky Mountains and along the West coast of California. These ticks may carry tularemia and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

Blacklegged Tick

Found in the eastern United States as well as the Midwest. The blacklegged tick can transmit Lyme Disease as well as a slew of other tick borne illnesses. In the Midwest, the population rises rapidly in the fall season as they seek out white tail deer, their favorite host.

Brown Dog Tick

You can find the brown dog tick across the entire United States. These ticks mainly attach to dogs, but they can and sometimes do bite humans as well. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in the Southwest US and along the border of the United States and Mexico.

Gulf Coast Tick

Found along the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic coast from Florida to Virginia, these ticks can pass on a type of spotted fever called Rickettsia parkeri rickettsiosis.

Lone Star Tick

Found in the southeastern and eastern United States, the lone star tick can pass on a number of diseases including ehrlichiosis, tularemia, and STARI. The Lone Star Tick is known to cause an allergy to red meat, including beef and pork.

Rocky Mountain Wood Tick

You’ll find these ticks in and around the Rocky Mountains up to 10,500 feet in elevation. Diseases these ticks can transmit include Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and tularemia. 

Western Black Legged Tick

There is a small area of the US where this tick is found. The west coast is where they call home, but northern California is where the highest concentration has been found. They can carry Lyme Disease, but infection rates in adults are very low at around 1%.

How Do Ticks Spread Disease?

Ticks spread disease through the feeding process. First the tick cuts through the skin with its chelicerae (see image below) and inserts it’s feeding tube called a hypostome. The hypostome is barbed to make it harder to interrupt the ticks meal. On top of the barbs, some species also produce a cement like substance to help them stay attached and an anesthetic so you can’t feel that they’ve attached.

The tick will feed slowly over the course of several days ,and during this time, will ingest any bloodborne pathogen in your blood. This is also the time when small amounts of the tick’s saliva may enter your bloodstream and pass along any nasties the tick is carrying, like Lyme Disease. After feeding, the tick will drop off and move on to their next life stage, where they can pass along any newly acquired bloodborne pathogens to their next host. 

Tick anatomy. Shows the mouth area and chelicera, hypostome , and palps.
Source: How Stuff Works

Tick Habitats: Where are ticks found?

Ticks love to be in more places than just the woods. You’ll need to be vigilante at the trail head, shelters, your own campsite even to prevent a bite from these nasty buggers. Aside from on the trail itself, you can find them

*In places where woods meet lawn/grass

*In tall grass/brush

*Near wood piles or rocks where mice or other small animals live

* Under ground-cover plants 

* Under leaves or plants

Avoiding Tick Bites While Hiking

These prevention tips will help minimize your chances of a tick bite. 

 Treat clothing and gear with .5 % permethrin, the CDC’s recommendation, to deter ticks.  An awesome option for this is Sawyer Premium Insect Repellent. You can treat hiking gear, tents, clothing, and more.

A study done at the University of Rhode Island showed that by treating your shoes and socks with permethrin, you’re 73 times less likely to get bitten by a tick. The findings of that study can be found in the first paragraph (abstract) of the link.

Light colored clothing will make it easier to see a tick that has made it way onto you, increasing your chances of removing it before a bite.

Wear socks long enough to cover your exposed ankles, even better if you tuck your pants into your socks

Wear long sleeves and pants. 

Walk in the center of the trail to minimize contact with vegetation on the sides of the trail. Ticks will hang out on the ends of vegetation with outstretched legs waiting for a host to walk past (depicted in image below) . Keeping to the center will help keep you out of reach.

tick on leaf with front legs stretched out in wait.

Shower soon after getting home. This will help wash away any unattached ticks and gives you a great opportunity to check your body for attached ticks. 

Where to Check for Ticks After Hiking

You already know to check your body for ticks. You should also  check your clothing, gear, and footwear. 

Be sure to check these areas of your body well

  • Under your arms
  • In and around your ears
  • In your belly button
  • Behind your knees
  • In your hair
  • Between your legs
  • Around your waist
Depiction of areas of the body where ticks like bite. Hair, armpits, waist, belly button, behind the knees, and between legs.

SIGNS TO WATCH FOR AFTER A BITE

According to the CDC, the most common symptoms of tick borne illnesses are:

Fever/Chills

Muscle Aches and Pain. Possibly joint pain as well. 

A Rash. In Lyme Disease cases, the rash can take up to 30 days to appear and only occurs in 70-80% of cases.

Ticks are nasty creatures and can cause concern, but with the proper precautions, they don’t have to be a burden of stress while you enjoy the outdoors. Be vigilant in preventing tick bites, use a repellent such as Sawyer’s, avoid places where there are likely to be many as much as possible, and check for ticks well after a hike.

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