How To Avoid Ticks While Hiking

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Getting outside, breathing fresh air into your lungs, getting your heart rate up, and being one with nature on a wilderness hike is one of life's simple pleasures. Unfortunately, the prospect of getting bitten by a tick turns that simple pleasure into a gamble with your health. Trying to avoid ticks while hiking is like trying to avoid cars while driving, the chances are you'll at least come close to a tick.

The trick is figuring out how to enjoy nature, without interacting with it too much. In order to hike and avoid ticks, you have to take a lot of precautions and also know that no matter how much you protect yourself, there's always a chance you'll still get bitten. So understanding as much as you can about ticks, where they like to hang out, how they find their way onto your body, and how to properly remove them and care for yourself if you do get bitten is the key.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2017, there were 42,743 reported cases of Lyme Disease and nearly 18,000 addition kinds of tick-borne illnesses in the U.S. alone. The number is more than 10,000 more than 2016, which scientists believe is both due to an increase in ticks and an increase in awareness about tick-borne illnesses in general. Chances are, there will be even more reported cases over the next year, so take ticks seriously, and protect yourself from illness by following these simple, but important steps:

Dress Appropriately


Wearing tall, thick socks while hiking is imperative. No matter what season you're hiking in, thick, tall socks serve as a protective layer that keep your feet safe, your shoes comfortable and the bugs away from your skin. During tick season, it's best to hike with tall socks that go over your pant leg. Yes, seriously, tuck your pants into your socks no matter how dorky it looks. Even if it feels too hot to wear long pants, you should. If you absolutely must wear shorts, make sure your socks are pulled up as high as they go and check yourself periodically over the course of your hike.

Avoid Danger Days


During the spring and early summer, ticks are out and about and at their most dangerous growth stage. They're tiny, they're hard to see, and if they're carrying a disease, it's already potent. That said, any warm day, even in late winter might bring the ticks out. If it's uncharacteristically warm for the season, that's an extra dangerous day as the ticks will come out and be hungrier than usual. Avoid hiking on warm days that are following colder days for this reason.

Amp Up Your Defense

Clothing is a great line of defense, but if you're hiking in high tick season, or in a densely wooded area, you should take an extra precaution and spray your shoes and pants with a tick repellent. There are plenty of effective tick repellents on the market, both natural and hardcore.

Stop To Check

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Periodically throughout your hike, check yourself for ticks over your clothes. Don't peal your clothes off mid-hike to check, because that just exposes you to the risk. Instead, simply brush off your socks, shake out your shoes, and check your pant legs for any crawlers. The faster you remove the tick, the lesser the threat it is, so don't wait until you get home and undress to start looking.

Avoid Hot Spots


Ticks love to hang out in the tall grass and brush. If there's a path, always stay on it. The second you walk off the path, you increase your risk of running into a tick. Avoid playing with leaf piles, too. In theory a leaf throwing fight is fun, but in reality, the leaf pile is filled with ticks and other creepy crawlers.

Remove It Properly

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If you find a tick on your body, post-hike, make sure you remove it properly. With the most fine-tipped tweezers you can find, grab a hold of the tick as close to your skin as possible. Don't grab at a limb because it will just break off, leaving the rest of the tick attached to you and now even harder to remove. Once you have the bulk of the tick in your tweezers, pull upward with a swift, steady motion. Once you remove the tick, clean the bite area with alcohol and/or soap. If you want be extra safe, keep the tick in a sealed bag or jar as a reference incase you become symptomatic in weeks to come, you'll be able to confirm if your sickness is related to the tick.