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How to Avoid Ticks While Hiking, Camping, or Otherwise Enjoying the Outdoors

How to Avoid Ticks While Hiking, Camping, or Otherwise Enjoying the Outdoors | Frommer'sElzbieta Sekowska / Shutterstock

How to Avoid Ticks While Hiking, Camping, or Otherwise Enjoying the Outdoors

Tick talk: tips for avoiding ticks in the outdoors, what to check after you come back inside, and how to remove a tick if you find one

Tick season, which typically lasts from April through October, is expected to get pretty intense in 2024, and travelers need to be prepared to protect themselves.

Mild winters and wet summers, like the ones experienced in many parts of the United States in recent years, tend to boost populations of the eight-legged bloodsuckers, experts told the Associated Press, and the tiny parasites have expanded their geographic range as well. Species once confined to New England and the Midwest have spread into the South and the Great Plains, while southern varietals have crept northward. 

A bite from one of the most common species, blacklegged ticks (aka deer ticks), can cause Lyme disease, an infection with symptoms such as a bull’s-eye rash, fever, headache, and fatigue. The illness should be treated with antibiotics to avoid more serious neurological issues and heart problems. 

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, Lyme disease is most commonly transmitted by ticks in the Northeast, upper Midwest, and northwestern states, but cases have been reported “in nearly all states in the U.S. and in large areas in Europe and Asia.”

Lyme isn’t the only tickborne disease out there, either. As you can see from the tick maps assembled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there’s basically no spot in the contiguous United States that doesn’t have at least one type of teeny-tiny tick that would like to make a meal of you or your dog and give one of you something unpleasant to go. 

So for anyone planning to go hiking, camping, or even backyard-barbecuing during tick season, it’s very smart to follow these tick-prevention tips before, during, and after any time spent in outdoorsy locales potentially crawling with creepy-crawlies. 

Tips for Avoiding Tick Bites  

Know where ticks hang out. “Ticks live in grassy, brushy, wooded areas,” the CDC explains—none too helpfully, since that sounds like all of nature.

Here’s some intel you can actually act on, though: Be especially cautious in those transitional areas between open grassland or lawns and the woods. Such spots are tick city, according to the AP, which notes that the arachnids “tend to perch on ankle-level vegetation with their upper legs outstretched, waiting to latch on to an unsuspecting dog or human.” (You can almost imagine their tiny tick voices going “whee!” after hitching a ride, can’t you?)

Use insect repellent. For the sake of safety and efficacy, make sure the product you select is registered with the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA even has an online search tool to help you find the repellent that’s right for you. 

You can also spray your clothing with the insecticide permethrin, or buy clothing that’s been pre-treated. 

Speaking of clothing . . . 

Minimize exposed skin. We know this can get uncomfortable in the summer heat, but if you can stand it, wearing long sleeves, pants, and socks gives ticks fewer fleshy parts to latch onto. Even better, tucking your shirt into your pants and your pants into your socks helps cover gaps in your clothing where ticks can get in, according to the EPA. 

At the very least, wear light-colored clothes so you can see any ticks better, and opt for shoes or hiking boots over sandals. 

Walk in the middle of paths. Ticks are more likely to be lurking in the vegetation on the edges. 

How to Check for Ticks When You Come Inside

Examine your clothes and gear. Ticks can ride home with you on clothes and attach later, the CDC warns, so be sure to give a thorough look to what you’re wearing as well as any coats, backpacks, blankets, and so on. “Tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on dry clothing after you come indoors,” the CDC recommends. “If the clothes require washing first, hot water is recommended.”

Do a full-body tick check. USA Today advises starting from lower body parts—toes, ankles, and legs—and working up to the scalp. After all, “that’s how ticks move, from the ground up.”

Don’t neglect these hot spots: the back of the knees, between the legs, around the waist, inside the belly button, under the arms, in and around the ears, and in and around the hair. Use a hand-held mirror to check hard-to-see places. 

• You’ll also want to check your pets after they’ve been outside. Talk with your veterinarian about tick-prevention products and which one is right for your dog or cat. For more information, consult the CDC’s webpage about preventing ticks on pets. 

(Credit: CDC)

How to Remove a Tick

Using clean tweezers, grip the tick and pull upward as steadily as possible. Don’t twist or yank, lest you leave parts of the thing embedded in your skin. If you do leave parts of the thing embedded in your skin that can’t be removed easily with tweezers, the CDC advises leaving the area alone and letting the skin heal. 

After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. 

Don’t crush the tick with your fingers, and don’t try folk remedies such as applying heat or nail polish to get the tick to detach on its own. 

The CDC also advises against sending the tick off for lab analysis to check for infection. You might have gotten a bite from more than one tick, so the testing is probably insufficient. 

If you develop a rash or fever within a few days or up to several weeks later, contact your doctor. 

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