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How to Prevent Ticks When Hiking and Why You Shouldn’t Squish It

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Hikers love to go on their adventures during summer. The season brings out warm weather, which is perfect for hiking. But along with fantastic weather to hike in, summer also brings out the six-legged larva from their eggs. Otherwise known as ticks, these insects can totally ruin your whole hiking mood.

The ticks are also infamous for causing different medical problems, from Lyme disease and wreaking havoc on human health. However, that should not ruin your excitement! If you know how to prevent tick bites when hiking, tick bites will be the least of your worries. And if you continue reading, that is what you can learn!

Common Tick Species

Before we talk about the ways to avoid ticks while hiking, you should have a fair idea regarding the species of common ticks. It will let you understand whether the thing crawling on the hiking trails or hiking clothes are actually ticks or just harmless insects.

Brown Dog Tick

These ticks are present throughout areas of the US and Hawaii. And as the name suggests, dogs are the primary victim of these ticks. Occasionally, a brown dog tick bites humans and other mammals. And the characteristics of these ticks are:

  • Reddish-brown color
  • Elongated body shape
  • Hexagonal basis capituli
brown dog tick size comparison
Unlike other species of tick, the brown dog tick can survive indoors for its entire lifecycle. This means it may infest your home and kennels. Once a few ticks are inside, an infestation will become severe quickly.
how to prevent tick bites when hiking- brown dog tick on dog
Brown dog ticks can be found all over the world and in many places throughout the U.S., but they prefer warmer areas, like southern regions of America. Brown dog ticks are brown with a shield-shaped body that has two sharp points on either side at its base capituli (the word for this is Rhipicephalus sanguineus).

American Dog Tick

Otherwise known as Rocky Mountain Wood tick, these are mostly present on the Pacific Coast. You will also find ticks of this species in the Rocky Mountains. Widely distributed in the east of that region, these ticks are something people of the Rocky Mountain States worry about the most.

What’s more, the American Dog tick will typically climb up vegetation or grass or vegetation, with their legs outstretched, waiting for an animal to latch onto. If you know how to prevent tick bites when hiking, the best way is to wear light-colored hiking pants with treated with insect repellent.

Why? These can transmit tularemia and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever!

That said, the characteristics of these ticks are:

  • Typically lives amongst tall grasses
  • It can be found on tree cover if not on tall grass
  • Active during the early summer and spring
  • Size is approximately close to an apple seed
  • Easily visible on long green grass
american dog tick on grass- how to avoid tick bites when hiking
The American Dog Tick has a decorated dorsal shield and festoons around its abdomen. This tick makes its home between the East Coast and the Rocky Mountains. It is also found along the West Coast, mostly keeping to California. It prefers wooded, grassy, or brushy areas

Deer Tick

Just like American Dog ticks, the Deer tick has another name. Yes, they are known as the Blacklegged or deer tick. Found in the contiguous United States and Alaska (none found in Hawaii), the heaviest tick presence is found between the East Coast and Texas. Also, the Great Lakes can be counted as tick country, since this species needs shade and moisture to survive.

how to prevent tick bites when hiking
When a deer tick is seeking a meal, it is said to be “questing.” Contrary to popular belief, ticks cannot jump, and they have no wings. They do, however, climb.

Nonetheless, the Blacklegged tick is known to transmit Lyme disease, Powassan virus, and Anaplasmosis. On that note, more than 300 thousand people get tick bites and suffer from Lyme disease every year. Currently, people infected with Lyme disease are primarily in the northeast and upper midwest region.

Female deer ticks are identified by a reddish-brown body and black shield on their back. Their mouthparts are long and thin, while festoons (that we find in male deer ticks) aren’t present along the abdomen. 

Aside from that, here is how you can recognize these ticks:

  • Usually present in the forested areas (can be present on tall grass)
  • Active during late fall and early spring
  • Does not have any white markings on the body
  • Tiny in size
how to prevent tick bites when hiking- female & male tick
Since only female ticks feed on the blood of their hosts, they spread infections when they move onto their next host. Male ticks will attach to a host but since they don’t feed, they also don’t transmit diseases.
Comparing female vs male deer tick-  how to avoid tick bites when hiking
Female deer ticks are reddish-brown and have a black shield on the back of their body. They also have long mouth parts, without any festoons along the abdomen.

Lone Star Tick

According to CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the lone star tick is very aggressive. These ticks are primarily present in the southeastern states. However, plenty of these infected ticks are present in the upper Midwest and northeast. 

The Lone Star tick has historically been more common in the southern United States, but they have gradually moved northward. They live all throughout the eastern part of America from Texas to Iowa and up to Maine’s coast. Lone star ticks can be found as far north as Maine, but are still much more prevalent in southern states.

The adult females and nymphs of these ticks frequently bite humans and spread different diseases. And these are their traits:

  • Size of an apple seed
  • Live on tall grass and trees
  • Active during the summer and spring 
  • Have a silver-white spot or star marking on the body
Lone Star tick close up-  how to avoid tick bites when hiking
Lone star ticks are easy to identify from other tick species because of their conspicuous white dot on the dorsal shield of a female’s body. They are reddish-brown in color, round, and have prominent festoons.

Gulf Coast Tick

The Gulf Coast Tick is native to the southeastern, coastal states bordering the Gulf of Mexico and typically found in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and other nearby States. However, there have been a few reports of these ticks being found in Maine or Iowa. The tick prefers grass prairies near coastlines for their habitat.

Gulf Coast ticks have a three-host life cycle. They will feed at each stage on small mammals like rodents, but they prefer to target birds. The immature stages of the tick usually target the head and neck region of their hosts while mature Gulf Coast ticks often choose bigger animals such as bears, domestic dogs, coyotes or cattle and tend to go for the outside of their ears.

Amblyomma maculatum gulf coast tick on leaf-  how to prevent tick bites when hiking
Gulf Coast ticks are most commonly found in grass prairies and coastal uplands.

The gulf coast tick is different from other species in that it prefers a dryer environment. Other traits are:

  • Live in grass and vegetation
  • Recognizable by their ornate markings on the red body
  • Adult males will have clean, white lines in a web-like pattern across the entire body
  • Adult females will have bright, white markings on the dorsal shield.
  • Populations found along the coast will be most active in August, with adults. The larvae are active throughout December and January, while nymphs are active from May-March.
  • Populations found inland have an activity range of February-October, with adults being more busy in April
  • In Florida ticks are seen during various months between February to September while Mississippi ticks are observed for a longer period ranging from March through November where there is a higher number of adult tick sightings around mid – late summertime (July).
how to prevent tick bites when hiking -Male and female gulf coast tick
Adult males will have clean, white lines in a web-like pattern across the entire body. Adult females will have bright, white markings on the dorsal shield.

Western Blacklegged Tick

The Western blacklegged tick is similar to the deer tick and spreads Lyme disease in the northeastern, mid-Atlantic and north-central United States. The western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus) can be found all along the coast of the Western United States, including California, Oregon and Washington.

Ticks can attach to any part of your body but are often found in hard-to -see areas such as the groin, armpits and scalp. In most cases, a tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours or more before Lyme bacteria is transmitted. How to prevent tick bites when hiking is avoid hiking in dense vegetation in these areas.

The Western blacklegged tick also has three stages of life. It molts its skin before it moves to the next stage, but for that process to occur, it must have a blood meal from an animal or human host.

female, male, and nymph tick-  how to avoid these tick bites when hiking
Female tick (Left), male tick (center), nymph tick (right)

How to spot these western black-legged on you, your pet, or in the wild:

  • Similar in size and features to the deer tick yet, more elongated body
  • Nymphs and hand out the bottom of trees, under the leaf litter
  • Adults live on tall grass and vegetation, looking for hitchhiking opportunities for unsuspecting hosts to pass by
 how to avoid tick bites when hiking- comparison of tick size to a dime
Ticks are usually smaller in their early stages and they also prefer to bite smaller animals. It is more difficult to spot them than it is with larger ticks, so bites from larvae may go unnoticed. Shown on the right, a dime next to an adult tick size will give you an idea of how much bigger these are!

How to Avoid Ticks When Hiking

Just because ticks tend to live in the trails, it does not mean that you should avoid hiking altogether. Instead, you should learn how to avoid ticks while hiking by staying safe on trails. And these are the factors that should be in your mind:

Prevent Tick Bites with Frequent Inspection

If you want to avoid ticks while hiking, you need to do tick checks throughout the entire day. Whether you are roaming in the tick-prone area or taking breaks in forests where there are too many tall grasses, do a thorough check on your entire body for ticks. That includes hair, ears, belly button, behind the ears and knees, and groin.

how to prevent tick bites when hiking- check your groin, armpits, behind your knees,
Perform tick inspections within 2 hours of being outside. Look in your armpits, hair, & groin, behind knees, legs, ankles and clothing

Wear Insect Repellent

In order to prevent tick bites, you should wear insect repellant while you are on the trail. Insect repellents such as oil of lemon eucalyptus, PMD, DEET, and Piacridin will work like a charm as a tick repellent.  Treating clothing with insect repellent is one of the best ways on how to prevent tick bites when hiking.

You can also wear permethrin-treated clothing. Wondering what permethrin is? It is basically a fabric insect repellent treatment. Clothing with this chemical on the surface will help if you do not have insect repellent.

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Minimize the Skin Exposure to Prevent Tick Bites When Hiking

You should always hike with tick-repellent clothing while hiking. Wear long hiking pants, long-sleeved shirts, boots, and other outdoor gear, such as hiking leg gaiters, that minimizes skin exposure. You should also wear tall socks and make them go over the pant leg. Remember, the less the exposed skin, the more you avoid ticks.

Wear Light Colored Clothing

Another way to prevent tick bites is to wear light-colored clothing. It will let you easily detect if a tick is crawling onto you. However, pair this method with the other preventive measures to avoid ticks while hiking effectively.

Educate Yourself

One of the effective methods of tick prevention is to educate yourself. Do your research and have a fair understanding of your hiking area. If you find that there are loads of reports of ticks in the area that spans for a few weeks, you might want to pick a different spot.

Avoid Tick-Prone Regions to Prevent Tick Bites

Another tick prevention measure that you can take while hiking is to avoid thick brush, leaf piles, and areas with tall and long grass. These areas will mostly have ticks all over them. Indeed, this is another how to prevent tick bites when hiking tip, for sure!

And if you do not tread on these areas, you are less likely to find a tick attached to your body when you reach home.

Always Carry Tweezers

There are loads of tick removal tools available in the market. However, among all of them, fine-tipped tweezers will work the best. This tool is pretty easy to carry as well.  

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Check for Ticks When You Reach Home

Even with all preventative measures, ticks can end up on your clothing and gear. For that reason, you should thoroughly check for ticks when you reach home. Prevent ticks from your hike from even making it inside your home. Before entering, check your clothing, backpack, and gear.

It would be better if you de-tick everything by throwing your gear and clothing, into a dryer, temperature setting on high.

How to Remove Ticks

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If you found a tick on your skin, do not panic! You might not believe it, but it is pretty easy to remove the tick. Just follow these steps:

  1. Grasp the tick with a tweezer. Try to grab it as close to your skin as possible.
  2. With steady and even pressure, pull upward. Do not jerk or twist it because it will make the mouthparts break off and remain in your skin.
  3. If you still see any bits of the tick on your skin, use the tweezer to get them out. But that might not be possible if the bits are too small. In that case, leave them there and let the skin heal.
  4. After removing the live tick, clean the area thoroughly with soap and water or alcohol. 
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Things You Shouldn’t Do!

Now those are what you should do when you see a tick biting your skin. But what about the things you should not do? They are as follows:

Never crush it when it is on your skin. That will make the mouthparts stay on your skin. And as you know by now, if the parts are too small, you might not be capable of taking them off your skin.

Do not put Vaseline or nail polish on the area. It will not make the tick detach from your skin. Some people also apply heat, which makes things worse. Instead, gently use the tweezer and take it off your skin.

Get it out of your body as soon as possible. Please do not wait for it to remove itself. The tick will not detach itself! Instead, use the tweezer method as soon as you spot it on your skin.

What You Should Do After Getting Bit by a Tick

As you can see, removing a tick is pretty straightforward. However, that is just the first half of the story. After you get bit, follow the bite-monitor method. In other words, you need to check the overall condition of your body and the bitten area.

Your skin will develop a rash or get reddish in most cases. But that is not the worst-case scenario. You might develop a fever or flu-like symptoms. 

Well, that is when you need to see a doctor. Make sure to tell your doctor how recent the bite was. Without that information, it will not be possible to offer you proper treatment.

 prevent tick bites when hiking otherwise a rash is the least of your concerns
Once you have removed the tick, monitor the area for several weeks. If signs of infection show up like rash or swelling (keep an eye out for a bullseye-type rash, which may indicate Lyme disease), contact your physician.

What Should You Do When You Find Ticks on Your Pets?

It goes without saying that many bring their pet to the hiking trail. And unlike you, your dog or cat will not avoid areas with too many ticks. For that reason, you should treat your pets in advance. 

An additional tip on how to prevent tick bites when hiking, is to avoid bringing their next meal (aka your dog) with you, if at all possible. But if you pup is dying for a hike, then there are plenty of preventive medications available for pets. Opt for the one that your veterinarian suggests.

Furthermore, just like checking on yourself for ticks, check whether there are any ticks present on your pets or not during the hiking sessions. Always keep a tweezer in hand and get rid of the ticks as soon as you spot them.

Finally, do a thorough inspection before entering your car or your home. Give yourself and your dog a proper hot shower.

Common Tick-Borne Diseases

Tick-borne diseases in the United States are pretty common among the people that get tick bites. Usually, tick-infested regions have the most cases. But that does not mean that you will not have to worry about these diseases if you are hiking in an area with a reasonably low presence of ticks.

If you have been bitten by a tick, we recommend check for tick-borne disease-related symptoms. Also, beef up on knowledge and have a proper understanding of these tick-borne diseases:

Lyme Disease

The cases of Lyme diseases have gone up to 30 percent over the last decade. And as you know, Lyme disease is spread mainly by the deer tick. It takes 18-24 hours for transmission. Symptoms typically appear between 3-30 days after a tick bite.

That said, the thing about Lyme disease is that it is tough to diagnose whether you have it or not after you get a tick bite. You might have it for a while, or you can develop a lifelong chronic illness. 

And you should know that one in every two female deer ticks is infected with Lyme disease. So, compared to other ticks, people take deer ticks seriously.

Talking of which, the typical symptoms of Lyme disease include:

  • Fatigue, headache, chills
  • Blurred vision, numbness, tingling
  • Bulls-eye rashes on the skin’s surface
  • Fever, muscle and joint aches
  • It can also spread into the heart, joints, or nervous system. However, skin rash is the first thing you will notice after getting Lyme disease.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Another common tick-borne illness is the Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. And unlike some other hiking ticks’ diseases,  this can get you bedridden in just five days. For that reason, it is pretty crucial to get treated on the very first day or when the bite occurs.

Transmission time is between 18-24 hours. Symptoms show quickly, within 2-12 days. If you notice any of these symptoms, get to the emergency immediately. As in now.

  • Headache, fever, nausea and vomiting are the first symptoms of this disease but it often progresses to more severe and life threatening symptoms.
  •  Spotted rash 
  • Blood vessel damage (amputation may be needed if you don’t treat it)
  • Mental and physical disability

Babesia

Also known as Piroplasm, this tick-induced disease can cause malaria-like symptoms. And just like malaria, this disease can infect the red blood cells and cause inflammation. To avoid getting infected, learn how to prevent tick bites when hiking by following some of our tips aboce.

Look for these symptoms:

  • Flu-like symptoms are possible
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Fever, chills, and sweating
  • Fatigue

STARI

Mostly caused by the Lone Star ticks, STARI can cause a similar skin rash as Lyme disease. The bite area can also get reddish and swollen. However, the rash will be less consequential.

 You may notice symptoms such as:

  • Small rash
  • Fever and chills
  • Muscle and joint aches
  • Fatigue and headaches

Alpha-Gal

Found in mammals that humans eat, such as sheep, pigs, and cows, Alpha-gal is basically a carbohydrate. And the ticks that contain this carbohydrate can make your immune system go crazy and overreact to the bite. 

Also, this tick bite can even make you allergic to meat for life.

Final Words

The thought of ticks is quite terrifying, right? But the thing is, this thought should not stop you from enjoying what summer hiking has to bring to the table. Just learn how to prevent tick bites when hiking, and you should be all good!

Have you been bitten by a tick? Share your experiences below and Leave us a comment!


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Last update on 2022-12-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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