Conquering the Demons—Let’s Talk about Ticks
Forget bears, snakes, and deranged mountain-folk- deer ticks present the biggest risk to Appalachian Trail thru-hikers. Here are steps you can take to prevent Lyme disease.
Ugh…grossest thing ever.
Last year I found a Raisinette on the floor. “Hunh, that’s weird,” I thought. “We don’t eat Raisinettes here.”
You know the punchline, right?
A disgusting, blood-engorged tick had dropped off the dog and was lollygagging around on my floor. preparing to unleash an army of horrors in my home.
Down the toilet it went!
I’m not normally squeamish and I choose not to live in fear. Snakes fascinate me (and eat the mice that carry the bacteria that infect the ticks that give us Lyme disease). Bear sightings are thrilling. And the best part of PT school was Gross Anatomy, aka cadaver dissection.
I’ll take that over ticks any day.
Ticks freak me out.
Not just because of Lyme disease, though the threat of Lyme and the recent justifiably hysterical news reports are definitely putting me on edge before I hit the trail in April.
I know the Universe/God has a sense of humor and all, but the whole design of those little beasts makes me wonder what He was smoking when He dreamed up ticks and made them a thing.
Not funny, God!
How to Prevent Lyme Disease
Because I don’t scare easily, I’m a little late to the Ticks & Lyme 101 class. But I’ve been cramming for a few weeks, and here’s my strategy for preventing against lyme disease. I’ll be interested in hearing yours in the comments below.
Carry something in your pack so you can remove the tick without squeezing it’s disgusting little blood-filled body. The alcohol wipes are for disinfecting the site. Use your hand sanitizer if you touched the vile thing.
Also, if you suspect it’s been on you more than 24 hours, you may want to trap it in duct tape and save it, not for a souvenir, but to have it tested for Lyme when you get to town.
2. Tick checks twice a day, more if crossing fields.
The babies are tiny and hard to spot, but still, try. Check your nooks & crannies and know that it’s not weird to ask a thru-hiker you just met to check your back. That sounds weird, but we’re all in this together. Do the deed. Check each other. This is the most important step in defending against contracting lyme disease. Just do it.
I’m embracing chemicals this year!
Insect Shield is a company that sells permethrin-treated clothing, or you can send your own Unicorn & Kitty shorts to be treated. (Wait for it!) Each treatment lasts for 70 washes, way more than you’ll need for a thru-hike, I’m guessing.
It’s not cheap ($8.33 per garment for 3-19 items), but, yeah, chemicals. I’m going there!
Plus, experts agree, permethrin is the bomb when it comes to messing ticks up. (See #7 below.)
The easier route is to purchase clothing already pre-treated with InsectShield. The most popular option is ExOfficio’s BugsAway collection. Note that these treatments will fade over time, so you may want to use this in the heart of tick country, which is pretty much the northern half of the Appalachian Trail.
My doctor has been trying to push pharmaceuticals on me since we first met, even though he knows I don’t do drugs as a rule.
He’s going to be sooooo happy tomorrow when I go for my physical and ask him for a few Doxycycline pills.
The CDC says it can be used as prophylaxis in the absence of a definitive positive test for Lyme Disease if certain criteria are met (see link).
Other sources say wait for symptoms to develop before taking it.
I’m not dispensing medical advice, here because I’m not qualified to do that. So, ask your doctor what he or she recommends and use your judgment when you’re out there deciding when it’s time to use your precious pharmaceuticals.
5. Essential oil tick spray
Y’all know I loves me some essential oils, so when a former thru-hiker I met in the Wild & White Blazing course shared this tick repellant spray recipe, I whipped up a batch and made extra for my bounce box.
She had to stop her thru hike for, you guessed it, Lyme disease. She went back the next year and carried on with her hike with a batch of this tick spray. She would spray it on her dog and watch the ticks drop off and run when they got a whiff of it.
Speaking of dogs…
6. Don’t sleep with your dog!
Your dog wants to share his ticks with you.
7. More chemicals?
Most sources I’ve studied give Permethrin top billing for tick prevention. (See #3 above…don’t spray it on you, just your clothes). Since I’m not sending everything I own to be doused in permethrin, I’ll put a spray bottle in my bounce box for small things—gaiters, hat, boots, etc.
The jury seems to still be out on DEET for tick prevention. Ticks don’t like DEET, but it doesn’t kill them and it has to be reapplied regularly.
I learned a lot at Lymeneteurope.org. They say, “DEET does not kill or disable ticks and is a poor repellent. Permethrin works instantly and is extremely effective.”
I want to see ticks writhing in agony (is that bad?). So, Insect Shield it is and I’ll leave the DEET for the rookies and the tick-empaths.
8. Wear long pants and long sleeves. And a hat. Prepare to look dorky.
Here are some tips about clothing from the Washington Trail Association…including a vote for those zip off convertible mom pants…
- Wear pants and long sleeves — no shorts! The best choice is convertible pants with a flap over the zippered legs — this is an excellent tick trap.
- Tuck your shirt into your pants. Tuck your pants into your socks.
- Wear light colors, so you can identify the ticks more easily as they climb.
- Don a cap with a flap behind the neck, if you have one.
Where will you be in July and August when the temps start to soar? Will you feel like slogging through 95 degree days looking like that boy band singer who didn’t want to check his luggage and just wore all his clothes on the plane, instead? (Yeah…he passed out from heat exhaustion, tee hee.) Or will you take your chances?
I don’t know, yet, to be honest. Which is worse, pulling a tick off or heat exhaustion?
I think I’ll cross that proverbial bridge when I get to it.
Meanwhile, here are some of my resources to help you decide your tick strategy for this season:
But back to you, Sweet Pea. Did I miss anything important? What else can we do to prevent Lyme disease and tick bites? Leave a comment below and share your tick strategy. How are we going to conquer the beast this year?
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.
We sent our hiking clothes (Socks, shirts, shorts) to Insect Shield before hiking the Trail and it was so worth it. Other hikes I had trouble with ticks but this time only found one on my leg not attached. We still did body checks everyday but didn’t worry near as much as before.
Superb advice. Thank you for putting it all together for us.
I just sent off a package of clothes to Insect Shield today for treatment. My hiking pants already came pre-treated, and on a hike down the most tick-covered path I’ve ever seen (you could see them lurking on top of almost every blade of grass), permethrin proved its worth. My partner, who did not have permethrin-treated clothes, wound up picking a dozen ticks out of his clothes and found 2 attached. While I also had plenty of ticks trying to climb up me on the hike, the only tick I found on me or my clothing was dead in my shoe. I’ve worn Exofficio permethrin-treated pants hiking on very hot summer days and found them very comfortable. I decided on a different pair of pants for my thru-hike because the Exofficio sit in an odd place on my hips and tend to rub, but I love everything else about them (including the velcro fly, which cracks me up every time I use it). The pants I’m taking are RailRiders and much thicker and I do worry about them being too hot. I may wind up sending home for my Exofficio ones once the summer temperatures hit.
This was helpful! Sadly, I can’t hike in pants, shorts count as pants, I hike in a Kilt year round. No protection via clothing for me! Permetherin did the trick this year, will use the recipe provided next trip, thanks for that!!!
Mostly great advice, but there is no scientific evidence that any herbal products will repel ticks. It may smell good and it wont hurt you, but if your purpose is to repel ticks, DEET or Picardin are a better bet if you’re going to spray anything.