Tick Prevention for Summer Hiking

During the summer of 2015 NoKey and I set out with a goal to hike across New York state on the Finger Lakes Trail.  Since we knew most of rural New York along this trail would be consisting of farmland and grassy fields tick prevention was in the forefront of our mind.  With more and more cases of Lyme Disease being reported every year and tick myths being as prevalent as tick facts we chose to pretreat some of our gear with permethrin for prevention of ticks.  As far as we know the permethrin worked like a charm for us!  During the course of the summer walking through many different states in the eastern US we never once found a single tick on us.  

Going back to my thru hike of the AT in 2012 I never found a single tick on me, despite the fact that everyone was so nervous about Lyme and ticks being so prevalent.  It was a hot summer and once we hit the mid Atlantic region hikers were constantly speaking of their fears of finding ticks or the fact they had pulled some off before heading to bed the night before.  I considered myself to be lucky as I didn't usually apply any sprays to myself and never had to worry.  This summer, however, is a different story.  Starting back in April of this year I began finding ticks on my legs.  About two weeks ago I pulled a large tick off my dog after a walk through our neighborhood.  Most recently, I took an off-trail hike with clients and removed four ticks from my legs throughout the course of the 6-hour hike.  Now that tick fears are in the forefront of my brain I'm choosing to pretreat some gear again.  

Before talking about tick prevention methods, let's first take some tick myths and debunk them.  From prevention.com, I've found a couple of common misconceptions about ticks: 

Myth #1: Once you've been bitten, you'll get sick. 
Fact: For most tick-borne diseases, the tick needs to be attached for longer than 24 hours to transmit disease, says Mather, because of the biology of the way ticks feed. Bacterial diseases live in ticks' stomachs, he says, but in order to be transmitted, they need to get to the saliva, a process that takes at least 24 hours—which means that checking yourself for ticks as soon as you get indoors can help you find ticks before they've had the chance to make you sick.

Myth #2: You'll know if you've been bitten by a tick.
Fact: Tick bites are painless, so you certainly won't feel one. What’s more: fewer than half of people who've been infected with Lyme show the "bull's-eye rash" that was once thought to be a telltale sign of the disease. If you start showing flulike symptoms in the middle of summer (fever, chills, aches, and pains are common symptoms of a variety of tick-borne diseases), go to the doctor and ask to be tested for the illnesses associated with ticks. July and August are peak times for Lyme disease infections, says Mather, because deer tick populations surge toward the end of June, and it can take between two and three weeks to get sick.

Myth #3: You can remove a tick with perfume, alcohol, Vaseline…
Fact: Those old tricks you learned from your relatives about removing ticks—spraying them with perfume or alcohol, lighting a match next to the tick, painting it with nail polish—are unnecessary and possibly dangerous, says the CDC. The only tool you need is a pair of needle-nosed tweezers. Grab the tick as close to the skin as possible and gently pull it out without twisting or jerking. Then wash your hands and the spot where you found it with good soap and disinfect the skin with rubbing alcohol.  ((Note from Sprinkles - when I worked in a vet clinic, we would place the tick we removed in vial rubbing alcohol as well, to kill it, before disposing of it)).  

So now that we've debunked a few common myths and learned how to remove a tick (in myth #3 above) let's talk about some things you can do to keep ticks away from you and your pets during the summer time.  

-Avoid brushy or grassy areas. 
-Stay on the main hiking trails and stay in sunny spots if possible.
-Buy clothing already pretreated with permethrin; many clothing items commercially treated can withstand up to 100 washings!
-Always hike in long pants and a long-sleeved shirt.
-Wear DEET as an insect repellant on your skin anything from 25-35% will work well and you don't have to go 100% if you're not comfortable with that strong of a formula!

Since I personally am not a fan of wearing long-sleeved shirts or long pants, especially in the heat, I opt for treating my clothing with permethrin myself.  Permethrin comes from many different companies, but the brand I use comes from Sawyer (not an affiliate link).  It is REALLY IMPORTANT TO NOTE that permethrin in it's liquid form is HIGHLY TOXIC TO CATS.  If you are going to pretreat your clothes or shoes yourself, please do this away from your feline friends. Once your item is dry it is no longer in the toxic state and can be brought back in your house.  Since permethrin, when applied yourself, is good for up to six washings with soap and water, I also make sure to treat my shoes and socks.  It's very easy to do yourself and only takes a few hours to dry.  


As someone who likes to keep my health and food options as healthy and natural as possible, Lyme Disease is just not something I'm willing to take my chances with.  As a person who works outdoors and practically lives in the woods during prime tick season, using a more natural option to repel ticks and insects is not something I'm willing to chance.  Sure, using DEET or permethrin does come with some risk, but it's one I'm going to take season after season to ensure I don't end up with Lyme.  

What are some of your tick prevention tips or tricks?  I'd love to hear what you do to keep yourself protected.  Please leave me a comment!