How to Avoid Ticks When Camping

When we think about a camping trip pleasant ideas come to mind: fresh air, spacious environments, calmness, etc. We do not think about disgusting little vampires that can make our life miserable, of course… But, if you are reading this article, you are already one step ahead in making your outdoor adventure a great one: the first antidote is awareness. 

What are Ticks?

People generally refer to them as bugs, but, really, ticks are arachnids and therefore have 8 legs; in terms of size, they are typically 3 to 5 mm long. These external parasites feed on the blood of mammals, birds, and sometimes reptiles and amphibians. There are hard ticks and soft ticks. In addition to having a hard shield on their dorsal surfaces, hard ticks have a beak-like structure at the front containing the mouthparts, whereas soft ticks have theirs on the underside of their bodies. Both types of ticks will locate a potential host by odor or from changes in the environment. Because of their habit of ingesting blood, ticks are vectors of many diseases that affect humans and pets.

Tick-borne Diseases

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tick-borne diseases are on the rise within the United States. The kind of ticks that commonly bite humans are:

  • Blacklegged Tick: Also known as the “Deer Tick”. Widely distributed across the eastern United States. This type transmits Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, a form of Relapsing Fever, and Powassan virus disease.
  • Lone Star Tick: Distributed in the eastern United States, but more common in the South. It transmits Ehrlichiosis, Tularemia, Heartland Virus Disease, Bourbon Virus Disease, and Southern tick-associated Rash Illness.
  • Dog Tick: This type can be found all around the world. It transmits Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. 

For more information,  you can check out this practical Tick ID feature.

Remember, awareness comes first, so put the ick factor on hold when planning your outdoor adventure! “New tools for preventing tick borne diseases are urgently needed, and everyone should take steps to help protect themselves from tick bites”, is stated on the CDC website. 

Lyme Disease

A recent article by the New York Times informs that Lyme disease is on the rise. The 30,000 cases reported annually to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by state health departments represent only a fraction of the cases treated around the country. “About half of these occur in people under the age of 21, and boys from 5 to 9 years old are the most commonly affected group, possibly because they spend a good deal of time outdoors”. Another relevant fact is that transmission usually takes place in the spring and summer months. Lyme disease can be eliminated with antibiotics, especially if treatment is started when symptoms are first noted. According to the CDC, estimates suggest that approximately 300,000 people may get Lyme disease each year in the United States. 

Plenty of resources and treatment information here.

Tick Prevention Tips

Hopefully, at this point, you are convinced that prevention is the key! So take note of the steps you should take before you head off to the camping site:

  • If you plan to bring a pet along, consult with a veterinarian. There are many parasite preventatives available. A rule of thumb is “don’t treat your pets with the same repellent you will use”. In the case of dogs, there are dozens of safe, effective and practical methods such as tick collars. 
  • If you are camping in a state park or official recreation area, check in with staff to ask about the best place to camp in order to avoid ticks. It’s easier to call in advance so you can plan accordingly. Park websites often post announcements and alerts about ticks, so do some research before you arrive. 

Pro-Tip

You can go here and review current tick activity in the area you will visit.

“Tick-off” Packing

Once you are ready to start packing, please bear in mind the following tips:

  • Dressing for tick prevention
    • Choose full-sleeved shirts and long pants. Although ticks crawl under clothes easily, you reduce the risk by covering up and making it harder for ticks to attach themselves.
    • Select light-colored clothing. Nymphal ticks, so-called baby ticks, can be as small as a poppy seed, and the lighter your clothes, the quicker you will locate the tick.
    • Invest in tick repellent clothing. One of the most effective ways to prevent tick bites is to purchase clothes that have already been treated with Permethrin.
  • Use repellent wisely

First of all, do not assume that any insect repellent will do… Make sure you read the label to verify the product is effective at repelling ticks.  Consider the following factors:

    • Effective tick prevention products that you apply to the skin generally contain DEET. The CDC recommends repellents that contain 20% or more of DEET.
    • Follow instructions. These repellents contain potentially dangerous chemicals and should be applied carefully, making sure to follow the product’s specific instructions.
      • Avoid hands, eyes, and mouth.
      • It’s a good idea to talk with your child’s pediatrician or a medical professional about the safety of using these products on children.
      • If you are pregnant, check with your doctor about whether it is safe to use this product.
      • Reapply the product every few hours or as instructed.
      • Wash the repellent off when you go indoors.
    • Apply repellent to your shoes. Ticks are often located at the ground level, and spraying your shoes will greatly reduce your risk of tick exposure.
    • Treat clothes and fabrics with products that contain Permethrin. Permethrin has been shown to be highly effective at repelling and killing ticks, but… it should not be applied directly to the skin! Instead, you spray the product on clothing and it offers protection through multiple washings. 

      • You can find repellents with Permethrin at sporting goods, camping stores, and online.
      • Don’t forget to apply the repellent to the inside of your clothes to prevent tick bites if they crawl under clothing.
      • If you would rather not apply the product yourself, you can research and purchase clothing that has already been treated.

Some people are cautious about using chemical-based insecticides and prefer to turn to natural options like essential oils. While many of these essential oils have been approved in terms of safety, not all of them are effective as tick repellents.  Experts on the Prevention.com website agree that the only oil that has been approved by the EPA as safe and effective for tick prevention is 2-undecanone. This is the essential oil from the leaves and stems of the wild tomato plant. It repels Blacklegged and Lone Star ticks, and can be used on your skin, clothing, and gear. For specific information on other essential oils this is a great article.

Where to Set Up Camp?

Once you have reached your destination, you must consider these factors to pitch your tent in a tick-free zone:

    • Stay far from wooded areas. Ticks can easily dry out, so they need protection from sun and wind. That is the reason why ticks like moist and shady environments. Let’s keep it short: keeping away from these zones will reduce your risk of exposure!
    • Avoid standing or sitting in piles of leaves. Ticks like to hide in piles of decomposing or rotting leaves because these environments are humid and dark. Therefore, do not pitch set up camp in a location with leaf litter! And make sure you bring camp chairs...
    • Stay away from high grasses. Ticks hang on to tall grass with their hind legs while holding front legs out so they can more easily attach to a new host. This behavior is called “questing” in an expert’s language.
    • Seek out sunny areas. Ticks, especially the younger nymphs, can’t survive long in areas with low humidity because they dry out.

While at the Campsite

Once you are all set to enjoy nature, there are a couple of tips that will make it harder for ticks to find you!

    • Walk in the center of trails. Cleared areas do not have the shade, humidity, and vegetation that ticks prefer. Parks and other campgrounds are also more likely to spray in these areas to eliminate ticks.
    • Wear a hat. Ticks like to attach around your head or ears because the skin is thinner in these locations.
    • Secure long hair. You don’t want to give ticks anything else to crawl on… Also, it makes a tick check easier!
    • Tick check every 2-3 hours. When you check for ticks make sure to look in these places:
      • Armpits
      • On the backs of knees
      • Inside your belly button
      • Around your waist
      • Between your legs
      • In and around your ears
    • Showering. Although it can be difficult when staying at a campsite, taking a shower or bathing will help you locate and remove any unattached ticks.

Once you get back home, consider these measures:

    • Dry clothing camp clothes. Research has demonstrated that 10-15 minutes on high heat is effective to kill ticks. Beware: to simply wash with hot water will not do the job properly!
    • Remove any ticks you find on your clothing. To remove ticks that aren’t attached, put duct tape over them and pull them off skin or clothing. Then, fold the tape over itself and toss it in the trash.

Pro-Tip

The University of Rhode Island offers an excellent resource center called Tick Encounter. Here you can find the best recommendations to enjoy any tick-free outdoor experience.

What to do in case of a tick-bite?

If you are unfortunate enough to be bitten by a tick, stay calm and follow these steps:

    • Take a photo. Should you need to follow up with your doctor later, it will be useful…
    • Don’t try to yank the tick out with your fingers. Tick removal should be performed using tweezers only. You will want to grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible. Don’t jerk or twist… apply even, steady pressure!
    • Dispose of the tick by flushing it down the toilet or placing it in a sealed bag until you can dispose of it safely.
    • After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
    • Follow up with your doctor should you feel unwell, develop a fever, or break out in a rash within several weeks of your bite.
  • Tweezer-use tips:
    • Tweezers with pointed ends work best so you can grab and hold on to the tick more easily.
    • If the tweezers are not pointed, you can tear the tick during removal, which increases the risk of spreading disease.
    • Never twist the tick or try to coax it off using heat or solvents.

Do not forget that the first 24 to 48 hours are key in the transmission of tick-borne diseases. So, please consult a doctor in case you observe any of these symptoms:

  • red-ringed rash or skin that’s red and irritated, the so-called “bull’s eye”
  • flu-like symptoms
  • joint pain or a swollen joint
  • facial paralysis (can’t move areas of the face)

Other conditions can also cause these symptoms. But checking in early means that, if it is Lyme disease, treatment can begin quickly.

Now you can consider yourself a well-informed outdoor enthusiast! At first, it might seem like a lot, but it becomes second nature after a while. 

THIS is what should make your camping experience memorable… not those tiny bloodsuckers! 

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Sam Brooks

Sam Brooks

Hi, my name is Sam Brooks and I'm a huge hiking, fishing and camping enthusiast. I bring my dog Max as often as I can because he also loves the great outdoors. Although I consider myself a private person, I really want to share my passion and knowledge with the readers here at outdoorcommand.com