Exploring the great outdoors can be a delightful experience — but only if you’re well prepared. While planning a hiking or camping trip, it’s important to put your safety first. Along with your tent and flashlight, pack a first-aid kit and sunscreen. Keep a map, compass, or GPS at hand so you stay aware of your location.
To avoid any unexpected surprises along the way, it’s best to research your trail and the weather beforehand. It’s also important to be aware of potential pests that could put a damper on your experience. Bugs may look small, but their bites can have large impacts.
Mosquitos, chiggers, and ticks are blood-sucking bugs found predominantly in forested or tall, grassy areas. Mosquito bites cause diseases like malaria whereas tick bites may lead to Lyme disease. Critters like chiggers don’t cause disease directly, but their bites can be maddeningly itchy and cause excessive scratching. You’re entering their territory when hiking and camping, so be prepared to battle this almost-invisible enemy.
To fully enjoy your outdoor escapades without worrying about bugs, think proactively. Here are five tips to help you avoid being harmed by nature’s minibeasts.
1. Dress Smartly
When it comes to preventing insect bites, proper clothing is your first line of defense. Opt for long-sleeved shirts, pants, and socks to minimize exposed skin. If you don’t want to spend big bucks on hiking wear, a cost-effective alternative is to buy factory seconds. The wildlife won’t notice the minor cosmetic defects of your discount Carhartt gear, and you’ll get rugged, comfortable clothing without paying a fortune.
Even with full-length clothes, you need to take extra precautions such as tucking your pants into your socks. Light-colored clothing makes it easier to spot these critters, helping you remove them promptly. Consider treating your clothes with a permethrin-based repellent. Follow the product instructions and allow the clothes to dry thoroughly before wearing them. Remember, permethrin should be applied to clothing, not directly on the skin.
2. Use Repellents Properly
For your next layer of protection, use a repellent containing DEET or picaridin on exposed skin. Apply tick-repellant products according to the instructions, paying extra attention to ankles, wrists, and the neck area. Always avoid applying repellent near the eyes, mouth, and open wounds. Most insect repellents are safe to use on children above the age of two months. However, don’t apply it on their hands, as young kids tend to rub their eyes a lot.
Those seeking a more natural alternative can consider products with essential oils like lemon, eucalyptus, or citronella. While these options may not be as effective as DEET or picaridin, they can still provide some protection. Before applying any product, test it out on a small area first. You’ll want to ensure you’re not allergic to the formulation before you start your trek.
3. Stay on the Trail
Research potential tick-borne diseases prevalent in the area before you start your hike. If you’re visiting a state or national park, consulting a park ranger can also be useful. Their advice will help you pack adequately for the trip as well as mentally prepare for what lies ahead. Avoid shortcuts to prevent yourself from getting lost — or bitten. By staying on well-traveled trails, you can reduce your exposure to insects and pests significantly.
Therefore, avoid bushwhacking or walking through dense vegetation where ticks and chiggers might be lurking. Steer clear of leaf litter and long grass. If you’re setting up camp, choose a sunny area and sit on camp chairs rather than the ground. Ticks are often found in wood collected for campfires, so consider buying firewood instead. Zip up tents as much as possible and check your bags for ticks if they are left on the ground.
4. Conduct Tick Checks
Perform thorough tick checks regularly — and definitely before bedding down for the night. It’s often recommended to check each other for ticks as you might miss some spots on your own body. Inspect the entire body, especially hidden areas like the underarms, behind the ears, and between toes. Ticks are notorious for finding warm and hard-to-see spots. If your dog went hiking with you, don’t forget to look for ticks on your pet and remove any you find.
Mosquitos fly away after a bite, and chiggers can be washed away with soap and water. Ticks, on the other hand, are harder to get rid of. If you see ticks attached to your skin, remove them promptly using a fine-tipped pair of tweezers. Grip the tick as near to the surface of the skin as you can and, maintaining steady pressure, pull it outward. Avoid twisting the tick, because if its mouthparts break off, they can remain embedded in your skin even after the trip.
5. Post-Trip Safety Steps
As you pack up from your trip, keep all the dirty clothes in a tightly sealed bag. When you get back, wash them as soon as possible. Ticks on moist clothing in a hamper may survive for up to two days — and there’s no saying they won’t go exploring. Ten minutes in the dryer on high heat is enough to kill any insects that return with you. Boots and other hiking gear should be treated with permethrin.
Once you arrive home, change your clothes in the mud room, if possible, to avoid any ticks coming further into the house. Have a hot shower within two hours of being indoors, followed by a thorough tick check. And keep the tick checks going for a couple of days after your trip. If you feel symptoms like a fever or rash, consult a healthcare professional.
Exploring nature’s wonders through hiking or camping can be exhilarating.With the right precautions, you can focus on the breathtaking scenery without fearing the creepy-crawlies. Breathe in the fresh air and relax under the open sky. Enjoy your trip knowing you’ve taken the necessary precautions to keep the pesky enemies at bay.