I remember finding a wood tick stuck on the hairline of my neck over 30 years ago when I first moved to Minnesota. I was a teenager from Southern California and didn’t even know what a tick was! Its the only time I’ve ever had an attached tick and can still feel it…
Today’s post will focus on how to prevent those crawlies we all love to hate, a couple of helpful articles and my newest and favorite tick prevention hack that you probably already have in your home!
This post is not meant to scare you with all of the diseases that ticks and mosquitoes can carry, or keep you from enjoying the outdoors. But, the Midwest and East Coast have some of the higher rates of Lyme disease and are seeing an increase in a few new diseases showing up from warmer regions, so prevention is key. Climate change and dying bats are among the reasons that scientists believe we are seeing more disease and a variety of illnesses spreading geographically.
Are the ticks out yet?
I’ve heard Minnesotans say that as long as there’s not a thick cover of snow, the ticks are out. The only ticks I’ve ever found were in March and April, right after the thaw. Ticks and mosquitos prefer warm, humid environments and are most active in the Spring and Summer months.
What should I do?
Here are 5 basic things you can do to be more aware and prevent our least favorite bugs .
- Prevention: Avoid tall grassy areas if possible, and be aware of where you sit or camp (wet, shady areas, lack of wind, etc). Wear treated clothing/gear, netting, sprays and lotions. See “don’t” photo above and read about the time I set my tent on a ticks nest at scout camp and found 27 ticks.
- Daily Checks: Check your body (and your kids and pets) each night especially in the warm spots, waistline and folds for ticks. Bring a small mirror to check the spots you can’t see, and shower each day if possible.
- Separation: Keep em outside! Be aware of hitchhikers on your gear and pets and leave them outside for a while before bringing them into your house.
- Proper removal: If you do find a tick attached, here’s a good article illustrating the CDC’s instructions for proper tick removal. There are many old remedies out there, but the best is just to remove it with tweezers as close to the head as possible in a direct upward motion, careful not to squeeze the body or detach the head.
- Clean the area and monitor for changes: Clean the area with soap or hand sanitizer after removal and monitor it for a few weeks to see if any changes occur (not everyone gets a bullseye rash)
Lets talk about chemicals
First, let me say that I typically try to avoid pesticides where I can in my life and using them was kind of a hard decision at first. I started with natural treatments that came highly recommended but found that they were less effective and needed to be reapplied frequently. We still use a natural mosquito repellant for most summer nights that smells lovely, but when going out into the woods or in very buggy conditions, it was like bringing a knife to a gun fight.
I realize that deciding to use chemicals can be a very personal thing, so, this is a judgement-free zone and you should do what works best for you and your family. For me, it came down to effectiveness, and deciding which was more dangerous: occasional exposure to toxins vs. Lyme Disease (or other tick borne illness).
What I do to prevent Ticks and Mosquitos:
- Treat clothing- 1x per season in the spring-Sawyer Permethrin
- Topical spray – Picaridin, Natural or Deet
- Barrier- Headnet, Bug Jacket, Bug Pants
1. Treat Clothing
Once a year I spray our clothes with Permethrin. I wait for a sunny day without a breeze, line my items up close together and have a dedicated spot in the yard where I spray them. Maybe I go a little overboard by wearing a mask and gloves when applying, but I mostly try to keep my work away from the garden, bees, cats and kids and leave them out for 24 hours to dry. I find that spraying my clothing on the ground prevents me from inhaling it and any residual spray that touches the ground will degrade in the sun and soil. I used to spray my clothes hanging in the garage, but found the smell bothersome and like more ventilation.
Make sure that you are using a brand that is specifically designed for use on clothing like this one made by Sawyer. This article details how to use this treatment and why you should use Permethrin formulas specifically designed for use on clothing vs. other versions found at Farm Supply Stores. Diluting your own mixture can result in improper ratios and lacks the chemicals that cause it to bond to clothing.
What is Permethrin?
Permethrin is classified as a Pyrethoid, a manufactured chemical that is acts similar to Pyrethrum.
Pyrethum is a naturally occurring mixture of chemicals found in certain chrysanthemum flowers and was first recognized as having insecticidal properties around 1800 in Asia and was used to kill ticks and various insects such as fleas and mosquitos. Six individual chemicals have active insecticidal properties in the pyrethrum extract, and these compounds are called pyrethrins. Permethrin IS NOT a natural substance, but when used effectively, it bonds to clothing through several washes and is a “Knock-down” chemical that kills or repels mosquitoes and ticks on contact and stays on your clothes. It is toxic to cats and humans in liquid form but safe when it dries, so follow the directions on the bottle to make sure that you are using it correctly. CDC Toxicological profile
I spray our hiking clothes and recently started spraying my backpack, paying special attention to shoes, socks, cuffs, and hat. Unlike Deet, Permethrin will not harm synthetic fabrics. I keep it away from my underwear, sleeping clothes or anything that touches my face and wash and store it separate from my other clothing.
If you don’t want to go through all of that…. You can buy clothing that has been commercially treated already or send your favorite clothing to Insect Shield for treatment. It is odorless, EPA Registered and good for 70 washings. My hiking pants and bug jacket came treated with insect-shield and every year I think about just sending the rest of my clothing in and letting someone else do it…My friend who hiked the AT did this and he said it worked great.
2. Topical Sprays
My favorite is a botanical repellant we found at our local grocery store and can also be found at REI. It smells great and keeps the bugs away if they are minor. We use this for summer evenings at home and picnics. I have also made sprays out of ingredients found on the internet with things ranging from rose geranium, tea tree oil, lemon oil and yarrow extracts. 30 percent oil of lemon eucalyptus has been shown to be as effective as deet, but needs to be re applied frequently.
This is what I use on the trail to protect my skin from bugs. At 20 percent strength, it is odorless and comes in a pump bottle that I put into a smaller spray bottle for backpacking. I prefer it to deet because it wont harm my synthetic gear and it doesn’t burn when I put it on my skin. My son used Picardin lotion at Scout camp and he said it was very effective. You do need to apply the spray a little more frequently if sweating and when the bugs are thick, but I like that it works and doesn’t have a smell.
I barely use this anymore because I have experienced skin sensitivity to it in higher concentrations and it can damage or weaken synthetic fabrics if used in 100% concentration or repeated use. That being said, 15 to 30 percent concentrations are most effective and I’ll probably bring some to our upcoming Boundary Waters trip as a back up if we have a ‘bugpocalypse’ and eveything else fails.
Headnets, Bug Jackets, and Bug Pants are a great way to keep the bugs off of you without spraying stuff all the time (and you’ll look fancy!). I have the three items listed above and the only thing I don’t like about them is that they can generate a surprising amount of heat. You would think that the mesh would be be cool, but in a still humid buggy area, they can get very stuffy and hot. I plan to test these out in the BWCA in the evenings this summer. Having a bug net on your hammock and tent can also be a lifesaver, just don’t forget to shut it.
This is how I roll
I discovered my very favorite tick prevention hack through the magic of Facebook a few years ago. A Lint roller! It s a little heavy for backpacking trips, but I keep a lint roller in my car and make everyone “roll themselves” before they get in when we have been out hiking. Its kind of fun to do and its the only time I have ever found a deer tick on a hike. I picked it up with the lint roller from my dogs leg on an early spring hike in central Minnesota. Its such an easy thing to do, have you tried it?
Whew! We made it! Now that I have you crawling and itching, lets end on a high note! Most bugs are good and have there place in this world. Ticks and Mosquitoes are food to some creatures, but nothing you want to mess with. With a little prevention, you can keep venturing outside and not have to worry too much about these guys.
What are some good tips you’ve used for avoiding bugs? I’d love to hear them in the comments below.
This week, I’m working on knocking some more weight off of my pack for a few backpacking trips on the Superior Hiking Trail. I’ll post my gear list and more photos in an upcoming post. Photos can be found on the Wandering Pine Instagram. If you don’t want to miss a post, be sure to subscribe to the Wandering Pine Blog and Youtube for updates!
Happy Trails! Bzzzzzzzzzzzz