Experienced campers, hikers, farmers, and even suburban dwellers are already snickering at how to avoid ticks when camping.
If only we knew how to prevent tick bites while camping! Suzette Haden Elgin wrote a humorous song that begins, “If not for ticks, we’d see the angels…” She pointed out that seeing angels would make life much more difficult than ticks.
Ticks are pretty difficult. They appear in many Native American legends, including trickster tales and stories about voracious, never satisfied monsters.
Or they are the monsters after they have been transformed by being defeated by the hero of the story. Either way, they are never portrayed in a flattering light.
Some Facts About Ticks
Ticks can be found in most parts of the United States, but they are most prevalent in areas that are frequently humid. Missouri and Illinois, for example, both have high tick populations.
Ticks aren’t insects; they are arachnids. Like spiders and mites, they have eight legs and no antennae. Contrary to some accounts, they cannot jump. Instead, they climb up on brush or tall grasses and wait for passersby.
The most common ticks, the dog tick, black-legged or deer tick, Lonestar, and rocky mountain wood tick, prefer feeding on warm-blooded mammals. The babies of all tick species can be difficult to notice and remove. These are frequently referred to as seed ticks and are most often seen in spring and early summer.
Tick bites are unpleasant at best. The nasty little eight-leggers inject a sort of neurotoxin with their bite, intended to keep the host from noticing them. In the case of the females, the toxin is stronger, sometimes even strong enough to immobilize small prey. Itching, redness, and perhaps even allergic reactions or infection can occur.
At worst, ticks are known disease carriers so you need to avoid ticks when camping. They can spread no fewer than eighteen different diseases, the best known of which are Lyme’s Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
How to Avoid Ticks When Camping
Ticks are pervasive and difficult to detect. Prevention begins with your outdoor clothing. Ticks are the easiest to see on white clothing.
Your best prevention is to wear white sneakers or boots, white socks, white slacks, and a long-sleeved white shirt when forging your way through unfamiliar meadow or woodland areas. Tuck the tops of the pants into the socks, the shirt into the waistband of the pants.
Tie or pin up long hair, and cover it with a tight scarf or cap. Use a personal bug repellent that’s labeled as being specific against ticks. Citronella and thyme oil have been found to be effective against ticks, but preventative sprays that contain at least 30% DEET are often recommended.
Regardless of whether you’re using a commercial or homemade bug repellant, apply it to the outside of your clothing, not directly to your skin. Consider that anything that will kill a tick probably isn’t going to be very friendly for you, either.
Safety and Tick Removal
When engaged in outdoor activities, check yourself and your companions for ticks about every three hours. Most diseases transmitted by ticks will only occur after the tick has been attached for at least four hours.
When camping, at the end of the day, bathe (a sponge bath is fine) or at least wipe down with a personal body wipes before retiring.
Remove ticks by extracting them using tweezers, and drop the ticks into a Ziplock baggie that contains a cotton ball soaked in alcohol or insecticide.
This will prevent the tick from escaping to bite again, and can also be useful for identifying the bug if anyone gets sick.
How to Keep Ticks Out of Your Tent and Sleeping Bag
Spray the outside of your pack with a personal bug repellant. This will help prevent hitchhikers from riding in on your gear.
Before setting up your tent and other camp equipment, clear your campsite of brush, tall grass, and debris. Do this while wearing your protective outdoor clothing that has been treated with insect repellant.
Sprinkle the outer perimeter of your camping area with a circle of diatomaceous earth. Diatomaceous earth is considered to be safe for birds and mammals. It is also believed to be harmless for vertebrate fish.
Although no substance should ever be considered 100% safe, it’s less likely to upset local ecology than most spray insecticides. It works by physically piercing insect/arachnid hides, allowing them to dehydrate. Alternatively, you can use a mixture of salt and borax as a preventative circle. This isn’t quite as eco-friendly as diatomaceous earth, however.
Set up a screened disrobing area away from your tent. Remove your hiking/exploring clothing at that location. Shake out your outerwear, and spray it with your insecticide. You can rig a clothesline inside your camp area or use the edges of your privacy screen to hang your clothing up. Never leave clothing loose on the ground when camping.
With a little planning, you can combine your disrobing area with your shower/bathing area for convenience. In this way, you enter your living space as pest-free as possible.
Citronella Candles and Smudge Pots
Although more effective for mosquitos than ticks, you can also set out citronella candles or thyme and sage smudge pots.
The candles add a cheerful illumination to your evening camp. However, be wary of leaving such lights going all night unless you are camping with a group and designate individuals to stand fire watch during the night.
Floored Tents and Mosquito Netting
Spray the inside of your tent with insecticide before laying out your sleeping gear is a good way to avoid ticks when camping outdoors. Give it time to air out a little before occupying it. A tent with a built-in floor will go a long way toward helping keep out ticks and other small pests.
Check your window and door netting for any tears or holes. Repair these by placing a patch of duct tape on the outside and on the inside of the screen at the place where it is torn. This will help keep bugs out and prevent further damage.
Sprinkle some of that handy diatomaceous earth around the tent. Remove and bag shoes at the tent entrance.
Here’s to pest-free camping!