Ticks and Hiking: Prevention, Removal, and Care

Ticks are some of the most feared insects while hiking, especially in the United States. This isn’t because of the ticks themselves, but instead of the variety of diseases they carry resulting in sometimes severe and even life-long consequences. So, many hikers have concerns around preventing ticks while hiking, as well as properly removing and caring for a bite should one occur. 

Hikers should always seek to prevent ticks while hiking. This can be done through properly treating clothes and yourself with insecticide and covering any exposed skin with clothes while hiking. After the hike is completed, performing a proper tick check and immediately showering can help locate any ticks on your body. Should you find a tick has bitten you, proper removal is important to limit disease spread. 

Escaping ticks while hiking may not be fully possible, but with the right preventative care, removal techniques, and post-bite care, you can limit the effect of tick-borne diseases. 

black leggd tick crawling on a green leaf. Example of a tick while hiking

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Are Ticks Dangerous? The Disease They Carry Are

By themselves, ticks really wouldn’t be that dangerous of a creature. They don’t carry venom, so you probably wouldn’t even notice a bite. But, ticks carry diseases that pass through those unsuspecting bites, and those diseases are what make ticks dangerous. 

In the United States, ticks carry several diseases. The 6 most commonly found that transfer to humans are: 

  • Lyme disease: Causes flu-like symptoms, rashes, and joint pain. Most commonly found in the Northeastern and Upper Midwestern United States
  • Spotted Fever Rickettsiosis: Contains multiple diseases, including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. These are extremely dangerous and cause fever, rashes, and if left untreated necrosis, and altered mental status. Most commonly found in Southeastern United States and up the East Coast. 
  • Babesoisis: This causes fever, fatigue, gastrointestinal symptoms, and dark urine. Most commonly found in the Northeastern and Upper Midwestern United States. 
  • Ehrlichiosis: Can cause fever, malaise, rashes, gastrointestinal symptoms, and altered mental state. Most commonly found in Southeastern and Southcentral United States. 
  • Anaplasmosis: Causes fever, gastrointestinal symptoms, fatigue, and headaches. Most commonly found in the Northeastern and Upper Midwestern United States
  • Tularemia: Causes symptoms throughout the entire body including fever, sore throat, ulcers, couch, chest pain, and eye issues. Has been found in every U.S State except for Hawaii. 

There are additional tick-bourne diseases to be aware of and most are location specific. Learn which tick-borne diseases you should expect while hiking in your area so you know the symptoms to look out for after completing a hike. 

Which Ticks Should I Watch Out For?

Not every tick type carries every disease. Knowing which tick you’ve seen or been bit by will be important to determine which disease symptoms you should look out for after you’ve been bit. 

black legged tick on a green leaf. Tick you may encounter while hiking

Black Legged Tick

Carries Lyme Disease, Babesoisis, and Ehrlichiosis.

Rocky Mountain wood tick on a green leaf

Rocky Mountain Wood Tick

Carries Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Tularemia, and Colorado tick fever.

Brown Dog tick on a green leaf

Brown Dog Tick

Carries Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

lone star tick with white spot on back on green leaf

Lone Star Tick

Carries Ehrlichiosis and Tularemia.

American dog tick on a green leaf. tick you may encounter while hiking

American Dog Tick

Carries Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Tularemia.

western blacklegged tick on green leaf. tick while hiking

Western Backlegged Tick

Carries Anaplasmosis and Lyme Disease.

How do I Prevent Getting a Tick While Hiking?

Tick prevention is the best course of action to preventing tick-borne diseases. If you can protect yourself and ensure that you don’t get ticks on you while hiking, then you’ll entirely be able to prevent yourself from getting the diseases they spread. 

So, how do you protect yourself from ticks? Mostly through your clothes. 

If you’ll be hiking in an area with ticks wearing clothes that fully cover your body, including ankles and any exposed areas of skin can go a long way to protecting yourself. Ticks can’t bite you if they don’t have access to your skin, so wear that extra coverage. You can also pre-treat your clothing with permethrin to keep away ticks and other insects. 

In addition to treating your clothes, be sure to use a quality bug spray. To find one that works for you look for ingredients including DDET, picaridin, Lemongrass and Eucalyptus Oil, and para-menthane-diol (PMD). 

Another tick prevention technique is to avoid hiking through tall grass. Ticks love grassy areas, and they’ll absolutely hitch a ride on you if you’re passing through. 

How Do I Perform a Proper Tick Check?

After hiking in a high-tick area, or after walking through a grassy area where you know ticks are likely to be, then you’ll want to do a tick check. 

A thorough tick check involves getting entirely naked and checking every part of your body, including: 

  • armpits
  • behind the knees
  • belly button
  • in and behind the ears
  • anywhere there is hair

Essentially, if your body has a crevice, you’ll want to examine it to ensure no ticks have found their way there. Now, it’s unlikely if you’re on the trail you can get completely naked and do this – but, do the best you can to examine every area of your body for ticks. 

Once you get home, remove your clothes and examine them as well for ticks. If one is carried in on your shirt then you want to remove that before throwing it on your laundry basket and having it crawl out later to find you. Then thoroughly shower. Those crevices you checked earlier? Check them again, but this time with soap. 

Also, know that not every tick that may be on your body is an adult tick. Nymphs are baby ticks, can be incredibly small, and will bite humans too. That spec of dirt on your ankle may actually be a tick nymph. Investigate every spot, even if you think its nothing. 

a tiny brown tick nymph on a finger for scale

How do I Properly Remove a Tick?

When doing your tick check, you’ve unfortunately found one head first into your body. Now, it’s time to remove it, and you’ll want to do that as soon as possible. 

The CDC provides clear steps on doing this properly. These include: 

  1. Grab the tick using fine-tipped tweezers. Be sure to get as close to the skin as possible when grabbing. 
  2. Pull the tick upwards with steady pressure. Don’t twist or jerk, as this can cause parts of the tick or its mouthparts to remain behind in your skin. If this happens, continue trying to remove the parts left behind. 
  3. After removing the tick, clean the tweezers and yourself with soapy water and/or rubbing alcohol. 
  4. Dispose of the tick by placing it in sealed container with alcohol, or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush it with your fingers as you risk spreading more disease. 

You may have heard of the many alternative methods for removing ticks including using fire, squeezing them, nail polish, or petroleum jelly to get them to detach. These are myths and will not work nearly as well as removing the tick properly with tweezers yourself. 

What Do I Do if I've Been Bitten By a Tick?

What you do after you’ve been bitten by a tick depends on where you were hiking, and what type of tick bit you. 

First, things first though. Immediately after removing the tick, wash thoroughly with soap and water or rubbing alcohol. This helps to remove any residual tick-borne diseases and helps prevent any additional infections from the bite. 

If you were bitten in an high-risk area for Lyme disease, then your next step will be to call a doctor. This is because a prophylactic course of antibiotics may be warranted. Now, there are several conditions that should be met before your doctor would give you antibiotics, but it’s best to let them determine that. So, give them a call and see what they say. 

Calling the doctor is really only if you are in an area with Lyme disease – as antibiotics aren’t really indicated for other types of tick-borne diseases. 

No matter what, though, after a tick bite you’ll want to be on the lookout for any symptoms of feeling ill. Fever, rashes around the bite, fatigue, and gastrointestinal symptoms are all signs you should speak to a doctor immediately. Tick-borne diseases can become very dangerous quickly, so if symptoms do appear, don’t wait to seek medical attention. 

Tick Prevention and Care for Dogs

Humans aren’t the only ones who can get a disease through ticks – dogs can too. And as such, if you’ll be hiking with dogs in tick-infested areas then you’ll need to be aware of how to handle ticks and dogs while hiking. 

Like humans, prevention is the first step. For dogs this doesn’t mean wearing long clothes, but instead ensuring that they are on a tick-preventative medication. There are multiple to choose from in both topical and oral forms. Choose the one that you and your Veterinarian decide is best. 

After hiking with your dog, you’ll need to do a tick check on them as you do one on yourself. This can be harder though, because dogs have a lot of hair and ticks, especially small ones, can be incredibly difficult to see. Ticks do like to find crevices though, so although a tick can be anywhere on your dog the areas you’ll want to ensure you thoroughly check are: 

  • under and around the tail
  • around the eyes
  • in and around the ears
  • under the harness or collar
  • in between their toes
  • under the legs

Should you find a tick on your dog remove it as you would if you found one on yourself. Afterwards, clean the area and be on the lookout for changes in behavior or appetite. 

Hopefully you’ve found all the information you need regarding ticks while hiking. With the proper prevention, removal techniques, and care after a bite you can reduce the chances of catching a tick-bourn disease while hiking. 

If you want more hiking recommendations please check out our hiking tips page, or check out any of the articles below. 

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