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Backpacking Lyme Disease Prevention

Some people think I’m cracked when it comes to the preventive measures I take to avoid tick bites and getting Lyme Disease. But I still haven’t contracted Lyme Disease after 5000 miles of hiking, backpacking, and off-trail hiking through prime tick habit on the Appalachian Trail, in the northeastern United States, or in Scotland where herds of deer wander across the landscape. I think my tick countermeasures are pretty reasonable actually…

About the size of a poppy seed, a tick nymph embeds itself in the skin of a hiker.
About the size of a poppy seed, a tick nymph embeds itself in the skin of a hiker.

If you think I’m crazy, talk to trail crew, rangers, or scientists who spend their time in the Lyme infested areas where I do most of my hiking. They take the same pre-cautions that I do too.

Lyme Disease Cases 2015 & 2001
Lyme Disease Cases 2015 & 2001

Lyme Disease Prevention Tips

  • Wear light-colored clothing so ticks are readily visible
  • Wear a hat, long sleeves, and pants
  • Spray Permethrin on clothing, sprayed according to manufacturer directions, on pants, socks, shirts, hats, coats. The spray must be totally dry before clothes are donned
  • DEET products properly sprayed on exposed skin can be useful, but don’t rely on these alone
  • Frequently inspect for ticks on yourself, your children, and your pets during outdoor activities and especially after undressing Groin, navel, armpits, waist, head and behind knees and ears are especially vulnerable
  • Dry outdoor clothes at least 20-30 minutes in the dryer to kill any ticks attached to them.
  • Avoid tall grass and dense vegetation; stay on cleared paths and trails whenever possible.
  • Don’t encourage deer to feed in your yard.
  • Talk to your veterinarian about tick protection products for your pets; pets can bring ticks into your yard and/or home
  • If you have been in tick-infested areas and experience illness or rash, contact your doctor immediately.

See Also:

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  1. I got Lyme disease back in 1985, when I was 12. One of the earliest diagnosed cases in the UK.

    It was VERY unpleasant – kept me out of school for a couple of months. It’s definitely not something I’m keen to go through again, so I can personally attest that Philip is NOT cracked for taking his preventative measures.

  2. Philip, great tips! i day hike on the A.T. and other trails here in P.A. (prime tick country) and with experts calling 2017 to be a banner year for lyme disease cases , and a family member having it and stating “you do want to get this!” the post couldn’t be more timely, i already use darn tough socks and I’m thinking off getting another tan pair and getting them treated haven’t done that to my socks before, but i was also wondering any experience wearing the rail riders insect treated journeyman shirts compared with the exoffcio halo, i have the journeyman now, looking to get a second shirt, seems like the journey man may have more ventilation but i hate the buttons, lost one already and the threads come loose sometimes, looks like the halo has snap buttons but was wondering how the ventilation and overall quality of the shirts may compare. Thanks!

  3. What is the differences in colors on the maps.

  4. I appreciate the photo. It is one thing to hear about the tiny size of the deer tick, its another to see it in perspective.

    I am amazed I haven’t gotten lyme myself. I spend a lot of time in the woods hunting turkey in the spring and that involves a lot of sitting. Last year I doused my clothing with Permethrin and wore a lot of deet. It worked. I used the same clothing, retreated, in the fall for squirrel and deer hunting which also involve a lot of sitting in questionable locations as well. I wasn’t always so careful to use “bug spray” and have often found “dog ticks” embedded which can bring their own set of problems. I consider my self very luckky

  5. I got Lyme’s disease in 2012 after a short car camping trip with my wife. Since then, I have liberally dosed our gear and clothes with Permethrin every season. Besides my clothes, I treated the inside portion of my tent with Permethrin as well. Haven’t seen a tick on me or my gear since 2012. Also, it keeps the mosquitoes from hanging around under my fly.

  6. A few years ago, my wife had an odd bump on her chest and went to our doctor. We live in the Nashville, TN, area, and she saw the doctor in February. It was a tick. She was prescribed antibiotics, just in case. Now winters in Nashville aren’t comparable to winters in New England, but we can intervals of daytime temperatures in the 20s and lower temperatures–down to the single digits–at night. This is a roundabout way of saying take care in a mild winter.

  7. Also, the precautions you take to avoid Lyme disease can help prevent you from getting other very nasty (and some which are potentially deadly) tick-borne diseases that are on the rise here in the Northeast including Ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, anaplasmosis, and others. Coincidentally, we just had our dog to the vet yesterday to get her Lyme shot and pick up Frontline for applying to her fur to kill any ticks she brings into the house.

  8. Oh yes, reminded me to buy more permethrin to soak my clothing again this year. Thanks

  9. Some people howl at the idea, but removing body hair, or at least keeping it very short, makes tick checks a lot easier.

  10. Why would anyone think you are crazy, unless they are “challenged”? You sound intelligent and rational, especially being outdoors in Lyme Disease “Central.”

    I like being outside more than inside and live on about fifty acres of woods, meadows, and fields, two creeks, and am infested with deer. I don’t allow hunting on my property but those surrounding me do. We still have plenty, many of them travel in groups of 5 to 7 lately. I like them fine but I am a target myself for the ticks, also with all the voles who spread the ticks. So two years ago I bought 4 pairs of Insect Shield socks, same factory-treated new shirt and Railrider pants on ebay cheaper, and sent sixty bucks of my own shirts and pants and underwear off for factory treatment. Sawyers spray on shoes, etc. I won’t go into full details but a girl I once knew at 18, now a middle aged mom, now appears to others as if she had a stroke. Thinking and speech. Former top Ivory League college grad, was very bright, who went downhill. Also a young niece in VA who got diagnosed and caught it in time. Can’t cite the reference at the moment but I read last week that about a third of Lyme tests come up as false negative. Not good if true.

  11. Hi Phil, great post as always, thank you! Have you tried soaking or spraying permethrin on cuben fiber? As it is so expensive, I don’t want to do anything to damage it. I like the concept of soaking my tent in a solution and then using the same solution to spray my sleeping bag, backpack and clothes.


  12. All good advice. And beware of sleeping situations where you are exposed to mice. My son contracted hanta virus syndrome while sleeping on our cabin deck in Utah from mice running across his pillow. No joke, nearly fatal.

  13. Rose geranium oil is an excellent alternative for those who don’t want chemicals all over everything. I’ve used it backpacking all over PA and it’s worked like a dream!

    • I bought some rose geranium that has the X radens in its title not to be confused with the other type of rose geranium which I’m told is not effective as the first mentioned type. Glad to hear it works since I will soon be trying it. it is said to be effective for dogs with just a little behind the shoulder blades and a bit near the tail. It should not go near dogs nose since the it is not good for the dogs smelling abilities.

  14. Are there particular seasons of the year where ticks are not an issue? I.e. is there a minimum temperature before they get active or is it basically an issue year round?

  15. Any tips for tick removal for solo hikers who find a tick where they can feel but not see?

    • Drop alcohol on it.

    • To remove ticks, you can also cover them with a drop or two of peppermint oil. It does work, sometimes quickly, sometimes after a few minutes. Bad thing about trying to carry peppermint oil backpacking is that it REALLY smells. One errant drop will make everything that comes into contact with it smell like peppermint. That’s not bad for humans, but I wonder whether it makes bears and smaller critters curious.

  16. I live in England and didn’t think that Lymes disease was much of an issue. Last year I went car camping for the weekend and got a few microscopic ticks from which I contracted Lymes disease. I spent 3 months in bed and have arthritis in my knees as a result (I’m only 41). Lymes is not something that you want to get – prevention is far better.

    My toddler also got a tick on his nose near his eye. It looked like a tiny scab which even the doctor mistook as a scab. Sometimes they look like freckles. The best way to identify them is there is a slight skin inflamation around it (red skin) and you can lift its body with your nail.

  17. Philip, do you recommend any type of tool to remove ticks?

  18. Lyme disease should certainly be taken seriously. I know a number of people who’ve had it.

    As effective as synthetic pyrethroids are, i’d be a little concerned about living in a cloud of the stuff for any extended period of time. Though it does have relatively low mammalian toxicity (it’s metabolized relatively quickly), it is a nerve toxin, and negative effects have been noted in research.

    My middle-ground approach has been to use permethrin on pants, socks, and shoes while out and about (the areas most likely to contact ticks), and to use some kind of naturally derived repellent elsewhere.

    The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) lists some of these on their website. The page is titled,” Natural Tick Repellents and Pesticides.”

    • It’s dry. Not a cloud. Only intended for fabrics, not topical application on your skin.

      • Understood. “Cloud” was semi-figuratively intended. Just seems that with doused (and dried) clothing, spraying tents and sleeping bags, etc. some amount of the stuff is going to enter the body. Enough to have bad effects? Probably not, according to the studies, but many things supposedly “proven” “safe” have turned out not to be. Maybe worth the risk given the known badness of Lyme disease, though. Tough choices. Horses for courses.

    • Nick, out of due respect, which studies show that using permethrin, once dry is toxic? I didn’t apply it myself, I had Insect Shield do it. If there is valid research out there showing it is toxic, I would like to read it.

      • Google permethrin product safety sheet.

      • The EPA has an 11-page permethrin fact sheet on its website (at least for now). It’s generally regarded as low toxicity for humans, but the agency classifies it as “likely to be carcinogenic by the oral route.” (So don’t spray it on your hands and then eat a cheeseburger or suck on the sleeve of your treated garment.) It is, however, highly toxic for freshwater and estuarine aquatic organisms (don’t swim in your permethrin-treated clothing) and bees. The EPA states the benefits of permethrin outweigh the risks. Like Nick, I also take a middle-ground approach to the stuff.

      • With all due respect, I think you’ve interpreted that fact sheet incorrectly. permethrin is toxic to aquatic life in it’s liquid form, which is why the EPA says you shouldn’t pour it down the drain. They don’t say anything about swimming in permethrin treated clothing and my assumption is that that is safe and relatively inert when dry and bonded to the fabric.

        I’m cautious about this stuff too, but resist causing undue panic in people who might be helped by using it…

  19. If I were to have my clothing treated with permethrin, what would be the likely impact of washing them? Is this going to ruin the treatment? After a lifetime of walking I am beginning to take Lyme’s a little more seriously having known someone who contracted it. Forgive my ignorance. Thank you.

  20. John M

    If hiking solo, use your cell phone for examining the places on your body not easily seen.

  21. Did mean to type ‘camera’. Thanks for adding.

    Don’t forget to delete the photo before you get home! And maybe everyday before taking another look.

  22. Hiking buddies have told me to avoid Appalachian Trail shelters and other places where careless people are likely to have left food which attracts mice, since rodents carry the dreaded “deer” ticks. I’ve also heard reports of Hanta virus in the Eastern U.S., not just out West, spread by rodent feces. I can’t verify these reports, but I wonder if others on this blog can confirm or debunk.

  23. Best way to avoid ticks? Throw away the clock.

    Seriously, tuck clothing in, wearing light clothes, checking places where fabric folds, avoid sitting under trees (where they can fall from).

    • Seriously, tuck clothing in, wearing light clothes, checking places where fabric folds, avoid sitting under trees (where they can fall from). < this from the above post!

      It is my FIRM belief that BIRDS are TICK CARRIERS also, not just deer MICE, or deer, or any other wild animal that is in North America! I state this because there is NO WAY a deer tick, or even a dog tick, can 'climb a tree'! Birds are ground feeders and they certainly are stationary enough for ticks to climb aboard and go for a ride 'up into the trees' where the tick may fall or crawl off the bird onto leaves, twig, branch, trunk of the tree, only to be knocked loose in breezy conditions to unsuspecting humans passing underneath!! Future research will bear this out and then all of us folks here will know where and who came up with that thesis.

      I have personally had on a white t shirt, and been out in my yard on a breezy day, and had more than one tick be blown onto my t shirt right in front of my eyes! I saw the one on my shoulder and took off my shirt to find another on the back much to my horror!! Ok, these were dog ticks, but if you have ever seen a deer tick in person then it would certainly scare the heck out of you! Those are VERY difficult to see even on a white t shirt, so shake your garden hat out before going into your home also!

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