Lyme Disease is reaching epidemic proportions on the Appalachian Trail yet hikers still insist on hiking in short sleeve shirts and short pants. The easiest way to protect yourself from Lyme Disease is to wear long pants, a long sleeve shirt, and hat when hiking, preferably ones treated with Insect Shield or Permethrin, both fabric-based insect repellent treatments that have been proven effective in killing Lyme disease carrying ticks.
I’ve been a long time advocate of Insect Shield Clothing and wear an Insect Shield hat, pants, shirt, socks, and underwear when I hike and backpack. While long sleeve pants and shirts aren’t as comfortable as hiking in a t-shirt or shorts, I prefer not to suffer the health consequences of Lyme by taking antibiotics in the short-term or contracting chronic Lyme and its adverse neurological effects if the disease goes undetected.
How bad is Lyme Disease on the Appalachian Trail?
I sat in on a meeting between the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and Insect Shield representatives last month when I visited ATC headquarters in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia and it was reported that 10% of Appalachian Thru-hikers surveyed contract Lyme Disease. That’s just Thru-Hikers who finish the Appalachian Trail. Imagine how many Section-Hikers, who dwarf the number of thru-hikers on the trail, get it too?
The threat of Lyme has grown so severe that the National Park Service is working with Insect Shield on a video to educate thru-hikers and section hikers about how to prevent Lyme by spraying their clothing and gear with Permethrin or using Insect Shield Clothing that’s been pre-treated by manufacturers. While the NPS can’t endorse the Insect Shield brand (they must remain vendor neutral), they are eager to work with commercial entities willing to foot the bill to educate the public.
While you can spray your clothing using Permethrin, it only remains effective for about 6 weeks (Permethrin breaks down when exposed to sunlight) or 6 washings. Factory pre-treated Insect Shield clothing (which is a proprietary industrial process for applying Permethrin) lasts for 70 washings, and is preferable if you hike outdoors a lot.
Who makes Insect Shield Clothing?
Many brands including Ex Officio, Outdoor Research, Buff, Columbia, and Cabela’s under several different labels including Insect Shield, BugsAway, Insect Blocker, and Insect Defense. The active ingredient behind all of these labels is Permethrin, which is an EPA-approved insect repellent designed for clothing textiles.
Factory pre-treated Permethrin Clothing offers protection that is invisible, odorless and as easy as putting on your clothes. It has no unpleasant smell or feel. It can be washed and dried just like a normal garment (just don’t dry clean it, as this removes the treatment).