Found a tick on my friend… now they must be on ME!
Phantom sensations often happen on the trail… you know, you spot a tick on your hiking buddy and for the next few hours, you catch yourself itching, feeling heebie-jeebies that convince your body that there are ticks crawling all over you! While the placebo effect probably comes into play here… bugs are no joke out here, man.
While in the colder months, especially up north, bugs are minimal (heart eyes) you need to be aware of what’s out there, how to protect yourself, and how to keep your sanity.
Skeeters, Spiders, and Ticks, OH MY!
Depending on the prior winter, certain species can be much more prevalent in massive swarms of little stingers and bloodsuckers than they had been the year before. No matter where you’re going (even if you’ve been before), always check the current activity of the native creatures to that area.
Mosquitos (skeeters for my southern friends)
Mosquitos ain’t no joke. They are annoying as heck and can be downright deadly. In their saliva, the 176 known U.S. species of mosquitoes can carry viruses, bacteria, and diseases including Malaria, West Nile Virus, and Yellow Fever.
This can be different depending on the area, so here’s a graph from mosquitomagnet.com showing the times when mosquitoes begin to hatch and swarm like the little demons they are.
How Do I Keep Mosquitoes from Feasting on Me?!
You can attempt to prevent skeeters with a DEET spray like Ben’s Insect Repellent, Permethrin, and even B-Vitamins... what?! YEAH!
I read about how taking a B-Vitamin has been known to significantly reduce the number of mosquitoes that feast on you. Within the last few months, I started taking B-vitamins, and when I spent over 3 hours outside working on a project (at a time when I normally would've been DESTROYED by those buggers) I didn't get a single bite. I'm not calling myself a doctor or anything, but....
Now, for those that still can’t get away from the suckers, you can always resort to the spastic, swat method suggest by Dixie, from Homemade Wanderlust. She says you’ll drive yourself crazy by slapping, swatting and scratching constantly.
Her tip: If you sit and let the mosquitos crawl on you for a bit then go CRAZY on those suckers (ha, get it?), you’ll be a lot more satisfied with your sting to kill ratio.
Ah, ticks. Another staple of the outdoors… they spread in hoards around the U.S.; different kinds being more prevalent than others to certain areas. While there are a few different kinds, they all have one thing in common, they all want one thing from you… blood.
The Lone Star tick can carry Ehrlichiosis, Lyme Disease is carried by deer ticks, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) by the American dog tick, Rocky Mountain wood tick, and the brown dog tick.
Tick Paralysis usually kills animals, but can also be fatal to humans. It begins with an engorged and impregnated female ticks secretes a neurotoxin through their saliva that enters the bloodstream of its host when feeding. Tick paralysis can only occur when the tick is still attached - all the more reason you need to check yourself OFTEN (cue “Ticks” by Brad Paisley)
I Found a Tick on Me! How Do I Remove It?
If you see a tick latching onto you, be very careful and use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the head and mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. Avoid folklore remedies such as “painting” the tick with nail polish, petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin.
The tick will not, I repeat, WILL NOT just give up and back out of your skin. That little booger will DIE before losing his lunch. And If the tick dies or breaks in pieces by improper removal, infection is much more likely. Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible – do not wait for it to detach.
**Remember - just because you’ve been bitten, doesn’t mean you’ll become disease-ridden and die. It just means you need to keep a close eye on the bite and watch your symptoms.
Not necessary, but a helpful tip would be to bag that sucker up in case you begin to have a reaction after removal. This way you have the little perpetrator ready to submit to the docs for evidence.**
As creepy-crawly as they can be, spiders actually rid the wild of all kinds of pests that normally bother you on the trail. DON’T go killing every single spider you see - Spiders have a very particular set of skills. Skills they have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make them a nightmare for pests in the wild… you get the idea.
In North America, we have two venomous spiders - the Black Widow and the Brown Recluse.
While a bite doesn’t necessarily mean death, especially for healthy adults, they can cause some gnarly side effects. Always remember that these spiders are reclusive, hiding in dark, private places. They usually only attack when they feel threatened and are more active when trail traffic is lower.
So, for all you curious night owls and early birds, be sure to walk with a stick, trekking pole, or any other similar web clearing weapon in front of you to save yourself from a spider to the face. Remember, you’re coming into THEIR territory, not the other way around.
I've been bitten by a spider! What do I do?
If you know you’ve been bitten by one of these guys, stay calm and clean the bite immediately.
Symptoms usually begin immediately with burning, stinging sensation and continuously get worse if not addressed. If you can, kill and catch the spider in a jar or container and take it to the doctor so they can confirm the type and follow through with proper treatment.
If your child has been bitten, get to the emergency room ASAP. Children’s bodies cannot ward off the dangerous effects of the spider’s venom.
***One of the most important things to note anytime you’re out on the trail is how you feel. If you know you’ve been bitten by something, be sure to keep an eye on the size and color of the bite.
(You can circle the bite/swelling with a sharpie if it seems more threatening than a normal mosquito bite - this could be helpful to medical staff later.)
***If you begin to have flu-like symptoms (fever, achiness, chills, etc), begin to have trouble breathing, or see ulcers and blisters forming, get medical help ASAP***
Prevention: Treating Your Gear and Clothing
Long sleeves, pants tucked into tall socks, and neck covers are all good choices to help minimize the surface area for bugs to attack. You can also treat your clothes and gear with permethrin. Backcountry Exposure has a good video that gives more depth to permethrin and how to treat your gear and clothes with it.
Best Bug Repellents On The Trail
There seems to be some controversy over “the best” bug repellent. Some say DEET, others prefer permethrin or picaridin. So what’s the difference? Deet is very effective at repelling mosquitos (and therefore diseases), but it needs to be in high-concentration to be effective and oh yeah… it can distort plastics and the finish on your gear, so be wary if you decide to use it!
Some people, like Adventure Alan, prefer picaridin lotion. It’s less concentrated and helps detract ticks AND mosquitoes. You can answer six questions to see what repellent is best for you here.
I asked the ole Reddit gurus about their go-to bug repellants and one reply from a retired army veteran suggested urine. “Just a tinkle on your fingertips then dab on the wrists, elbows, and behind the ears.” Now, I don’t know about all that... You might have to test that one for yourself.