Lyme disease is a terrifying disease, and it’s reaching epidemic proportions. The stories that we see everywhere are enough to make anybody weary of spending time outdoors in the woods. I know that when I was first diagnosed, it took me a long time (years, in fact) to be comfortable going on hikes again. But with a few tick safety tips, it makes hiking fun and enjoyable again.
The truth is, you should not stop doing the things that you love just because you are afraid of Lyme. Life is too short to avoid activities we once loved just on the basis of fear. We would all completely stop living if we let the fear win.
If you are into hiking, camping, or other outdoor activities, all hope is not lost. You can take precautions to minimize exposure to ticks and contracting Lyme.
Tick Safety 101: Use the Trails
One of the first safety tips to help you deter ticks while you’re hiking is to use the trails that are available to you. The reason that you stay on the trails is because they are maintained.
Maintained trails have less thick and dense brush that the ticks can hide in, making it less likely that you will come in contact with a tick. Avoidance is your best bet, since the majority of Lyme cases are transmitted by baby (nymph) ticks due to them being the size of a poppyseed. We simply don’t see them when they’re attached.
Tick Safety 102: Wear Boots, Socks, and Pants
One of the easiest ways to prevent tick bites when you’re out in the woods is to wear tall socks, boots, and pants. These materials are harder for the ticks to get through and be able to attach to your skin. Just make sure to check all clothing when you come inside to be sure they’re not still hanging on!
I know this isn’t always ideal, especially given that temperatures can get very warm during tick season; but I can personally vouch that wearing pants on a hike is a lot less uncomfortable than having Lyme disease.
Tick Safety 103: Use Tick deterrent
DEET is a chemical commonly found in bug and pest spray that can be used on the body to deter bugs during summer months. You can use this directly on your skin in either a spray or lotion form. DEET does help repel bugs, but it’s also a harsh chemical, so I use this as a last resort. There are other bug spray alternatives that you can use that are easier on your body.
One alternative to using DEET is using the more gentle rose geranium oil. This essential oil has been said to act as a natural tick deterrent, which will help keep them from attaching to you. Be sure to re-apply frequently though, even up to every hour or two spent in the woods, as essential oils tend to absorb and evaporate quicker than chemical bug sprays do.
There are also certain ways that you can pre-treat your boots and socks to help deter ticks if you’re planning on spending some heavy-duty time outdoors. The reason you want to pre-treat these items is because they are the closest to the ground and more likely to come in direct contact with ticks over other parts of your clothing. This is also a chemical, so it’s something you may want to avoid if you’re sensitive to chemicals or trying to avoid excess toxins.
Just in Case: Bring a Tick Removal Kit
One of the best tick safety tips for hiking is to bring a tick removal kit, which will have tick removing tweezers in it. The reason that you need special tweezers is to make it easier to remove the tick the proper way. Ticks don’t just bite, they rotate once they attach. You have to be sure to remove them properly.
Your kit should also have some astragalus tincture and bentonite clay to disinfect and clean the area. These are recommended by Lyme herbalist Stephen Buhner as first steps after a tick bite.
By following these tips for tick safety while hiking, you can reduce your chances of contracting Lyme disease. Don’t let the fear of contracting Lyme stop you from enjoying time outdoors. It’s good for the soul.
How do you practice tick safety?
This post was originally written in May 2018. It was updated in March 2020.