The great outdoors is a wonderful place, but it has a few downsides, including pests. Going on so many camping trips has taught my family to ignore many of nature’s creepy crawlies. There’s one pest, however, that can’t be overlooked – ticks.
There are different types of ticks, and not all carry disease. Here in Minnesota, and most of North America, the black-legged tick, is the one to watch for. It’s also referred to as a bear or deer tick, and it can be a carrier of Lyme disease bacteria.
Ticks look different depending on the life stage. From nymph to adult, they change in size and color. Blacklegged ticks have flat oval red or orange bodies and eight black, or dark brown, legs. They bite humans and animals and may stay attached for several days before release. Deer ticks are about the size of a poppy seed.
To protect your family in the wilderness, we’ve compiled some tips on how to avoid ticks while camping. It seems silly, but being safe in the woods from all hazards is important.
Tick repellents deter ticks from climbing onto surfaces like clothing, skin, shoes, or camp equipment. Despite the allure of “all-natural” tick repellents, we don’t recommend them. We live in an area with Lyme disease and it’s nothing to mess with.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends using products with a minimum of 0.5% permethrin. You can also buy clothing or camp items pre-treated with permethrin. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests insect repellent containing IR3535, DEET, picaridin, or similar, are best.
While learning about how to avoid ticks and prevent tick bites while camping, repellent is a must.
DEET or Picaridin
Both DEET and picaridin are acceptable tick repellants. DEET wins overall in use throughout America and has a higher success rate as a tick repellant compared to picaridin. DEET is also offered in higher concentrations than picaridin, allowing it to last longer.
The CDC says picaridin is safe for children over the age of one. At 20% potency, it equals most insect repellants, without containing any corrosive ingredients of some other repellants. Our family has used both.
The main thing is to read the bottle before you buy or use repellant and check the concentration level. Low concentrations might be attractive because of price or the hope of fewer chemicals. The issue is you’ll use more of the low-concentration product to maintain a tick-free status.
Some repellants can also leave residue on clothing, and irritate the skin, so read application instructions before applying.
Permethrin is an insecticide rather than a repellant. It causes muscle spasms and death in insects that come in contact with it.
Because of this, it’s important to keep permethrin away from pets, although in small doses it’s safe around dogs. Small animals like cats, however, may react to high doses of permethrin while it’s wet.
Don’t let this information freak you out. The EPA advises that permethrin is perfectly safe for humans when used properly.
You can use it in tandem with DEET to control ticks in and around your campsite. Treat clothes and camp gear with permethrin for best results. Don’t apply permethrin directly to your skin.
Permethrin is also considered to be safe in houses with smaller animals once it’s dry. We have cats and have used permethrin spray on our clothes before and nothing bad has happened.
Stay Out of Tall Grass
Ticks like long damp grass. When we choose a campsite, we try to pick one away from tall grasses. Remember, ticks can crawl to your site from grassy areas if you camp close enough.
There’s also a chance your kids will explore the area and brush tall grass, bringing ticks back with them.
The best way to avoid tall grass is to stick to the marked trails, rather than heading out into the brush or fields.
Use Maintained Trails
Maintained trails are trails that are regularly cleared of debris, and checked for safety concerns.
Using a maintained trail means that’s the place everyone else is walking, and that deters tall grass from growing. Some parks and trail systems may even purposefully remove tall grass from around these areas to reduce the risk of tick bites.
Avoid Leaf Litter and Brush
Another area to avoid is sites with a lot of piles of leaves and brush. We see a lot of this in the fall when trees are losing leaves, and twigs and other debris litter the ground. While it’s great for insulation, it’s also a prime nesting area for insects.
The less debris and high brush around the site, the less likely you are to have ticks nesting nearby.
Clothing plays a big role in deterring ticks. One of the first steps we took while learning how to avoid ticks while camping was long sleeves and pants. Ticks can cling to clothing, but it’s harder for them to latch onto your skin when you’re wearing long pants or a jacket.
Covering up also covers up body heat, the scent of your skin and other attractive qualities ticks look for in a host.
Wearing light colors doesn’t deter ticks, but it certainly helps you spot them. Ticks crawl around your clothing for a long time looking for a place to access skin and feed. Light-colored clothes help you find ticks and remove them before they bite.
Tuck Long Pant Legs Into Socks
We always tuck our pant legs into his socks, and in cooler weather, tuck mittens or gloves into jacket sleeves.
Ticks are most active in Minnesota from March to October. There’s a wide range of temperatures and camping seasons to pack for. Even in the summer, we bring light layers with long sleeves if we plan on trekking through the woods.
Tick Repellent Clothing
You can purchase tick repellent clothing where the permethrin is part of the fabric. The manufacturers of Insect Shield clothing say that they will keep repelling ticks even after 70 washes.
If you treat your clothing yourself, you need to retreat after 6 washes or 6 weeks.
Check for Ticks Daily
Even experts on how to avoid ticks while camping need to perform regular tick checks. No amount of deterrent, long sleeves, or brush avoidance guarantees you’ll avoid ticks while camping. In fact, we check ourselves and our son for ticks anytime we play outside during tick season.
Ticks can be found anywhere on the body, but are particularly attracted to warm areas where the skin is thinnest such as:
Pay special attention to these spots while you do a thorough tick check.
Use the buddy system to check everyone in your camping crew. Comb through long hair to check close to the scalp.
Checking at least once a day is recommended, but you can check more frequently. Anytime you hike or play near brush or grass, it helps to do a quick check. We always perform a thorough tick check before bed.
Don’t Sit on the Ground
Being one with nature inspires us to do earthy things like sitting on the ground and feeling the grass between our toes. This isn’t such a good idea during the tick season.
Keeping a layer between yourself and the ground increases your chances of avoiding ticks.
Camp chairs are comfy and come in all shapes and sizes. They’re great for sitting around the fire or setting up near the lake or beach to take in a great view.
Camp chairs keep you high off the ground, leaving only your feet exposed to potential tick travel zones. Keep your shoes on and your pants tucked into your socks, and you’re more likely to stay tick free.
If you really want to sit on the ground, spread out a blanket. Blankets aren’t as protective as chairs, but they add a layer between you and the grass.
Blankets are great for laying out in the summer sun or enjoying a picnic with the family.
Have Dedicated Tick Clothes
Having dedicated tick clothes minimizes the number of outfits you treat with repellant. We treat one pair of long pants, one long sleeved shirt and 2 pairs of hiking socks per family member.
We always treat a set of clothing for everyone with Permethrin before we camp and we only use those clothes for the camping trip. Then we’re always protected by a physical barrier. This also ensures your long-sleeved shirts and pants are clean, treated, and ready to pack.
Camp When There are Less Ticks
This might go without saying, but sadly tick season is also prime camping season. Because ticks are most active in late spring, summer, and early fall, there’s a small window to camp without them.
Winter camping can be a lot of fun. It seems daunting at first if you’ve never tried, but there’s a lot of fun to be had in the snow. Early winter is mild enough to thoroughly enjoy the experience without the threat of ticks.
Pack accordingly for winter camping for the best experience.
The early spring months are a great time to camp. Snow has melted, and the sun is out, but it’s not warm enough for ticks to start crawling through your campsite. Our family is a big fan of the early spring camp. The only downside is there tends to be quite a lot of rain this time of year.
Pack waterproof clothing, rain boots, and extra rain tarps, and look for a site on high ground. Spring camping is nice because everything is starting to sprout and bloom. It’s a great time to explore nature with your kids.
How to Avoid Ticks While Camping FAQs
We wish you all safe, happy, and tick-free camping trips in the coming seasons!
I’m Molly Foss, aka Momma Critter. I’ve been camping since I was 9 years old and I always wanted to be Robin Hood and live in the forest when I grew up. I’m excited to share my love of camping with my son as he grows up. My favorite thing to do while camping is roast marshmallows over the fire.