tick on hand

Tick tips: How you can protect yourself from ticks when out hiking

As the warm weather rolls in, we’re thrilled that spring has finally sprung. Birds are chirping, flowers are blooming, and—wait… is that a tick? Below learn how you can protect yourself from ticks.

Ticks are arachnids that latch on to warm-blooded mammals (that’s us!), burrow their little heads into the skin, and feed off of their blood. If that isn’t icky enough, they can also be carriers of harmful illnesses like Lyme disease.

As we get outside, it’s incredibly important to know how to spot ticks and what to do if they get on you.

When is tick season?

Although we usually think about ticks in the spring when they’re out in full force, the little blood-suckers can be active year-round (although they’re usually dormant in the winter time, some species can still come out on a warmer winter day). But for the most part, tick season occurs during months when the weather is warm.

In Southern Alberta, ticks usually emerge somewhere between mid-April to early May, and remain active through September or October. Right now in Crowsnest Pass, ticks are just hatching or coming out from being dormant and they’re on the hunt for a host.

How do ticks get on humans, anyway?

Ticks are small, sneaky, and opportunistic little buggers. They can’t fly or jump, but they’re always at the ready when they’re host-hunting. Ticks live in grassy areas and rocky outcrops where you might be hiking and can inconspicuously crawl onto you when you brush up against grass or sit down on a rock for lunch. They have sticky pads on their feet that help them cling on to our skin, clothes, or gear.

How to do a tick check after being outside hiking

Ticks can be as small as a sesame seed, so it’s important to be very me-tick-ulous when scanning your body or clothes. This will help you understand how you can protect yourself from ticks when out hiking. Here are five things you should keep in mind when checking for ticks:

  1. Check your entire body for ticks when you get back to your car after a hike.
    When a tick lands on you, they generally start climbing up, looking for a warm spot to burrow in. We like to start our tick check from our head and work down to meet them on their climb. Start by inspecting your scalp and hairline. Feel around and inside your ears and behind your neck. Working down, check your armpits, elbow creases, belly button, behind your knees, and between your toes and fingers.
  2. Look over your gear.
    Did a tick hitch a ride on the outside of your backpack? Did one jump onto a backpack strap or hiking pole? You don’t want to be taxiing around any unwanted guests pro bono.
  3. Check your clothing.
    Pay extra attention to the folds of your clothing, and don’t forget to check hats and shirt collars.
  4. Check again—more thoroughly—when you get home.
    Before you get too comfortable, repeat the check more thoroughly before hopping in the shower, paying extra attention to the areas you couldn’t check at the car. Run a fine-toothed comb through your hair. Don’t forget to check where the sun don’t shine. For hard-to-see areas, like your back, enlist a friend to help you look or use a mirror to check yourself—or both!
    If you won’t be washing your hiking clothes that evening, you can tumble dry them on high heat for 10 minutes to kill any stragglers. It isn’t the heat that kills the tick, it is the dryness that they cannot survive.
  5. Don’t forget the fur babies.
    If you’re hiking with a dog or other pet, make sure you also check them for ticks, too.

Tick safety: 5 ways to be protect yourself against ticks while hiking

You can’t avoid ticks entirely, but you can reduce the chances of picking up a hitchhiker. Here are some simple ways to keep you and your family protected from these pests:

  1. Know thy enemy.
    The first step to avoiding ticks is knowing what they look like and where they like to hang out. Check for ticks frequently whenever you’re in areas where they could be present. A common misconception is that they only live in tall grasses⁠—don’t forget they enjoy rocky areas as well.
  2. Wear light-coloured clothing during tick season.
    Because ticks are brown or dark brown in colour, wearing light-coloured clothing can help you spot them.
  3. Tuck your shirt into your pants and your pants into your socks.
    Creating a barrier will prevent ticks from entering through the tops of your boots or climbing up your back. We’ve also heard of people duct taping the bottom of their pants and while this method sounds effective, we find just tucking our pants into our socks works well enough.
  4. Use insect repellent, especially around your ankles
    Use bug spray with DEET or Icaridin (always follow label directions).

Help! What do I do if I find a tick on myself?

Generally, for a tick to transmit Lyme disease, it must be attached for more than 24 hours. The longer it stays attached, the more bacteria it transmits which therefore increases your risk of being infected. In most cases, Lyme disease can be treated in the early stages with antibiotics but if it goes undetected, it can lead to serious long-term health issues. That’s why doing a thorough tick check is the best way to protect yourself against Lyme disease or other tick-borne diseases.

How can you remove a tick? Knowing how to properly remove a tick will help you know how you can protect yourself from ticks. Using a pair of tweezers, gently pinch the tick as close to your skin as possible and pull it straight out. You don’t want to break the head off, but you should have a decent grip on the tick. Once you remove it, wash the area with soap and water or antiseptic.

If the tick is engorged or you suspect it has been attached for longer than 24 hours, put it into a plastic bag or sealed container and bring it to your doctor, who can test it for Lyme disease and prescribe an antibiotic.

Next time you head out for an adventure, remember these tips on how you can protect yourself from ticks. If you found this article useful, please share it with your friends and family so we can help protect them from ticks too.

Thank you for taking the time to gain some knowledge today. If you are looking for an adventure, we invite you to come join us on a family-friendly interpretive hike, day hike, multi-day backpacking trip, outdoor courses, winter activities or more around Crowsnest Pass, Waterton Lakes National Park, or Castle Parks. We are your local and professional guides to the South Canadian Rockies.

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