Tell Insects to Buzz Off with These Tips for Your Trail Adventures

Spring has sprung and with it comes the arrival of every outdoor enthusiast's arch nemesis: bugs. If you're a hiker or trail runner, you probably face some particularly pesky pests on your adventures. Have no fear! Holabird is here with some tips and tricks to help you avoid some of nature's most bothersome bugs.

What’s Bugging You? Ticks

Why Are They a Nuisance?

  • Ticks can be difficult to remove.
  • Tick bites can get infected.
  • Ticks carry diseases like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, etc.

How Do You Avoid Them?

  • Ticks are most active in spring and early summer; time your hiking/trail running accordingly.
  • Stay out of tall grass and bushy overgrown areas/hike in the middle of the path when possible.

How Do You Remove Ticks?

  1. Grab the tick with fine-tipped tweezers. Make sure to grab it as close to its mouth as you can get—don’t grab its body.
  2. Pull the tick straight away from your skin slowly and steadily.
  3. If pieces remain in your skin, pinch the surrounding area lightly and attempt to remove the visible remnants with clean tweezers.
  4. Clean the wound and your hands with soap and water or rubbing alcohol.
  5. Do not touch the tick with your bare hands.
  6. Do not crush the tick if it’s still alive; dispose of it by submerging it in alcohol, sealing it in a bag, or flushing it down the toilet.
    1. You can keep the tick sealed in a plastic baggie in the freezer if you’re concerned about disease. If symptoms develop, you will have the specimen for testing.

How Do You Care for a Tick Bite?

  • Keep the bite clean by regularly washing it with soap and water.
  • Monitor the bite for a bulls-eye pattern or signs of infection (such as redness and oozing), and seek immediate medical attention if either appear.
  • Call a doctor if you develop a fever, rash, muscle and joint pain, or other flu-like symptoms.

What’s Bugging You? Mosquitoes

Why Are They a Nuisance?

  • Mosquito bites are itchy.
  • Mosquitoes carry diseases like West Nile, Zika, malaria, etc.

How Do You Avoid Them?

  • Mosquitoes are most active from dusk to dawn; plan your hikes/runs in the morning or early afternoon when possible.
  • Stay on open, sunny trails at higher elevations. Shady, overgrown, or lower elevation areas tend to be cool, moist, and protected from the wind—all of which encourage mosquito activity.
  • Avoid standing water.
  • Stay as cool and dry as possible; mosquitoes are attracted to sweat and body heat.

How Do You Care for a Mosquito Bite?

  1. Don’t scratch it! Scratching can cause infection.
  2. Keep it clean and dry.
  3. Use whatever topical anti-itch ointment works for you. If you tolerate oral antihistamines, those can also provide relief.

What’s Bugging You? Spiders

Why Are They a Nuisance?

  • Spider bites are painful.
  • Some spiders are highly venomous, like the brown recluse and the black widow.
  • Spider bites can get infected.

How Do You Avoid Them?

  • Don’t reach for or run through anything if you can’t see the whole area; spiders hide under rocks, among branches, in thick vegetation, etc.
  • Shake out your outdoor apparel before putting it on.
  • Be wary of spiderwebs that span the trail.
  • Check the area carefully before you sit near, lean against, or otherwise touch trees or rocks.

How Do You Care for a Spider Bite?

  1. Wash the bite with soap and water.
  2. Apply antibiotic ointment to the bite.
  3. Ice the bite and keep it elevated, if possible.
  4. Take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory or antihistamine if it becomes painful or itchy.
  5. Most bites will have minor local pain and redness. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience the following:
    • Stomach pain, cramps, nausea, or vomiting
    • The bite turns into an open sore or develops a bulls-eye
    • The bite begins to ooze or the pain worsens 24 hours after the initial bite
    • Symptoms of an allergic reaction such as swelling in the face/mouth, trouble breathing, etc.
  6. Try to identify the spider, if you saw it bite you.

What’s Bugging You? Bees, Hornets, and Wasps

Why Are They a Nuisance?

  • Allergic reactions can be fatal if not treated promptly.
  • Stings hurt. And then they get itchy.

How Do You Avoid Them?

  • Avoid brightly colored or floral-patterned clothing and accessories; bees might mistake them for flowers.
  • Avoid perfume, scented products, and shiny jewelry.
  • Don’t carry or consume strong smelling food or sweet drinks on the trail.
  • Always check your drink before sipping in case a bee got in; avoid drinking from cans as it’s easy for bees to get stuck in them and difficult for you to see them when this happens.
  • Keep all food and food waste sealed in a bag until it can be properly disposed of.
  • Don’t swat bees—simply move away from them. However, they’re attracted to quick movements, so evade them slowly and calmly.

How Do You Care for a Bee, Hornet, or Wasp Sting?

  1. Move away from the area.
  2. Remain calm; don’t let your heart race and pump the venom through your veins faster.
  3. Remove the stinger as soon as possible by scraping it with a credit card or knife.
  4. Put ice or cold water on the sting.
  5. Take antihistamines, if you tolerate them.
  6. Get medical help immediately if signs of an allergic reaction develop:
    • Trouble breathing
    • Hives
    • Throat, mouth, or tongue swelling
    • Nausea
    • Rapid heartbeat

General Tips and Tricks

What Can You Do to Avoid Bugs?

  • Hike or run faster. No, really! Picking up the pace a little bit may allow you to escape most bugs on the trail.
  • Use unscented hygiene products.
  • Immediately wash your hiking clothes and dry them in a hot dryer to kill any ticks that might have gotten on your apparel.
  • Shower right after your hike or run (within two hours or less to wash off any ticks before they latch). Check for ticks and bites in the shower and wash very thoroughly to remove any chemical repellents you used.

How Should You Dress to Avoid Bugs?

  • If the weather permits, wear long sleeves, long pants, and a loose, lightweight outer layer like a windbreaker.
  • Waterproof repellents are great for days when you’re likely to sweat or run into rainy conditions.
  • Shield your neck with a bandana, which pulls double duty as a UV shield.
  • Light colored clothing is cooler and makes it easier to see any bugs that may be hitching a ride.
  • Wear high socks and tuck your pants into them. Tuck your shirt into your pants. Wear items with elastic at the openings if possible.
  • Gaiters can help keep bugs out of your shoes and will also keep rocks and dirt out.

What Are Your Repellent Options?

  • DEET can go on skin or clothing; aim for 30%-50% formulas. DEET can melt certain plastics and rubbers, so be careful using it around your gear!
  • IR-3535 repels mosquitoes, ticks, and flies; however, it can damage plastics.
  • Picaridin is almost as effective as DEET; it’s less smelly, less irritating to skin, and it won’t damage your plastic gear or apparel.
  • Permethrin is both a repellent and a pesticide that kills mosquitoes. It’s unsafe for skin, so only use it on apparel and footwear.
  • Citronella oil is less effective than DEET, but offers a natural alternative with some benefits.
  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus is fairly effective.
  • Catnip oil can be more effective than DEET.

Be Sure To:

  • Reapply often, especially if you get sweaty or it rains. The only exception to this rule is permethrin, which should last on your clothing and footwear for a week or two.
  • Apply all skin-safe repellents over your sunscreen.
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