With the longer days and warmer temperatures comes the inevitable onslaught of mosquitoes. It’s an inevitable part of life in Minnesota and so many parts of the world. For some reason, those little suckers love me.

As if mosquitoes alone aren’t bad enough, hikers also need to worry about ticks. This year, the ticks are out in an overabundance making the place many of us turn to for relaxation challenging to enjoy.

Sure, mosquito bites are annoying. And yes searching your body for ticks is a pain. But illnesses transmitted from mosquitoes and ticks are no joke either. 

After unwillingly donating my body to research for years, I’ve tried nearly every product out there. I’ve put them to the test in all sorts of environments, including Minnesota, Glacier National Park, Vietnam, and more. Here are my tips on how to avoid mosquitoes and ticks for hikers!

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How to Repel Mosquitoes While Hiking

Avoiding mosquito bites while hiking is not as simple as just spraying some repellent on yourself at the trailhead. These are my tried and true tips to repel mosquitoes!

Treat your clothing with permethrin.

Before you leave to go hiking, spray your clothing with Permethrin spray. This spray doesn’t just repel mosquitoes, it actually kills them. The treatment lasts about six washing cycles.

To treat your clothes, hang them outside or in a well ventilated room (I use a clothing rack on my patio). Spray the clothing thoroughly, flipping them to ensure both sides are treated. Be sure to spray the cuffs, ankles and neckline well. Allow the clothes to hang dry and you’re good to go!

Yellow spray bottle of Sawyer permethrin spray in front of a rack of clothes outside on a patio.
Spray your hiking clothes with permethrin spray before you hit the trail!

Apply sunscreen first.

It’s a good practice to always wear sunscreen while hiking but it’s important to put the sunscreen on before any mosquito repellent. This maximizes the effectiveness of both the sunscreen and the mosquito repellent.

Wear mosquito repellent. 

Personally, when selecting a repellent I prefer the active ingredient Picaridin over DEET. DEET tends to irritate my skin badly. There are also several natural mosquito repellents that I have had good luck with.

Out of all of the mosquito repellents I’ve tried, the most effective are Bug Soother and Herbal Armor. Both are natural and DEET-free. They smell wonderful and actually work. Bug Soother has the added bonus of repelling black flies and gnats. Herbal Armor is a spray lotion which I find helpful to make sure I’ve covered all the exposed areas of my skin.

When applying mosquito repellent, be sure to cover your face, front and back of neck, hands, wrists, feet and ankles. 

Pro Tip: Mix your own natural mosquito repellent using essential oils. I used this in Myanmar, Tanzania, and throughout the US with success. In an 8 oz spray bottle mix, 4oz distilled water (I use tap water), 4 oz witch hazel, 6 drops each of thieves, purification, and peppermint, and lemongrass. Optional add in a few lemon, eucalyptus and/ or lavender.

Products to repel mosquitoes while hiking, from left to right: White spray bottle of Herbal Armor Natural Insect repellent, Green and clear spray bottle of Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus DEET-free repellent, a green clear spray bottle of homemade insect repellent, and a dark green tall spray bottle of Bug Soother natural insect repellent.
There are a growing number of effective, natural and DEET-free mosquito repellents.

Wear light colored clothing.

Dark or brightly colored clothing is more visible to mosquitoes, so if possible stick to neutral or light shades. The color of your clothing won’t necessarily prevent mosquito bites but it will make it much harder for them to see you.

Cover up with lightweight and breathable pants and long sleeve tops. 

It’s summer, so it’s shorts season right? Eh, well, wear them at your own risk if you want to avoid mosquitoes. I recommend wearing ankle length lightweight pants and at least carrying a lightweight long sleeve top to minimize skin exposure.

Baggier clothing can also help prevent mosquito bites as opposed to leggings. This is because the clothing is not next to your skin so it’s harder for mosquitoes to bite through the clothing.

Avoid being outdoors at dusk and dawn. This one is difficult to do.

Ok, so this is one that I find particularly hard to abide by. Dusk and dawn are some of the most beautiful and peaceful times on the trail. But, if you really want to avoid mosquitoes, I recommend staying indoors, in a tent, or covering up your arms and legs particularly during these times. 

Consider taking a vitamin B1 supplement.

The research on this is pretty inconclusive, so this isn’t a sure-fire tip. However, after getting eaten alive by mosquitoes in Vietnam, I was desperate to try anything before my trip to Myanmar. I started taking vitamin B1 about two weeks prior to my time in Myanmar and when combined with an at-home essential oils based repellent I got almost no mosquito bites in my 10 days there.

As always, consult with your doctor before taking supplements.

How to Avoid Ticks While Hiking

Ticks can be sneaky little buggers that pack a mean punch if they decide to snack on you! If you prefer not to get Lyme disease, here’s how to avoid ticks while hiking and camping.

Cover your ankles and feet. 

Don’t tempt them by leaving your feet, ankles or legs exposed particularly if you’re in an area with a known concentration of ticks. Try tucking your pants into your socks. It’s not the sexiest look, but neither is Lyme disease.

Treat your clothing with permethrin. 

Same as for mosquitoes, permethrin spray doesn’t just repel ticks, it kills them. Unlike DEET, which aggravates my skin, permethrin has very little odor and doesn’t affect my skin at all. The spray lasts six washes before requiring another treatment.

Products to avoid ticks while hiking, from left to right: Off! FamilyCare spray with DEET, Ultrathon DEET-based lotion in travel size, Cutter Backwood with DEET, Sawyer Permethrin spray for clothing, and Sawyer Picaridin-based insect repellent spray.
Tick repellent options for your clothing (Sawyer Permethrin) and for your skin (all others).

Wear tick repellent with either DEET or Picaridin. 

As mentioned, I prefer Picaridin-based or natural tick repellent. From my experience these are equally as effective as DEET. 

Products I love are Sawyer’s 20% Picaridin and Bug Protector All Natural Bug Repellent (not available on Amazon but in most outdoors stores) specifically for ticks.

Check yourself and your pet for ticks.

Ok, so real talk, ticks are attracted to areas of your body that are warm and moist. Yep, I said it. They can move all around your body, but pay special attention to armpits, behind the knees, scalp and well you get the idea. Be sure to do a full body check shortly after you come indoors when you’ve been exposed to ticks.

Bug Protector is an effective, natural, DEET-free tick repellent. Hikers should carry a tick twister with them to easily remove attached ticks from their body or their pets.
Bug Protector natural, DEET-free tick repellent and the tick twister for removal of attached ticks.

Carry a tick remover to safely remove the tick. 

Most hikers will find a tick attached to them or their pet at least once in their life. It’s not as easy as just plucking them off of your body. They are, quite literally, attached to you. Always carry something with you to help safely remove the tick without breaking it’s head off under your skin. Many hikers carry tweezers, which will work, but there is a higher risk of breaking off the tick’s head and releasing the potentially infectious fluids into your body!

I strongly recommend investing $5 in the Tick Twister from Amazon or most outdoors retailers. Mine is always in my backpack. Slide the opening between the tick and your skin and just twist to safely remove an attached tick.

Why Mosquito & Tick Prevention Matters – Real Life Stories

Aside from being annoying, illnesses carried by mosquitoes and ticks are serious. Here are three real-life stories about what it’s like to get Lyme disease and malaria as well as tips to avoid mosquitoes and ticks for hikers!

A Not-So-Typical Case of Lyme Disease

Contributed by Tara at Backroad Ramblers.

I  live and recreate in the Northeastern US, where ticks and Lyme disease are a part of life for anyone who spends time outdoors. Before going out on a hike, I go through a series of steps to limit my exposure to ticks. I wear light-colored pants tucked into my socks and I always use insect repellent. On the trail, I avoid bushwhacking or walking through tall grass and brush and I stop periodically to check for ticks and pick them off my clothing.

When I get home, I immediately change out of my hiking clothes and check myself for ticks in the bathroom mirror. All this has helped limit my contact with ticks, but they are tiny critters and sometimes they win. 

A few years ago, I developed a painful rash on the back of my leg — not the classic “bull’s eye rash” that is an indicator of Lyme disease, but close enough. Many cases develop without the accompanying rash, but I was lucky — I was pretty certain that I knew what I was dealing with and immediately made an appointment with my doctor, who confirmed Lyme with a blood test and prescribed two weeks of doxycycline. The antibiotic did its job but taking it was no joke. My side effects included sensitivity to the sun, loss of appetite, and constant nausea.

Sawyer Permethrin spray effectively keeps both mosquitoes and ticks away and can be used on clothing, hiking gear or tents. It lasts six laundry cycles.
Sawyer’s Permethrin spray can be used on clothing, gear or tents and lasts 6 laundry cycles.

Lessons Learned from Two Rounds of Lyme Disease

Contributed by Karen at Outdoor Adventure Sampler.

In my 40+ year career as an outdoor educator in New England and the upper Midwest, I’ve seen Lyme disease go from a virtually unknown condition to become a serious outdoor concern.  Due to mild winters and wildlife habitat disruption, the tick populations have grown exponentially.

The tiny sesame-size deer tick is the culprit and it has zapped me with Lyme disease twice. 

The first time, I noticed the classic bulls-eye early and took a course of antibiotics. Years later, I got a tick bite with no bulls-eye, just some minor swelling around the bite that is common after removing an embedded tick. Two weeks later, I felt like I had a full-blown flu with extreme fatigue and headache.  Testing confirmed Lyme disease and I got treatment. 

My takeaways from teaching about and experiencing Lyme disease?  Prevention, prevention, prevention.  DEET is certainly effective to prevent ticks but since I am outside regularly, I hesitate to continually put such a strong poison on my skin.  Instead, I use permethrin on my clothes, tuck pants legs into socks, and in majorly infested woods, I wear treated tick gaiters.  The primary method of prevention is to scrupulously do a thorough tick check after each time outdoors.

Diligent risk management of tick-borne diseases is vital for every outdoor enthusiast to enjoy the wilds safely.  

When Malaria Strikes Miles from Medical Care

Contributed by Alissa at Exploring Wild.

The telltale symptoms of malaria – nausea and fever – first showed up while I was hiking down from the top of the tallest mountain in Sierra Leone. I stumbled my way to a remote village, potentially a day away from any local medical care, in a region where the most common strain of malaria (falciparum) can kill within 24 hours. Not a good situation!

Fortunately, for less than $2 I’d bought a malaria test kit and treatment medication at a local pharmacy earlier in the trip as insurance against exactly this type of situation. I pricked my finger, smeared some blood on the test strip, and within minutes was looking at a positive result. I swallowed the first of the six treatment pills, a three day course of twice-daily doses, and passed out into a feverish sleep. Three days later, after finishing the medication and getting plenty of rest, I was almost back to normal and ready to continue my trip.

For most travelers to high-risk malaria zones, precautions should include taking prophylactic medication like Malarone before, during, and after the trip. These medications aren’t 100% effective though, so it’s important to still avoid mosquito bites especially during dusk and nighttime: cover up with clothing, slather on mosquito repellent, and always sleep under a net.

If you’re unlucky enough – like I was – to do all these things and still get malaria, visit a local health clinic at the first sign of fever (consider packing a thermometer in your med kit). Malaria testing and treatment is straightforward, and recovery only takes a few days as long as you catch it early. 

If you’re traveling to more remote places where you could be stuck without quick access to health care, then consider being prepared to self-test and self-treat. This isn’t without its own risks, but personally I’m glad I did it.

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What Tips Do You Have to Avoid Mosquitoes and Ticks for Hikers?

After years of being eaten alive by mosquitoes and ticks while hiking, I’ve finally discovered products and tips that actually work. These days, avoiding bites doesn’t have to mean covering your body in harmful chemicals.

Hope this helps you enjoy the trails this summer!

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4 Comments

  1. Karen Warren Reply

    This is a critical post for informing outdoor enthusiasts how to prevent getting bitten or infected. The real-life stories really help drill the message home. Mosquitos and ticks shouldn’t keep people from venturing outdoors so these precautions will help get people safely outside.

    • This Big Wild World Reply

      Thank you, Karen! I think many outdoors lovers think they’ll never get Lyme Diseases or Malaria… but it happens and it’s scary!

    • This Big Wild World Reply

      Ugh, I feel you! Hope these tips make them love you a little less 😉

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