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Most of my camping has been above timberline and ticks have never been a problem. However, a day in the garden at home in northern Virginia often results in a deer tick or two, despite long pants and long sleeves and DEET.

There's been a suggestion of a short camping trip close to home, but it is a banner year for deer ticks here, and the mere thought of sleeping on the ground here makes me feel itchy.

Am I overreacting? Is there a way to enjoy a couple of nights outdoors without becoming a host to hordes of these tiny thirsty critters? A complication is that I prefer not to sleep in a tent if the weather is good. Is a tent necessary to avoid deer ticks?

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    The answer is yes, and if you're concerned about ticks, just sleep in a tent with no-see-um mesh you'll be fine. You don't even need no-see-um mesh, just a tent with screen. – ShemSeger Jun 6 '17 at 5:54
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  • Hi ab2. I hope it's okay that I've added information to some of the answers. Some of our other questions about ticks may or may not be correct, but don't all support their conclusions. In fact, the comments on those have more connections to sources than the answers. Lyme is nothing to fool with. Even my own doctor had it, and was hospitalized for months despite recognizing symptoms on the first day. A happy medium should be fine though, and you shouldn't avoid having a fun time, as long as you're vigilant! – Sue Jun 6 '17 at 17:02
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    This is absolutely a banner year for ticks. I'm in the Northeastern United States, and it's been rough. I've had four ticks from being out in my yard twice. The advice I was given was to carry scotch tape with me and wrap them in it, which kills them quickly and humanely, and bring them to my doctor. They were dog ticks, not deer ticks. Even though those carry gross diseases too, they're not as scary or permanent, so I hope you have at least some of those with your deer ticks! – Sue Jun 6 '17 at 17:08
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    I've seen ticks crawl through a puddle of DEET and keep on coming. I've also seen ticks bounce off dead of a Permethrin covered shirt. The moral? Camping in Backwoods North Carolina only Permethrin cuts it. – bishop Jun 8 '17 at 0:25
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Ah, the ticks of the Virginia woods. I don't think some of the posters here realize one can walk in those woods for an hour and accumulate 100+ ticks. I spent some time in the woods of Quantico (oohrah), and found how to beat the ticks.

Treat your clothes and packs with permethrin. Here are two references: a hiker blog and Indiana University Health Center information.

As others have suggested DEET is great for the skin. Use both in combination.

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I've done nearly all of my camping and hunting in deer tick country. You're on the right track with the basics: DEET, long sleeves, long pants, and high socks.

At night use mesh as suggested in comments. I have seen some camping buddies spray the tent edges with DEET, I am skeptical that this works and may be harmful to the tent in the long term.

Check yourself and your buddies for ticks regularly. Before you go, brush up on how to remove ticks and pack the first aid to do so.

As you hike and move do your best to avoid brushing on flora. Ticks can't jump, fly, or run, so that's how deer ticks get on their hosts. Corroboration for this advice can be found here, here, and other reputable sources.

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    Hi Freiheit! As I told @Kyle, Lyme disease is extremely dangerous. My own doctor, as well as two friends, have had it, and in some people it lasts forever. I don't think answers to this should look opinion based. Since your advice is correct, (upvote from me), I didn't want to write a duplicate answer, so I added links to support this information, and more. I hope you don't mind, and apologize if I was out of line. Please roll back if I've improperly interfered with your answer! Thank you! – Sue Jun 6 '17 at 16:43
  • @Sue the links are great. There are risks and having objective information about those risks is helpful to have. thank you – Freiheit Jun 6 '17 at 17:46
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You could use a hammock to keep yourself off of the ground, or even better try searching the web for "Tree tent" there are all manner of interesting designs that could suit.

enter image description here

Obviously not great above the timberline!

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    Wrap your straps with about 6" of sticky side out duct tape to keep the ticks from crawling up your supports. – Freiheit Jun 6 '17 at 13:26
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    You can also treat the straps with permethrin. – Andrew Jennings Jun 6 '17 at 14:53
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    Thanks for the suggestion, and for the beautiful picture. It suggests ETs camping out in flying saucers. – ab2 Jun 6 '17 at 16:42
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    Above the timberline, the concern for ticks would be lessened, no? – John Walthour Jun 6 '17 at 18:41
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    @JohnWalthour Above the timberline you won't have trees to hang the hammocks from. – corsiKa Jun 7 '17 at 4:30
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I trout fish all the time in tick country, oftentimes hiking through forest to get to my desired location. I tend to camp when I fish too.

Awareness is my #1 protection. A tick on your clothes doesn't matter, so if you're diligent, you should be fine. I also like wearing tighter fitting base layers and tucking them into each other (long underwear into socks, undershirt into long underwear). I find they can't access your skin nearly as easy, which makes them easier to find prior to them attaching.

Finally, check yourself thoroughly before going to bed, sleep in a tent and you'll be fine. When they're really bad, and I'm alone, I'll sometimes bring a mirror to check for ticks in spots I couldn't otherwise see.

This information is corroborated at National Health Service, in the UK, as well as other reputable sites.

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    Hi Kyle! Lyme disease is extremely dangerous. My own doctor, as well as two friends, have had it, and in some people it lasts forever. I don't think answers to this should look opinion based. Since your advice is correct, (upvote from me), I didn't want to write a duplicate answer, so I added a link to this information, and more. I hope you don't mind, and apologize if I was out of line. Please roll back if I've improperly interfered with your answer! Thank you! – Sue Jun 6 '17 at 16:31
  • @Sue, not at all. I welcome any constructive changes to my posts. That's one of the great things about a community Q&A site. I think this is a great change as I know how dangerous Lyme disease is. – Kyle Jun 6 '17 at 18:03
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For peace of mind, the tried and true method is to do a check at the end of the day. According to the Maine Department of Infectious Disease (Response to Question #20):

Ticks need to be attached for at least 24 hours before they can transmit Lyme disease.

~ LINK.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) points to this as a very conservative figure. They say:

In most cases, the tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours or more before the Lyme disease bacterium can be transmitted.

~ LINK

If you do regular nightly checks while camping, you should be protected from any dangerous exposure. Just remember to check difficult to see places like behind your ears, in your hair, groin, and armpits. Feeling those areas is often a good first sweep. If you feel anything like a scab or a skin tag that is new, take the time to visually inspect it.

Other helpful tips are to wear light colored clothing, which will create contrast and help find any ticks that may have grabbed onto you. Also bear in mind that you are more likely to pick up a tick from long grass, rather than them crawling onto you.

Again, the risk for lyme exposure is small, if you do regular checks, so if you need to go through the grass to have fun, go for it, it's worth it! Don't let the thought of ticks get in the way of you enjoying the outdoors.

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TL;DR:

  • Inspect your camping spot for ticks first.
  • Nymphs are really, really tiny.
  • A touch-check is not enough, get a visual check if you can.
  • Get the ticks off your clothes before you enter the tent.
  • Know when you are the most vulnerable.
  • A no-see-hum mesh will help, but may not be enough.
  • A blood test may reduce the risk of unnoticed Lyme disease.

It is more risky than doing day hikes, but here is what I've learnt the hard way:

First, on camping spots: If possible, avoid any kind of vegetation on the ground (for example: dense pine forests are ideal). Otherwise, roll up a sleeve and carefully go with your hand through the grass that would receive your groundsheet, plus a 1-2m safety perimeter. Check that arm often: if you picked up any tick, nymph or larva in the process, go somewhere else. It doesn't have to be far away: I've found a clean spot just four meters away from an infested place. You may speed up the process by using some kind of clear cloth instead of your hand, but I'm not sure it is as effective.

Then, be aware that until mid-August you'll also meet nymphs (1.5 mm unfed), not just adults (3mm unfed and bulkier). They're just as dangerous. In fact, some researchers believe that nymphs are responsible for a large majority of cases.

Nymphal ticks cause most cases of Lyme disease. Because nymphs are as small as poppy seeds and their bite is painless, people often don’t realize they have been bitten. Adult ticks can also infect humans, but are easier to spot and remove.
Source

You probably won't feel any bump when touch-checking yourself if it hasn't fed on your blood yet. I suppose you can feel an engorged nymph, but I didn't test that myself. Also, while you may feel the itch of an adult deer tick crawling on your skin, the nymph goes undetected between your hair. So it is better if you and your hiking companions can check each other visually, instead of solely relying on your own touch sense. Otherwise, bring a small mirror as suggested by @Kyle.

Also, think of how you'll go from fully clothed outside of your tent to checked inside your sleeping bag with all ticks out. I have some sort of groundsheet extension where I undress and check myself outside of the tent without being in contact with the ground. I also check my clothes inside out: I once had several nymphs wandering between my clothing layers, probably picked up while pitching the tent.

Speaking of which, I found that I was much more vulnerable while camping than just hiking. Pitching, digging the latrine, tending my feet and knees are all activities where I am close to the ground and where ticks may climb onto unprotected body parts (wrists, legs after undressing etc.). Conversely, when hiking I can wear light gaiters to protect my ankles and I can check my pant legs often if I have to go through high grass areas. YMMV, just be aware of when you are taking the most risks and learn to develop a healthy paranoia of all moving or unusual black spots in your close proximity.

On tents and nets: I wouldn't consider sleeping in tick territory without one. However, I've seen (harmless) larvae go right through my no-see-hum mesh, so I'm not positively sure that it will keep all nymphs out. It will block the adult ticks, though.

I did not try Permethrin, because I'm not too thrilled about handling a likely carcinogen without a mean to shower it off at the end of the day.

Lastly, once back home you may do a blood test for Lyme disease. Just be aware that these tests are not 100% accurate and may produce false negatives.

Conclusion: there is no such thing as perfect safety, but I now feel "safe enough" when applying the above tips.

  • Welcome Waba!! Thanks for the thorough answer, which includes information I didn't see in other answers, although I could have missed things. One is checking clothes inside out. On a recent trip to my backyard garden, I tucked my pants into my socks, shirt into pants, etc. When I turned my socks inside out after, a tick fell off. There was also one in my sneaker. The nymph information is excellent too. So is the false negative test statistic, but adding a link to that would be helpful so people can learn more. We hope you stay and enjoy our site! – Sue Jun 10 '17 at 18:11
  • Thanks, Sue! I revised my paragraph about blood tests and added a link as you suggested. I also fixed the source link for the "nymphal ticks" quote. Feel free to revert if this is not what you intended. – Waba Jun 14 '17 at 18:33
  • This looks awesome, even better than what I was asking for. I love the information in that link! By the way, I'm glad you had put the Permethrin link in the original answer. Many people use it, but my local experts, including my doctor who has Lyme, advise against it. It has only partially been proven helpful, is hard to use correctly, is linked to cancer as you said, and also kills vegetation. Thanks again for your help! – Sue Jun 14 '17 at 21:07
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Sticky lint roller and rub it over your clothes will get those crawling along looking for a spot. Also check out this article: http://mentalfloss.com/article/501394/15-useful-facts-about-lyme-disease

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