Tick and Mosquito Guide for Campers

When a child or a family goes off to camp, or on a camping trip, the goals are often to learn about nature, meet new people, and likely experience the outdoors.  Camps and camping should be about growth and recreation.

Depending on where the camp is, there can be some things that could get in the way of that growth.  One is the possibility of mosquitoes and ticks.  Most mosquitoes and ticks are an annoyance.  However, some can carry disease that can harm humans.  The problem is that you can’t tell the difference between a mosquito or tick that carries disease and one that doesn’t, so the goal is to be to keep them all away.

trail-to-chapel-falls

The beauty of nature often comes with the annoyance of bugs and ticks.

For people who have ticks or mosquitoes in their own backyard, repelling them is second nature.  However, for people who are headed into the woods or the summer camps, we wanted to provide a few tips on what to pack, and what to do about vector bugs while at camp or on a camping adventure.

Determine What Bugs May Exist At Your Camp

Knowing what little insects or arthropods to prepare for can depend, based not only on location but on time-of-year.  For someone who is going to a camp within 50 or 100 miles of their home, it is pretty easy to know what the risks will be.  However, if you are traveling to camp, it is worth doing a little homework.

Disease-carrying mosquitoes live in every state.  While some states have more mosquitoes than others, the ones that carry diseases like West Nile are active everywhere.  It is generally safe to assume that any outdoor setting could have a risk of mosquitoes.  Note that in the Northwoods of the Great Lakes and New England areas, the mosquito season generally peaks from June to August.

Just because there are fewer mosquitoes doesn’t mean there are fewer diseases.  Some of the mountain states in the West have higher incidences of mosquito-borne disease than Northwoods states, even though the latter often is more flush with mosquitoes.

Ticks are a different story.  Different ticks live in different states, and tend to be pretty rare in the drier areas of the West.  Our main concern tends to be with deer ticks, the ticks that can transmit Lyme Disease.  They tend to live in New England, on the East Coast and in the Mid-Atlantic Region, and in the Midwest and Great Lakes areas.  They can be active from spring through fall.

In some areas, biting black flies are also a problem, but they tend to be active early in the summer (June in most parts) and then quickly are done for the season.

Pack Repellents, Per the Camp Guidelines

If you or your family are headed to camp, we recommend that you pack repellents.  For most campers, a good mosquito repellent will be what you need.  We recommend you pack a full can or bottle so you know that you have a good supply at the start of camp.

group-at-pond2

Most campers will find themselves in a number of outdoor settings.

A mosquito repellent with DEET can also repel black flies as well as be a deterrent (but not completely stop) ticks, especially if used on the shoes and pantlegs.  You will see different percentages of DEET in a bug spray – you do not need to go crazy on this.  25% is a pretty standard concentration of DEET in most products.  Going higher than that doesn’t make the repellent more effective – it just makes it last longer.

One of the most questions we get from people is if they can use a natural or organic repellent for mosquitoes.  We did a whole piece on that if you want to check it out.  Studies have shown that the Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE) stands above the other natural repellents when it comes to mosquito-repellent abilities.  It is important to note, though, that DEET products almost always test out as superior when it comes to mosquito repellents.  If you want to go green, however, the OLE products are the ones to consider.

As for ticks, if you or your camper will be in an area known for Lyme Disease, you may want to also pack a tick repellent.  The active ingredient is usually permethrin, and it is best to just apply it to shoes, socks, and the ankle and shin areas.

Here are a few notes about packing bug spray:

  • Pack a brand new container of the repellent. If you grab one from your closet, it might only be ¼ full and you camper could run out just a couple days into camp.
  • Pack the repellents in zip lock bags. There is nothing worse than having a spray emit while in a suitcase or duffel.  It will make all the clothes stinky.
  • Keep it simple for your camper. Trying to send something that will require them to mix (as can be the case with some organic or essential oil chemicals) usually doesn’t work.
  • Make sure your camper knows how and when to apply the repellent.

Most repellents are good for about 8 hours, so re-application is necessary at some point during the day.  If it is warm and the camper will be in shorts and a t-shirt, reapplying a little more often is a good idea.  If using DEET products, the higher the level of DEET, the longer it will remain active.

We also recommend that people put little shot of repellent on the back of their neck and shoulders at night, as a mosquito in a cabin or tent can also be an issue.  Just be sure to it sparingly, as we prefer campers not to be inhaling fumes while they sleep.

Make Sure To Check for Ticks

Camping tent in the woods by the lakeside

Keep in mind that ticks can be active into the fall.

If you camper will be in a tick-prone area, checking for ticks is important.  Some deer ticks can be as small as a tiny mole or a sesame seed.  They are dark, and sometimes burrow if given enough time.  We did an entire piece on checking for ticks – our 4-step process.  Make sure the child knows to look for “hot spots” – this is where 90% of ticks tend to end up.  Behind the knees, in the armpits, skin folds, and around the groin tend to be where they like to make themselves at home.

Think About Clothing

Clothing can make a difference in the fight against mosquitoes and ticks.  We recommend a few points:

  • Some studies have shown that mosquitoes prefer darker colors because they give off warmth. It might be a wives tale, but consider packing lots of white and khaki clothing.
  • White socks are excellent because it is easy to spot a tick crawling on them. Most ticks grab on to a human in the legs at first.
  • If your camper might be doing overnights in woods or long canoe-type trips, consider a light long-sleeved shirt. Some manufacturers make bug or mosquito shirts for this exact reason.

Don’t let ticks or mosquitoes stop you or your camper from having a great time at camp!  Just a little preparation, and you will be able to take the steps needed to repel most or all of the bugs.

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