It is an almost unavoidable part of life that when outdoors in Scotland you will encounter both ticks and midges. The midge bites are just an irritation whereas a tick bite can be rather dangerous to your health. Over the last year or so I have tested various ways to avoid tick & midge bites whilst camping in the Highlands. Here is how to avoid ticks & midges in Scotland.
My First Tick Bites
Until the late spring of 2021 I had never encountered a tick, ever. It seems that the covid lockdowns have increased the deer population which has in turn increased the tick population. The mild winter has also greatly increased the length of tick season.
Normally I tend to stay to paths and keep away from ferns and suchlike but during a camping trip to Loch Ness I had to venture off the path to recover a drone. Later that evening a noticed my first ever tick embedded in my stomach. I removed my pesky parasite with a tick removal card and thought little more of it.
The next day, however, I acquired 13 more ticks. Mainly on my arms and under my watch. These ones were much smaller and more difficult to see, not much difference in size to a freckle. I then got to work with the tick removal card and headed home.
Why are Ticks Bites Dangerous?
Two days after I got home, I discovered a red circular mark on my hip. Normally referred to as a bullseye rash. There was a red dot in the middle, the actual bite, and then the rash spreads out from the centre. This is the Lyme Disease bacteria spreading out of the bite.
I made a quick call my doctor and was prescribed two weeks of doxycycline antibiotics (this meant I couldn’t go out in sunlight for 2 weeks!).
How to Avoid Tick Bites
I did some research into preventing tick bites and this is how I managed to avoid tick bites since then :
- Keep on paths as much as possible. Ticks hide on tall ferns waiting to hitch a ride.
- Wear long sleeved shirts and trousers when in places where ticks are likely to live.
- Do not wear clothing you have worn outside to sleep in and keep any worn clothing far away from your sleeping bag.
- Use a DEET insect repellent such as Jungle Formula.
- Spray camping clothes, socks and boots with permethrin. I used Lifesystems Ex4 Anti Mosquito Clothing Treatment.
Following these 5 steps, I was able to remain 100% tick bite free since my first encounter with ticks. The permethrin is really easy to apply to clothes, just spray it on and let it dry. It is best to do this before you leave home as permethrin that hasn’t dried fully can cause skin rashes in some people. Permethrin lasts on clothing for a few washes and you can re-apply it every 4-6 weeks.
I even did an experiment where I found a tick and put it on my permethrin treated shirt, the tick immediately crawled to a halt and started to die off.
How to Remove a Tick
If you do manage to end up with a tick, use a specialised Tick Removal Card to remove it. Don’t mess about pulling it with tweezers, burning it with a match or putting vaseline or tea tree oil on it. All of these things increase the risk of the tick’s head snapping off in you and/or you risk making the tick vomit the lyme disease bacteria into you.
The Tick Removal Cards are super easy to use and carry. They are specifically designed to remove a tick without snapping their head off.
How to Avoid Midge Bites
Midges are much less dangerous than ticks, they pose no health threat at all. They are however, very annoying and the bites can be quite itchy. I found the combination of Jungle Formula, permethrin clothing treatment & one of my self-designed, Camp Cook Explore, camping snoods worn on my neck or head was sufficient to avoid almost all midge bites. A midge net hat can also work well.
How to Treat Midge Bites
Midge bites are not dangerous but they are annoying and itchy, especially when you are in a sleeping bag on a warm night. An ice pack can relieve some of the irritation, as can taking an antihistamine tablet.
A recent study advocates applying heat to an insect bite to relieve pain & irritation. A hot, damp face cloth might be a good way to test this when out in the field.
Tick & Midge Kit Bag
My tick & midge avoidance kit, shown above, is a cost-effective and convenient way to avoid ticks and midges. Happy adventuring, try not to let the biting beasties ruin your time outdoors.