No one likes ticks, and while they are tiny, they are a more significant overall threat to hikers and backpackers than any bear or cougar. Ticks carry some nasty diseases including one that can make you allergic to meat.
One way to prevent tick bites is to keep them off your ankles and legs with insect-repellent socks. These socks will keep ticks from crawling up your shoes, onto your legs, and ultimately into a spot where they will snuggle in for a snack. Here is what you need to know about tick-repelling socks for hiking and camping.
Do Tick Repellent Socks Really Work?
There is no doubt that tick repelling socks do work to keep ticks off your ankles and legs. Studies have shown that as little as one minute of exposure to permethrin-treated clothing is enough to paralyze ticks. In one study they had 0% ticks with normal movement 1 hour after a forced 1-min exposure.
In the CDC test, ticks were placed on swatches of fabric cut from different articles of permethrin-treated clothing. They tested both wild and lab-raised ticks, as well as adults and juveniles to see if there was any difference in their reactions.
For this study, Blacklegged, Lone Star Ticks, and American Dog Ticks were collected from the wild, while others were lab-raised, allowing researchers to see whether one type reacted differently to the insecticide.
Not surprisingly, the adult ticks survived longer than the juveniles, but within a couple of minutes, the vast majority of them had been incapacitated, with many just falling off the swatches of test fabric.
This means that they aren’t able to get cozy in your nooks and crannies and make lunch of you.
How Does Tick Repellent Clothing Work?
Tick repellent clothing has been treated with permethrin, a synthetic compound that mimics natural compounds (pyrethroids) found in chrysanthemum flowers.
These pyrethroids work by overexciting the nervous system of insects, eventually causing the insect to die.
Thankfully for humans and pets, they are non-toxic and can be worn all day without any worry about it being bad for you, unless of course if you do something really dumb like spray it in your face or drink it.
Insect Shield Sport Crew Sock
EPA-registered permethrin repellent built into the fabric to prevent ticks.
Do Tick Repellent Socks Remain Effective?
As amazing as insect repellent socks and clothing are, they do lose effectiveness after repeated washings. Don’t ever wash your socks and you will be fine though.
A 2019 study published in the Journal of Medical Entomology tested a variety of clothing and washing methods to see what impact they had on the effectiveness of repelling ticks. On the control socks that had been treated with permethrin and not worn or washed, 48% of the ticks placed on them remained after 5 minutes. As a side note, one researcher theorized that ticks remained on socks more than on shirts or pants because the fuzziness of the fibers traps them.
Looking at the socks that had been treated, worn, and washed/dried a full 82% of the ticks remained. This shows that the effectiveness of permethrin-treated clothing falls off sharply with repeated washings.
DIY Tick Repellent Socks and Clothing
If you don’t want to buy pretreated tick-repelling socks, you can make your own. The easiest way is to use a spray on permethrin treatment. Ranger Ready can be used as either a spray-on anti-tick treatment or as a soak in treatment. This video shows just how easy it is to treat not just your socks but other clothing with tick-repellent.
Permethrin Treated Socks Aren’t Enough for Full Protection From Ticks
While tick-repelling socks are a good start in fending them off, it is just part of a complete tick defense.
For maximum tick protection, you should wear tick-repellent treated socks, pants, and shirt, as well as use insect repellent on exposed skin.
Tick-Repellent Shirt Suggestions
- Exofficio Womens Bugsaway(TM) Lumen Hoody Athletic Hoodies
- Insect Shield Men’s UPF 30+ Dri-Balance Long Sleeve
- Little Donkey Andy Men’s Mosquito Repellent Shirt
- Insect Shield Men’s Short Sleeve T-Shirt
Tick-Repellent Shirt Suggestions
- ExOfficio Men’s BugsAway Sol Cool Ampario Convertible Pants
- ExOfficio Women’s BugsAway Sol Cool Ampario Convertible Hiking Pants
- Simms Men’s Bugstopper Outdoor Pants
- ExOfficio BugsAway Vianna Pants – Women’s
Don’t Forget Your Insect Repellent
You generally won’t be clothed head to toe, so exposed skin should get treated with insect repellent.
My go-to brand of insect repellent is Ranger Ready, and I’ve been using it while hiking and can attest to the fact that it really does keep insects off of you. In fact, on my last hike, I had forgotten to do the backs of my hands and watched mosquitos crawl up my hand onto my arm where I had sprayed Ranger Ready and they literally fled from my arm.