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Elle Ossello | 07.03.2019

Each spring and summer brings new life to the plant and animal worlds, including many itch-inducing and discomfort causing plants and animals we often encounter on the trail. These "trail pests" undoubtedly have their place in the natural world (though we still have yet to hear a convincing argument about mosquitos), filling an important ecological role in ecosystems. Unfortunately they can also be a real hindrance when out enjoying nature.  Part of prudent preparation for getting outdoors this time of year should involve learning about these trail annoyances and hazards: mosquitos, ticks, and poison oak, ivy, and sumac. *Shudder.*

Before we get into advice on how to spot, avoid, and treat these pests and parasites, it’s important to consider the viability of simply avoiding areas and trails that are known to be particularly saturated in hazards during different times of the year. Before you embark on a new trail, check local forums and ask around at ranger stations. There might be an excellent campsite alternative to the one that’s next to standing water (read: a million mosquitos), for example.

Rather than exposing yourself to an evening of mortal combat against a swarm of pests or hiking an overgrown trail rampant with poison oak, consider shifting your plans and revisit when conditions are amiable. These considerations are not only situational, but seasonal, too.

They say "leaves of three, let it be." Poison oak is most threatening for trail users, from spring through fall, when the leaves are present. Gina Teichert.

When to Be Wary

Poison Oak, Ivy, and Sumac: Spring Through Fall

In short: Stay on the trail. Leaves, limbs, and stems of plant have urushiol oil that, when it comes in contact with skin, causes extremely itchy rashes.

The first crux of avoiding poison oak, poison ivy, and poison sumac: Learn to identify them. The old adage suggests, "Leaves of three, let it be." But it isn't always so easy, and truthfully, identifying these poisonous plants is not an easy task. Depending on where you live, the plants can look, act, and grow very differently.

  • Poison ivy is the most abundant, growing in all states in the U.S. except for California, Alaska, and Hawaii.
  • Poison oak grows in both the east and west. Pacific poison oak is found in California, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada; Atlantic poison oak is found in the southeastern/southern states, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Maryland, and Delaware.
  • While poison ivy may be evergreen and can grow in bushes, creep up trees, and thrive in more shaded areas, poison sumac proliferates in riparian areas in full sun in the Eastern U.S.
  • Poison oak, which loses its leaves, inhabits a variety of environments along the West Coast and Great Basin, including coastal bluffs, forests, river canyons, mountain foothill regions, and the high desert. Plus, it’s not just the oil on the leaves that can cause an itchy rash, the bare stems and branches can get you in winter too.

Mosquitoes: Late Spring Through Summer

If it’s not enough to worry about how to avoid and protect yourself from mosquitoes, we’re here to tell you that there are many different kinds to keep track of. Worst during the heavy snowmelt, the two most common species in the United States are the Asian tiger mosquito and the common house mosquito. The Asian tiger mosquito tends to bite during the morning, afternoon, and daytime, while the common house mosquito tends to bite in the evening and into the early night. You’ll get a bit of reprieve in the high heat of the day.

When it comes to mosquito season, it’s less about actual times of the year and more about temperature levels. Most species of mosquitoes die off during the colder months and become active again once the average temperature comes back up to 50 degrees. Thanks to warmer climates, the mosquito season virtually never ends in southern states like Texas and Florida. In slightly warmer states, they might be dormant for 4 or 5 months of the year, while the northernmost states might enjoy 6 to 7 months mosquito-free.

Ticks: Late Winter and Early Spring

Unlike the universally annoying presence of the mosquito, ticks are generally most common in the states from Maine to Virginia, the upper Midwest states like Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio, and Illinois, and some areas in the Pacific Northwest and coastal California.

As winters become increasingly mild, pests like ticks thrive and proliferate when the temperature starts to rise earlier in the late winter and early spring (much like mosquitos). If you live in a state in which it’s common to see ticks, start to be aware the very first spring-like day (even if during winter) and especially after a heavy rain.

 

How to Prevent and Treat Rashes and Bites

As for all remedies, the suggestions for treating plant-borne rashes and mosquito and tick bites vary depending on who you ask and when, but there are some tried-and-true preventative strategies and treatments. Here are our go-to suggestions. Have another good remedy? Leave it in the comments below!

Poison Oak, Ivy, and Sumac

After every spring or summer hike when in known poison oak, ivy, or sumac country—no matter whether you think you haven’t encountered one of these plants—it’s best to wash all of your clothes and take a shower. The oils themselves can remain hazardous (even on clothes) for a very long time, so keep them out of contact with your laundry hamper, your bedspread, and your bathroom rug, and wash separately.

Urushiol, the oil present in these poisonous plants, is persistent and water-resistant. The most effective treatment requires a wash to target oils that persist even after washing. Tec Labs’ Tecnu line of products are the most effective and versatile treatment on the market to avoid and address poison oak-, ivy-, and sumac-induced rashes. Following hikes, Tecnu Original Outdoor Skin Cleanser can be used as a spot wash on skin, body wash in the shower, or as a laundry additive. For clothing thought or known to have come in contact with one of these plants, clothes should be soaked in a water with the Tecnu cleanser added, before washing in the laundry. If you do find yourself with a rash, continue to wash with a Tecnu product regularly to make sure all oils are removed, avoid touching it if possible, use Tecnu Rash Relief with Scar Prevention, and if it continues to persist or get worse, call your doctor.

Watch how elite ultrarunner Janessa Taylor beats the itch of poison oak and poison ivy, and gets to keep doing what she loves: crushing miles out on the trail. 

Mosquitos

If you find yourself in mosquito-infested parts, be sure to bring along plenty of mosquito netting and repellents. Besides the normal sprays, dip into the world of vapors, creams, and citronella rings—while some might swear by heavy-duty DEET, others insist that natural repellents do the trick. At Outdoor Project, we’re big fans of products that use allethrin, a synthetic derivative of compounds found in chrysanthemums. There’s no harm in experimenting, just see what works for you! Additionally, long pants and sleeves and mosquito netting that drapes over a hat and encloses a tent is a major plus.

Ticks

The easiest way to mitigate your chances of a tick bite is to stay on the trail. Ticks hang out in long grass and taller plants in hopes that a host might walk by. When you avoid brushing up against grasses, you reduce your chance of becoming another meal. If you insist, wear light-colored clothing to help you spot them early. Just like mosquito spray, there are also a number of repellents that specifically target ticks—DEET can be used for both, and cedar essential oil is a good natural tick repellent, too.

After you’ve been out, it’s imperative that you check yourself thoroughly before bed. Have a friend look you over in places hard for you to see, and take a shower using a wash cloth and rub over every inch of your body. Ticks especially like hairlines, the back of your knees, and armpits. If you find one, don’t panic. A tick tool is super helpful and reminds us that—brace yourself—a tick’s mouth is like a bolt: If there’s one that has latched on to you, use the tool to turn the tick counterclockwise to get it to release. Be careful not to shock the parasite, which may cause body parts to remain in the skin. Flush it down the toilet after you remove it.

Monitor the site over the next day or so—expect a little redness, swelling, and tenderness. If the pain or redness continues to increase, call your doctor.

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Tecnu

Tecnu has been the trusted name in poison oak and ivy for over 50 years! Since 1962, we’ve continued to develop products to treat your outdoor itch, so you can continue to live your life outdoors! Whether its poison oak or ivy, insect bites, or minor irritations & itches, we’ve got you covered! Our products include Tecnu Original Outdoor Skin Cleanser, Tecnu Extreme Poison Ivy Scrub, and Tecnu Rash Relief Anti-Itch Spray.

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