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Many people believe that the Appalachian Trail is a great place to escape civilization and enjoy nature. What many don’t know about all of the different species of bugs that live there, as there are many types of insects who live on this trail, and they’re not all harmless! Learn how bad the bugs can be for your health and mental status!
Bugs can be a big nuisance on the trail based on the time of year, the most common are ticks followed by biters like mosquitoes and black flies. The biggest worry for the AT is the ticks and Lyme Disease, at 30-40,000 cases a year with most cases coming from the states the AT runs through.
While this can make some nervous about hiking, thousands of hikers have been on the trail each year with only a few cases. It is still recommended to check yourself thoroughly at mid-day and after the end of. the hiking day to make sure no ticks are in your hair or clothes!
Hiker Core Focus and Worry – Ticks
The biggest bug issue for a thru-hiker will be the ticks, who are very small and can be difficult to see. It is recommended to check for these at a minimum, once a day, with the use of tick tweezers or other fine-tipped hemostats.
The ones that often cause Lyme Disease will have black legs but there are other types as well so it’s necessary to double-check every time before grabbing one.
If possible, inspect your clothes after any water crossings near tall grasses where they’re more prevalent since they love moist areas.
If bitten by a tick, remove within 24 hours if possible or head into town immediately because antibiotic treatment works best when started soon after infection.
You’ll notice redness around the bite area along with flulike symptoms like fever, chills, and aches.
It is also possible to get a skin rash that can spread from the site of the bite up to six inches in diameter called erythema migrans which will appear within one week after infection!
This should be treated with antibiotics immediately if spotted since it spreads easily and slows down your journey on the trail.
Additional Bugs That Cause Frustration and Irritation
While ticks are the primary concern there are many other bugs on the trail that can cause problems, the most common are mosquitoes and black flies which will swarm in moist or shaded areas.
These pests can be worse at certain times of the year when there is more water on the trail from snowmelt or rainstorms.
Mosquitos are quite a location-dependent bug. They are only bad if you happen to camp near a pond or stagnant (standing) water.
This is probably most people’s absolute worst fear on the trail, requiring constant vigilance and frequent application of DEET or another chemical repellent to keep them at bay.
Most hikers will spray their clothes with bug-repellent as well for added protection but it isn’t guaranteed that this is effective since they can bite through clothing if hungry enough!
If you do get bit there are a few home remedies such as tea tree oil which might provide relief from itching and swelling.
The black fly doesn’t carry diseases like mosquitoes so it’s more about the annoyance than anything else, especially in mid-summer when these pests come out full force along wet trails.
Again, don’t forget your insecticide sprays even though most won’t cover this specific bug.
Bees / Hornets / Yellow Jackets
For those who are allergic or not, many stinging insects can be a life-threatening situation, especially for those who are out in the wilderness with no way to get medical help.
If you do get stung there is an antihistamine like Benadryl that may provide some relief but little else works and it’s important not to rub or scratch since this will just spread venom through your body!
Make sure if you are allergic that you carry the necessary medications with you to halt an allergic reaction ASAP!
Gnats / No-See-Ums
I can say that these are probably the most annoying of all bugs on the trail, especially in July and August when they are at their peak.
These tiny black or clear insects can make hiking unbearable since they’re usually around your face with constant buzzing sounds to annoy you even more!
Some hikers will try wearing a head net but this is miserable if it’s warm out so instead just bring some bug spray that contains DEET for increased protection.
You’ll want to reapply every few hours as needed during heavy bug seasons like June-August along high trails where there are moist shaded areas near water sources.
These are severe little bugs that are most common from May-July depending on the year and can be extremely stubborn to remove since their bite is so small.
If you wear shorts, like I prefer to, the chiggers can be the absolute worst. Find and rub up against the perfect grass or brush and you’ll think you have heat rash, but it’s those little bastards burrowing into your skin. In the mid-Atlantic states, you’re most likely to come across chiggers.
If they have burrowed under your skin, try not to scratch as much as possible since it could lead to infection; instead, use antiseptic creams like Neosporin for faster healing times.
How To Stay Safe From Bugs (As Much as Possible)
The best way to care is to get permethrin or other bug repellent sprayed onto your clothing and gear.
Since these pests can be pretty much everywhere on AT it’s best to always carry at least one bottle of bug spray with DEET in it. This will usually be enough protection unless there are almost no other hikers around when camping near ponds or swamps.
Another thing I recommend is wearing long pants and sleeves if you don’t want to be attacked since mosquitoes will attack exposed skin most commonly!
And finally, make sure not to over-exert yourself when hiking especially during humid days when bugs tend to thrive most due to the heat.
Final Thoughts on the AT and Bugs
Bugs are a common annoyance on the Appalachian Trail. Though they can be annoying, most of these pests do not carry diseases and will usually only leave you with an itchy bump or two if bitten many times in one day.
If you’re allergic to stinging insects like bees or hornets, however, bugs could potentially cause life-threatening reactions that require medical attention.
To stay safe from bugs as much as possible, make sure to wear long sleeves and pants when hiking during humid days where mosquitoes thrive most due to heat exposure.
Make sure to use insecticide sprays for extra protection against pesky black flies and gnats near water sources and always bring bug repellent containing DEET along your hike for increased coverage of high trails which have moist shaded areas nearby.
If you would like to look at what I think are the top options for a thru-hiking shelter take a look at it here, if you are interested in looking into other gear I have a page with nearly all the gear options here.
Last but not least, embrace the suck and never quit on a bad day!