Chiggers are tiny red mites that you can barely see with the naked eye. How to avoid chiggers while camping depends on the clothing you wear, the repellents you use, and knowing what places to avoid.
How to Avoid Chiggers While Camping
The following recommendations are based on our own experiences camping and boondocking across the United States over the past several years…
Avoid Shorts and Sandals – Chiggers attach themselves to your body when you brush against tall grasses and plants. It’s the same as how you get ticks. Exposed skin is the number one way how chigger bites end up on your body.
Wear Clothing Made of Tight Fabric – Shirts and pants designed for camping and hiking are typically made of micro-fiber material that chiggers can’t grasp on to very well and cannot crawl through. Meanwhile, cotton t-shirts, denim, light fabrics, and swim suits, will allow a chigger to pass right through.
Tuck Your Pant Legs into your Socks – It might look nerdy, but tucking your pant legs into your socks or boots will help avoid chiggers from reaching your skin.
Don’t Wear Sandals – It may be more fun and convenient to slip on a pair sandals when staying close to camp, however when going hiking, wear socks and shoes to keep those chiggers off of you.
Don’t Sit Down on Grass – If you must sit on the ground, sit on dirt void of vegetation. Otherwise, roll out a mat and sit on a camp chair.
Don’t Camp Where There’s Chiggers – Chiggers tend to thrive in damp or humid areas of the country. You typically don’t find them in desert regions (unless in gardens that are kept watered). You don’t find them in places void of tall grasses or plants.
Stay on Trails and Clearings – If you can remain on trail, and not brush up against tall grasses and plants, you can greatly increase your chances of avoiding chiggers.
Set up Camp Away from Tall Grasses – Pitch your tent well away from tall grasses and plants. Park your RV or vehicle in clearings where you will not walk across thick vegetation.
Use Effective Insect Repellents – Use only high-performing repellents like Deet, Permethrin, or Picaridin. Avoid using “all natural” repellents as these tend to be very weak performers against chiggers…
- Deet is the most effective repellent we’ve found to date. You can spray it on your skin or your clothing. When spraying your clothing, use liberal amounts. However, it is deadly on dogs and cats. We recommend getting 100% Deet in Pump Bottles (see it on Amazon).
- Permethrin is also very effective, however you cannot apply it to your skin. It must be sprayed on clothing only. The good news is that once sprayed and dried on, it remains effective for weeks, lasting through several washes. You cannot use it on your dog or cat either. We recommend getting Permethrin in pump bottles only. Aerosol sprays are not as effective. (See it on Amazon).
- Picaridin is like a balance between Deet and Permethrin. It can be safely sprayed on your dog or cat, and safely sprayed on your own skin. It doesn’t last as long, however. Against chiggers and ticks, it only works for about two to three hours at the most, but may be long enough for a hike. Again, get it only in pump bottles, not aerosol sprays. (See it on Amazon)
Don’t Bring Your Clothing into an RV or Tent – If you’ve been out hiking or walking through tall grasses, there’s a good chance you have picked up some chiggers. In that case, remove your shirt and pants before entering your RV or tent. Keep your clothing outside, or secure inside a trash bag and tie it off shut.
- Chiggers Don’t Suck Blood – They instead suck liquefied skin. They inject a saliva that turns your bite into a slushy pool of dead skin cells.
- Chiggers Don’t burrow Beneath Your Skin – They instead act like ticks. They stick their mouth into your skin and leave the rest of their body above.
- You Cannot Feel When a Chigger Bites You – If you feel something biting or stinging you, it’s not a chigger. You cannot feel a chigger bite. It takes a few hours until you start feeling the itch, and about 12 hours before a chigger bite turns into a red bump.
- Chiggers Don’t Pass Disease – They don’t pass lime disease like ticks, nor any other viruses or parasites. Chiggers are pretty harmless in that regards.
- You Don’t Get Chiggers From Your Dog – If a chigger gets on your dog, it’s going to stay there. Even if your dog scratches itself, the chigger is not going fly off and land on you. It’s so tiny that it’s hard to dislodge. It will instead move to a different part of the dog.
What to Do if You Think You Have a Chigger
- Remove your clothing and remove it from your RV or tent. If you have one chigger on your body, you may have others on your clothing.
- Don’t scratch a chigger bite! This is because it’s very likely the chigger is still there feeding. Scratching it will only dislodge it and make it move to another part of your body. It’s possible for one chigger to produce a dozen bites on your skin just by constantly scratching each new bite. Chiggers will remain feeding for 5-7 days.
- Use rubbing alcohol on the bite. Alcohol kills chiggers. We recommend getting 70% rubbing alcohol solution. Pour the alcohol on to a cloth towel. Use lots of alcohol! Then rub it all over where you think you have a chigger. Definitely rub the lower legs and forearms.
- Take a shower and scrub with soap. Soap won’t kill the chigger. But the scrubbing will dislodge it while the foam will lift it up above the skin. The water washes it off your body.
- Most chigger bites completely heal and go away within two to three weeks. However, if you’re scratching a chigger bite, it could leave a scar that will last for several years.
Anti-Itch and Healing Ointments for Chigger Bites
- Hydrocortisone Cream works the fastest for healing chigger bites. It works by drying out the red bumps. It also helps relieve itching, however we’ve found that it’s not the most effective against itch. But if you want the quickest healing, this is it. It works best by rubbing thick, copious amounts to the affected area, then wrapping it with gauze and ACE bandage to prevent yourself from scratching. (See it on Amazon).
- Benadryl Extra Strength Ointment seems to be the most effective towards relieving itching over the long term. It doesn’t work as quickly as Chiggerex and Chigg-Away (below). Despite instructions on not using too much, we found that the more Benadryl the better. It won’t help expedite healing, however. (See it on Amazon).
- Chiggerex uses a 10% solution of Benzocaine, a form of anesthetic to relieve itching. It works more quickly than Benadryl. It also contains some natural anti-itch compounds like Aloe Vera, Camphor, and Chamomile to provide some long term relief. It doesn’t seem to be very effective on healing. (See it on Amazon)
- Chigg-Away uses a combination of 5% Benzocaine solution and sulfur. The Benzocaine relieves the itching while the sulfur repels chiggers. The use of sulfur goes back hundreds of years to when farm workers poured powdered sulfur into their socks and pants. However it has a nasty smell. If this product gets into your clothing, you may never get rid of the smell. It doesn’t do anything to expedite healing. (See it on Amazon).