Finding a good pair of socks is a simple pleasure for a hiker like me. Socks obviously play a big part in comfort, but they also can protect your feet and ankles from the outdoors.
You might not consider it, but socks can play a vital role in protecting your skin from bugs, and more specifically ticks that can easily crawl onto your feet and ankles.
However, sometimes the socks aren’t enough, and if you want the best protection from ticks you’ll need to add an extra layer of protection in the form of fabric-safe tick repellents.
The best tick repellents for socks include permethrin-based sprays, sprays that include picaridin, and natural oil-based sprays that contain tick repellents like cedar wood. You can also purchase socks that are pretreated to deter ticks.
Ticks are stubborn little things, and I’ve come to find that what works best is a mixture of effective repellents, the right gear, and good habits while hiking to avoid ticks.
When it comes to repellents, some products will naturally work better than others, so be sure to keep reading to find what best suits your needs.
1. Sawyer Permethrin Insect Repellent
Permethrin is king when it comes to scaring away ticks. It’s the most common recommendation among outdoor lovers like myself, and for good reason.
Permethrin is absolutely the best thing I've used. Between disc golf and turkey hunting I spend a lot of time in the woods during tick season and I've never picked a tick off me since I started treating clothes with permethrin. Seems to work against chiggers pretty well too. It doesn't just repel ticks, it actually kills them.Reddit: np307
Permethrin is a synthetic chemical that incapacitates ticks on contact, which naturally means they can no longer bite into your skin.
The University of Rhode Island conducted a study in 2017 that found that treating shoes and socks with permethrin reduces the likelihood of a tick bite up to 71 times for several kinds of ticks (it makes a huge difference).
Another 2011 study showed similar results with permethrin treated clothing vs non-treated clothing
Subjects wearing outfits treated with permethrin received 3.36 times fewer tick bites than subjects wearing untreated outfits.Source: PubMed
And interestingly treating the socks/footwear was the most effective at reducing tick bites.
Subjects wearing permethrin-treated sneakers and socks were 73.6 times less likely to have a tick bite than subjects wearing untreated footware. Subjects wearing permethrin-treated shorts and T-shirts were 4.74 and 2.17 times, respectively, less likely to receive a tick bite in areas related to those specific garments than subjects wearing untreated shorts and T-shirts.Source: PubMed
Permethrin repellent most commonly comes in the form of a spray, and the best product I’ve found is Sawyer Permethrin Repellent.
What I like about Sawyer’s product is that it lasts up to 6 weeks after one spray, or 6 times through the wash, meaning you won’t have to constantly reapply to protect yourself from ticks.
Add a layer of protection to your clothing and gear with Permethrin insect and tick repellent spray. Permethrin spray bonds to fabric fibers for up to 6 weeks or through 6 washings (whichever comes first) and won't stain or damage clothing, fabrics, plastics, finished surfaces, or outdoor gear; odorless after drying.
It is important to know however that permethrin is very toxic before drying, so be sure to spray it in a well-ventilated area and keep your kids and pets far away (it can be especially lethal to cats).
This also makes it dangerous for your skin, so be sure to only apply it to your socks and other gear.
See the latest price of Sawyer's Permethrin Tick Repellent on Amazon.
2. Insect Shield Tick Socks
If you hike regularly and want something that will last long, buying pre-treated tick-repellent socks might be a good solution for you.
Insect Shield is a popular brand that makes socks and clothes that are pretreated with repellent, and their formula will repel a large number of bugs and insects including ticks.
What makes these different from treating socks on your own is that the repellent is tightly bonded to the material and will last up to 70 washes, which is probably not too far off the lifespan of the sock itself.
A 2020 study done over 2 years with outside workers showed a significant decrease in the occurance of tick bites with workers wore long lasting permethrin impregnated clothing.
Factory-impregnated clothing significantly reduced tick bites by 65% in the first study year and by 50% in the second year for a 2-yr protective effect of 58%Source: PubMed
Another thing I like about these socks is that they’re made with hiking and other activities in mind, as they’re made lightweight and pretty comfortable at that.
The socks are also free of any residues and are produced odor-free (from the repellent at least).
Tested, Proven, & EPA-Registered. Our socks comfortable and a fashionable way to repel insects during any outdoor activity. The repellency stays in the socks, not on your skin. You can't tell it's there, but the bugs can.
Insect Shield is tightly bonded to fabric fibers resulting in long-lasting repellency, expected to last the lifetime of the garment, up to 70 launderings for apparel and 25 for gear
3. DEET Insect Repellent Spray
The next best alternative to permethrin is to use a spray that contains DEET.
Many experts and the CDC recommend DEET for repelling both mosquitos and ticks.
Make sure the concentration is between 20-30% and remember that it'll only last about 8 hours to repel ticks. It also won't kill ticks like permethrin spray does.
DEET has been shown in multiple different studies to be an effective tick repellent.
The median escape times for I. persulcatus and I. ovatus on DEET-treated flannel cloths were 48 s (95% confidence interval [CI]: 30-96) and 10 s (95% CI: 5-24), respectively. In contrast, many ticks remained on the untreated flannel cloths for 10 min after mounting. These results indicate that DEET repellents appear to prevent tick bites and that the use of DEET repellents against ticks is an effective personal protection measure.Source: PubMed
The benefits of permethrin over DEET is that it is longer lasting and also actively kills ticks whereas DEET is just a repellent.
However, when me and the kids go bushwalking we are often spraying ourselves with a mosquito repellent containing DEET so while we are at it we may as well spray our socks too in order to prevent tick bites.
The OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent is a good brand and contains 25% DEET, which is a good concentration for repelling ticks.
Repels mosquitoes, ticks, and other biting insects like chiggers, gnats, fleas and biting flies. Goes on dry, not greasy and can be used by adults and applied by adults on children.
Picaridin is another chemical that has been studied and proven to fight against ticks, and it’s actually one of the few chemicals that’s recommended by the CDC.
Similar to permethrin, picaridin most commonly comes in spray form. The spray is odorless, non-sticky, and won’t irritate your skin,
Versatility is a big thing for me as a consumer, and I like that picaridin can be applied to not only my socks and gear but my skin as well.
This particular spray from Ready Ranger will provide protection from ticks and other bugs for up to 12 hours, and although it isn’t as long-lasting as other solutions, I find it nice for hiking day trips or days on the beach (yes, ticks can be found at the beach).
Unscented bug spray with Picaridin 20% for full-body application, also safe on gear. Provides 12 hours of protection from ticks and mosquitos, and 8 hours from gnats, flies, chiggers, no-see-ums, and fleas
Picaridin was developed as a safer alternative to DEET and other chemicals, so if you’re looking for a spray that’s safe for your skin and won’t damage your gear or socks, it’s definitely a good option.
5. Nantucket Spider
There aren’t really too many truly effective options when it comes to natural tick repellents, but one of the better options I’ve found is Nantucket Spider.
This spray is made from a combination of natural essential oils including peppermint, rosemary, and cedarwood, which are all known to be decently effective in irritating ticks.
They claim that the spray was shown to repel 92% of deer ticks in laboratory testing, which I’d definitely consider impressive for an all-natural spray if that number is accurate.
The bottle actually has a really nice spray nozzle compared to some of the other products and the spray leaves no sticky residue. And since it’s natural, it’s safe for your socks as well as your skin.
The one major downside to this spray (as well as many other all-natural products) is that it will need to constantly be reapplied, and in the case of Nantucket Spider, you’ll need to reapply every 1.5 hours to maintain protection. Compare this to 8 hours for a DEET spray and up to 70 washes for permethrin lined socks.
See the latest price of Nantucket Spider’s Spray on Amazon.
Lab tested and highly effective. Nantucket Spider Extra Strength Tick Spray for Humans is made from a broad spectrum of steam-distilled, organic essential oils that are proven to repel ticks, including rosemary, cinnamon, cedarwood, peppermint, spearmint, geranium and clove. Distilled water, vegetable glycerin and natural vanillin (made from cloves) are our only other ingredients.
6. Cedarcide Original Tick Bug Spray
Cedarcide is one of the more well-known natural solutions for tackling ticks. What makes Cedarcide popular is that being naturally sourced, it’s capable of being applied in a bunch of different ways including on your clothes, skin, pets, or even yard.
Cedarcide’s main ingredient is cedarwood oil, which is a natural substance that invokes a number of harmful effects on ticks. They explain that it can cause dehydration, suffocation, and pretty much dissolve the devilish creatures, which is impressive out of a natural oil.
They have several different products for different purposes, but when it comes to repelling ticks off of your socks, you’ll want to get the Cedarcide Spray.
You’ll need to reapply the spray every 5-7 hours, but I don’t consider that too much of an issue seeing as it’s safe to apply and wear immediately, and most importantly it’s safe for kids and pets.
Cedarcide Original is a plant-based and family-safe bug spray for use directly on people, indoor spaces, and your pets. Original Protects your family from harmful bugs like Mosquitoes, Fleas, Ticks Ants, and Mites.
The biggest benefit you’ll find with Cedarcide is that it’s an all-purpose solution for tackling ticks and can do more than just protect your socks.
They have granules to be applied to the yard and the spray is actually one of the best natural tick repellents for dogs, so it’s definitely worth giving a try.