Can Ticks Bite Through Leggings?

It's tempting to just throw on your comfy leggings when going for a hike, right? But are you then safe from ticks? Can they bite through the material? Let's find out!

Leggings have been a summer-friendly garment going back to the 14th century when men wore them because who on earth knows why. They’re thin, soft, and comfortable enough to wear just about anywhere, including the woods, where a particular arachnid dwells by the thousands.

That begs the question: Can ticks bite through leggings? Fortunately for yourself and your leggings, a tick can’t bite through your leggings with the hook-filled nightmare that is its mouth. Even leggings that are manufactured with a very thin material are enough to foil the blood-hungry little devils. 

However, that’s not the end of the story because leggings, unfortunately, do not cover everything and if there is one thing that ticks are good at, it’s finding your vulnerable spots. Ticks love the dark, humid recesses of the human body, especially underarms, the creases in your groin, between the toes, and somewhere else that we’re too “family-friendly” to write out loud.

Also read: How Long Can a Tick Live Without a Host on Average?

Are leggings the best hiking clothes?

woman wearing hiking boots and colorful leggings
Image credits: Alexandra Tran

Leggings are far from ideal for hiking or going anywhere that has high grass, dense underbrush, or heavily wooded areas. It’s not because the leggings don’t stop these creeping horrors from latching onto you with their house-of-horrors maw, it’s that they don’t cover enough.

Unless you’re willing to wear calf-high socks and run them up under the ends of your leggings, the amount of protection up higher is negligible, since greedy little ticks don’t have the patience to crawl up your leg when the skin is readily available at your ankle.

If you happen to be breaking in some new hiking boots while sporting ankle-high socks, ticks will be more than happy to accept the cover and protection of your boot while it chows down on all of the fresh blood that your ankle has to offer. 

Capri leggings would be the worst, however, if you’re hiking in Capri leggings, you might as well hand a welcome sign invitation around your neck for every bug on the planet to come roost. 

If you’re bound and determined to stick with leggings during your outdoor adventures, you should at least prepare the exposed areas of skin for ticks and other annoying bugs that share our enthusiasm for being outside.

How do ticks latch on?

tick sitting on a man's hand
Image credits: Erik Karits

If you were to look at a tick from the front, preferably with a magnifying glass, their mouths would look like a chainsaw, only instead of chains linked together, it resembles hooks. These hooks resemble talons, with three on each talon. 

Ticks use two sets of these “talons” to hook into your skin at six, different points. This is why it’s so difficult to remove a tick without tearing it in half. Once the hooks are in (they make their way through your skin by pulsating back and forth or side to side), the tick is ready.

Then it uses these hooks to effectively mutilate your skin right then and there, tearing it off to the side like pulling the skin off of an egg. Once its meal is fully exposed, it faceplants into the raw flesh and blood beneath. 

It’s quite the horror show, and all of this could be going on just below or underneath those leggings you decided to wear today. The tick’s mouth is long but it’s not the needle-like protrusion that you see coming out of the end of a mosquito’s mouth. 

With mosquitos, it’s almost like a needle injection, whereas with ticks, it’s something that you could only associate with a B-grade horror flick on Shudder. As tiny as they are, all of this violence may be something that you never feel at all. 

You might even feel it as an itch and when you reach down to scratch, never realize that you wholly missed the tick.

How to protect your exposed skin from ticks

woman wearing tall gray socks in hiking boots
Image credits: Clay Banks

Ticks are tenacious creatures and also incredibly lazy. They prefer the dark, humid, and moist areas of your body but they’ll take whatever they can get as soon as they can get it. The thing is, ticks can’t move on to their next stage of growth until they have been properly fed. 

So at a certain point in each phase of their relatively short lives, they get pretty desperate, which means they will only crawl around on your clothes long enough to find some exposed skin, and any exposed skin will do. 

Ticks can make their way onto your body in all kinds of ways. If you touch branches, walk through high grass, brush up against a bush, or even stop to tie your boots in an area that’s heavy with fallen leaves, they pounce.

Here’s how to avoid getting bitten by a tick:

  1. Use strong, deep woods, insect repellents
  2. Tuck your leggings into your socks or vice versa
  3. If you have long hair, put it up in a bun
  4. Check yourself as thoroughly as possible

Let’s have a closer look at each of the options, shall we?

1. Use strong, deep woods, insect repellents

No one likes the smell of insect repellents but just remember, as strong and repulsive as they are to you, they’re even more so to ticks. Some of the stronger ones will even kill ticks on contact. 

If you don’t prefer the chemicals from deep woods insect repellents, ticks are naturally repulsed by peppermint and lemongrass essential oils. There is also garlic oil if you can stand the smell because ticks certainly can’t. 

When using any of the natural oils, be sure to dilute them according to the instructions, as some of them are potent enough to blister your skin or cause a dermatitis type of reaction when applied directly to your skin. 

2. Tuck your leggings into your socks or vice versa

Sure, it looks absolutely goofy. However, it’s not as if you’re throwing on leggings and hiking boots to go eat at a formal restaurant in the hinterland. 

If you’re with a bunch of friends, however, and you don’t want to look like your ankles are swollen to the size of mid-size dumbbells, grab some thin, knee-high socks. You can run these up underneath your leggings to save yourself some embarrassment if you’re really worried about it. 

3. If you have long hair, put it up in a bun

If you have long hair, you want to keep it up in a bun. Having your hair down gives the ticks more of an opportunity to grab ahold and make their way through the dense jungle of hair follicles to your neck beneath. 

You can’t do much to completely protect your hair unless you’re planning on wearing a swim cap (highly inadvisable on a hot, summer day). 

4. Check yourself as thoroughly as possible

This is the hard part and the problem with wearing leggings without any protection around the socks is that ticks are more than capable of tunneling their way up and underneath the bottom of your leggings before they find a nice, warm, comfy place to dig in.

Checking yourself over is fine and if you are the only one there, then you will have to do the best you can. If you spend a lot of time outdoors, especially during the summer, you’ll want to have a magnifying glass handy around the house or someplace within reach if you’re away from home. 

Ticks can be tiny, especially when they are in their earlier phases. They’re really hard to spot in your hair. Here’s what you need to do to spot even the smallest of ticks:

  • Start with a general search, everywhere you can look and see well
  • Search your waistline, creases behind your knees, ankles, feet, between your toes, armpits, and groin areas
  • Use a mirror to help you see around corners
  • Once you’re done, grab a magnifying glass for your armpits, groin, and what you can see of your head
  • In certain places, you can only look by feel

For that last one, if you have someone handy that you trust and can look in those places, by all means. It sounds silly and we all laugh out loud at the prospect of someone else going over our private parts with a fine-tooth comb, but that’s where ticks like to go.

The last thing you want is a tick that’s swollen up to the size of a small marble in your groin area before you realize what’s going on. 

A magnifying glass will do wonders for your armpits, groin, and head if you can wrap your mind around looking into a mirror and utilizing a magnifying glass. This is where a partner will come in handy. If you were both out and about, check each other over well.

Ticks are known carriers of Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Fever, two illnesses that you really don’t want to mess around with. Although it’s rare for ticks to spread either one, you don’t want that rare person to be you.

Final thoughts

Your leggings, in and of themselves, are effective shields against ticks, as they cannot penetrate the material with their terrible, hooked mouths. However, leggings simply don’t cover enough real estate to stop a very determined tick. 

Since their lives depend on whether or not they can get around your leggings, ticks are very determined.

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Thomas Godwin

Thomas Godwin is a writer and Marine Corps veteran with a degree in Creative Writing from the Full Sail University. He has been writing content for HeadlessNomad since 2021. Being a veteran, Thomas knows pretty much everything there is to know about the use of paracord, how boots should fit, and nature in general.