This post contains affiliate links. For more information, please see my disclosures.
There are few things that I find as revulsive than leeches. I can’t even describe it – it’s not rational (or maybe it’s because it’s so damp in the rainforests of northern Peru and they were constantly dropping on me from nearby trees while I was hiking). They’re just gross.
Danum Valley Conservation Area (Borneo Island, Malaysia) has two types of leeches: the common leech we all know and are repulsed by, found all over the world (yeah, that little brown worm-like thing lurking under leaves on hiking paths just waiting to crawl on you) as well as the tiger leech which hangs out on the leaves of trees and plants that are about knee to waist height (all the better to leap at you).
Everyone will tell you that you need to wear long pants and leech socks. I did not purchase the leech socks in the beginning as I found that wearing long socks (like soccer style socks) and tucking your pants into them worked just fine. This is essentially all that leech socks are (they look like giant elvish cloth boots). (Full disclosure: I did buy a pair later for 20 MYR – $6 CDN – as all of my socks were soaking wet from trekking in the rain and nothing was drying because of the humidity. I bought a pair as I ran out of socks! I have since purchased these in yellow for future trips as they will be much more comfortable than the canvas cloth socks I bought in Malaysia. Also, bright yellow makes it easy to spot the leeches!). I also wore shorts after the first day of trekking as I just about died from the heat and humidity.
Again, pants are recommended but I was completely leech free for all my treks even though I wore shorts and oddly, the people I trekked with were covered in leeches and they wore long sleeves, pants, etc.
Tried and Tested Tips to Avoid Leeches:
- Wear whatever is comfortable for you while trekking for several hours in the heat and humidity.
- If you’re not wearing pants, then wear long tightly-woven socks (like athletic/soccer socks) preferably light coloured so that you can see the leech crawling up your leg to flick it away before it reaches your skin.
- Use bug spray and vinegar. First, bug spray keeps the mosquitoes and other bitey buzzers off of you and it seems that leeches aren’t fans of vinegar. (I used 30% deet for the bugs and sprayed my shoes/ankles with vinegar to keep the leeches off). I suspect leeches also don’t care much for deet but the vinegar was a $1 investment that I do not regret.
- Don’t brush up against leaves, trees, plants, etc. if you can avoid it. Ditto for not sitting on the ground no matter how inviting those leaves look after 6 hours of trekking uphill. This way the tiger leech will not grab on to you. Let’s face it, you shouldn’t touch anything anyways – you don’t know what you’re allergic to or what animals have defecated/urinated on what plants. (Yeah, it’s not always the rain you’re hearing….sometimes it’s just monkey pee).
- If you must brush up against plants, take 5 seconds to look where you’re going. You will see the offensive leech standing up and reaching for you (they operate with thermal sensors and can sense your body heat from a few feet away). So, just side step that plant as I did and you’ll be fine.
- If you do get a leech on you, chill out. Touch some salt on it, flick it off with your index and thumb finger, etc. It won’t hurt you but I agree, it’s a pretty gross concept of an insect.