The 130-million-year rainforest of Borneo is older than Amazon, but there is one small bug that scares its visitors. Like other rainforest in South East Asia, the best lowland forest of Malaysia is always infested with forest leeches, the little wiggling and slimy blood suckers, which are extremely persistent to crawl onto your naked skin for a feast.
Their bite is nothing more than a minor cut, but the anti-clotting agent in their saliva causes you to bleed profusely for hour, some find the bloody view a terrifying experience. I was always shocked by the screaming of the girls who find leech on their skin, so I decide to write this guide.
Leech sucks, so how to prevent being leeched? The MOST EFFECTIVE way to prevent leech bite is by wearing anti-leech socks or leech-proof socks (leech socks in short), as shown in the photo above. Leech socks have become a standard part of the outfit for jungle trekking in Borneo.
So you want a leech sock huh?
There are 4 types of leech socks (see following photo). In most cases, you only need to pick type no.1 or 2. Type 3 and 4 are less common and listed here FYI only:
Please see photo above for numbering.
No.1: Elastic-strap leech socks – most commonly used.
No.2: “Deluxe” leech socks – expensive but the best.
No.3: String leech socks – old fashion but still in use.
No.4: Long leech socks – same as No.1 but longer.
Though look different, all of them employ the same simple mechanism to keep leeches at bay. Basically they are just oversized socks for you wear over the trousers, to block leeches from accessing your skin from the opening of your trousers.
1. Elastic-strap Leech Socks
A pair costs RM18 to RM24 (USD5-USD6.50) and made of cotton cloth. It is the most commonly used. If you don’t want to read further, just buy this one.
FYI, you can buy anti-leech socks at online shop such as Shopee (search by keywords “leech socks”).
To use it (it is easier to wear it in sitting position), (1) wear it like socks all the way up but at outer layer, so you can cover the opening of your pant. (2) Then pull the elastic strap to tighten and seal the opening. (3) Note the adjustment knot to control the tightness of the strap. (4) repeat the steps for another foot and put on your hiking boot or shoes.
Keep your legs comfortable, an extremely strong tight is not necessary. I know you worry that leech might sneak in through the sealed opening but that’s very unlikely. The closed loop of the strap always hooks on something in forest, so you may want to hide it behind the socks.
Below is a 1-min video to show you how to wear this anti-leech sock:
The Good: reasonable price and comfortable to wear.
The Bad: during long walk, the socks will slide down gradually. You have to pull it up regularly. It is made of cotton cloth, so it gets wet easily during rain or if the trail is muddy.
2. Deluxe Leech Socks (Water Resistant)
A pair costs RM38 (USD11.50) and made of nylon material (upper part) and linen cloth (lower part). I call it “Deluxe” because it is very expensive.
Just wear it like other leech sock. This leech sock has internal elastic grip on top and bottom of the nylon (blue part), so you don’t need to tie any string. But I find it a bit tight though. Maybe it’s new.
Above: close-up of Deluxe Leech Socks
You may watch the 1-min video below to see Deluxe Leech Socks:
Personally, I think this is the BEST leech sock, due to the reasons below.
The Good: The materials are more water-resistant and durable. That means the socks can be cleaned (e.g. mud) and dried quickly. This is important for long period of jungle trip, because wet sock is very hard to dry up in humid forest of Borneo. The double grip points also keep the leech sock in position.
The Bad: the most expensive type. For that price, you can buy two pairs of other leech socks.
3. String Leech Socks
A pair costs RM15 (?USD4.50) and made of cotton cloth too. This design is phasing out and replaced by Elastic-strap Leech Socks.
The design is similar to other cotton leech socks. Since it has no elastic grip, you need to tie a noose on the cord to seal the opening, like how you tie shoe lace.
The Good: cheaper. If you know the right technique to tie the knot, the socks won’t slide down.
The Bad: The strap is not elastic so you have to tighten it stronger to hold the sock in place. However, this causes extra stress and discomfort to my skin. After long day of jungle trekking, it will leave thin lines of bruises on my skin at the strap area.
4. Long Leech Socks
A pair costs RM34 (?USD9) and made of cotton cloth.
In general, it is same as Elastic-strap Leech Socks, but it is a few inches longer and have two elastic straps.
To compare the difference, I wear both long and short leech socks, as shown in photo above. I think it’s for people who wear short pants.
The funny thing is – leech sock is for leech-phobia tourists. Our local people don’t wear leech socks. Those villagers who always go in and out forest normally wear long soccer socks, less effective (60-70% leech proof) but costs only a few dollars. In fact, most of them don’t really bother about leeches.
If you can’t find any leech socks for sale, you can use soccer socks instead, which is readily available and cheap. Make sure you get the long one with very tight weaving that leaves no tiny seam for leech to wiggle its way in. The soft-bodied leech only needs a loose hole as tiny as pencil tip to puncture your skin for blood.
Does anti-leech sock make me 100% leech-proof?
Good question! The answer is NO. But it’s 90% leech-proof and does make a big difference. To understand why, you need to know how leeches “attack”.
There are 2 types of leeches in Borneo jungle, namely, Tiger Leech and Brown Leech. Brown leeches are smaller and usually active on ground level with wet leaf litter. Occasionally you may see it crawling on grass. When it crawls on your leech socks, you can just flick it off. Brown leech can be fend off easily by leech socks.
However, for tiger leech which is bigger and active from ground to waist level, you have to be vigilant all the time. Especially in wet season, tiger leeches will hide and wait in the leaves and twigs of shrubs along the trail. If your body touches the bushes, you will pick up tiger leeches on your legs or waist. The leeches will crawl up and look for exposed skin on upper part of your body, for example, armpit, neck and belly. Leech socks won’t work in this case. So you need to keep an eye on your body (or ask your buddy to check regularly). Anyway, just avoid contacting any low shrub and you shall be safe.
When leeches crawl to your leech socks, 90% of them will go inside your shoes. Leech dislikes dry surface so the dry cloth of leech sock deters them slightly. You will find half-death leeches in your shoes. But it is different story when it rains and your leech sock is wet.
Where to buy leech socks?
You can buy them in online shops such as Shopee and Lazada (search by keywords: “leech socks”).
There are also a few places in Kota Kinabalu where you can find anti-leech socks. I only name two shops here. When you buy leech sock, check the sewing and make sure there is no hole on the socks.
Montanic Adventure Store
Montanic Adventure Store is on the second floor of Suria Sabah shopping mall (in Kota Kinabalu City).
Below is their contact:
Address: 2-78, 2nd Floor Suria Sabah Shopping Mall, 88000 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.
Tel: +60 88-274538
Some popular nature destinations such as Tabin Wildlife Reserve and Danum Valley also sell leech socks in their souvenir shops, but at higher price. Please share with us here if you know any other shop selling leech socks.
To learn more tips to combat leeches, you may Click Here to read “How to prevent leech bite?”.
Photos taken in Sabah, Malaysia Borneo