The last thing anyone wants in the middle of a long hike or a backpacking trip is to come in contact with poison ivy or other poisonous plants. Those who do off trail bushwhacking or hike on overgrown trails are especially at risk. The first step for prevention is for hikers to learn how to identify poison ivy as well as poison oak and sumac. When we can recognize dangerous plants we will be able to avoid them out on the trail.
The plant genus Toxicodendron gives us the poisonous plant species that are known for those nasty rashes. They are found throughout the United States except for Hawaii and Alaska.
Although nobody enjoys the aforementioned plants they actually are important to wildlife. Birds eat the berries in fall or winter when no other food is available and deer actually eat the foliage, berries, and twigs.
One problem with poison ivy is that it is very adaptable and grows under many different conditions. Because of this fact it can look different depending on where it is growing.
All parts of the plants are poisonous all throughout the year. Anyone can spread the plant oil (urushiol) to other people thru footwear, clothes, trek poles and any other hiking or backpacking gear that comes into contact with poison ivy. You could be exposed to the oil just from taking off your shoes after walking through some poison ivy. You can also get a rash from a dog that was into a patch of it as well. Oil that has rubbed off onto other things can remain potent for up to 5 years.
Some people are supposedly immune but sensitivity can develop over time. I know someone who bragged about his immunity to poison ivy over the years until finally one day when clearing the ivy from his fence line he got a mild rash on his hands and arms.
Urushiol can penetrate your skin in minutes so be sure not to waste time if you know you have been exposed. The sooner you clean your skin the better chance you have of removing the oil. This can possibly lessen your rash and help prevent further spread.