Kim M.

Hiking With Type 1 Diabetes

Did you know that the first Saturday in June is National Trails Day? Short or long, rigorous or easy, within national parks or just in your own neighborhood…if the trails are open, I am of the opinion that hiking is for everyone! So what about hikers with type 1 diabetes? With the right amount of preparation, I think just about anyone can address the challenges.

My family is very much into the outdoors. When our kids were babies, my husband and I would pack them in backpacks and trek them all over our national parks and everywhere else. So when Kaitlyn was diagnosed with type 1 at 3 years old, we were naturally concerned that it might change the way we could have fun and explore. However, when we got more into a rhythm of diabetes care, we decided that we were not going to let it beat us, and we have been hiking ever since. Kaitlyn is actually one of the best hikers I know and has really grown to love it. We’ve learned how to take precautions when we’re out in the woods, especially on those longer hikes that take close to a full day.

The old scouting motto “Be prepared” really is the key, and I think it should be the motto for type 1 diabetes as a whole. Hey, we’re not perfect — there has been more than one occasion when we’ve been caught underprepared. We’ve had to turn back when Kaitlyn has gone low, even carrying her piggyback because we had run out of fast-acting sugar to treat the low blood sugar. However, when we do plan ahead, there’s no hike we can’t handle.

Here are some of the things we try to do to ensure a good trip:

  1. Bring a lot of fast-acting sugar. Juice is great, but when we’d rather bring something lighter so we don’t have to carry a heavy pack, we bring candy or glucose tabs. This is probably the most important thing we can bring — just as important as water, because prolonged, steady exercise like hiking can really make Kaitlyn’s blood sugar levels plummet. We bring triple the amount that we think we might possibly use.
  2. Eat snacks beforehand and bring some along. In addition to fast-acting sugar, we make sure to have some other high-carb (slower-acting) snacks that will hold Kaitlyn steady over a longer period of time. Typically, she will have a snack and some fast-acting sugar before a long hike, then more carbs an hour or two into the hike, and then more carbs when she is done, depending on her blood sugar level.
  3. Check blood sugar frequently. A continuous glucose monitor is worth its weight in gold when we’re hiking, because blood sugar changes so quickly. But if for some reason Kaitlyn isn’t wearing one, we make sure she checks blood sugar often. We have learned (many times over) to pack a glucose meter with a fresh battery and more than enough test strips.
  4. Pack a charged cell phone. We never know when we’ll have service when we’re out hiking, especially in a remote area, but it doesn’t hurt to have the phone ready to go if it’s needed and can be used.
  5. Don’t forget the basics. Whether Kaitlyn is hiking with us or not, we always make sure we’re prepared with some basic things: water (more than we think we need!), food, a simple first aid kit, sunscreen, hat, map (if we’re in unfamiliar locations), good shoes, and blister bandages.

Happy trails!

Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring. Jen and Kim are real moms of kids with type 1 diabetes and have been compensated for their contributions to this site.

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