Q: We’ve always liked to hike and go “off-the-grid” camping over the summer; our favorite spot is about 10 miles from the road and has zero cell-phone reception. Can we still get away from it all (literally) with a child with type 1 diabetes?
A: Being active together is a good idea for any family, and your child’s type 1 diabetes shouldn’t limit your ability to enjoy quality time in the great outdoors. Before heading out on your trek, however, you’ll need to take a few extra steps to make sure you know how to best care for your child’s needs in this kind of remote environment.
First, touch base with your child’s diabetes care team to let them know about your camping plans. Will you be hiking? Are you planning to canoe or ride bikes while you’re there? Depending on your itinerary, your child’s doctor or diabetes educator can work with you to devise a strategy for avoiding lows in light of increased physical activity. For example, your doctor may recommend a higher — or at least more flexible — target blood sugar range while you’re out in the backcountry compared to the ranges you typically follow. This may mean you’ll also need to adjust your child’s normal insulin dosage amounts for the duration of the trip. Your care team can give you the specifics on what will work for your child.
It’s also likely that they’ll spend time teaching you more about how to recognize and treat lows during and after physical activity, and why it’s important to watch for lows even several hours after the activity has ended. Be prepared to do extra blood sugar checks throughout your trip.
Extra monitoring also means packing extra diabetes supplies. A good rule of thumb when going on a trip, especially to an isolated area, is to bring with you roughly twice as many supplies as you think you’ll need. This means multiple forms of rapidly absorbed sugar and sweets in case of a low, plenty of water and other fluids, as well as testing strips, ketone strips, insulin, and other gear needed for blood sugar management. You’ll also need some kind of storage container to keep insulin at a cool, stable temperature throughout your trip.
Of course, there are other basic planning tips essential for any family going “off the grid” with kids. Make sure you bring along a family-sized first aid kit, a flashlight, extra batteries and ample food. Leave a detailed plan of where you’ll be with someone you know, write down the address and phone number of the nearest emergency care center, sign in and out at the ranger station, and make sure your child is wearing a medical alert bracelet, just in case.
All this extra planning is the best way to help ensure that when you’ve set up your tent and everyone is roasting marshmallows around the campfire, you can all truly relax and enjoy this special time together.
–Daniel Flynn, M.D., is medical director of pediatric endocrinology at St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital in Boise, Idaho.
How Other Parents Deal
“We love camping! Our diabetes educator gave us a great tip to keep all meters and other supplies inside the tent with us and not leave anything in the car — the tent stays warmer at night and is shady and ventilated during the day, so supplies won’t get too cold or overheated. We also stash insulin in its own little cooler. So far, we’ve gone on three camping trips with zero problems!”
— Maggie L., Chicago, Ill., mom of 9-year-old Jacob
Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.
Tackling Outdoor Family Adventures