Hiking with Diabetes – 7 Steps to Ensure a Great Experience

When I was in my early 20s a friend of mine told me he was going backpacking in the Jefferson Wilderness Area located in Oregon and asked if I would like to go. The trail he was hiking would lead to Marion Lake, not far from Mount Jefferson. Living in Salem Oregon at the time and only a two-hour drive, I accepted. I had never backpacked before but it all sounded fun. I borrowed a backpack from a neighbor and filled it up with camping gear. I had the time of my life! Later I would head into the Jefferson Wilderness Area, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, and camping several nights under the star filled sky listening only to the slight breeze and small animals that walked around at night searching for a meal. I had the best times of my life there. I even took my children hiking and camping as early as 5 years old. But mostly I went by myself.

Ten years later I found out I had diabetes and I was told that I could no longer hike several days because it was hard to manage my glucose level. If something went wrong I could die. Which can be true if you are not very careful. That did not stop me. I CONTROL MY DIABETES. IT DOESN’T CONTROL ME. At 54 years old, I still backpack and I still love doing it. If you have diabetes and you love the outdoors like I do, here are a few things you should do to make sure your visit is worry free.

1.     I must keep my insulin cold. Instead of taking freezer packs with me that are heave and eventually thaw out, I use Frio Cooling Products. These work great when you are gone for several days and need to keep your insulin cold. I use them all the time.

2.     Always, always take candy, trail mix, and or a powdered sugar supplement you add to water with you. Hiking burns a lot of carbohydrates. Even if you have diabetes and are not on insulin you can get hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Take plenty with you. There have been many times I have needed it. If you are hiking in the wilderness there isn’t anyone to help you if you pass out due to hypoglycemia.

3.     Test your glucose level often. Every one-to-two hours. If it starts to get low, eat something.

4.     Don’t over eat! Sometimes when we are burning carbohydrates we tend to over eat. Yes, you will need to eat more because you are burning more. But overeating isn’t good either.  Again, test often. Keep you glucose level as close to normal as you can.

5.     Let your doctor know you are hiking. He can give you medical advise tailored to your health.

6.     If you hike alone (and I do) let someone close to you know when you are leaving, where you are going, and when you will return. I give my wife a map and highlight the trails I will be on. She drops me off and picks me up. There is rarely cell phone service so far away from civilization. Someone needs to know when to call for help and know where you are hiking so someone can find you in case everything goes wrong. Which leads me to my last point…

7.     When I give my wife a map highlighting the trails I will be hiking, I do not stray from those trails. If something goes wrong my wife and emergency personnel need to know where to find me. If I stray from my original plan, I may wind up dead and no one will know where I am.

I love hiking. I love the wilderness. Being careful and following these steps is the difference between a great backpacking trip and a dangerous one. Be safe. Hiking with diabetes isn’t for everyone. If you like to hike it is not over if you develop diabetes. It just means you have to be better prepared and more cautious.

11 thoughts on “Hiking with Diabetes – 7 Steps to Ensure a Great Experience

  1. Great advice for hiking with diabetes. My granddaughter has type 1 diabetes and I was worried about taking her hiking. My husband and I like to do a lot of hiking and I thought it would be too hard for her. I think I will try a short hike first and see how it goes. Thanks for the great advice!

  2. Thanks for sharing this Post. I have never hiked with someone who has Diabetes. But I know several people with Diabetes who may want to go hiking but are afraid to do it. I will be sharing this information with them.

  3. Sometimes I wonder how the internet gods know where to find me! I was looking up diabetes care for my mother-in-law and stumbled upon your site. When I found this post, I couldn’t believe my luck, because we are planning to do some backpacking this summer and I have some other medication (not diabetes related) that needs to stay cold. The last time we did this we FROZE the medicine on accident! So my favorite thing about this post is your recommendation for the FRIO cooling products! I never knew such a thing existed! Thank you, sir!!!

  4. Hi Hillard,
    Thanks for providing these 7 steps for people to follow. I’m sure it will help many. My mother had diabetes and I now watch my diet like a hawk as I have high cholesterol now. Do you have Type 1 or Type II?
    That last tip you gave on telling people where you are and not straying from the trail is so important if something happens or you are gone longer than stated so they can start a search appropriately.
    Thanks for this, really well done. Keep up the good work!

    1. I have had type 2 diabetes for 14 years and dependent on insulin for the last four years. It is very important to let others know where you are especially with diabetes. Things can go wrong very quickly. Thank you for your comment. I am glad this post helped.

  5. Hi Hillard. I’m sorry to hear that you have diabetes. But I am pleased that you can still backpack using those freezing products. I am glad that you are still doing something that you love.

    I do not suffer from diabetes but know someone who does. So I will pass this information onto him as it will be most useful to him.

  6. Hi Hillard,

    Great to hear that you haven’t let diabetes stop you from doing something you obviously enjoy. The map is definitely a great idea, I wonder though, are there GPS options available for tracking? I haven’t done a lot of recreational bushwalking before but it seems like something that could be of benefit to keen bushwalkers, and especially so for those with a medical condition.

    Great article with some very good points raised.


  7. Hello Hillard,

    Thank you for the thorough explanation!
    Diabetics should be in aware of this information.
    Having a diabetes doesn’t mean that one’s life should stop.
    I am a huge fan of hiking and I have friends who hike and who are diabetics and tey don’t know all of the tips you share.
    Thank you!

  8. Although a non diabetes sufferer (but I do get tested often due to tiredness symptoms I keep displaying, as well as huge cravings for sugar based foods), I think your advice is brilliant. I suppose your doctor will still try to dissuade you, but it’s a very good idea to make them aware.
    Is there, Hillard, any digital device that you can also use to alert anyone if you have an attack? I’m thinking of a GPS like necklace that you can wear at all time, and at the push of a button can alert family or even emergency services that you are in need of medical attention.

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