I am currently in sunny SoCal serving a 450 hour (~3 months) term with the American Conservation Experience (ACE)- an Americorps conservation corps program based out of Arizona with site locations in CA, AZ, and NC. My work consists of 4-11 day hitches in the field (typically camping) followed by 3-5 off days in a provided bunk style housing.
I just completed my first hitch- 8 days front country camping at a local campground with a crew of 6 members and 2 leaders. Although I am used to being the only diabetic in my camping group, there are some things I always have to keep in mind despite my comfort in the outdoors.
1. Inform your leader of your T1D
I know some people are not as open as I am with having diabetes, but it is so important to at least let your leader or mentor of the group camping know you are diabetic, where your glucagon is, where your medical supplies are kept, and signs of a low blood sugar/ how to correct for a low. My trip leaders this past hitch were so splendid and wanted to understand as best they could about my diabetes- the difference between bolus and basal, how to change an omnipod pump site and what to look for on my CGM receiver. This made me feel so much more comfortable knowing I was not alone despite dealing with something different.
2. Pack your own hypo snacks and bring extras!
Although all food is provided, no protein bar or dried fruit is going to work better than glucose tabs, juice or energy gel packs. I over pack hypo snacks so that I never have to worry about running low. 5 hypo snacks per day plus 2 extra days’ worth is my go-to regiment.
3. High protein meal at breakfast
High carb and high protein at breakfast allows my body to start the day off right- highly fueled and stable blood glucose levels. Protein tends to break down slowly, thus releasing active carbs into your body more slowly then many high carb foods like fruit do. Thus, protein can help maintain a steady blood sugar during heavy activity. Every morning, I like to eat a decent sized bowl of oatmeal with 2-3 tbsp of peanut butter, protein powder, dried berries and cinnamon. This also keeps my stomach happy and full during a hard morning’s work.
4. Adjust your basal ratios (or long term insulin amount)
I have a pre-programmed basal rate system on my PDM (personal diabetic manager) that my doctor and I came up with specifically for high activity days- or hiking and backpacking days. Basically my hiking basal rates are 20% lower during the day time hours relative to my normal basal rates; and 20% higher starting late evening and through breakfast. Because I am not delivering full amounts of insulin for the carbs I am eating during the day due to the high activity I am doing, my BG’s tend to rise into the 300s at night when all of the carbs and lack of insulin are finally kicking in.
5. Hygiene in the backcountry
Some of you may have seen this point on my Backpacking Solo with T1D series on instagram, but I will reinforce it’s importance again here. Depending on where you camp, you may not have any access to a sink with soap, thus bringing enough alcohol swabs to calibrate your CGM as well as backups (preparing for the worst- your CGM breaking) is key. Also, the healthier every other aspect of your body is, the more control you will have over blood sugars because you are dealing with fewer variables.
6. Choosing a pump location
I currently use the omnipod, tubeless pump. When backpacking, I adjust the site placement of my pump based on where my backpack will be resting. Sites I avoid: lower back where my pack rests and lower abdomen where my pack strap wraps around. Sites I love: arm sites (just be careful when swinging that big pack on to not rip it off- I’ve never had this happen although it is so possible) and upper abdomen. I personally always have pump failures on my thighs and hips and legs, so I avoid those locations always, but if those sites don’t have failures like mine do, those are also great locations.
7. Self- love = Self- empowerment
Don’t view yourself as “the only diabetic out here.” You are not alone, everyone has their own personal reasons for needing breaks during the day or for feeling slow and sluggish. Allow yourself to feel and don’t become numb to the toil diabetes can create.
You are a freaking diabadass for getting out there and hiking and camping and living it and doing it. Remind yourself that when you have a less than delightful BG reading. Even if you weren’t camping, you will have those off moments. So why not experience them in nature where you have the beautiful outdoors to take your mind off of your “disability”?!