4 Things to Consider When Camping with Diabetes

Up until last weekend, the closest I’d ever come to going on a camping trip was that time I “camped out” in my parents’ backyard when I was 5 or 6 years old. (And that barely counts because I only stayed outside long enough to roast marshmallows before I decided I hated the idea of sleeping in a tent and ran back inside, leaving my dad and my brother to fend for themselves in our suburban wilderness).

Fast-forward 22 years later to when a real camping opportunity presented itself to me: I decided I should give it a real try and guess what? I had a great time!

But also guess what? Beyond thinking about how I might keep my insulin cool, I put very little thought into my diabetes before going on this camping trip. There was no logic behind this decision other than I decided to just wing it; after all, I’d only be gone for 2 nights.

I recently got a crash course in camping with diabetes.

My lack of careful planning caused me to experience a crash course in camping with diabetes. Here’s what I learned (and wished I’d considered before I left for the trip):

  1. Keeping insulin cool isn’t as simple as tossing it into a cooler filled with ice packs. The one part of my trip I assumed I didn’t have to overthink turned out to be not so simple. I thought ice packs would do a good job of keeping my insulin at the right temperature. What I did not think about was all the other food (raw meat, veggies, etc.) that had to stay cool, too – which meant that the ice packs were pulling double duty and not staying as cold as I thought they would. This problem was easily solved with the addition of bagged ice to our cooler, but that, in turn, created a smaller issue by getting my insulin carton wet (meaning I had to throw the packaging away when we returned home). Not a big deal, but next time I’ll definitely bring an extra plastic bag or something else to help keep my insulin vial and its protective carton dry in addition to cool.
  2. Setting up a campsite lowers blood sugar just as quickly as any other type of exercise. When we arrived to our campsite, it was around dinnertime on Friday evening, which meant we only had about an hour and a half before the sun started setting – so it was important that we prioritize setting up our tent instead of eating food. Hauling all of our stuff from the car, moving things around, blowing up our air mattress, and other steps taken in order to set up a cozy campsite meant a lot of physical steps taken, which lowered my blood sugar pretty quickly. Fortunately, I had plenty of snacks on hand, which leads to my next point…
  3. Bringing tons of extra low snacks is a wise decision. I have my partner to thank for thinking to buy a package of gummies at the store (on top of s’more supplies and trail mix) that would help supplement the snacks that I’d already put in my backpack before we left for the trip. These gummies proved to be one of the best purchases of the weekend considering I had to eat three packs of them in the middle of the first night of our trip! It just goes to show that there’s no such thing as too many low blood sugar supplies.
  4. Pre-bolusing isn’t conducive to cooking over a campfire. I’ve gotten into the habit of pre-bolusing for my meals, which means that I take insulin somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes before I actually start eating. This was not something that would work out well when my meals were being cooked over a campfire because we had no clue when our food would be ready. Turns out, it takes a lot longer to cook a single burger over a fire than it does to cook a whole package of them on the grill! This wasn’t a huge deal – it really just meant that I experienced a couple more immediate blood sugar jumps than usual.

All in all, camping with diabetes turns out to be something that really doesn’t require that much extra prep or special considerations. While it undoubtedly would’ve made it easier to know these things beforehand, they’re also things that I only could’ve learned from going camping for real – not just out in the backyard.