When I was in high school, we did a 5-day hiking trip to Lapland. They say that once you visit the Finnish Lapland, it steals your heart. That’s what happened to me and for a very long time I wished I could go back there and hike for days on end.

I never went back, still haven’t. But I’m going this fall and we are going to hike for four days in the highlands of Finnish Lapland. Last time I went, I wasn’t diagnosed with type 1 diabetes yet. This time around I have my lifelong companion with me, but I come prepared!

A little over a year ago I took to hiking as a new hobby. My first hike was about 12 kilometres long and I had 18 kilograms of bottled water on my back. I just stacked weight to see if I could walk that long heavily encumbered. Water was easy to dispose of if the journey would have worn me out. The first hike went well enough and I got a good feeling of how to hike with my diabetes. Six weeks later, me and my diabetic friends took on a 5-day hike, the Karhunkierros.

Our hiking route was 72 kilometres long and in the beginning I had about 23 kg worth of equipment and food with me. I had a good backpack so the weight itself didn’t wear me down. The longest daily hike was about 20 kilometres and needless to say, I had to plan ahead how to get by without hypoglycaemia. The first 12 km trial hike taught me that I really need to tone down my basal amounts. With constant exercise, I set my base basal amount to about 30% of normal. My BG still has a steady downward trend. So I need to eat often enough and keep spare energy gels with me.

When we stop to eat during hikes, I don’t inject any bolus insulin if we are continuing our hike after the meal. At supper I take bolus. Immediately after stopping for a break or meal, I change my basal amount to normal and when we start walking again, I change it back to 30% again. After the meals, my BG levels skyrocket but constant hiking brings them down pretty fast. I’m happy if my BG is at 15 when we start walking. If I measure below 10 during walk, I take an energy gel. These are things that have worked for me, you need to find out the proper “settings” that work for you.

My rules of thumb for hiking with T1D

Hiking with diabetes is not impossible or even hard, if you prepare well! Here is my recommended recipe for diabetics considering on embarking on a long hike:

  • Do a day-long test hike where you can find out how your body reacts to constant movement under heavy load. Set your basal amounts accordingly. Also observe how meals affect your BG levels and whether you need to set a meal bolus or not.
  • Carry lots of carbohydrates with you. I stock maybe 3-5 energy gels for each day. Your need may be different.
  • Regular exercise is important so your body is used to it when embarking on a longer journey.
  • If possible, use Continuous Glucose Monitoring. I know CGM is expensive, but it makes the journey a lot easier when you see your BG levels constantly. Just be careful not to place the sensor in a place where your backpack might touch it. Constant chafing on your sensor and sweating equals irritated skin and detached sensor. I even lost my sensor transmitter on our last longer trip.

If you have weakened feeling in your feet, I would not necessarily take up hiking as a hobby. Even a single grain of sand you don’t feel in your boot can do a lot of harm! Otherwise hiking is a great hobby and if you have companions who know diabetes, it’s even better and safer! I recommend asking your Facebook or local diabetes community for hiking buddies!

As for that Karhunkierros hiking trip last summer, I managed to hike about 50 kilometres after my knee got so sore I couldn’t continue anymore. I’ll be investing in better shoes this summer, I walked with barefoot shoes and all the tree roots zigzagging in the pathways eventually made my knee take some damage. In September, me and my diabetic friends are heading towards Hetta-Pallas -hiking trail (55 km) and it will be my long awaited return to Lapland. Can’t wait to get back on the trail!