Ambling with diabetes

TOH is a type 1 diabetic, otherwise known as an insulin-dependent diabetic. His pancreas gave up the ghost when he was five, so a blood test kit and insulin have to do the job for him.

It also means that to all intents and purposes he can’t store energy. If I’m hungry my body will burn its long-term stores, and eventually start working through fat and muscle. Once he has used whatever sugar is currently floating around in his system his blood sugars drop, and they aren’t going up again without him putting more sugar in.

TOH can tell you about life in his boots some day, but as this blog is partly a record of novice hikers getting started on going hiking, I thought I’d blog about the practical implications for him and thus us as applied to ambling.

Inescapable reality

TOH and I have to carry enough carbohydrate, suitably balanced between long-term and short-term to keep him going for the whole walk, plus enough for in case we get stranded, plus enough for in case his blood sugars aren’t behaving and he uses more carbohydrate than he would normally expect.

Ok, I admit it: he’s stronger than me so he carries most of it.

Things that increase his carbohydrate consumption

  • Exercise  – so distance, amount of ascent/descent, weight carried
  • Low temperatures – got to keep warm
  • High temperatures – got to cool down
  • Adrenaline – particularly triggered by injury, but also by e.g. a near miss with a slip or running from a bull

This bit isn’t any different to anybody else, but because he has no access to stored energy, the maths works out differently for him compared to me.

Core difference

Whereas running out of carbohydrate makes me grumpy, getting seriously wrong could mean him passing out, and passing out in the great outdoors is NOT on either of our to do lists. Once things go wrong, problems multiply and we don’t like problems.


This one is an ongoing learning experience. We have to carry carbohydrate, but increasing the weight increases the amount of carbohydrate used and thus the amount needed…

At the moment he is carrying:

  • Jelly babies and midget gems – a couple of packs for short-term.
  • 6 cartons of high sugar fruit juice for short-term.
  • Kendal mint cake is the best glucose/weight trade-off TOH has found. You can buy it in bulk. However you can get bored of it, so he’s not taking much of this at the moment.
  • No malt-loaf because he’s allergic to milk, even though the weight/carbohydrate ratio is great. 😦
  • Some medium-term carbohydrate like crisps.
  • Some form of long-term carbohydrate (sandwiches, pies, sausage rolls etc). The key is to take at least one more meal’s worth than we are planning to need, bearing in mind that we often leave at 7am and get home at gone 7pm. Depending on where we are going we may not have the opportunity to buy more between those times.

Certainly through winter we’ve found it helpful to take long-term carbohydrate he can eat on the move. Carb-ing up doesn’t help if he gets cold by stopping for too long. Plus when it’s cold he’s burning more so he needs topping up more often anyway.

In the name of managing carbohydrate intake we are also sometimes  forced to stop for a bacon butty before we start, or for a Black Sheep beside a roaring fire in the evening.


We usually carry gear for a walk a “grade” more serious than the walk we are doing would merit for your average walker.

  • TOH obviously sorts his meds out, but we  also always have a suitably equipped first aid kit including antiseptic wipes. If nothing else it’s important to be able to wipe sheep poo off the finger you need to do a blood test on.
  • We didn’t have them for our very first walks but now that we do, emergency blankets always go out with us. Autumn through spring I have carried a storm shelter. In winter I carried a bivvy bag that would fit both of us as well. If TOH gets cold he will start burning through carbohydrate, so in the event that we get lost or injured, being able to keep him warm is the first step towards avoiding emergency.
  • We heed the advice about taking spare layers in case the temperature drops suddenly or we get stranded.
  • Through winter we’ve taken a thermos with a hot drink and hand warmers so we can heat ourselves up a bit as well.
  • Torches, whistles, spare maps, etc are a given.
  • To carry all this plus the food, TOH takes a Talon 33 and I take a Tempest 30, even in summer (also I’m not made of money, so I haven’t bought smaller ones just for summer). In winter that leaves us kitted out about the same way as everyone else we see. In summer we look like we’re trying too hard, but I would rather live with that.

A knock-on consequence is that I’ve invested more money in our gear than I would otherwise have done for a fairly new hobby. If paying a bit more means less weight and if I can afford to pay that bit more, than I usually will, as we’re carrying a lot already.


I read all of the blogs and I want to go all the places and see all the things, but if we’re not both having fun there’s no point. A medical emergency is also most definitely NOT the point.

We take things slowly and are probably more cautious than we might otherwise be. We would both rather have fantastic memories of not particularly ambitious walks than need medical evacuation through taking unnecessary chances.

Our walks are currently all within easy reach of civilisation, and our early walks were very well frequented with other people.

We have been building up distances fairly slowly, so we aren’t caught short by how much we need to carry or how temperature/altitude impacts him.

In winter we mostly stayed below the snow-line and just figured out what we needed to take to be safe and comfortable in lower temperatures.

Above all, we’ve been figuring out what we both enjoy and what we agree makes a really great day out. It’s this which is the story of this blog, not TOH’s diabetes.


Most of all: I plan.

I read the weather forecast and I pack accordingly.

I time-plot routes so I can be sure we will make it back to the train in time and we don’t get stranded. I allocate lots of time for blood tests and stopping to eat. This works out well for me anyway because I am a bottomless pit who likes to take a lot of photographs. I try to read the map properly so that my time-plotting is accurate.

The funny thing is – none of this is rocket science. It’s all exactly the same stuff that all those articles on “what to take” or “how to enjoy the hills safely” suggest. The only difference is that his margin for error is lower.

The future

I suspect it won’t happen until 2018, but my next ambition is to wild-camp. I want to get away from people and watch the sun-rise out on the fells. TOH doesn’t want to watch sun-rise on the fells but he does want to get away from people so if we wild-camp, he can sleep through sunrise and I can get up and watch it.

Stay tuned for how we get on with this!



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