College | Daily Life | IBD
There is something incredible about spending time outdoors, away from the stressors of daily life. However, for those with IBD and/or ostomy, the physical nature of camping, hiking, or backpacking combined with the needs of our bodies can create added challenges that may lead one to believe that these activities are not for them. Even though I carefully plan my outdoor activities, I enjoy many hikes and overnight camping trips. Read on to learn how I have managed IBD and ostomy while adventuring in the woods.
The people I hike and camp with are critical to many of the trips I have taken. I have been fortunate to have had a hiking partner (Ryan) who intimately understood my limitations. As a result, I could take trips that in my past I would not have due to the status of my Crohn’s. Even though I recently lost this hiking partner, I know now the key to my enjoyment outdoors is being entirely open with those I am going with about my body and any adaptations I may need. For example, Ryan carried extra water to help with my hydration needs without increasing the weight of my pack. That water helped ensure I could maintain hydration without taxing me with extra weight. In other instances, when my body needed to stop before the planned end of the trip, Ryan’s compassion and support helped me turn what felt like defeats into celebrations of my body’s capabilities.
One of the biggest challenges I have encountered in my ability to hike and camp with IBD and an ileostomy is managing my hydration needs while not having access to running water.
To maintain hydration, I do several key things:
I make sure I am fully hydrated by consuming DripDrop or other ORS before hiking.
Many people with IBD require medications to help manage the disease. When outdoor adventuring, I always make sure my medicine is in waterproof containers, that I have enough medication (plus a little more than I think I will need), and that I am keeping it at its recommended temperatures. The way I plan my medication depends on the type of outdoor trip. For example, car camping (driving my car to my site and camping within close distance of my car) is easier than backpacking. When I am car camping, it is fairly easy to bring a cooler with ice—not so much when you have to carry it in. While marketed for insulin, the Frio Insulin Cooling Case has kept my medicine at safe temperatures overnight in an exterior pocket in my pack.
Managing my ostomy while hiking or camping is fairly simple. Like everyone else pooping in the woods, I dig a hole and empty my bag into it, and cover it up. For bag changes, I use wipes, and it is the same process as when I am home– I just don’t have running water, so I use wipes or a wet cloth instead. The important part of bag changes while camping is that I need to carry my used supplies out of the woods. For that, I use a small plastic bag and keep it with my other trail trash. While managing the ostomy while hiking or camping is fairly straightforward, preparing to hike or camp with an ostomy requires me to make some modifications.
I have found that hip belts on some packs are uncomfortable as they go across my stoma and rub weird. To that end, for me, finding and using a women’s backpack has been helpful as they are designed with female bodies with hips in mind, and the hip belt rests a bit differently than gender-neutral or male packs. It is also incredibly helpful for all people and especially ostomates, to try on packs at the store with weight in them. Trying on the backpack with weight allows you to see how they fit and how they feel in a way that is not possible with online shopping.
Additionally, if you are considering backpacking, it is critical to prevent hernias, which ostomates are at risk for. Hernia belts are used for hernia prevention and give my ostomy a bit of added support. In addition, I also make sure my bag is not rubbing against my skin while hiking as it can irritate with the sweat of exertion. I used boy short underwear or boxer briefs up to my stoma and let the bag hanging over those with my pants over the bag. I am supported and don’t get any ostomy bag chafing when my bag is cushioned between the layers and a hernia belt.
Listening to my body has been key to preventing emergencies or having medical complications while hiking or camping. Sometimes the planned summit is halfway up a mountain because that day, my body said, “no.” I balance pushing myself with knowing when I have had enough. I also know I must obtain enough energy and health to get myself out if I need to– a mile in is equal to a mile out. So, I don’t wait to stop and turn around or make camp when I am in crisis or utterly exhausted. I do it when I have reached a half-full tank. I talk with my medical team and obtain their thumbs up before doing anything overly taxing.
While her blog has not been active since 2017, Heidi Skiba’s website and blog “Ostomy Outdoors” provide a wealth of information. Her blog, “Heavy Backpacks and Hernia Belts,” chronicles a “16-day, 90-mile-long backpack in the Wind River Range of Wyoming in August.” In the blog, readers learn so much from her accounts and descriptions of hernia belts, her appliance changes, and preventing chafing with a hernia belt and ostomy. Read more here: https://ostomyoutdoors.com/category/hiking-and-backpacking/
Charlotte, of Backcountry ostomy, is an occupational therapist, Crohn’s patient, and has continued to enjoy climbing, hiking, backpacking, skiing, and all outdoor adventures. Her blog is an excellent resource with product reviews, trip recaps, and so much great information. Check her blog out here: https://backcountryostomy.com/blog/