Category Archives: Camping and Allergies

(Backcountry) Camping with Allergies

Route planning

I recently returned from a ten-day, 85-km hiking and backcountry camping trip in the Canadian Rockies, about 90 minutes southwest of Calgary. It was so enjoyable and the views were so magnificent! I went with three friends, one of which like myself, has life-threatening food allergies. We camped in the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, about 30 minutes from any cell phone service so needless to say, the trip took a lot of preparation. We had to select our routes, campsites, gear, and safe food. I found that meal planning was surprisingly the most time-consuming part of the trip, especially for an adult with allergies. I have life-threatening allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, and all raw fruits and vegetables, so here’s a glimpse into my camping preparations:

Exit strategy

I am a very pragmatic individual, and since I have food allergies, I planned for the worst-case scenario. If I had an allergic reaction in the wilderness, I need to know how far I was from the nearest ambulance and hospital. This was important for our trip because we were so secluded, but I think it’s an important part of weekend camping as well. With appropriate meal planning and proper meal preparation hygiene, it is unlikely that an adult with an allergy will experience a reaction while camping, but knowing the closest healthcare facility is important because it can put one’s mind at ease. Before leaving on the trip we found that our furthest point from the trail head was 21-km and from the trail head we were 95-km from the Canmore General Hospital. We were also able to determine how many epinephrine auto-injectors to bring. Since we were quite far from healthcare services, we chose to bring a satellite phone as well, which gave us the flexibility to call for emergency services if the worst-case scenario occurred.

Overcoming previous fears

Mental preparation for this camping trip was especially difficult for myself because of a previous camping experience. In the summer of 2016, I was camping with two friends in Northern Ontario when we encountered a very large black bear. It was moving away from us into the woods, but was directly between us and the trail head. Minutes later I realized that I was having an allergic reaction. We had to get to the trail head to get to the car, but there was a bear in between us and our goal. I administered my auto-injector and we proceeded with caution towards the car, making as much noise as we possibly could to deter the bear. We made it to the car and arrived at the hospital nearly 45 minutes after my initial reaction, but not without tremendous anxiety. So the thoughts going through my head leading up to this big trip was…what if something like this happened in the Rockies?

New food exploration

I discovered my allergies in my early 20’s. I have a severe form of what’s called Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS) and with this type of allergy, skin testing is not effective at elucidating allergens. I kept having allergic reactions to food I previously ate without concern. This method of uncovering allergens can be stressful because I felt that nothing was safe. Since discovering my allergies, exploring new foods has always been difficult. I used to avoid new foods altogether, but honestly that’s quite a boring way to live. So, I began incorporating new foods into my diet, trying them in safe places (in a doctor’s office, or at a hospital, or if you have easy access, at the allergist’s office), and now I try them at home with my epinephrine auto-injector in-hand. I felt that in the wilderness camping, I would be alright with my prepared food as long as I had my emergency plans in place (auto injector, satellite phone, and an escape route) since I only brought food that I was comfortable eating and 100% sure about.

Medication preparation

So, now that I had my escape route planned and the information about the closest healthcare facilities noted, I knew that the furthest I would be away from medical services at minimum was 12 hours hiking and 90 minutes driving. To be safe, I doubled this estimate, and I brought enough allergy medication for just over 24 hours. As well, we made sure that not only was each member of the group aware of my allergies, but each member knew what to do in case of an emergency.

Having fun

Once all the preparation had been complete, it was time to explore the Canadian Rockies. This trip was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life! I swam in glacier waters, I saw many different kinds of wildlife including a grizzly bear and a large buck, I experienced some of the most glorious views from mountain tops, and really learned what it takes to hike and camp in the mountains. I spent 10 days with my closest friends, experienced highs and lows (literally and figuratively), and learned to work together. With the right preparation, weekend camping and backcountry camping can be very, very enjoyable experiences, even as an adult with allergies.

– Fraser K.

Advertisements

Backyard Camping for Canada’s 150

In honour of Canada’s 150-year birthday, I’ve decided to try and see more of what this beautiful country has to offer. Now, this doesn’t just mean the art installations and pop up restaurants, it begrudgingly means the great outdoors; But for someone who has been watching Survivor for the past ten years, I definitely could not survive in the wild. Sleeping outside, putting up a tent, with no running water or A/C, plus a lack of Netflix, all of it sounds awful to me. Not to mention, pollen and wild flowers make me look like I’ve been crying for days. So all in all, I’d usually trade the great outdoors for a great book and a glass of wine. Although when summer comes around, we Canadians have the urge to stretch our legs and explore our own backyards after being cooped up for so many winter months. I’ve noticed a lot of people doing exactly that this year during our country’s big birthday. For me, when the mood strikes and I feel like rekindling some of my youth or exploring, I choose the simple method and camp in my backyard, a friend’s, or a cottage’s backyard. It’s no easy feat, considering the multiple food and seasonal allergies I have. But, like most things in life you prepare for the worst and hope for the best, and by doing so your backyard camping adventure is sure to be a hit.

So, you’ve decided to sleep outside, enjoying all that the outdoors has to offer with a house in clear view (just in case). It’s time to get some supplies ready to enjoy the stars and your beautiful Canadian backyard.

My first course of action is usually to get an antihistamine (Benadryl or Reaction) ready. Both play a big role in helping to keep my seasonal allergies like Pollen at bay. Try to check a weather app for pollen levels before heading outside. Avoiding itchy eyes and a runny nose is important since there isn’t usually a ready supply of tissues in your wild backyard.  A necessary tool for any camping excursion is bug spray regardless of allergies, it can help prevent bites and nasty hives/welts. If one does it make it through your shields and bites you, If you do have an insect allergy make sure the people around you are aware of what bugs can cause you to react so you can all keep a look out.

Good safe food and snacks are a must on any camping adventure, or any adventure for that matter. Whether you’re up in a mountain or in the back yard, campfire snacks and foods are key to a great time. I’m never shy about telling people about my food allergies, so when we plan a menu I ensure that all the food is safe, and prepped in an area that I trust to avoid cross contamination. Even though you’re in your backyard, you may be away from a phone, so make sure your auto-injector is near you at all times. Before you hike out to the yard, and you dive into those snacks, make sure you read the ingredients of everything you might eat twice. Ensure you trust the brands and never leave anything to chance. A good tip is to also teach those around you how to identify a reaction and how to react in case of an emergency. Teach them beforehand how to use your auto-injector and what to do in an emergency.

The last puzzle piece of a backyard camping adventure for most adults is some good beers, nice wine, or great spirits. If you’re of age and comfortable, a nice beer around a campfire can be a unique Canadian experience. To ensure a safe drink and cheers to Canada, make sure you know what you’re drinking. If you’re perusing the local craft beer section, make sure you know the ingredients (If you’re unsure you can always contact the brewery), always go with a brand you trust and when in doubt, do some research. The same rules apply for a nice glass of wine. If you enjoy a cocktail more, make sure you know what brand/type of liquor is in the drink, as well as the juices/mix. Many cocktails can have some of the top allergens in Canada as ingredients, so being prepared and knowing what you can have is important before you’re out in the backyard with only the campfire light.  Being responsible when drinking doesn’t just mean knowing your limit, it means knowing what’s safe, asking the right questions and being prepared if you have an allergy.

There is something thrilling about staring up at the night sky. The ability it has to make us feel so small in the grand scheme of things while fueling us with curiosity. Canada has some of the most beautiful landscape in the world, so what better way to start enjoying all this country has to offer then in our own backyards. Camping helps us reconnect to the wild, but for those of us who enjoy the comforts of a nice couch and a good Netflix binge, backyard camping is a way to experience the outdoors with the comforts of the home near at hand. Having food or seasonal allergies should never be a deterrent from enjoying good food, great friends, and summer experiences. Our allergies can’t hold us back if we don’t let them; Being prepared with safe foods, ingredients, and drinks you’re comfortable with, alongside the proper medication and preparation is the smart way to start off any backyard camping adventure. Throw in a bonfire and a heartfelt and rousing rendition of O’Canada and you’re well on your way to celebrating the great white north’s 150th birthday in style.

-Arianne K.

Backcountry Camping: Food Ideas

Camping has always been an important part of my life. With my new food allergies, however, I thought that part of my life was over. It took a year for me to figure out simple sandwiches… but I started researching my own shelf-stable food, and it led me back to camping! I’ve been most inspired by reading books from my library like Cooking the One-Burner Way by Buck Tilton, and running across websites like www.wellpreserved.ca and https://www.thesodacanstove.com/alcohol-stove/how-to-build.html.

Cooking Options:

– Stoves: If you want to save money and weight, you might look at making a simple pop can alcohol stove. I am a huge fan of my Coleman emergency stove, as it uses a solid fuel, and is thus much safer to store it long-term in my car (where my emergency supplies live unless I’m camping!).

– Buddy Burner: We used to use these all the time in Guides! http://blog.utahscouts.org/camping/buddy-burner-scouts-first-stove

– Milk Carton Stove: These are basically mini portable barbeques. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tlkv6n7x47s

– Baking while camping is possible, either within the coals of your campfire, in a dutch oven (if you want to carry it…), or bringing a solar oven with you.

Breakfast:

– Pancakes and Crepes: Have you found a basic pancake recipe you can use with your allergies? If not, try the crepes at the bottom of this post- http://foodallergycanada.ca/2016/12/holiday-guide-tips-resources/ Pancakes while camping are a lot of fun. PRO TIP: To prevent sticking, be sure to grease your pan well (butter/marg/oil/whatever!), and wait until your pan is up to temperature before you start cooking. Never, ever, use old non-stick pans over a fire… Teflon pancakes are gross. Don’t ask me how I know that.

– Overnight Oatmeal: If you have a thermos, put oatmeal, hot water, and any number of toppings into it the night before. Seal the thermos very well before putting it into your sleeping bag. Breakfast in bed! Or… if you’re concerned about wildlife joining in your breakfast, you can just stash the thermos inside your bear-proofed pack. Warm breakfast without needing to make a fire in the AM for the win!

– Granola: Making your own granola in the oven ahead of time is actually pretty straightforward, and then you can bring powdered milk. PRO TIP: If you’re used to 2%, don’t expect to like instant skim powdered milk. Go for whole milk instead. You can get whole powdered milk from Bulk Barn (but remember to watch out for cross-contamination and ask a manager if you can have some non-opened product from the supply shelf), or from Medallion Milk, and should rehydrate it the night before if possible for the most normal consistency.

– Fried Granola: Over a stove/fire, carefully fry some butter & brown sugar. Then add your oatmeal, and whatever toppings you like. You could try coconut, dried fruit, candied fruit, seeds… the options are limited only by your allergies and your imagination.

– French Bread: If you can have eggs, you can apparently dehydrate your own to make powdered eggs… If, like me, you can’t… use fruit instead! I haven’t tried it yet with rehydrated fruit, but so far both banana and kiwi have worked fabulously to make something very close to French bread. And because they’re not perishable, the only advantage to powdering them would be the reduction in weight.

Lunches:

– Sandwiches! If you can have seeds, beans, or nuts, each can be blended in order to make a great sandwich filling. You can also use meat jerky, or bring some waxed cheese. You could even grill them! I’ve been known to add sprouts to my sandwiches, and since you can eat sprout seeds while you’re on the move, they might be a great way to bring greens into the backcountry. Check out www.sprouting.com for some ideas.

– Pemmican: One of the oldest camping foods in existence, pemmican might take some extra thought and effort to make, but it’s worthwhile. JAS Townsend & Sons has a recipe, and since most 18th century cooking is done over a fire, it’s a useful channel in general for camping recipe ideas. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCxr2d4As312LulcajAkKJYw

– Hard Tack: This is what sailors used to make and bring on long journeys. It’s essentially a hard biscuit or cracker made from flour, water, and salt.

Suppers:

– Tin foil packets- These are best on the first day if they involve meat, but cooking inside a tin foil packet over hot coals is pretty amazing.

– Freeze Dried: Freeze dried meals are pretty awesome if you can find some pre-made without your allergens, but they aren’t cheap! There are some DIY methods out there, but I haven’t been brave enough to try them yet.

– Dehydrated Meals: There are a lot of resources out there about drying food and making dehydrated meals. PRO TIPS: Measure your food before you dehydrate, as the difference is how much water you’ll need to re-hydrate it. Use an insulated bag while rehydrating, when in doubt add extra water, and start rehydrating your meal long before you’re ready to eat.

– Canned Foods: Whether you buy canned food, can your own, or get mylar bags for a lighter option, there are tons of options for being able to use canned food when refrigeration isn’t possible. The National Centre for Home Food Preservation is a great American resource for how to do this safely: http://nchfp.uga.edu/

Dessert:

– You already know how to make a s’more… but have you tried roasted fruit? Golden kiwi is my personal favourite. Keep the skin on, and roast like you would a marshmallow. It’s a cool experience, as the juices in the kiwi start to boil, making the roasting stick vibrate! Eat carefully. Or you can try it as a banana boat- cut a lengthwise slit in an unpeeled banana, fill with marshmallows and chocolate, then wrap it all in tin foil.

– Citrus Muffins: If you eat out the inside of a citrus fruit, leaving only the hollowed out peel (with a lid), you can fill it with your pancake batter and bake it! Keep in mind you’ll need much less liquid for a muffin than you would a pancake.

– Pie Filling Surprise: My Girl Guide unit loved making these when I was a kid. Take two oatmeal cookies, put pie filling or jam between, wrap in tin foil, and throw into the coals for 10~15 mins. They’re pretty epic, and you can really use any cookies or jams.

Snacks:

– Cookies, Crackers- If you vacuum seal these into smaller packets they’ll last longer.

– Popcorn: Check out http://thecookful.com/campfire-cooking-pop-corn-open-fire/ for some ideas.

– Make your own trail mix! Enjoy life has some pre-made with dried fruit and seeds, but I prefer to make my own with cereal, seeds, dried fruit, candied fruit, and occasionally chocolate chips (though that can get messy!)

Happy Camping!

-Janice

 

The Dangers of Complacency with a Food Allergy: The Black Bear Tale

This past spring, two friends and I went interior camping near Gravenhurst. We found a really cool map online of an unmaintained provincial park that is essentially a big playground waiting to be explored by camping geeks like us. We prepared for weeks, slowly purchasing new gear, mapping out potential routes, acquiring additional auto-injectors, and discussing all the great trails waiting for us. As the big day grew closer, we began planning out our menu. This is where things can get tricky. I am at-risk for anaphylaxis for peanuts and tree nuts and my other friend, let’s call him Ted, is at-risk for anaphylaxis for peanuts, tree nuts, raw fruits and vegetables, and salmon. Luckily some of our allergens cross-over so we went with some of our staple foods that were easy to carry: Noodles, rice, oatmeal, chips, etc. Before long, we had our menu completed, our food purchased, and our bags packed. We didn’t think twice about the food since we ate them all the time and felt confident that what we had was safe to eat.

Entering the park was quite the experience. The road in starts as pavement, then turns to gravel, then abruptly turns into pot-holed, uneven dirt for several kilometers. Once we parked our car and took off down a trail, we soon realized we had missed the trail we wanted and had to double back. Whenever we stopped moving, the black fly army would swarm us and leave itchy reminders that this was their land. Clearly, we were off to a great start… The actual trail we wanted started as hardly more than a half foot of compact grass but regardless, we were finally on the trail and making up ground.

DSCN1407The scenery was beautiful! The trails meandered up and down, left and right, and popped us out on some really nice ridges overlooking forest and marsh below. This park was like a dream come true for us! We couldn’t believe we hadn’t discovered it earlier.

Anyway, that night we found a great little campsite beside a lake and stayed there for the night. The next day, we made some oatmeal and Ted had a packet of noodles and off we went down the trail to continue our exploration.

DSCN1410Flash forward about an hour later. We had been hiking through a dense forest that took us over a little stream and up a steep ridge. At the top of this ridge, we took a break to take in the incredible view of a marsh below and drink some water. Andy, the second friend, points down to the marsh and says, “Whoa! Look! A bear!” Lo and behold, there was a massive black bear trudging along the marsh in a line away from us where we had been hiking not even twenty minutes prior! We marvelled at catching this sight and probably got a little too loud because the bear turned and looked up the ridge towards us.

Bear in the morning on the loop in Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee.

We all paused, not knowing what to do next.

The bear seemed uninterested in climbing the steep ridge and continued to the other side of the marsh while we picked up our bags and continued to hike the ridge, still excited that we saw a bear!

About ten minutes later, Ted started to breathe heavily. He took out his puffer and took a couple puffs thinking it was just his asthma that sometimes flares up.

We continued our hike.

A few minutes later, Ted took a few more puffs which raised a few red flags in my head. We took another break near a split in the trail and he told us that his chest felt very heavy and his breathing felt oddly similar to one of his past anaphylactic reactions. Now all red flags were up!

We quickly looked at the map. Luckily there was a fork in the trail right beside us that led a kilometer straight back to our car. There was a river to the left and the marsh to the right. There was only one way to go.

Oh, I forgot to mention…the bear was last seen at the end of that trail. So now we had quite the scenario. Ted needed to get to the hospital and the only way to get there was down a trail blocked by a bear! …Are you kidding me?!

There was really no choice. We took out some pots, I had my hatchet, and we made as much noise as possible while we walked down the trail. The bush was so thick that we had no idea where the bear might be hiding so we kept our eyes peeled and kept moving.

No sign of the bear.

The car was now in sight and Ted’s breathing had gotten worse, so he took his auto-injector.

We loaded the car as fast as we could and I sped down the pot-hole road. I had only one thing on my mind: Drive Fast! The hospital was 45 minutes away and I wasn’t going to be the reason Ted didn’t make it there.

After he took the auto-injector, Ted’s symptoms didn’t get better but they weren’t worse either which was a good sign. After 35 minutes of winding roads, we made it to the hospital and everything turned out great. Ted was fine and we ended up going to a friend’s cottage nearby instead of braving the trails again.

We looked back at our food and meticulously read every ingredient twice. It turns out that the noodles that Ted insisted he ate daily may contain peanuts, tree nuts, AND fish. A triple threat for Ted!

The moral of the story is that it is easy to become complacent with food allergies. Reading the label can become so routine that we just trust that the ingredients of our favourite brands won’t change. Ted and I learned a very scary lesson that food ingredients should always be read multiple times no matter how often you buy a certain brand. Companies can change ingredients at any time. All it takes is you eating one package of “may contain” out of a thousand other times to trigger an anaphylactic reaction. It is never worth the risk. Do yourself a favour and always stay sharp with your food allergy. Be alert and stay safe.

– Dylan B.