Allergies and Hiking

Disclaimer: This post is NOT medical advice, it is what works for us as a family, using advice from our son’s pediatrician and allergists doctors. Please see a medical professional for help in deciding what is right for you.


When Alistaire, our now 3½ year old, was diagnosed with life threatening allergies just after he turned a year old, it was a huge game changer. This was him, in his second ER visit in a one month span, when we found out cashews were very, very bad for him (and this is him looking “great” about 30 minutes after an EpiPen was used!).

It was hard enough to hike with 3 children, but to face the fear of taking a baby out in the wilds with allergies? It became almost overwhelming. The summers of 2013 and 2014 were a wash for me. Yes, we hiked. But I didn’t go out alone with them. I never went far with them.

What changed it for me to finally breathe again, and feel confident was partially he got older. He could show me that he wasn’t OK. I got confident in his medications. His older brother Walker, who is 5 ½ now, is strong enough to run. But the other change was my oldest is 17. If something did happen while hiking, I know he could take over for me, watch Walker, and give me time to run for the trailhead with the youngest. I still don’t hike in far without the oldest, or Kirk along. Because that will come, but no, I am not confident enough yet. Busy, popular trails still have a purpose for me, unless I have another adult along.

And as well, I have learned a LOT in the past 2 years, about what triggers him, and how to react quickly. Flying with him was better than I had hoped, for example, back in May.

What works for us:

A detailed plan developed with our doctors. This involves a set of rules if he is exposed – on what to do, when to seek medical help, and so on.

Always having needed medications with you everywhere, at all times. You forget, you go back. Don’t ever justify it. One slip up could mean death. Harsh, cold, yes. But the absolute truth. In town, EMT’s carry Epinephrine. In the backcountry, it is just you and your med kit.

We carry in my backpack a twin set of EpiPens, single use bottles of Wal-Dryl® Diphenhydramine HCI, found at Walgreens (brand name equivalent would be Benadryl, but we like these single use bottles), and unscented baby wipes for cleaning skin. These medications stay in a cool area, and are not stored in a car for long periods of time. With the EpiPens, I tear off the prescription info off the cardboard box, and tuck it in with them. If you register your devices online, they often will send you a free carry case (I use ours for my purse set). Never assume others know the ‘how-to’. Discuss it every time.

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Letting all hiking partners know where the medications are carried, and how to use them. Boring? Sure. But very, very important – especially if it is you with the allergies! Frankly, any medical issues should be open to hiking partners – no matter what. Nothing like getting a “surprise” 20 miles out!

Knowing what can trigger a person with nature. For example, Lupine, the flower, can be dangerous if you have peanut allergies. I have trained him to not touch them. In Europe, Lupine flour is all the rage in some gluten-free products I might add.


Safe food. Hard to hike on an empty stomach. Packing light takes a step back here. You need to carry what you will need. Like these tasty granola bars:


Always. Never introduce ANYTHING you haven’t had at home. I learned this the bad way while on a recent hike with the boys last month. Alistaire reacted badly to a new peanut butter/nut free substitute. We found out that he reacts to golden peas (and this means no to all products containing the new hip plant protein, pea isolate protein). Fortunately it was dealable with just Benadryl and he was OK. But I should have known better, and it was all my fault – and felt horrible for it. While commercially safe foods do exist (and are getting more every year), if you know what is “safe” enough at home, you can also have other foods.

We carry a cooler on road trips with food for him, but my sad joke is….Oreo’s are a “safe” food. Pure junk food. But if there is nothing else, I know he can eat them safely.

Unscented baby wipes are the 11th essential. We carry small packs in the van, the truck, my purse, backpack, everywhere. Wipe everything down that is a durable surface. It will remove most allergens – especially important if you are eating on a communal table while traveling.

Always ask questions, and if you get the feeling you are being lied to, WALK AWAY! I cannot say this enough. On road trips, sometimes you have to stop for a bite or bathroom break. Know your choices. A good example is I almost never eat at McDonald’s but traveling? I know he can eat there because every food item’s ingredient list is online.

How do you tell an allergy mom? Sit down at a restaurant and the first thing out is “what oil do you fry in?” In May, on a non-hiking trip to Disney World, where food allergies are in theory treated well, we found many issues with employees who didn’t speak good enough English to understand us, or worse, just plain didn’t care. Then there were mistakes where items labeled as safe contained nuts and eggs in a buffet setting (and this was for private parties). Oy. You can never let your guard down! Ironically…we found in room dining to be safe and well fed.

But it is also important to ask hiking partners to please not bring the major allergens along. It can be done politely, even with some gentle joking. But be firm. No one is going to die from a lack of one P&B sandwich in their lives. Where as an allergic person can from the exposure.

Hike safely, have fun road trips – just don’t forget the essentials – Meds, safe food, and an extra helping of the ability to deal with life.

2 thoughts on “Allergies and Hiking

  1. This is nice to know. While I have no food allergies that I am aware of, I am sensitive to certain foods and I can expect to have a miserable night if I eat something that I am sensitive to. Onions (other than sweet onions) and MSG are two things that do not agree with me. Packaged lunch meats don’t always sit well, perhaps due to preservatives. The concept of “safe” food is one that I am well aware of. If I am on the road, I tend to eat at chains that I perceive as safe. Fresh foods are almost always safe, so I can eat restaurant food, if it’s fresh. Prepackaged foods are not so safe and I suspect that a lot of chain restaurants use them. I became this way as an adult and had to adjust my eating habits accordingly. Anyway, I’m fortunate that it just causes distress and isn’t life threatening. On the advice of my allergist, I do carry Benadryl, but have found it and other antihistamines to be of limited use to me. Thanks for posting your situation, it may help some of us who haven’t had this experience to understand.

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