Hiking Camping with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
Irritable Bowel Syndrome. It’s not a fun topic to talk about, but it’s even less fun when your IBS gets in the way of doing the hiking and camping that you love to do.
I’ve dealt with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) off and on for years. And I – would love to be one of those people who says, “IBS has never slowed me down!” But let’s be honest – of course it’s slowed me down. IBS has meant cancelled plans, ditched hikes, and disappointment over the years.
But I’ve also learned many ways to help keep my IBS from ruining my outdoor time. Here are my best tips for dealing with IBS while camping and hiking.
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Plan Your Food Carefully
If you have IBS, good chances are you are familiar with the Low-FODMAP diet. I won’t pretend that I stick to it perfectly, but it has helped me get a better sense of my trigger foods. Everyone has different foods that they have to avoid, and for me there are several high-FODMAP foods I actually eat just fine.
But when you’re camping (and have limited bathroom access) it’s smart to play it safe. But that doesn’t mean forgoing your favorite camping foods! Here is a list of some of the best low-fodmap camping foods.
Dandies Vegan Marshmallows – If you are looking for a fructose-free marshmallow, look no further! Dandies are amazing. They’re more substantial than regular marshmallows and toast up to a creme-bruleed perfection. IBS or not, I would choose these any day.
Hum Nutrition Core Strength – This isn’t the best tasting protein powder in the world, but it’s plenty filling and means I won’t be stressing over what I should eat for breakfast that won’t trigger my stomach. It’s low-FODMAP certified and really easy on the stomach. With a little bit of extra vanilla flavor, the taste is fine.
Udi’s Hot Dog Buns – If you’re gluten free, these buns are not only great for hot dogs, but I also found them much better than the regular gluten-free bread. The buns are better toasted, but still make great sandwiches.
Glutino Lemon Wafers – Camping means cookies for us, and I had packed these as my gluten-free treat. But I ended up having to share them with everyone because my gluten-eating family loved them.
Fody Granola Bars – if I want something to throw in my bag on a hike, or a late-night snack that won’t upset my tummy, I grab these. They taste delicious, and are still substantial.
Other low-FODMAP, camping and hiking friendly snack ideas include:
- Hard-boiled eggs
- String cheese
- Babybel cheese
- Baby carrots
- Rice crackers
- Potato chips
- Pumpkin seeds
Have a comfort care game plan
If your IBS catches you off-guard it’s good to have a backup plan. Think through what you need to be comfortable at home, and figure out how you can adapt that for the trail or the campsite.
Stock your first aid kid
Pack your first-aid kid with any supplements that you find helpful in the middle of an IBS flare, such as Metamucil, Immodium, or Tums. You may also want to bring baby wipes and extra toilet paper.
Bring along tummy-calming foods
Peppermint tea works wonders for me when my stomach is in distress. I’ll bring a thermos of it hiking pretty regularly (this one keeps it piping hot – use code “mtnmama” for 20% off too).
Ginger tea is also comforting. If you don’t want to carry a thermos full of tea on your hike, throw a few peppermints or ginger chews in your pack.
Keep amenities in mind when camping with IBS
Sure, sometimes all we dream about is being out in the woods with our family with no one else in sight. But for me, easy access to a bathroom is a necessity. When booking a campsite, make sure there are bathrooms if you feel more comfortable having one nearby. Check out the map to see how close you are to it – you might not want to be right next door, but if it’s across the campground that can be a problem.
If you are out hiking, it can often be hard to find out if there is a bathroom at the trailhead or not. Trails that leave from campgrounds are more likely to have bathrooms close by.
Bring a hot water bottle
I have a heating pad that I swear by when I’m at home, but when you don’t have electricity at your campsite, a heating pad doesn’t get the job done. Hot water bottles are great for camping because you can fill them with water heated up on your camp stove. Cuddling with a hot water bottle will not only keep your sleeping bag warm and toasty but help relieve any IBS stomach cramps.
Camping with IBS: Be Flexible
No matter how much care and consideration you take, IBS is an unpredictable problem. If a flare strikes, let yourself be disappointed but try not to get discouraged. Here’s some tips for camping and hiking while dealing with the unpredictability of IBS.
Avoid early mornings
I know, so many of those outdoorsy types love to “get an early start” and “hit the trail first thing in the morning.” But if you are dealing with IBS, an early-morning hike might just lead to disaster. Wait until your stomach has a chance to calm down before hitting the trail. And if you do head out early, wait until you get home to enjoy that cup of coffee.
Choose short hikes
If you are in the middle of an IBS flare, an 8-mile hike might be the last thing that you want to do. But getting some exercise (especially if you are dealing with constipation) can be so important to relieving IBS symptoms. Instead of cancelling plans altogether, consider getting out for a shorter, close to home hike.
I’ve found accessible trails and guided nature trails to be a great mix of high enjoyment and low demand. We love doing guided nature trails with kids because even if they don’t require much effort, the amount we learn makes our outdoor time feel worth it.
Relax by the water
One of our kids’ absolute favorite thing to do outdoors is just to find a river and hang out beside it for hours. No hiking, no effort – just enjoying being outside. As a bonus, when my stomach is acting up, it’s a fairly easy ask of me.
Many fishing access sites have bathrooms at them too, making them easy for everyone. Even if I’m not up for any sort of hike or activity, being outside is still good for my stress levels (which is ultimately better for my IBS too).
Just stay home
Granted, some days are just too hard to balance adventure and an upset stomach. Remember, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with staying home.
Sure, it is extra hard when you’re a parent and you have little ones who will be disappointed (and who will still need you while you’re trying to recover). But keep in mind, no flare lasts forever. And while you’re on the couch, be sure to check out some of our favorite books for outdoor families. Or light a fire in your backyard and enjoy the outdoors with all your IBS must-haves close by.
What are your best tips for dealing with IBS on the trail or at the campsite?
Hiking and Camping with Irritable Bowel Syndrome
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- Let’s talk about kids pooping on the trail
- How to help your kids poop outside
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