Hiking is a great exercise for people with epilepsy. It keeps you active, increases oxygen intake and gives you a change of scenery. If you don’t drive, walking and hiking can also be a great way of getting from A to B. National organisations such as the Ramblers Association have guidelines for hiking with epilepsy and there are plenty of organised groups you can join on hikes.
I have been on plenty of walks with my local Ramblers group, the Manchester and District Walkers (MAD Walkers) and most of them last all day. The walks are led by guides, but everybody has got to prepare beforehand. Walking all day, it is important to have enough supplies, and to make sure I can carry them. A plastic bag or shoulder bag is no good – I take a comfortable backpack to carry the items I will need during the walk. Mine has lots of pockets to make it easier to get to the things I need.
So, what do I pack in my bag for a day hike?
Food and water
If I’m out for the whole day, we’ll usually be stopping off to rest our feet mid-way, so I need to bring a packed lunch. The amount of food I take depends on how difficult the challenge will be. The MAD Walkers description of the walk tells me how far we are going, how long the walk is and the ascent and descent. I can plan how hungry I will be.
I didn’t take enough food with me during my first walk. I had to follow the back of the line because I had no energy. Our team leader gave me this useful advice for future reference: food that does not have to be in a fridge is best, and if you can eat it whilst walking it helps keep you going. Taking sugar-filled foods like chocolate or flapjack for an energy boost isn’t a bad idea.
Just as important as food is liquid. And believe it or not, water is the best option! Avoid fizzy drinks or alcohol (which dehydrates the brain during the hangover period). Again, think about the difficulty of your challenge. How long is it going to take? Will it make you sweat? Water is heavy, but there’s no real reason not to take enough with you. This is especially important if you’ve got medication to take during the hike – no-one likes swallowing dry pills! You can carry your water in a hydration-bladder so that you do not need to stop to drink, but it is just as good to carry it in a bottle or two.
"Water is heavy, but there’s no real reason not to take enough with you... no-one likes swallowing dry pills"
Do I need hiking boots for day hikes?
If you want to do hiking get some walking boots. You might think trainers are more comfortable to begin with. But the truth is they don’t work for rural walking. Their soles are thin, they don’t support your ankles and they don’t have the right grip. Invest in a good pair of boots and they will keep you safe, and your feet dry. You should buy them a size bigger than you usually would and don’t be tempted to buy your boots online without trying them on. Hiking socks also work best with walking boots so you should pick some up.
What clothes should I wear for a day hike?
What I wear depends on the weather. Sometimes it’s incredibly cold and I need layers, and sometimes I wear a t-shirt and I sweat much more than I want to! I do live in the UK though, and it’s a place that’s known for its rain. When heading up hills or mountains, things get much more windy and cold too.
I’d say wear what keeps you most comfortable when you’re out and about. Check the weather where you are walking (not where you are) but remember the weather can change, particularly in hills and mountains. Wearing shorts and a t-shirt isn’t a bad idea when it’s a warm day – but make sure you wear suncream. Waterproof and well-insulated coats and jackets are sensible to put in your bag and are must have items on duller days. And if you’re keen to get out in all weathers, waterproof trousers are the best option: they keep you a lot warmer and drier on rainy days.
Although they’re not always needed, base layer tops and leggings keep you extra warm during winter and on higher hills.
When it comes down to the clothing of people with epilepsy, if you use protective headgear, wear it when hiking. If you don’t I’d say one thing to consider is a thick beanie hat: it provides well-layered protection to your head!
"I can’t remember using a compass and map in my life - the walk leaders have a lot more experience than myself, so I let them do their job!"
I’d say it’s quite unusual for people to forget their phones before they go out but mobile phones are important tools when you’re going out for a walk. They help you keep in touch with other walkers if you need to. And if problems arise when walking (such as an injury or getting lost) calls often need to be made. I’ve never been on a walk where we’ve needed the help of mountain rescue. However, after following many pathways around the Peak District there are places where their help might be needed if I had a seizure.
And don’t forget, you can easily show and tell people what you’ve been up to with your mobile. Use #MyEpilepsyAdventure on Instagram to show us your hikes and inspire others.
Should I use a map or GPS?
Looking back now, I can’t remember using a compass and map in my life. On guided hikes they are not necessary – the walk leaders have a lot more experience than myself, so I let them do their job! But if you’re alone or with a small group of friends, a map and compass or GPS (or both) is necessary and it is important you know how to navigate yourself. GPS tracking on most mobile phones are useful in urban areas, but can lose signal or accuracy away from cities. For walkers in rural areas, a more accurate device is needed.
"If you will be hiking at a time you usually take your medication, bring it with you and keep it on you"
First aid kits and emergency situations
When I go for a walk with a hike leader, they carry the first aid kit, so I never need worry. But if you are only able to take certain painkillers and antihistamines in case of medicine-clash, take your own supply. If you want to do hiking without a leader then plasters, painkillers, antiseptic cream and anti-histamines are the very basics you can take.
If you will be hiking at a time you usually take your medication, bring it with you and keep it on you. You should also pack any emergency medicine you have been subscribed – this must only be used by those who understand status epilepticus and have had the training. This is something to discuss with the team leader if you’re joining new groups.
Medical alert items with seizure plans and ICE details are needed too. These are especially important if going solo or with new walkers. You can use the Seize Your Adventure first aid postcards to give people this information easily.
Now your bag is packed and you’re all dressed, you’re ready to start hiking. Stay safe and enjoy yourself!
About the Author:
Joe Stevenson is an Epileptic Writer and Disability Rights Campaigner. A hiking hobbyist, Joe is a member of Manchester and District Walkers (MAD Walkers). He has walked along Hadrian’s Wall and trekked Ben Nevis for charity and has hopes for bigger mountains in the future.
Head to his website joestevenson.uk for more of his writing and advocacy work.