Living Life Outdoors with Type 1 Diabetes

Jack Kelly6 min read#EverydayLifeOutdoors

At Blacks Outdoor, we’re well-versed in the benefits of spending time in The Great Outdoors. A Life Outdoors can be an escape, a way to challenge your limits, a rehabilitation playground, or simply a chance to stop and be present. For Pete Harris, a hiker and climber who has Type 1 Diabetes, time outdoors brings huge benefits to his health and wellbeing, whilst also having its extra challenges.

Sunday 14th November is World Diabetes Day. More than 4.9 million people in the UK have Diabetes*. We caught up with Pete to hear his story and understand why he wants to encourage others with Type 1 Diabetes to not fear outdoor adventure.

“I want to show others that having an active life isn't beyond you because of Diabetes.”

A collection of heritage images from Haglofs


Understanding Type 1 Diabetes

The most common symptoms of diabetes include passing urine more frequently, thirst, tiredness, exhaustion and weight loss. Other symptoms may be wounds taking longer to heal, blurred vision and thrush. It is extremely important to get checked out as it can be life threatening and get worse very quickly. Seek medical attention immediately. Type 1 can also affect your moods. Some days your blood levels just do not behave, and you do not even have the energy to get out of bed, so being well controlled has certainly enabled me to do what I do.

Type 1 Diabetes is an auto immune condition. It is caused by the pancreas stopping working and not producing any insulin, causing glucose levels in your blood to rise. When this happens, urgent medical attention is required immediately as it can become life threatening if left untreated. Type 1 Diabetes affects approximately 400,000 people in the UK including approximately 29,000 children*.

In comparison, Type 2 Diabetes is much more common than Type 1. Type 2 affects approximately 90% of the people with diabetes in the UK. For Type 2, the pancreas does not stop working completely so some insulin is still produced, but not enough to keep blood sugar levels within normal range. It is treated either by diet alone, and / or medication in the form of tablets or by insulin. Sometimes, Type 2 can be reversed by a healthy diet and exercise and losing weight. Type 1 can never be reversed, it is a lifelong condition.

A collection of heritage images from Haglofs


Pete Harris: Living Life Outdoors with Type 1 Diabetes

Hi, I’m Pete and I’m a Type 1 Diabetic. I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1991 at the age of 5. I don’t remember much except being told I couldn’t do this and that or eat certain things. As any parent with a diabetic child knows, Type 1 affects the whole family, not just the child. I found this out myself when my son, Levi was also diagnosed with the condition.

“Hiking and climbing are my escape - they make a huge difference to my health and well-being.”

I’ve been hiking most of my life. From an early age, I was always going on adventures with my family. I started my Instagram page as in all the years I’ve been hiking, I’ve never heard of any other Type 1 Diabetics in my area doing what I do. My aim is to try and connect with other Type 1’s that want to get into hiking, climbing, and adventuring, but don’t know how to.

My uncle used to take me and my brother every Sunday on some sort of adventure and I just kept doing it as I got older. I was also in the Cub Scouts which is something I strongly believe all young kids should take part in at some point as it teaches you important life lessons that school maybe doesn’t. It was during this time that my love for climbing and hiking sparked, and the outdoors became an essential part of my life. Hiking and climbing are my escape. They make a huge difference to my health and wellbeing.

The outdoors is amazing for my health. My bloods are always in range when I’m in nature, and I feel at home on a mountain. Everything affects your bloods. The weather, the environment, and what exercise you are doing. I continue doing what I love, which is exploring the outdoors. When I’m out climbing or hiking I’m focussed on my route ahead, the potential dangers, and what my destination is – normal life goes off the radar and my everyday priorities change. I’m happy and content being in nature, I’m not stressing about life.

“Living with Type 1 is not easy, but in my opinion, that's why the universe gives it to its strongest warriors.”

As someone with Type 1 Diabetes, I know first-hand the challenges that arise. Because of that I want to show others that having an active life isn’t beyond you because of Diabetes. It’s a scary thing when you first start hiking when knowing you have the condition, especially in-case you have a hypo. You also have to consider how much food you need to take and that you keep your insulin in a warm place if you’re out in cold, wintery conditions. The last thing you want is your insulin to freeze. It is wise to prepare for every eventuality, but then so does any outdoor adventurer. Gear prep, sustenance and the weather are all things we need to look for anyone. The difference is I have to think of a few extra bits and be on the ball, constantly checking my bloods and calculating if I’ve eaten enough for what I’m going to do. Ultimately, if you prepare properly, you’ll really enjoy a lifetime of adventures.

A collection of heritage images from Haglofs


Living with Type 1 Diabetes

My day starts at 5:30am. I check my blood sugar and have breakfast before going to work. I must check my levels before driving as it is law (set by the DVLA) that my blood sugar is a certain level. I check my level when I arrive at work and then at 9am I check again and adjust if I’m high or low. I inject 1 unit for every 10 grams of carbohydrate I eat. However, this may vary depending on what I’m doing. I check my level again at lunch time and have insulin. At 3pm, I check again prior to having a snack. Tea at home is normally 6pm and again, it’s checking how much insulin I need for what I’m eating. Bloods are checked again at bedtime after eating some supper.

I wake up 3-4 times during the night, I have lost so much sleep. I think it’s around 7,000 hours over the years. I’ve had around 80,000 injections done, 90,000 finger pricks and lose about 15,000 hours recovering from hypos.


Pete's Inspiration

I wouldn’t be as well controlled now if it wasn’t for my Mum who is a nurse and has been the best teacher. She is an angel and gave up her job to be my full-time carer when I was young. She became a dinner lady at my school so she could watch what I was eating and give me my injections when I was young. Type 1 really does affect the whole family, not just the person living with the condition.


Pete's Advice for Newly Diagnosed

The best bit of advice I could give to Type 1’s is not to be so hard on yourself, there’s no such thing as a perfect diabetic. It’s a difficult condition and there are days when I just wish it would leave me alone. It’s a 24-hour, 7 day, 365 days of the year job and you get no break from it. Stress, hormones, different emotions, resting and even the weather can affect your blood sugar levels.

Living with Type 1 is not easy, but in my opinion, that’s why the universe gives it to its strongest warriors and that’s what each of us is.

To see more of Pete’s adventures, head to his Instagram: Profile

*Diabetes statistics: Diabetes UK

*Type 1 Facts & Figures: JDRF