Camping With Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Do you love camping but have a hard time doing it since fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) became a part of your life?

Person standing at the edge of their campsite, mountain in the distance

Steve West / Getty Images

You might not be able to camp quite the way you used to—especially if you were really into roughing it. However, if you give it some thought and plan carefully, you might not have to give up camping completely.

Camping challenges for someone who has fibromyalgia or CFS can include:

  • Packing/unpacking (physically doing it and remembering everything you need)
  • Setting up a tent
  • Extra effort put into campsite cooking
  • Being outside among lots of allergens
  • Temperature sensitivities
  • Not having your comfortable places, like your bed, couch, or favorite chair

You may be asking yourself, where would I lie down if my body gave out in the middle of the day? What would I do if everyone else went off for an activity and I couldn't participate? Would I be able to enjoy it at all?

Many of us have seen major drops in stamina since we became chronically ill, so even short hikes may simply be beyond us. You may be concerned that you'll be wiped out before the car is even out of the driveway.

The alternative? Either you give it up while everyone else goes, or the people in your life give it up so you do not feel left out. Neither alternative is exactly what you want, though, is it?

That means it's time to look for solutions.

Shopping and Packing

For those with cognitive dysfunction, lists are a lifesaver when it comes to both shopping and packing. Have someone else go over your lists with you to make sure you're not leaving anything out.

For meals, it might help to have separate lists of breakfast foods, lunch foods, dinner foods, snacks, and beverages so you know every need is covered. Then make additional lists of first aid items and toiletries, as well.

On each food list, take a moment to note what you need for cooking as well as eating, such as pots, pans, plates, bowls, utensils, etc.

Have someone double-check what you've packed. When you're leaving civilization behind, you don't want to trust anything to a foggy brain! Better yet, supervise while someone else packs so you don't expend all of your energy before you're even in the woods.

Camping Solutions

Those who suffer from fibromyalgia or CFS experience symptoms differently, so you'll need to consider what elements of this list apply to you and what other issues you may need to find solutions for, as well.

  • Don't pitch it, ditch it! These illnesses are generally not tent-friendly. Even stooping to get in and out can be a problem. For those who can afford something like a camper or a tent trailer, it's an obvious solution. Something small and used may be more affordable than you expect. Or you can look for cabins to rent.
  • A comfortable place to sleep: If you're stuck with the tent, you may want to look for a cot, sleeping pad, or inflatable option that works well for you. If you can, test it at home to ensure it'll take good care of you rather than finding out your first night in the woods that it's just not going to work. Also, consider whether your car is a possible solution—the back seat may be more comfortable than anything else you can find. A bonus about the back of an SUV: it'll stay warmer and drier than a tent.
  • Good bedding: A scratchy, cold-feeling sleeping bag, or one that wrinkles up underneath you, could keep you up all night. Look for a soft, cozy one. Also consider whether your feet tend to get overheated and, if so, try to find one that you can unzip at that end to give your feet some air. If you can't find a sleeping bag you like, soft blankets may be a workable alternative. And forget those little camping pillows—take the good one that you use every night.
  • Multiple changes of clothing that can be layered: Layers give you the option to adjust how you're dressed both for changing weather and—if you're temperature sensitive—for your own broken internal thermostat.
  • Non-typical mosquito repellent: Spraying chemicals all over your body isn't a good idea if you're fragrance/chemical sensitive. Fortunately, some alternatives are available, such as clip-ons. However, if the chemicals would still be a problem for you, you might investigate natural alternatives or recipes that use essential oils instead.
  • Allergy medications and topical creams: Along with any regular allergy meds you may take, make sure to have Benadryl (diphenhydramine) on hand in case your allergies get out of control. (It's also good for insomnia.) Benadryl itch cream is good for mosquito bites and scratches from plants that can make you itch. If you use an asthma inhaler, always check to make sure you have enough for a weekend in the woods, and get a refill if necessary.
  • Non-smelly muscle creams: Topical pain creams that have strong odors can attract bears and other wild animals to your campsite. To avoid a nasty run-in, leave the smelly ones at home. Aspercreme may not be your go-to topical pain reliever, but because of its mild, non-food-based odor, it's one of the safer ones.
  • Ice packs: If your pain responds well to ice, put several ice packs in your cooler. They will help keep the food cold, and you can use them as needed. You can also pick up first-aid ice packs at the drug store that create their own cold.
  • Self-heating pain relief patches, hand warmers: If you use a heating pad, these self-heating patches may work when you're away from electricity. They can also help you warm up if you get chilled. (You may want to test them before you go to make sure you're not allergic or sensitive to the adhesive.) Hand warmers also work well. Because these things are long-lasting, once they've eased your muscles, you can throw them in your sleeping bag so it's warm when you slide in.
  • Plenty of hot drink options: Make sure to have some decaf options to warm yourself up when it's cool, such as decaf coffee or tea, hot chocolate, and apple cider.
  • The entire medicine cabinet: The one thing you leave at home is likely to be the one thing you need, so everything needs to go along for the ride. Make sure you get prescription refills so you not only have enough for the trip, but for your recovery time after returning home.
  • Simple foods to cook: Conveinance foods like chili, soup, and packaged sandwiches are a good idea so cooking isn't strenuous. Leave the complicated things to someone else, or just don't have them at all.
  • Reading material and games: Having these items can be a relaxing option and a good idea in case you have to stay behind for certain activities.

When it comes to how active you are while camping, it all comes back to the ever-important pacing. You should also consider things you may need for a lengthy car ride.

A Word From Verywell

No matter how well you plan and prepare, you're likely to pay some kind of symptom toll after your camping trip. It might be well worth it to you, or it might not be. Either way, it's something to consider. If possible, take a couple days off so you can recover, and be prepared for a possible flare.

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