Dealing with Migraines on the Trail

As I get closer to my thru-hike start date on Feb. 14 (no Valentine, might as well hike) I have some last-minute prep still to do. One of the things I have to prepare for is migraines.

These debilitating headaches have been a part of my life since I was a kid of about four or five years old. Thankfully, treatments have come a long way. Back then my medicine was taken, well, let’s just say it wasn’t a pill to swallow orally. Yeahhh, not fun. Since then I have tried every medicine and home remedy known to man. From injections to pills and items meant to apply directly to the forehead.  Ha ha, sorry if you now have those old commercials running through your brain. It was like they had a five-second commercial and a 30-second spot so they just replayed it six times in a row. Ironically, those commercials probably caused headaches.

But I digress. My preferred treatment now is a pill called Imitrex.  This treatment, for me, comes with some interesting side effects. One of the first things I notice is that I get really hot and I feel a high. So walking down a bumpy, rough trail with a 30-pound pack might prove difficult with that high and hot feeling. I’m not sure how the false sense of warmth will hit me as I walk. So I am nervous about it as it could cause nausea. (Will that attract bears?) The other thing that the medicine does is make me tired. Beside the actual headache pain, that’s the biggest one to overcome. Will I even have the energy to set up camp after taking the medicine? Hopefully.

Dealing with the headache, and the side effects, should be quite a challenge to add to an already difficult feat. My plan is to not let them slow me down too much. And depending on when and where I get the migraine (not if, but when) will depend on how I handle it. If I wake up with it, I may take a zero. If it happens at lunch, I will probably stop and rest until it passes. After lunch will probably see me stop early for the day and set up camp where I am.

All in all, I have never hiked with a migraine. So all of this is conjecture. The best I can do is prepare a plan. I have been stockpiling pills for the trail as I don’t know when or where I could get a prescription filled. So I will be taking lots of them with me and I will have a support person at home (Hi, Candis!) who will be able to send me some if need be. To keep the pills safely with me, I wanted to make them immune from the weather and keep them in a secure receptacle that will not fall apart if it is dropped or knocked around. So I bought a waterproof pill container from Amazon just for this purpose. I tested it out and it works like a charm and it even floats.

So with a plan in mind, and meds in a safety container, I feel like I have done all I can to prepare. Now it’s up to the trail and my brain to see how it actually plays out. I will definitely keep you posted on what actually happens out there. And if any of you have any tips on migraine hiking, please let me know in the comments.

Happy trails,



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Comments 7

  • Kay (Morrisette) Patterson : Feb 3rd

    Good luck, Chad!!! You can do it!! ❤️Your Fifth Grade Teacher

    • Chad Sanborn : Feb 3rd

      OMG Thank you so much!!!!! Please send me an email letting me know how you are!

  • Cindy : Feb 4th

    Please keep us posted. I, too, have migraines but thankfully had none when I section hiked the month of June 2016. I would like to hear how you deal with them on your hike. Good luck!

  • Churn : Feb 6th

    I’ve experienced migraines on the trail. My plan of action includes Imitrex as well (I don’t get the hot but I definitely get the tired high feeling). But usually I get a little warning before one comes on. At those times I would take 800mg of ibuprofen, I carry a cooling towel instead of a bandanna so that I could pour water on it and place it at the back of my neck (and whirl it around in the air to cool it off again) and I carry a small roller ball bottle filled with peppermint oil. I roll it at my temples, the tendon behind my ears, the base of my neck and then take a few deep breaths of the oil from the bottle. And I immediately stop hiking for the day and make camp where I am. I’ve found the exertion trying to push through just makes the problem worse. Best of luck on your thru hike, and hopefully you won’t have to experience too many migraines throughout your trek!

  • Lillie : Feb 6th

    I suffer from chronic Migraines as well. I worried and had many contingency plans for my LASH in 2016.
    I kept my meds in my first aid kit and some in the front pocket on my pack. The biggest thing that shocked the crap out of me while on the AT was how few migraines I did have!
    I think it had to do with the amount of exercise and clean air you are taking in per day. I slept deeper while hiking than I had since I was a child.
    I lost weight, mostly fat.
    I made sure I ate well, not junk.
    I made my own dehydrated meals beforehand so they didn’t contain anything that could bring on a migraine. I cooked myself a good hearty breakfast and had real coffee!
    Of the 6 weeks on the trail I had 2 migraines, which is a record for me!
    Hope your hike is Awesome and Headache Less!!!

  • Rick : Feb 21st

    Definitely want to know how it went… I don’t do solo trips for that reason. I did a few treks in my teen years where I got migraines on the trail and I don’t know how I would’ve done without the push and help from the group. Having migraines on the trail definitely changes the aspect of pack out what you pack in lol (especialy bearbags etc..) … Now that I’m older and more experienced I feel like I’d be able to push myself through and make do without a camp setup (except for bearbags and fire) if I needed to, but there’s still the looming fear of a heavy migraine (which I get a couple times year; none if I’m lucky) that may last for several days and cause severe disorientation/dehydration etc… These days anytime I go camping more than a short hike from the car I make sure to go with a group. Definitely interested to know how you did though and what helped/didn’t; I’ve been through the gambit of holistic, and rx treatments as well.

  • Leslie : May 21st

    Omg yes IMITRex makes me feel like this too! My legs get kind of warm and wobbly. I’m trying to figure out how to keep hiking and camping with migraines and IBS.


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