Backpacking with Type 1 Diabetes

I admit, I was grossly unprepared for my first backpacking trip. We backpacked in Kolob Canyon in Zion National Park, Utah in August quite a few years ago. It remains one of my all-time favorite trips, but I had no idea how to properly prepare for that trip in that heat with diabetes. Fortunately, trips like that often turn out to be wonderful learning experiences! Here are the lessons I learned:

  • You will eat more food than you think you will. On the last day of our trip, we had 2 miles to go and I was out of glucose and only had a 1/2 of an energy bar left. Not a good situation to be in. If you rely on the serving sizes for many backpacking foods or judge how much food to bring based on what you eat normally, you run the risk of being without food. Remember, you will be on varied terrain with extra weight on your back. You will be burning a lot of calories! Bring extra food for yourself and make sure you have enough glucose to treat any low blood sugar (my blood sugar tends to drop a LOT on backpacking trips). If you use a pump and find that your blood sugar is dropping often on backpacking trips, talk to your endocrinologist about features on your insulin pump that allow you to set temporary basal rates. This may help raise your blood sugar without forcing you to eat constantly.
  • Monitor your blood sugar often. Make sure the people you are backpacking with know that you have diabetes and what that means. Help them understand that you will need to stop, check your blood sugar, and have a snack regularly. It’s a great opportunity for them to take a rest and enjoy the scenery! This will help make sure you don’t have any major medical incidents out in the wilderness.
  • You need to find a way to keep your insulin cold. You aren’t going to bring a cooler with you when you go backpacking, but you should always have extra insulin and supplies with you, and your insulin needs to stay cold. How do you do it? The product I use is called a Frio Insulin Cooling case. You soak it in water for several minutes, and the water causes the beads in the case to swell up and keep your insulin cool. It stays cool for several days. So as long as you have a water source every couple of days (which you should anyway), the Frio case will work great. I am sure there are other products out there as well. Check them out! This is definitely the one that I find works best for me. I am lucky enough to have a partnership with the folks who make Frio Insulin Cooling Cases. If you are interested in buying one of their products, enter coupon code ACTIVET1 for a 10% discount!**
  • Do not eat or keep food in your tent! I often get nervous about my blood sugar dropping in the middle of the night, and typically have glucose tablets or a granola bar handy at my bedside just in case. With all the animals and critters out there, you definitely want to avoid doing this when you are backpacking! Check your blood sugar right before you go to sleep and store your food away from your tent. If you have an emergency in the middle of the night, you are going to have to leave the tent to get your snack.

I am on a constant quest to lighten my backpacking load, as are many other backpackers I know. It is possible to bring your all of your backpacking equipment, as well as your diabetic supplies, and still carry a relatively light load. Backpacking is a fantastic way to get into the outdoors and enjoy all the gorgeous scenery that nature has to offer. I encourage you to give it a try if you haven’t been before. I find it calming, therapeutic, and incredibly rewarding. Hopefully, these tips will help make your next backpacking trip even more enjoyable!

** Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means I am compensated for the products sold with the ACTIVET1 coupon code.

Categories: Camping/Backpacking | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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8 thoughts on “Backpacking with Type 1 Diabetes

  1. Jimmy B

    Having had diabetes for over 30 years I love to go backpacking. I usually go out for a minimum of 3 days but usually 4 to 5 days at a clip. Anyways it is nice to know others my age with diabetes enjoy this type of activity.

  2. elisha

    I was wondering whether you struggle to continuously reuse the frio, as whenever i have tried to reactivate after using it, it goes really hard and i can’t get the insulin in! do you just take lots of spare frio packs?


    • Hmmm, good question. I have not had that issue although they do take quite a while to dry out between uses. I am not sure I’d say they ever completely go back to normal. That being said, I always toggle between the same two and they have always worked for me.

  3. Hi Active Diabetic!

    My name is Elyse, I am a 21 year old recent college graduate who is keen to adventure around the world while managing my Type 1 Diabetes. I found your suggestion about the frio packs, and am psyched to order some of them- I am going to be living in rural Kenya for 9 months, and there will be times when I am not around a refrigerator, and they are the solution to beat the heat! I would love to chat with you a bit about your adventures, and any tips you have! Thanks for the post!

  4. Pingback: Keeping Your (Insulin) Cool | Achieving Dreams while Acing the A1C

  5. John Showalter

    Excellent introduction to the challenges of backpacking for type 1 diabetics. I too have attempted to use the frio case. The only proviso regarding this case has to do with its method of cooling. It is an evaporative cooler. For it to be effective, it depends upon a low atmospheric humidity and keeping the frio case where it can be continually circulated by dry, fresh air, i.e. NOT INSIDE A WATERPROOFED pack. Without the constant circulation of dry air around it, the frio case actually becomes a heat trap rather than a cooler. Hiking where I do in the Southern CA mountains, humidity can sometimes remain high while the heat can be oppressive. I continue to experiment with my own designs for a highly-ventilated outer-case which I mount outside of my main pack. I hope that I will eventually reach a successful DIY design which I will then publish for other diabetic hiking enthusiasts. Perhaps someone out there has already come up with a good design?

    • Excellent point, thank you! I’d love to know what you come up with. I do a lot of my hiking and backpacking in the mountains of North Carolina/Tennessee and there is plenty of heat, humidity and moisture as well!

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