Packing for a backpacking trip is an art. Thankfully my husband is an artist. Everything selected for the trek is carefully weighed, both literally and figuratively, to see if it is essential enough to be included in the pack. Getting ready for James’ first real backpacking trip with his father was an education in making choices and thinking things all the way through!
Because of his type 1 diabetes, generally when James participates in an activity we prepare by bringing extra of everything. So if we’re going on a family trip, I just make sure that I bring three times the supplies that I think we’d need in a regular week, because you never know, right? Similarly, when he’s packed for a scout weekend camping trip or even for scout camp itself, I’ve responded by just “bringing the kitchen sink,” so to speak. And it’s a technique that has paid off.
But Craig and I weren’t sure how to pack for James’ first backpacking trip, so we asked a few friends and tried to do some research. Here’s what we found and what they ended up taking. (I’ll have to write back another day to give a full report on how it went, because right now my boys are in the Sierras and apparently away from any cell towers, as I have not received any messages or photos for a couple of days!)
One of the first things we were told is that taking too many supplies is counterproductive. Even little supplies can be heavy, and adding to the weight of a pack can bring its own challenges when out on the trail. No longer could I solely rely on the concept of overpacking!
I decided to prioritize what supplies really needed to go on the trip. One thing I had to drop right away was juice boxes. Normally we use juice to treat lows. It’s natural, it’s easy, and James likes it. But it would add extra weight. Craig found instead these little honey packets that weighed considerably less. Oh, and they fit better in the bear can… but we’ll get to that!
What I absolutely insisted on having in James’ pack was plenty of test strips and plenty of insulin and needles. It was kind of a back-to-basics thing. I included enough test strips to allow for an enormous amount of blood sugar testing per day. Each strip is relatively light, and I figured that the more often they could test James’ blood sugar, the better they’d know how to treat him. Also we purchased a small insulin wallet, because the trip was going to take more than a few days, so we wanted to make sure that they could keep the insulin cool and ready to use. The needles were really in case of a technology failure. There are no insulin pump technicians or overnight delivery of replacement pumps in the mountains.
Another thing I made my boys take were little strips of paper that had instructions for giving insulin via syringe, including insulin-to-carb ratios and basal rates. Also, along with a blood ketone meter and strips, I included instructions for handling ketones out on the trail. We usually consult with our medical team in those situations, but they’ve given us some pretty specific guidelines for dealing with ketones and I included those directions.
Finally, let’s talk about bear cans. Out on the trail, food or anything that looks like food needs to be kept in bear cans. These are smallish plastic cans that are too tough for bears yet relatively light to hike with. All backpackers have to use them in the Eastern Sierras to keep their food away from bears. So, yep, you guessed it: The honey packets, the insulin, and even — according to our friends — many of the other wrapped diabetes supplies needed to be kept in the bear can! And yes, during nighttime low blood sugar incidents, sugar sources have to be accessed via bear can.
Sounds almost a little too exciting for this mama! I can’t wait to hear back from the boys. I’m sure their preparations are paying off, but I’ll report back any findings or tips from the guys once they’re home!
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring. Jen and Kim are real moms of kids with type 1 diabetes and have been compensated for their contributions to this site.