Words & Photos by Erik Douds
You are in the right place if you feel like a traveling pharmacy when figuring out what gear to pack on a hike. Hikers with diabetes must balance bringing the minimum amount of gear while making sure nothing is left behind. We also have the added challenge of protecting our insulin, meters, and all our medical equipment from the weather.
As a global traveler and someone who lives for campfires in the backcountry, I wanted to share some of my favorite gear that always makes it into the backpack.
As an added perk, you will find a link at the bottom of the article to download the “How to Hike the World with Diabetes” packing list that gives you a checklist for your next adventure in the outdoors.
Whether it is the backcountry of New Zealand or leading orientation trips in Maine, I use the mentality of layering to bring almost the same clothes on every trip regardless of the weather. Layering is key because quick-drying lightweight clothes can keep you warm when bundled together or be taken off to keep you cool as your body begins to sweat and heat up on the trail.
Here is a list of my favorite gear that I like to bring on every hiking trip:
- Two lightweight synthetic t-shirts (Recommend gear: Nike Pro Dri-Fit)
- Synthetic long-sleeve shirt, preferably with a hood (Recommended gear: Bambool Hooded Top)
- Lightweight rain jacket for dewy mornings
- Nano Puff vest (Recommend gear: The North Face Aconcagua Vest)
- Quick drying shorts either swim trunks or running shorts (Recommended gear: Patagonia Wavefarer Walk Shorts or Patagonia Trail Shorts)
- Lightweight long pants with lots of pockets (Recommended gear: Columbia Silver Ridge Stretch Convertible Pant)
- Merino wool socks (Recommended gear: Darn Tough micro crew socks)
- Athletic underwear (Recommended gear: Exofficio Give-N-Go Boxer (mens))
- 20 degree sleeping bag (Check out REI’s selection)
- A wool hat
- Sleeping pad (Recommended gear: Therm-a-Rest ProLite)
Gear dependent on the weather:
- Heavy rain jacket
- Long sleeve Nano Puff jacket
Why Layering Replaces the Need for Heavy Gear
When fitting your life into a backpack, space is the ultimate premium. That means finding the minimal amount that satisfies all your needs.
This is where layering plays a role. A puffy jacket only has one purpose (keeping you toasty warm). Replace that jacket with a long sleeve shirt, a vest, and a lighter jacket that keeps you equally toasty warm when worn together, while also serving many other needs and comfort levels when worn individually.
Efficiency can be applied to your diabetic supplies too. Take your half-empty testing strip containers and fill them 100%. This one action can cut space by 50%. Do you need all that packaging? What is the most space efficient, storable food to treat lows?
Hint: our Packing List on How To Hike the World has many of the answers
Gear specific for hikers with Type 1 diabetes:
- Protecting insulin from the weather – Frio Insulin Cooling Case
- RoadID Medical Alert Bracelet
- Treating lows on the trail – Glucolift
- Waterproofing Dexcom receiver, meters, and other medical equipment – use a universal waterproof case or Sea to Summit Dry Bag
Rundown on Type 1 Diabetes Supplies
1. The Frio Insulin Cooling Case is the solution to keep your insulin cool without requiring ice. All you need to do is pour some water and it keeps insulin cool and safe for a minimum of 45 hours – then simply re-active with water. The pouches come in all shapes and sizes to hold multiple bottles of insulin or only a pen or two.
2. RoadID makes medical alert bracelets that can be worn almost anywhere. A favorite spot is through the laces of your shoes. Should anything happen, medical professionals can identify you as a type 1 diabetic, which is lifesaving information.
3. Glucolift is a non-chalky glucose tablet designed by a type 1 diabetic who wanted something better to treat lows. My favorite flavor is the orange cream flavor because it reminds me of ice cream on the jersey shore. Note: currently not available in Canada
4. If you wear a continuous glucose monitor then seeing the 5-minute readings is important on the trail. A Life Proof case is a good option to keep any smart phone protected in storms. Those that rely on the transmitter, buy a universal water proof case (think the roll down ones) that have a transparent side so you can quickly check how your blood sugar is trending. This can help make decisions on pre-treating a low blood sugar or spotting a trend upwards and adjusting basal rates accordingly.
There is a lot of gear to remember and leaving one thing behind can be a real emergency (oh no! I forgot snacks to treat lows.) Do not worry. The team at DiabetesAbroad brought together hikers from around the world to create a checklist when packing for the mountains: “How to Hike the World with Diabetes.” You can download it by clicking here.
About Erik Douds
Erik Douds is a New York City based global traveler and endurance athlete who proves that people living with type 1 diabetes can achieve anything. His stories, guides, and tips can be read on the blog DiabetesAbroad.com.