Backpacking 101: Tips from the Experts at Connected in Motion


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At Connected in Motion, we love connecting people around adventure. We love the intense sense of community created by a group of people exploring the edge of their comfort zones and leaping into the unknown. We love finding ways to let adventure empower us to redefine life with type 1 diabetes.

Last August, 13 members of the type 1 community took on an epic 60-kilometer (nearly 40-mile) trek through the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. On the North Coast Trail, they encountered cable cars, ladders, river crossings, beach trekking, mud up to our knees and rope rappels on any given day. Believe it or not, we are doing this willingly!

Applications flew in from around the world from those wanting to push their limits and experience what it’s like to ride in one another’s slipstream. Just like a flock of geese flying in a V-formation, everyone taking turns at the front, driving us forward and making things easier for the group as a whole. We also take turns following in behind, joining along for the ride and feeling the power of the slipstream: the metaphor upon which Connected in Motion was built. When we come together as a group, we accomplish so much more than we ever could on our own—which is exactly what we’ll be doing on the North Coast Trail.

Many months of planning set us up for success on an adventure like this. We’re now bounding into our final week, putting on the finishing touches: tweaking recipes to achieve the ideal amount of spice in our trail pad Thai meals (it’s true!), cleaning our water filters for hygienic hydration, and perfecting Plans A, B and C.

And, of course, my favorite part: packing our packs! I wanted to share a bit more about what you’ll find in our packs, as well as what we think about for our time out on the trail.

Packing 101

Anyone who has been out backpacking, or even just on a sleepover, won’t be surprised to hear that diabetes takes up approximately a third of our packing space. Each member of the team carries a 60-liter (or larger) pack full of personal gear and group gear. When packing pump sites, pens, insulin (plus a mechanism to keep it cool), testing kits, extra test strips and power banks (for those of us with rechargeable gear), we’ve consistently found that we do need to use 1/3 of our personal packing space to make everything fit.

Here are some Connected in Motion tricks for using our precious space efficiently:

  • We keep an eye on our communal items. We definitely won’t use 13 tubes of toothpaste or 13 squeeze bottles of sunscreen!
  • You know when you’re heading out for a weekend trip and throw in one, two, maybe even three extra hoodies, just in case? Not happening on this adventure! We plan what to bring for each day: one set of hiking clothes (ones that can get wet and dry quickly), one set of camp clothes that we’ll change into on site and a few extra layers (to sleep in and for protection against rain and the cold coastal winds).
  • As a general rule of thumb, we bring twice as many diabetes supplies as we need. I change my pump sites every three days. Instead of bringing just two pump sites for a six-day trail adventure, I’ll bring four.
  • FRIO cooling packs have a substance inside them that cools down and keeps whatever they carry an even, consistent temperature. We bring these along so we don’t have to worry about anything getting too hot while we’re out in the sun.

Site and CGM placement

Out on the trail, we hoist our packs on and take them off, cinch our waistbands tightly and then loosen them, and peel off layers before putting them on again. We think about where to put our pump and continuous glucose monitor (CGM) sites before hitting the trail, avoiding areas on our stomachs that might rub on waistbands and areas on our arms that will likely get snagged when loading up a heavy pack.

Diabetes back-up plans

Not only is Plan A ready to go, but we’re also ready with a Plan B and C, just in case.

  • Plan A: The “Everything is Going According to Plan!” Plan

Most of the time, all of our diligent prep means everyone can stick to Plan A! We know how many pump sites or pen caps we’ll need. We know how many test strips we’ll use in a day. We know how many times we’ll refill our pumps. But sometimes, we need…

  • Plan B: The “Oh No, Something Went Wrong!” Plan

A pump fails! Ketones start wreaking havoc! We write out and waterproof our basal rates, insulin-to-carb ratios and correction factors, along with a back-up plan for what would happen if we had to switch from a pump to long-acting insulin while out on the trail. That way, if something goes wrong, we’re ready. Even if it means resorting to…

  • Plan C: The “Well, We Were NOT Expecting This!” Plan

An entire bottle of test strips ends up in the ocean! A pack unclips and goes for a swim down the river…and then a whale eats it, dashing any hopes of retrieval! Now what? We each have a diabetes buddy on the trail. We know who uses the same insulin, the same test strips and the same pump sites. If disaster strikes, we know the team is there for us!

If all of this preparation has piqued your interest, you’ll be able to track our adventure along the coast by following our SPOT GPS tracking device. You can also share words of encouragement! Join our Support Crew and Cheering Squad Facebook group to engage with the team, check out pictures from the trail (when signal will allow!), and get updates in the days leading up to and following the trek.

We’d love to hear from you about your own adventures. Best of all, we’ll be doing this all again next year: same idea, new location. See you there!

Read Breathing Fresh Air into Diabetes Education by Jen Hanson.

WRITTEN BY Jen Hanson, POSTED 08/09/17, UPDATED 10/13/22

Jen's early beginnings as a campfire-loving, bug-catching, mud-puddle-jumping, tree-climbing tot sparked in her a love for adventure that has been fostered and grown into a full-blown passion for everything outdoors. She has been living with diabetes almost her whole life, and when you can pin her down, operates out of Toronto, Ontario. She's a registered kinesiologist, a certified teacher, an adventure guide specializing in outdoor and experiential diabetes education, and a newly minted certified diabetes educator. She is the executive director of Connected in Motion and a member of the Beyond Type 1 Global Ambassador Council.