Camping With Diabetes : A Beginner’s Guide

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t was two years ago that I started feeling like something wasn’t right.  I was losing weight, tired all the time, sick with various infections, and had an all-consuming, unquenchable thirst for water.  After the initial shock wore off and I accepted a new life of living as a type 1 diabetic my thoughts turned to how this newly diagnosed condition would affect my daily life. 

Blood sugar checks, insulin pens, highs, lows…these words were now a part of my vocabulary.  Eventually, shock turned to acceptance and it wasn’t long until I realized that, with a few modifications, I could carry on in life as I had before.  Swimming, biking, exercising – all of these favorite activities were a big part of my life before my diagnosis, as was camping, and I was determined to continue on enjoying them as much as I had before.

My first camping trip came about 6 months after my diagnosis.  As I began packing, my thoughts turned to how this trip would be different from past trips and I decided to make a note of some things and share them with you:

Keep It Cool

According to insulin-maker instructions (ie. Sanofi), any insulin (bolus or basal) can be taken from its refrigerated condition and into room temperature environments safely for about 30 days. However, when you’re camping, you’ll find that insulin will tend to get very warm unless you consciously try to keep it cooler than the environment. 

You’ll Need To Keep All This Clean, Handy and Not Hot!
You’ll need to keep all this clean, handy and not hot!

That’s easy if you wrap your insulin pens and especially your glucose test strips in 2 or 3 Ziploc bags or some waterproof container, and put them into a cooler with ice.  Note that if the ice melts and your test strips touch the water, you’ll be unable to use them.  That could put a big damper on your camping plans!  It’s also worth noting that if you go on longer wilderness excursions, you’ll not have access to fresh ice daily from the gatehouse at the campsite. 

In that case, keep your supplies in a waterproof container and try if possible to keep it as cool as possible.  I put mine in the water overnight to keep the temperatures as low as possible.  A cooler made just for insulin is a good way to start your trip, but you’ll need to put the freezer packs into a freezer to continue using it effectively.

Work Out!

If possible, try to stay as active as possible.  My suggestion would be at least 20 minutes a day of brisk walking, and potentially a whole lot more than that.  If you do, you’ll keep your need for insulin to a minimum, and even more importantly, you’ll be way healthier!  I’d call that a win/win situation!

Keep it Handy

I make it a habit to keep my insulin supply in an easy-to-access pocket in my backpack.  As I canoe (you might be hiking or hunting), I find that I’m prone to blood glucose lows since I’m being active.  That means that I’ll need a quick sugar fix.  However, I try to eat only those foods which add value to my life/body, so I’ll have some Clif bars or fruit handy to balance my lows.  Those fruits or bars need to be REALLY handy – not packed at the bottom of my sack!

Keep it Warm!

If you’re camping in colder weather, be sure to keep your glucose meter as warm as possible.  The meter may not even work if it’s too cold, and even if it does, it may not give you the correct readings.  I keep mine close to my body most of the time.  I even bring it into my sleeping bag at night.

Bring Extra

To stay on the safe side, I bring 2 insulin pens with me and I pack them in separate sacks and containers.  If one is lost, I’ll have a chance to get the other one rather than abandoning the trip or starving in order to keep my sugar levels low.

Protect the Goods

For extra safety, you could invest in (and use) a bear-resistant container.  I would consider a small, portable one so you can take it with you.  I can’t say enough (positive!) about a bear box that you can bring along with you, but if a bear actually tries to get into it, my guess is that you have bigger problems than just losing your test strips!  The only other thing to consider is that a bear container is fairly expensive (over $60 for a foot-long portable unit).  However, as a once-in-a-lifetime investment that can save your valuables, we’d say it’s probably a decent investment.

Pack a flashlight to check sugar levels at night

If you’re camping in the wild, and you’re not close to an electrical plug, we’d suggest keeping your cell phone only for calls rather than a multi-use tool.  On occasion, I need to check blood sugar levels in the middle of the night.  In that case, I use only a tactical flashlight.  It’s small, very powerful, power-efficient and above all, it WON’T die on me unexpectedly if I give it a supply of new batteries before the trip.

Try doing this is the dark!
Try doing this is the dark!

Consider Your Environment

Do you like to camp in the remote wilderness?  Would you rather camp at an established campsite at a campground?  Those are two different things completely.  Throw in a camping trailer or motorhome, and that’s still another different situation.  If you have a motorhome, there’s no issue with insulin or any diabetes-related issue.  It’s like being at home. 

If you’re at a campground and you use a tent, then you’ll want to get ice daily to keep the insulin from getting too warm.  If you’re way out in the wilderness far from civilization, you’ll want to keep your insulin out of the sun and maybe even in the water (after you put it into a waterproof container of course).

Pack the Right Food

I know that the whole idea of camping implies that you’ll be having FUN!  According to my mother-in-law, a big part of “fun” is eating really junky food.  Isn’t that what camping is all about?  You know, like smores!  Well, you can eat whatever you like if you dose appropriately for it, but I’d like to take the higher road and encourage you to bring with you, low glycemic foods.

 I do bring energy bars as a treat, but my wilderness diet consists mostly of nuts, oatmeal, dried low GI (Glycemic Index) fruits like fresh and dried apples.  I do throw in some super-dry pepperoni and bread made from fermented grains.  In addition to making you a healthier person (like that’s not enough), it also means that you’ll have more energy, and probably you’ll have an easier time packing the healthier foods instead of junk foods like beer and fresh pie! 

You’ll notice that I did not mention perishable foods like fresh greens, fresh meats or soft fruits.  If you like those, dry them in a dehydrator.  We always make fruit leather in our dehydrator before every wilderness outing.  We really like the Magic Mill dehydrator.  Yes, it’s more expensive than others, but there’s a very good reason.  It’ll last years and withstand abuse.  The others are light as a feather and can break easily.

Magic Mill Food Dehydrator Machine

The Magic Mill food dehydrator with steel trays and digital control panel is (we believe) the best machine for your money!

Tell Someone!

I’d like to think this should go without saying, but just in case, I’ll say it!  PLEASE tell someone who cares exactly where you’ll be and for how long.  This is a super simple, yet potentially life-saving practice.  It’s easy to do and can save your life especially if you are a diabetic.

Be sensible and do your research before you dive into the wild unknown!  Peace of mind and a longer life will be your reward!


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3 thoughts on “Camping With Diabetes : A Beginner’s Guide”

  1. My son has type 1 diabetes & he’s going camping in a tent & it’s supposed to be in the 20’s….. how does he keep his INSULIN from getting too cold?
    How cold can insulin get before it’s too cold AND do they make something that will keep it from getting too cold?

    • Hey Monica;
      Here are my thoughts: as far as keeping insulin warm, body heat is the best source. It won’t get too hot and it’ll never be too cold to use. As far as insulin getting too cold, in my years as a diabetic, I’ve never heard of insulin getting too cold to be effective (other than freezing) so my advice would be to simply have your son keep the insulin in a large pant pocket or on the inside of a vest or some garment he’ll be wearing most of the day. If it’s really cold, I’d suggest a zip-up sports jacket (about as warm as a sweatshirt) with an inside pocket.
      best of luck


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