Backpacking the Backcountry of New Zealand

Has your best friend invited you on a dream trip in a "I bet you won't actually come" sort of way?

My childhood best friend is a wild man. He is a sailor by occupation, working on tall ships, and comes from a family that put a zip line in their suburban backyard.

He loves to plant an idea in your mind, "Want to come hike the Te Araroa trail in New Zealand with me for 2 months?" Of course, I want to come.

If you don't ask you'll never knowMy mom's easier said than done advice echoed in my mind.


With a glass of wine in hand, I asked my boss if I could take time off. His response, "You must explore while you are young. Please, make sure you come back."

All seemed clear for the runway. Landing on January 1st, 2016 in Christchurch, New Zealand. But then the issue came up, how do you carry all your supplies while hiking in the back country?

After being in Thailand I swore, "I will never bring my pump anywhere, it takes too much space." Now, against my word, I was set on bringing my pump everywhere.

Today we are going to chat about fitting your entire life inside a backpack for a month. This is for all you T1Ds that dream of trekking across Europe, the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest trail, or other routes that I need to learn about from you.

Space is at a premium. So let’s start there.

Here's how I reduced space and kept things "sanitary"

I asked my boss if I could take time off. His response, “You must explore while you are young. Please, make sure you come back.”

First, remove all your medical equipment from the plastic packing it arrives in. This is the bulkiest part.

You can now use Ziplock screw-on plastic containers to hold all the separate pieces in one place. The picture below shows 8-10 Medtronic Quicksets per container (same with reservoirs)

note: I recently switched to Omnipod and their packaging is much slimmer and compact

Reduce redundancy

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.

What we must do is give ourselves options to make us more resilient.

This 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 those twisty parts on infusion sets? 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: (sign up form below)

What is your Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C?

You find yourself walking through a rainstorm all day and are absolutely soaked. The group stops to have lunch and you grab your pump to take a meal-time bolus. Dead. The screen is blank.

What do you do? Did you bring backup batteries? And what if you replace the batteries and the pump still does not work?

As diabetics, emergencies can escalate quickly. We do not need to play out every single situation in our minds. What we must do is give ourselves options to make us more resilient.

Here are some tips and tricks I have learned while traveling around the world in places like New Zealand, Ethiopia, Denmark, and Maine:

  • Always bring a backup option to your pump. This can be insulin pens or a vial with syringes. Think about an option that requires no electrical parts or batteries.
  • The one item where I truly bring extras of are meters. I aim to bring (2+) meters on longer trips. In Denmark I broke three.
  • Powered Gatorade or powered dextrose (like Tailwind) can significantly increase the amount of carbs by weight. Mix this sugary powder with water and you can treat any low.
  • Always know in general where you are going. Even if you are not the group leader. Navigation is an important part of any trip and sometimes you can become separated from the group.
  • An external battery charger can keep your electronics charged: GPS units, USB lights, a smartphone displaying your Dexcom app.

Have you ever heard of a “bounce box?”

Say you calculate that you need to carry 6 months of supplies, yet your backpack only fits 1 month. That is a dilemma.

Found out in the next article how to solve this problem…