One of the most important pieces of gear you will purchase for traveling is your backpack. For us type 1 diabetics this purchase is of special importance because the pack must accommodate the extra supplies required to manage diabetes abroad. As a precaution I recommend taking more than enough diabetes supplies so be sure the pack you go with can handle all your insets, sensors, pens, vials, needles, test strips, meter, back up meter, PDM, transmitter, glucose tabs, granola bars and ketone strips (did I miss anything?) along with the rest of your essential travel gear. Keep reading to learn how I narrowed down and selected my new backpacking pack, the Savant 48 from Gregory Mountain Products.
The first criteria to consider when looking for a pack is capacity and size. As a diabetic I absolutely want all my insulin and supplies with me at all times so it is imperative that my pack fits as a carry on item. Through my research I learned the average capacity of a bag allowed as a carry on by most airlines is 46 liters. This is a rough estimate and allowed sizes vary from airline to airline and plane to plane. Fitting a pack in the overhead compartment also depends on how much gear is in the bag and how well you pack it. I have heard of people fitting 60 liter bags as carry ons and others have told me their 40 liter wouldn’t fit. It all depends on how you pack. The safest bet is to check the maximum dimensions allowed by your airline, do a mock pack then measure your bag. (Do this before you rip the tags off in case you need to return it).
Here are the allowed carry on dimensions for a few major airlines:
- United, American, Delta & Jet Blue – 9in x 14in x 22in (22cm x 35cm x 56cm)
- British Airways, Spirit – 10in x 18in x 22in (25cm x 46cm x 56cm)
- Southwest – 10in x 16in x 24in (25cm x 41cm x 61cm)
- Lufthansa – 9in x 16in x 22in (55 x 40 x 23 cm)
Many backpacking packs will also differentiate by trip length. These lengths are based on how much time someone can survive off of the amount of gear that fits in the pack. Including food, water, clothing, tent, survival equipment etc. If you are purchasing a backpack for hiking and camping take this number into consideration and don’t forget to accommodate for diabetes supplies. If you are choosing a pack more for traveling, hosteling or adventures in which you will have access to basic resources don’t worry about this number too much. Focus more on capacity and how much stuff you plan on taking with you. The Gregory pack I chose is more focused on travel but with enough capacity (52 liters) and features for a 2-3 day camping trip.
After you have decided on a capacity its time to choose a size. Most backpack manufacturers offer 3 basic sizes, small, medium and large. Sizes are based off of torso length and waist size and many packs come in men, women and kids versions. Be aware that the size of a backpack changes its capacity slightly. Most packs are labeled with the capacity of the medium size, with the small and large having slightly smaller and greater capacities respectively. My pack is labeled as 48 liters but as a large, the actual capacity is 52 liters.
Choosing backpack capacity and size is the easy part. It really gets overwhelming when you start considering the available feature options, identifying what is essential to you and what is fluff that you can do with out. This is where price comes into play, more dough, more features, more comfort.
Here is a list of some essential features I looked for in a backpack:
- Full, duffel style zipper access. This feature is tough to find on many affordable backpacking packs as it is a feature more geared towards travelers instead of hikers. This is essential for staying organized, giving easy access to clothes, diabetes kits and other gear. Many packs only have top and bottom access to the main compartment, making it difficult to reach items stuffed deep in the pack.
- Sleeve for hydration bladder. We’re diabetic, we drink a sh*t ton of water. Why not have a few liters on your back while hiking or waiting at a bus stop? Most packs don’t come with the actual bladder, you will have to buy that separate.
- Outer pockets for extra organization. I want to be able to put my meter somewhere easily accessible, which means not putting it in the massive main compartment. My Savant 48 has a handy little stow pocket behind the water bottle pouch on the right side. This is also a good, safe place to stash a passport, wallet or phone.
- Hip pockets. A must for stashing snacks for quick defense against hypos. Also large enough to fit my meter (I use a rather big Accu-Chek Aviva Expert), my waterproof point and shoot camera or smart phone. The pockets are mesh so phone and meter have to go back in the pack when it rains.
- Waterproof storage. I seem to always find myself stuck in the rain and my upcoming trip to Peru is during their wet season so dry storage is essential for me. The lid pocket of the Savant 48 has a roll top zipper making it completely waterproof.
- Built-in rain cover. Did I say I always seem to get wet? Well I mean it, so a built in rain cover is a must for me, especially since my laptop will be in my bag during my South America trip, not to mention life saving diabetes supplies… A rain cover also assists in locking up the pack with something like this pacsafe mesh bag protector. The rain cover makes it impossible to stick fingers through the holes of the mesh and pull items out of the pack.
- Mesh water bottle pouches. But not for holding plastic vestibules. I use Frio Cooling Sleeves to keep my insulin potent in hot weather. Frios require proper air ventilation to evaporate excess water from the cooling gel. These mesh pockets are perfect places to give the Frios plenty of ventilation and to dry them out (must be dried out every 3 days).
- Bottom compression straps for strapping on a yoga mat or sleeping bag and keeping the load in place firmly on your back.
- Ventilation. Some backpacks have a suspended mesh back panel to help combat sweaty back. This is a feature mostly found on pricier packs. I sacrificed a little all day comfort to save some loot.
Budgeting is paramount during extended travel. Don’t spend too much on a backpack before doing a little research and deciding what features are essential for your adventures.
Check out these other affordable, carry-on approved backpack options.
Hope this helps you get out and live a #type1lifewithoutlimits!
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