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Florida Trail in Dec/Jan- advice sought on both gear and logistics
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Erik Danielsen
(er1kksen) - F

Locale: The Western Door
Florida Trail in Dec/Jan- advice sought on both gear and logistics on 11/24/2011 17:29:12 MST Print View

So, here's the setup. My girlfriend and I would like to go somewhere warm during her winter break from school. She's inexperienced with backpacking but capable and very interested. I've been delving into UL and SUL pretty much since I was 16, so I'm carrying some experience. We had intended a road trip to the southwest with some backpacking here and there, but then the car exited the stage and we don't want to rush on buying a replacement. Our budget is also rather low; I've traveled longer for less but it's something we want to be conscious of. So it was wonderful to discover that Megabus (who I use all the time) just extended their service lines all the way down to Orlando, which made me think, of course, of the Florida Trail.

We would like to spend a few weeks on the trail, at a slower pace, probably ~10 miles per day. Less of a challenging expedition, more of a vacation. After all, she's new to this, and I just got over an illobital band issue. No need to bring it back. It looks like the trail is beautiful, and we're both "easily amused," so to speak; doing big miles is fun, but so is slowing down and exploring all the little things there are to see. So I'm not too concerned about being truly ultralight or having the perfect gear list, but I do want to make sure that we're prepared for some rather unfamiliar trail conditions, and get some advice from those that know the trail and climate.

I'm thinking the southern portion of the trail is our main target. I have relatives in Orlando who I ought to drop in on, and to my knowledge the trail does pass through or near the Orlando metro region, so it would be easy enough to get a ride to a trailhead. Would a loop from there down around Lake Okeechobee be worthwhile? Would hiking on either of the other branches (south to big cypress or east to the coast) be advisable? At our pace, might it be better to get a ride to the southern terminus and hike north to Orlando? Any interesting off-trail side excursions we should consider (wilderness or civilization are both fine)?

Gear-wise, both being about 5'7" and thin, here's what we're working with:

Shelter: Tarptent Rainbow. We both fit just fine. I suspect I'll keep a spare shirt handy at night for wiping down condensation.

Sleeping: Golite 20 Down Quilt. Yes, we actually do sleep together under this quilt on a regular basis. I'm usually slightly to warm, she's usually slightly chilly, not uncomfortable either way. Comfort for us seems to be down to about 30 degrees because she's always cold. For this reason I'm considering also bringing a thin fleece bag I've got from walmart, around 2 pounds, warm and versatile in combination with the quilt. Would most agree that down, while not ideal, is workable for the FT? Thoughts on the fleece liner?
Sleeping on CCFs.

Packs: I've used my Granite Gear Vapor Flash from mountains to deserts to beaches and cloud forest. I imagine it can probably handle Southern Florida as well; maybe not the best or lightest, but it'll do well enough. For a less-dialed trip with a beginner I find its versatility reassuring. As for her, I've got a small collection of other packs I'll have her try on; if nothing really fits well, I'll probably turn this into a question.

Clothing: Obviously no cotton. Would it be better to look for some loose-fitting, cool full-coverage clothing instead of shorts, for sun and bug protection? Warm baselayers are in good supply for when temps drop, but my go-to insulation layer is a little Land's End down puffy. I've used it successfully (and carefully) in rainy situations before, but would it be a no-go for the FT?

Rainwear: I've given up on WPBs for now, especially on our budget. Probably just going with plastic raingear from walmart... I've been using it since the spring, it's not the best thing ever, but it's always kept me dry enough. How much rain should we expect?

Footwear: We've got plenty of thin merino socks, the shoes themselves are a question though. I've read reports of hiking through lots of water. I'll probably stick with my Inov-8 Baregrips, as they're all mesh and dry very quickly. Right now she usually hikes in my old Inov-8 Roclite 370s... they're pretty breathable but I don't think they'd be great for going in and out of water. We'll probably want to get something different for her. Any recommendations?

Water: I usually just bring a couple liters worth of gatorade bottles, I have an old Katadyn pump filter but I'm considering chemicals instead. That filter's pumped water on three continents and I imagine it's probably past replacement time... and much heavier than tablets or drops. Thoughts?

Cooking: I'll probably put together a little alky. I've made them before, just lost them since I mostly go cookless when solo. Maybe I'll get a little pot and little frying pan. Not worried about being ultralight in this area, and I really like to cook a hot meal, so... idk, I'll probably be carrying plenty of rice, ghee, and maybe eggs for a few days after resupply points? Speaking of which, how frequent is decent resupply access (particularly with eggs available)? Along with typical trail mix, teabag-style coffee, occasional greens, whatever. Additional question, what's the stance on campfires along the FT? Illegal? Frowned upon? Useful? Pointless? Encouraged? Better to know going in, I figure.

I'm not inclined to worry too much about weights at this point, perhaps once the issues above are worked out. The low mileage makes it less critical. Any insight into safety concerns (ticks, snakes, gators, less-genuine rainbow family members) is appreciated as well.

I know that's a lot of questions, so thanks for any insight you might be able to offer. Hope everyone's having a good thanksgiving!

Ken Bennett
(ken_bennett) - F

Locale: southeastern usa
Re: Florida Trail in Dec/Jan- advice sought on both gear and logistics on 11/25/2011 10:22:23 MST Print View

My partner and I have done one section of the FT, in Ocala NF, so we're hardly experts (and I hope some of them chime in here.) The Florida Trail Association was very helpful when I called them -- I got the Companion Guide for Long Distance Hikers and some maps, and plenty of up-to-date information.

We went in early March of a fairly cold year, and all the advice I had seen on bringing warm clothing and bag was right on the money. People think Florida is warm, but we had sub-freezing temps a couple of nights. Your clothing and shelter choices sound pretty good. I'd wear my mesh trail runners and wool socks and be very happy. I don't see down as a problem, since you won't hike in it.

What I would bring next time: my big Tilley hat. It was bright and the sun was brutal in a couple of places. A long sleeved nylon fishing shirt. Better sun protection, cooler than a base layer, and the pockets would have been handy. Also helps for blending in with the natives. My water filter -- I used aqua mira, and some of the sources were pretty ugly. Filter would have been nice. (But the water was pretty low when we were there, not sure about this year.)

You might see if you can find DriDucks or Frogg Toggs that fit you. They are waterproof, very breathable, light, and cost ~$40 a set. I would want to be prepared for cold, windy rain in Dec and January.

Resupply in Florida can be interesting. Our experience was that the local people don't know that the trail is there, haven't seen many hikers, and think anyone with a backpack is a homeless vagrant or a Rainbow person. Don't count on being able to hitch into town for resupply very often. This is where the companion guide becomes very useful, I think.

Good luck. Sounds like a fun trip.

Christine Thuermer
(chgeth) - F

Locale: Germany
Florida Trail on 11/25/2011 13:28:58 MST Print View

I have thruhiked the Florida Trail in 2010 and had a great adventure on it.
Having said that I don't think that the FT is best trail for you and your experience and expectations.

First of all keep in mind that 30% of the Florida Trail is road walking - especially the area around Orlando is almost completely on tarmac. Depending on which corridor you take you are either on a bike path for days or on roads. The same situation applies for Lake Okeechobee - no matter which corridor you take you will mostly be on tarmac - and a lot of times beside really busy horrible roads.

On the other side there are some awesome wilderness stretches especially near the Southern Terminus and Big Cypress. This is one of the most impressive hiking I have ever done - but it is not exactly suitable for beginners. You will wade in knee deep water for days on end at an average speed of 1 mph. And if you get lost in the swamp you are in really big trouble.

As mentioned in the other post resupply can be a bit tricky and people along the trail are not used to hikers. They will think you are vagrants.

As much as I personally liked the Florida Trail I would not recommend it for you. The Florida Trail is great if you are specifically wanting to experience the swamp eco-system - and if you are willing to pay the price for it that consists of almost 1/3 road walks, constant wet feet and difficult logistics. But if you are just looking for an easy place to hike in winter you will be very much disappointed and frustrated.

Erik Danielsen
(er1kksen) - F

Locale: The Western Door
Re: Christine on 11/26/2011 14:21:18 MST Print View

I think you misinterpreted a bit as far as my expectations; planning to "take it easy" pace-wise and looking to avoid snow, yes, but not looking for an "easy place to hike in winter." Some degree of challenge is certainly expected as well as desired. Experience as well; deep mud and waist-deep water are no strangers, though I spend less time with that than knee-deep snow. She is less experienced, yes, but adaptable and physically capable. Experiencing the florida swamp ecosystem is precisely the intent, but we hold no illusions that there will be a lack of discomfort and challenge. Wayfinding in particular is something I enjoy. So I have to regard recommendations on whether or not we do it as somewhat off-topic; I'm here looking for gear and logistics advice.

However, while I disagree with your conclusion, I am grateful for the trail insights. Thank you.

Good to know that most will treat us like vagrants. Not a big deal; I've been in the position of actually being a "vagrant" (living out of a bag and roadwalking from state forest to state forest in NC), so I'm used to those reactions. I'll definitely be getting in touch with the FTA to get a good guidebook and maps to find the best means of resupply as well as the necessary permissions for thru-hiking that I keep reading about.

Roadwalking, again, familiar and not a problem. Not as enjoyable as wilderness perhaps, but it is what you make it, and I've had some fun journeys dominated by roadwalking.

Ken, I'm starting to lean towards getting a fresh filter membrane for my pump. It sounds like that might be the best solution after all, despite the extra weight. I had sort of forgotten about Frogg Toggs. Seems like a no-brainer to finally go ahead and get a set.

Thanks to both of you for your response.

Ken Bennett
(ken_bennett) - F

Locale: southeastern usa
Re: Re: Christine on 11/26/2011 19:51:56 MST Print View

" I'll definitely be getting in touch with the FTA to get a good guidebook and maps to find the best means of resupply as well as the necessary permissions for thru-hiking that I keep reading about."


Yes, and pretty sure you'll need to be a member of the FTA to have automatic permission to cross some private lands on the trail. The companion lists everything you need to do. I expect you have just enough time to arrange it all. Given that you aren't planning a complete thru, you can choose the section that best gives you the hike you want with the easiest logistics.

We hiked the (very popular) Ocala NF section in central Florida. No road walking to speak of, also no wading through swamps fighting off the gators. Very cool hike, could easily get a 2-3 week section in that area I think.

Have fun!

Matt Williams
(Jeter2) - F
Hiking Around L. Okeechobee on 12/25/2011 18:58:06 MST Print View

Keep in mind that part of the trail around the southern part of Lake Okeechobee is damaged from Hurricane Wilma and closed for repairs. I hiked around the lake 2 winters ago and it was not worth it. You are hiking on the road 1/2 the time and have to deal with agressive dogs. I love dogs so for me to say they were a problem is saying a lot. The hike is just not worth the aggrivation, IMO.

kevin dodd
(putbackthatsnook) - F

Locale: south east
hiking in florida on 02/04/2012 06:34:03 MST Print View

dont listen to these na sayers. hiking the florida trail with your best friend is a perfect way to spend spring break.big cypress from oasis to 75. a 3 day hike and then into the seminole nation (billies swamp safari) maybe spending the night in a chickee i know this will be a great hike for you.
make sure you file you permits for the seminole nation well in advance of you trip( you can get the paper work from the FTA)yes at times the trail can be a bit hard to follow as blazes have been burned from trees during fire season but with a little patience you will do fine. i just hiked this portion a few weeks back. there was plenty of water too.
get the rite maps from FTA and enjoy your hike

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: hiking in florida on 02/04/2012 07:47:03 MST Print View

Since this trip was to take place over winter break. What happened?

Edited by kthompson on 02/04/2012 07:49:08 MST.