Hiking Tips for the Florida Trail

hiking-tips.jpgTrail Marking
Carry and study the trail maps when hiking, and use a compass. Most trailheads are marked with an “FT” sign post. Mapped sections of the trail are marked with painted blazes. The primary trail is marked with orange blazes, except in state parks where the blazes are white. Blue blazes mark side trails to campsites, access pounts, or places of interest. Double blazes indicate a change of direction, or that the trail is leaving an obvious path. After you spot a double blaze, watch carefully for the next blaze. If you go more than a few steps without seeing a blaze, you may have left the trail. Stop and retrace your steps. If blazes have been obliterated or have faded, please make a note and report them to the FTA office. Trail relocations are made frequently. Always give the blazes priority over the map.

Parking Along the Trail
Park in recommended sites when possible. Vandalism may occur. Do not leave valuables in a car.

Registers
Register boxes are stationed at points along the trail. Be sure to sign in when you hike. The registers provide a valuable record of trail use and are of special importance to rescue personnel.

The Compass
Carry a compass and map when you hike in unfamiliar territory. You will need them to find the trail again if blazes have been destroyed by fire or clear-cuts.

Using a map and compass is called orienteering, and is a fascinating sport in itself. A compass and map are useful to find some scenic place near the trail and then return, or to get back quickly to the trailhead in an emergency. In most places getting lost is an aggravating waste of time, but on a few sections of the trail, such as the Bradwell Bay “Titi Wilderness,” a hiker can get into serious trouble without a compass and a map.

Trash
Don’t pollute the forest. Pack out what you bring in and bring extra plastic bags for trash. Make sure trash bags are well sealed, because food odors will attract animals. Pick up egg shells, orange peels and food scraps,when you wash dishes. Use sand or a pine cone as an abrasive to scrub pans.

Pets
Pets are allowed in Florida’s state parks in daytime on a leash. They are not permitted in campgrounds at night. Other hikers do not know your dog as well as you do. In fairness to them and to wildlife in the area, keep your dog restrained while you hike the trail.

Guns
Guns should not be carried on the trail when hiking

Notes for Beginners
Perhaps you are interested in hiking in Florida, but are reluctant to try because of a fear of the wilderness, or because you worry that you are not physically capable. Hiking the Florida Trail should not be frightening or strenuous, though, and new hikers have much to look forward to. Backpackers enjoy solitude and natural scenery. If you walk quietly, early in the day and in small groups, you will see more wildlife.

Florida Trail hikers range in age from young children to senior citizens. The trail offers many kinds of hiking for all kinds of people. If you are worried about your physical endurance or your children’s attention spans, you can plan short, leisurely hikes at first, but don’t underestimate yourself: FTA has members who are grandparents and are vigorous, experienced hikers. Some of them maintain their own sections of the trail. Use good judgement, and if you have medical problems, talk to your doctor before embarking on a strenuous hike.

Minimum First Aid Kit
band-aids
whistle
insect repellant
gauze pads
matches or lighter
burn cream
moleskin
flashlight
sunscreen
safety pins
quarter (phone)
aspirin
knife
pen & paper cup
bandana
compass
canteen or water bottle
emergency contact information

Clothing
Shorts and a T-shirt are adequate for many Florida day hikes. A day-pack to hold a sweater and a poncho, your first aid kit, food, water, camera and perhaps dry socks will cover warm weather hiking. Long pants and long sleeves protect you from insects and brush. If you are backpacking, learn to travel light. After four miles a loaded pack seems double in weight.

Shoes
FT hikers wear everything from tennis shoes to expensive hiking boots. Jogging shoes or inexpensive work boots are also popular. Compared to the mountains, Florida terrain is forgiving. If you are carrying a heavy pack, be sure your shoes provide good arch support.

Toilet
Move at least 30 yards off the trail and dig a hole with boot or trowel about six inches deep, six inches wide and a foot long. Cover with the excavated dirt. Pack out all toilet paper or towelettes.

Camp Fire
Open fires pose a serious threat to the woods during dry weather. Fires are forbiddeen during drought. Don’t build a fire for cooking unless you are certain that open fires are permitted. Build the fire on bare ground, and after it burns out, eliminate all traces of the fire ring. Try to erase all signs of your campsite so that the next hiker will find an unspoiled spot.

Shelter
Shelter is not necessary for survival on the Florida Trail, but because winter temperatures can drop into the twenties or lower in Central or North Florida, a tent is desirable. An inexpensive pup tent is adequate under most circumstances. Other tents of various types offer more space, less weight, better water protection and other advantages Backpackers may prefer an ultra-lightweight tent. Check with an experienced hiker or ask at a trail shop before buying an expensive tent.

For sleeping bags, synthetic filler dries fast and should provide insulation even when wet. Down gives much warmth for little weight and can be compressed. Backpackers may be willing to pay the extra cost for a down bag. Many FTA hikers carry a hip-to-shoulder foam pad about 3/4 to 1 1/2 inches thick to make sleeping more comfortable.

Stoves
Anyone who plans to become a backpacker should obtain a small lightweight stove. These range from inexpensive and inefficient alcohol paste stoves to intricate, expensive gasoline or propane stoves. Don’t use a stove in a tent. Besides the danger of fire, stoves produce carbon monoxide which can be fatal inside a closed tent.

Water
Do not drink stream or surface water without filtering, chemically treating or boiling it. A crystal clear stream deep in the woods may be contaminated. The giardiasis parasite is prevalent in untreated water and can cause severe stomach upsets including diarrhea and cramps from one to three weeks after exposure. Boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes should kill the parasites. Water from wells designated as potable on the maps is safe to drink. Water may be hidden in advance at strategic crossroads. A collapsible water carrier is handy to transport a gallon back to camp from a nearby water source.

Whatever the arrangements, plan to use at least three quarts of water per day. In very hot weather, it is wise to carry a mineral replenishing powdered drink mix to add to the water.

Food
Carry enough food to replace the calories used while hiking. Eat small amounts at frequents rest stops and the largest meal in the evening. You can purchase trail food (fruit, granola, etc.) and food for meals anywhere; it is not necessary to buy it at a trail shop. Candy and dried fruit give energy.

A light breakfast is advisable, perhaps an instant cereal with fruit and beverage. Canned or freeze dried dinners are simple to prepare for supper and tasty concoctions can be made from dried noodle or soup mixes. Experienced hikers will have interesting recipes to share with a beginner.

Organizing a Backpack
Backpacks usually have one or two large compartments and several smaller pockets. Pack so that the heaviest gear (tent, food, stove) is nearest your back and hips, and the things you need often (maps, compass, rainwear) are easy to reach in a hurry. A sleeping bag can be rolled and tied below your pack. Distribute the weight so you can without leaning far forward.

Backpacking gear need not be expensive.Check your kitchen for light-weight containers. Half-gallon juice jugs are good water bottles. Film cannisters or plastic spice jars can hold small items.

Reduce weight wherever possible: repackage food in plastic bags and carry dehydrated food when you can. Take only what you think you will need and revise your list after each trip.

The Loaded Backpack
Flap Pocket: Should contain maps, notebooks, and pens
Top Side Pockets: Should contain your canteen, stove and fuel, raingear, and lunch
Lower Side Pockets: Should contain your first aid kit, sun screen, insect repellant, flashilght, toilet kit, and matches
Top Compartment: Should contain cups and spoons, your jacket, raingear, and plastic bags
Bottom Compartment: Can hold your stove, tent, cook kit, clothes, and food
Stuff Bag: Good for holding your sleeping bag and foam pad

Suggested Supply Checklist for an Overnight Hike
Kitchen
two quarts of water, minimum
stove and fuel
aluminum foil
knife, spoon, can opener
matches, lighter
water treatment tablets/filter
paper towels
trash bags
cooking pot, pot lifter
condiments
cup, bowl, or plate
Personal
toothbrush, toothpaste
toilet paper, plastic trowel
medicine
comb, brush
soap and towel
moleskin

Clothing
boots and camp shoes
two pairs of socks
T-shirt, underwear
long-sleeved shirt
long pants or shorts
raingear, poncho, hat
jacket or windbreaker

Shelter
tent and ground cloth
sleeping bag/foam pad
plastic to sit on

Miscellaneous
map and compass
camera, binoculars
first aid kit
insect repellant
flashlight
nylon cord

For more tips, visit the Florida Trail website