SO YOU WANT TO GO CAMPING IN FLORIDA
With its generally high temperatures, overall wetness, and flat terrain, there may be more to consider when planning your next backcountry adventure. Flat = little naturally running water. Rain = swampy and extremely buggy. Sunshine = hot, humid, and… sunshine. With all this considered, tent camping can have some unique requirements.
Okay… so we’re talking primitive camping. Not loading up the motor home with your electricity and cable TV. Primitive camping is where you can really get away from it all, and Florida provides some great opportunities to pitch a tent. I could write a 7 billion page post about primitive camping in general; what to bring, how to bear bag, what kind of tent you should get, blah blah blah. But right now I’m talking about what separates Florida from the rest of the camping you might be used to experiencing or what you might have read about.
WHERE DO I CAMP?
There’s primitive camping all over the state and in over two dozen Florida State Parks. Some of the campgrounds have as much as picnic tables, camp fire rings, water fountains, porta-potties, or even actual bathrooms. Don’t worry though, if you’re looking for an actual adventure, there are sites much more down and dirty with just a nice cozy patch of grass to throw your sleeping bag down on. The key here is to do your research before hand… especially if you are with really needy people who don’t know what primitive camping means exactly...
Assess the group. Sometimes it's nice to have a bench to sit at and share a nice warm meal among friends. Cook over a fire pit, or if you want to lighten up your pack, bring along a good lightweight cookset (I use, love, and recommend this one) and stove. I use my PocketRocket Stove for more casual weekends out. It gets the job done and won't break the bank! I'll bring a homemade cat food can alcohol stove if I'm trying to keep it super lightweight on longer trips.
But anyways, my favorite areas to camp in are in North Florida. From Pensacola to Jacksonville, the area’s overflowing with natural springs, rivers, caverns, forests, marshes, beaches, and trails to choose from. The weather is a little more forgiving on the northern end as well.
Want to tackle part of the Florida National Scenic Trail? It spans almost the whole state from the Everglades all the way to the Panhandle. Camping is permitted along the entire trail, and in some areas, you can pitch your tent wherever you want, just make sure you leave no trace behind!
WHAT DO I BRING?
Winter = dry season, which means mildly sunny days that are perfect for exploring outdoors. However, just because it’s Florida doesn’t mean you should leave your sleeping bag behind. In the winter it can get up to a deceiving 80 degrees during the day and then drop to below 30 at night (especially in the northern part). Packing a range of clothing and layers is the best way to prepare. My recommendation is to not spend a lot of money on a super high-tech-below-zero bag. A Lightweight bag means less weight in your pack. If the temperature decides to drop unexpectedly, put on those layers we talked about!
Summer = wet season, which means you’ll very rarely see temperatures dip below 80, and the temperature + humidity can feel as if you’re in a 100+ degree jacuzzi tub. Luxurious? I think not. The sun can also be brutal, so get some strong sunscreen. DO NOT FORGET THE SUNSCREEN. Sunglasses are another thing people tend to forget. The heat and sun can really make you thirsty too! Dehydration can be lethal in the summer (not an exaggeration). Bring plenty of water, and invest in some sort of water purification method if going on overnight/longer trips. You’ll want an airy tent. Try and park it near water so you get a breeze! And just because it’s the sunshine state doesn’t mean it doesn’t rain… and rain… and rain and rain andrainandrain. Prepare to trudge into knee deep water (sometimes waist deep if you’re lucky). Seriously, don’t worry that your boots aren’t water proof, it won’t matter. Prepare to get wet, and PREPARE TO GET BIT. All the wet can bring about mosquitoes like you would not believe. SERIOUS BUG ALERT! You’ll really want to look out for ticks, spiders, and chiggers. Once you get settled in to camp, help your fellow campers do a body bug check.
QUICK TIP: One of the best ways to keep the sun and the bugs off you is to wear long clothing that covers your skin. Long pants can also really help when trekking through thick brush and buggy grass. It can get hot during the day, but it's really a payoff choice you need to make for yourself.
Also, like with all camping, the sun doesn’t give a shit that you’re not back at camp yet. Make sure you bring a flashlight, or as I prefer, a head lamp, so you can do your night pooping and what not. Bring your trowel and your tee-pee and your hand sanitizer. Also your food and your compass and your map and your first aid kit and your pocket knife and all that other good stuff!
WHAT ELSE DO I NEED TO KNOW?
Love the earth. Use common sense. Clean up after yourself. Don’t throw your shit all over the ground. If not for the next campers, then for the wildlife that may visit the site. Cigarette butts? Gum wrappers? Throw that shit out. (and you’re still smoking?) Don't feed any wildlife! Animals get used to it, then they become aggressive, then they have to be put down. Don’t do it.
THE BEST ADVICE I CAN GIVE
Just go with the flow. Seriously. It may rain. It may pour. You may realize that your really expensive water resistant socks mean nothing when your neck deep in swamp goo, and the next morning your shoes still aren’t dry. The bugs may bite and you may not be able to walk two feet without being close lined by a giant yet somehow invisible spider web. One special banana spider may come along with you on your journey for the next few miles and appear as a new ‘SURPISE’ friend on your shoulder. Side by side you will trudge through the forest floor in your short shorts, enduring every scrape and cut with stinging regret that you didn’t wear long pants. Maybe you wanted a mountain view. Maybe you weren’t expecting it to be so flat?