By Chris Miller
Backpacking Gear for the Florida Trail
Usually I try to keep my pack weight down, though I don’t really consider myself an ultra light hiker. I can live comfortably out of a pack weighing no more than 20 pounds for months at a time. And that is including food and water. My base weight, the weight of my gear not including food and water, usually hovers around the ten pound mark, though I have a tendency to carry multiple paperbacks at a time which can push that weight up a bit.
So what’s in my pack? Let’s start with what I consider the essentials, sleeping gear and clothing.
I sleep in a cheap Walmart $30 40 degree sleeping bag made by Ozark Trails. It is one of the smallest sleeping bags around which means it packs up into a very tight space. This is one of those occasions when you don’t need to spend a ton of money on a top of the line sleeping bag. Is it warm enough? Probably not for a lot of winter activities, and even in Florida it can get cold in January. But the sleeping bag is always slipped inside my REI Minimalist Bivy. This adds a few degrees as well as allowing me to easily stealth camp. I also usually sleep in my Under Armour base layer. My base layer is one of my most trusted pieces of survival equipment. I probably wouldn’t have survived the week of 20 degree nights stealth camping in Austin Texas that I went through a few years ago if it wasn’t for them and my winter hat and gloves. Also something which is always in my pack.
Other than that, a change of socks and underwear, my Petzl headlamp, a 5×7 tarp, a Thermarest Prolite sleeping pad, a Nike Storm Fit rain jacket, an REI Revelcloud packable jacket, a Sawyer mini water filter and a pair of what I call sleeping socks, socks which only get worn at night when I’m in my sleeping bag rounds out most of the rest of my gear.
Sure there are a few other things, random assorted things clipped inside my pack or stuffed in Ziploc bags near the top where they are easy to get to. The toilet paper and first aid kit, the mini Bic lighter and fire starter cubes. I also have a clip with several safety pins, a GSI plastic spoon, some rubber bands, a small set of nail clippers and a P-51 can opener. You’ll notice that I didn’t mention a knife of any kind. Airlines are pretty picky about letting you bring knives on board and I have found that when you are stealth camping in urban environments it is very likely that you will at some point be stopped by the police. Usually when I’m hiking I’ll carry a small Swiss Army knife. I’ve never needed anything more serious no matter the situation but have recently added a Buck Paklite Caper to my gear. Mostly for batoning wood for fires. But for the Florida Trail I wasn’t able to pack a knife and in the rush before leaving I had failed to mail them ahead to myself. So I was without a knife in the swamps and back country of Florida.
Backpack Gear List
REI Lookout 40 backpack 53 oz
With 3 Liter Camelback water bladder and insulated drinking hose
Ozark Trail 40 degree synthetic mummy bag 32 oz
REI Minamalist Bivy 15 oz
Thermarest Prolite Small Sleeping pad 11 oz
Blue patched Silnylon 5×7 tarp with ropes 11 oz
Nike Storm Fit Rain Jacket 16 oz
Winter hat and gloves 3 oz
Underarmour bottoms lg 6 oz
Underarmour top xl 8 oz
REI Revelcloud Jacket md 12.5 oz
2 Extra Pair socks 6 oz
Petzl Headlamp w/batteries 3 oz
4 tent stakes w/stuff sack 2 oz
Sawyer Mini Water filter 2 oz
32oz Gatorade bottle 1 oz
Toiletries, First Aid Kit 8 oz
Notebook, Guidebook, Pens 32 oz
Swing Trek Umbrella 7 oz
Tent – Freestanding cheap Ebay tent 31 oz
259.5 oz or 16.2 Pounds
Much heavier than I’m normally used to and this is mostly because it is a new, heavier pack with the ability to not only carry more food but which also has a larger water carrying capacity. Florida is notorious for having bad tasting water which no amount of filtering or flavoring would cover and I wanted to be able to camel up when I found clear water. Also, the cheap tent was a last minute add on. I wasn’t sure how I felt about sleeping in a bivy on the levees in Florida knowing that alligators were so close. As it was one of the hikers ahead of me woke up to the sound of one snoring next to their tent. So how did the gear hold up? Most of the gear are old standards that I’ve lived with for years so I knew what to expect. But there were a few newer items that hadn’t been extensively tested before.
Sawyer Mini Water Filter
The first was the Sawyer Mini water filter. Coming in at 2 oz I had used this on only one other two month long backpacking trip along the Oregon coast and it had held up well under the minimal water filtering I had done. It comes with a squeeze bag for forcing water through the filter as well as a back flush syringe for cleaning out the filter when it becomes clogged. It has a 0.1-micron filter which means I never really have to worry about Giardia, e. coli or salmonella. And the best feature, at least for me, is the threaded end which can be screwed onto most soda and water bottles. This lets you fill your bottle from any source, screw on the filter and squirt the water directly into your mouth.
The biggest drawback, at least on hiking in the Florida swamps, was that the water often had enough silt suspended in it that I had to back flush the filter on an almost daily basis. I’ve heard this complaint from other hikers as well and they say for the slight difference in weight they carry the full Sawyer water filter which doesn’t seem to clog as easily. This year the swamp was little on the dry side and at least one long stretch had very little in the way of drinkable water. Another hiker had gotten so low that he decided to drink his own urine. He turned around, filled up his Smartwater bottle, screwed on his Sawyer filter and shot a good healthy stream into his mouth. “Hmm, still salty,” was his only response. That’s because the Sawyer filters were not meant to filter the salt out of water. Just an FYI if you are thinking about drinking your own urine anytime soon.
Cheap Ebay Tent
I liked this tent mostly because it was freestanding and cost about $20 shipped directly from China.
The problem was that those also seemed to be the only good things about it. The tent was listed by a few different Chinese Ebayer’s under titles like “Camping Tent Single Layer Waterproof Outdoor Portable UV-resistant Army green” or “Portable Camp Camping Tent Single Layer Waterproof Outdoor UV-resistant 1 Person.” It was a one person tent that weighed just under two pounds and it could easily be stuffed in a side pouch or rolled up and strapped to the bottom of my pack. I wanted to make a few modifications to it to make it more camouflaged and perhaps add a rain flap over the zipper on the door but there wasn’t time before the trip. It help up fine in decent weather and even light rain. That’s when I noticed that the floor wasn’t waterproof. This wasn’t a big deal until some of the heavier thunderstorms rolled in. Even though they lasted less than half an hour the wind would force the rain through the walls of the tent and I would end up sleeping in puddles for a while. Thankfully I had my bivy. The storms also brought out another drawback of this tent. That the poles were weak. In the mornings I would notice that section after section of the poles were splitting and had to be repaired with Gorilla Tape. But I was glad to have even this cheap tent to keep the hoardes of mosquitos at bay. Even then, sometimes just after sunset, the cloud of them would be so thick outside the tent that I thought they might be able to collectively break the flimsy tent and suck me dry. Walmart used to sell a Junior Dome freestanding tent for about the same price that was only slightly heavier. It was meant for kids but I used that thing for years before passing it on to someone else. An act I sometimes regret as Walmart has discontinued their production. Let’s just say that the cheap Chinese tent didn’t make it back from Florida.
This hike I decided to go No Cook, meaning that I wouldn’t be packing my pot and stove and that I’d be eating everything cold. For me this works out really well though I can understand how some people would prefer hot meals. It meant that I’d never have to resupply fuel and I would have more room in my pack for food. So what did I eat? Bagels, cream cheese and sliced salami were most of my big meals. Protein shakes and Multi-Grain breakfast bars were usually my breakfasts and Snickers, Chia seeds and Little Debbie Cosmic Brownies were my snacks throughout the day.
Drinks, besides the protein drinks, were powdered Gatorade for the electrolytes and Crystal Light packets to flavor the water. The big comfort food for me was the protein shakes. They have become a standard backpacking food for me. I carry about a pound of vanilla whey protein along with roughly the same amount of either non fat dry milk or Nido which is powdered whole milk. I prefer the Nido not only for the extra calories but because it doesn’t foam up as much when shaking the shake. I make the shakes in my 32 oz Gatorade bottle, great because of its wide mouth. Usually I’ll drink some of the water off the top to make room for the powders. Personally I don’t measure what goes into the bottle. I’ll simply add a roughly equal amount of spoonfuls of powder, mixing it in gently at first to make room for more powder. When I think its ready I’ll just put the cap on and shake violently for a while. The whey protein is great for repairing the damage to my muscles caused by hiking and generally this is just a tasty shake that I never seem to get sick of, which is pretty important in any foods you carry. The only drawback was going through airport security. I was pulled aside for a security check and they emptied the contents of my food bag. When the TSA agent pushed everything aside he picked up the ziplock bags of what looked like kilos of cocaine. Luckily he laughed. That doesn’t mean he didn’t swab down everything I owned looking for traces of drugs though.
All in all the gear held up well. The tent though was left in a dumpster somewhere in Florida. I’ll stick with the Sawyer Mini and I may start going No Cook on more of my travels. The pack was a bit heavy for my tastes. Leaving the southern terminus of the Florida Trail I was carrying four liters of water, roughly 8 ½ pounds, more than I’ve ever carried before, and way too much food. I’ll probably go back to the 30 liter pack I usually use for the next adventure, which will probably be hitchhiking across the US. And next time I go hiking in Florida I’ll probably pack some bug spray.
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