Backpacking in January? Not a problem.

24 11 2008

Spending any number of nights on a mountain, in the dead of winter might seem like a terrifying idea. But I actually love winter backpacking; let me tell you why.

Lucky for you, Florida doesn’t really have too many mountains. So high altitude backpacking is not a concern for Floridians. The Appalachian Trail ends in Georgia, leaving Florida with foothills at most. For example our highest elevation is the lowest of  the United States’ peaks.

Never the less, here are some tips that anyone will find useful as they set out into the dead of the winter:

  • Make sure you dress in layers, unexpected weather may call for more or less clothing. Try using some sort of under armor for your bottom layer. And the more you move the warmer you are.
  • Take a nice heavy duty sleeping bag. Even subzero bags can be packed down into a pouch the size of an ostrich egg. Also consider a mummy bag, its designed to fit close to your body, keeping it nice and toasty.
  • If it gets below freezing at night, tuck your water bottle in your sleeping bag so it doesn’t freeze. If your socks or shirt get wet during the day, put them in the bottom of your sleeping bag and they can dry while you sleep.
  • Bring extra pairs of wool socks, you want your feet dry and comfortable. Always keep your extremities warm. This should be your first priority, especially on longer trips. 
  • Get some warming pouches and keep them in your pockets. If you have a cold hand problem like me, this is so nice.
  • Get a sleeping pad or mat. Put it between your sleeping bag and the ground. It will keep you so much warmer. They usually roll up and attach to the bottom of your pack.
  • If you can’t sleep without a pillow, try stuffing the clothes you aren’t wearing into the sleeping bag pouch. It makes a nice little pouf.

Take these tips and enjoy a winter full of backpacking adventures.


Whered the trail go!? Photo by Hailey Petway

Where'd the trail go!? Photo by Hailey Petway


Florida’s End of Fall Festivals

20 11 2008

You don’t have to wait for christmas to go out with the family and have some fun. Check out this list for some fun things to do in your area.

St Petersburg will set sail with The Sixth Annual Florida Pirate Festival. It will be held from Nov 21st through 23rd, downtown, in Vinoy Park. The festival will offer food, entertainment by craftsmen and appearances from infamous pirates like Blackbeard.

Live Oak will take your back in their Old Tyme Farm Days and Engine Show. The festival will be held at The Spirit of The Suwannee Music Park on 28-29 of Nov. And festivities will include a tractor parade, live music, petting zoo and food. They will also host a potluck dinner on Thanksgiving night.

St. Augustine will kick off its 15th Annual Nights of Lights. The event will be held from Nov. 22 through Jan. 31. During the two months the city will offer train and trolly tours as well as a variety of entertainment

Land O’Lakes will have a Wine Festival and Market on Nov 22 and Dec 6. The event will combine wine tasting with a sampling of various types of food. Artists will present crafts for sale and there will be live entertainment.

Keywest will also set sail with its own Pirates in Paradise Festival from Nov 29 through Dec 7. The nine day event will include activities like pirate ship sailing trips, tours, exhibits, parties and will celebrate Keywest’s nautical history.

Sunrise will have it’s Woodstock 28th Annual Art’s and Crafts festival on Dec. 6 and 7. If you bring six can’s of food admission is free. The festival will provide, food, crafts, entertainment and rides.

Don’t let it catch you

17 11 2008

Cold weather is making a comeback in Florida.
Today the air is crisp and as you bundle up and turn on the heat imagine getting cosy next to a fire.

Yes it is bonfire weather. Building a fire may seem like a relatively simple task, but do not be fooled. Burning just any scrap of wood or paper can release noxious fumes and give your neighbors black lung. So consider this:

  • First designate an area, either dig a hole, buy a standing fire pit, or use an established fire pit. When digging a hole, make it deep enough so that the fire in the hole does not catch the yard on fire. 
  • Second gather your materials. You need small and easy to burn twigs, dried leaves, bark called tinder or kindling. These items are important because while they burn the larger pieces of wood catch fire, eliminating the need for lighter fuel. 
  • Third you need to gather the cut and dried logs. Damp logs will not burn and hardwoods like hickory and oak burn the best.

A very important part of the equation is the shape of the bonfire. You cannot just pile the logs and light a match. There are different ways of piling logs but the easiest are either the tee-pee or the square stack. Combining the two will make one big stable fire.

The teepee method consists of leaning three or more logs against each other in a cone shape. The easy to burn material goes inside the tee-pee. You light the center and allow that fire to catch the logs. As long as there is room for air to flow between the logs the fire will burn.

If you use tinder and a fire pit then you wont need lighter fuel and you wont catch your leg on fire, making the bonfire a safer place for drunks and clumsy people.


Photo by Hailey Petway

Photo by Hailey Petway

Camping cuisine

12 11 2008

We will all probably agree that hotdogs are not so hot. They are pretty gross acutally. 

So what else is there to take camping that’s quick and easy to cook over a camp fire? There is lots of stuff! Using a campfire limits what you can cook. If you get a roaring fire going in a pit with a grate then you can set a pan on top and make an omlette, flap jacks, even stir fry. But even cooking is hard on a camp fire.

The best method is the gas canister stove. It’s a can of heat. And some allow you to put a pot on top of it. This type of stove will boil water, opening up the possibilities.

So if you are going to use a gas canister stove you can cook pasta, rice and tempeh. You can make almost anything. 

If you are going to grill/fire pit route then you will have a less infinite set of options. You can try the food on a stick method. Find a stick and load it up with cut pieces of chicken, green peppers, onions and tomatoes. Then hold it over the fire. You can adjust this and put what ever meat you like, even meatballs.

If you are using a fire pit with a grate then you can cover it with tin foil and drop a chicken breast, veggie burger, hamburger, or even a piece of steak on and let it cook. Always have a flashlight handy so that you can check the center and be sure the food is cooked enough.

Don’t limit yourself! A little creativity makes camping a great experience.

Tips for weather proofing Winter backpacking

11 11 2008

Late last fall I did some backpacking in central florida. Along the way I learned some tips for making the best of a sometimes drippy situation.

Wet clothes on a backpacking trip is miserable. It means walking heavy and cold through the wilderness.

When packing your backpack, put your clothes in plastic bags. Your clothes will stay dry during your trip if you keep them in the bags when you are not wearing them. 

When you decide what clothes to bring, consider that you will be in motion during the warmest part of the day and not in motion during the colder nights. So layers are the way to go.

  • Wear water proof pants, never cotton. If they get wet they are heavy and make you cold.
  • Wear a water proof jacket. Look for something light weight so you can wear it even if it is warmer.
  • Layer shirts made of wicking material that draw water away from your skin. Under-armor is my personal favorite.
  • Make sure you wear wool socks and bring a boatload. Change them as soon as they are wet.
  • Wear light weight and waterproof boots.

Remember that you will be carrying your supplies on your back so don’t over pack.

Tips for beginning campers

5 11 2008

For those who have never camped or have camped and hated it, I have some advice to offer you. Camping is not fun if you are not prepared.

Before you go camping look up the campsite. If you are camping for the first time you should start at a state park, unless you are with experienced campers. Florida’s park service offers detailed information about the camp site conditions at each park online. For example some parks offer both cabins and primitive camping.

Check the weather, but be prepared for rain even if it is not expected. Because we live in Florida, rain is always expected. Be sure to rainproof your tent.

If you camp in the summer, and don’t want to be hot, consider bringing an oscillating fan. Also try to camp at parks which have rivers, lakes or are on the coast. Water sports make any camping trip better, and they are the best way to cool off.

Be sure you bring the little things. Flashlights, knives, lanterns, utensils, food containers, plates, cups, tin foil, napkins, chairs, bedding, lighter fluid, matches, a radio are all very useful and you will want to have them.

Make sure you set out for your destination with enough time to arrive before nightfall. Setting up a tent in the dark is not fun. If you have to you will need a lantern.

For things to do you should research what is available at your particular park. You can always bring a frisbee or a football. Most of Florida’s parks have water activities like kayaking or tubing. And almost all of Florida’s parks offer trails and exhibits.


A shelter on the Appalachian Trail

A shelter on the Appalachian Trail

Some like it wet and lots don’t

4 11 2008

If you have ever camped in Florida, then you are well aware that this is a wet affair. Or it can be.

So how do you stay dry despite Florida’s intermittent rain? The most important thing to think about is your tent. Camping can be a harrowing experience if you are not prepared, so take these steps to stay dry.

Your tent should be:

  • made in the last twenty years 
  • pitched over a tarp (makes clean up easy too)
  • sprayed with water repellant or sealer

Before you pitch the tent, look for rocks or sticks that could slice the bottom of the tent. Make sure that your tent is on top of a hill, and make sure the rain cover is properly secured. When it is raining, be sure that nothing is touching the walls of the tent, because this will cause water to seep through.

Some new tents are made with awnings. This gives you shelter for chairs, a table or all your other supplies if it rains. Also you can pull your water-sensitive supplies under the awning before you go to sleep incase it rains in the night. 

So are the tents with the awnings really better than regular tents? It depends on how irritable you are when wet. If you don’t mind getting a little moist then just seal the tent, attach the rain cover, and pitch on top of a hill. But if you want to be able to sit outside rain or shine, then check out the awning variety.