Monday, March 29, 2010

Florida Trail: Tipps and recommendations

I had a hard time finding info from other thruhikers about the FT, so I decided to give some tips on equipment and logistics to those of you who are considering a hike on the FT:

Sleeping bag: I had posted that question on another outdoor forum and was told by multiple comments that a 40 F or 32 F bag would be sufficient for Florida. Luckily I did not listen to that advice!!!! I brought my 20 F Western Mountaineering Ultralite bag and really needed it. Some nights I was still feeling cold in it - despite wearing all my clothes. This was an exceptionally cold year, but I would definitely recommend a 20 F bag.

Shelter: I had considered buying a hammock for this trip, but ended up bringing my Tarptent Contrail. Neither of those two options is perfect for the FT. Forget about a hammock: There are a lot of stretches on the FT where there are no or only tiny trees. The Contrail is a non-freestanding tent which is not ideal for Florida. Very often there was no or very little shelter from the wind. Very often you have sandy ground and your tent stakes will come out. You can manage with a non-freestanding tent, but I would recommend a freestanding one.

Shoes: I wore what I always wear: Keen trail runners and it worked great. Forget about Sealskins or waterproof shoes. You will have wet feet no matter what - so you might as well go for shoes that dry quickly. Bring new shoes with good cushioning or you will pound your feet on the road walks.

Trekking poles: You definitely need them for wading in the swamps - don't go without them.

Maps and guidebooks: The FTA sells great maps and a data book for the whole trail. The maps are even waterproof and almost error-free. The data book has more errors but is still pretty good. The price is reasonable and the set is a very good value. Don't go without them, although the blazing is good. You will definitely need Sandra Friend's Companion guide. Although it has not been updated for 3 years, it still provides invaluable information. I would have starved without it. I carried all three (maps, data book and companion guide) for the whole trail. Rip out the pages for the corridors you will not hike and the weight becomes bearable from the start.

GPS: I carried one, but did not need it. Blazing is generally very good, except in areas with recent prescribed burns. Just pay attention and you will manage.

Permits: Reading the FTA website you will get the impression that dealing with all the permits you need is  a nightmare. It sounds really bad, but is not much of a hassle really. I do recommend to get all the paperwork, but I was never ever checked a single time on the whole thruhike for any permit. There are just 3 things you really have to do: Become a FTA member and apply for the Seminole permit. You do both before you start. Halfway through your hike you request your thruhiker letter for Eglin and have it send to a post office. That's it! If you hike through St. Marks you can get your permit at the Visitor Center (which is only a short detour). As a normal thruhiker, you will not need any other camping permit.

Shuttles to Southern Terminus: This is a BIG problem! There is no reasonable shuttle to get you to Loop Road or Oasis Visitor Center in the South. The shuttle service that is recommended on the FTA website wanted to charge me 358$ for the trip. There are no trail angels who will volunteer to shuttle you (due to restrictions for services rendered in National Parks). The FTA has been very unhelpful in this respect - do not count on any help from them. You might get help from the local section leader or from ft-l, but do  not count on that either. You are on you own there - hitch or find a friend to shuttle you. Personally I think this situation is a disgrace for a National Scenic Trail....

Shuttles from the Northern Terminus: The bus listed in the companion guide will only run after May 15th. I did not check out the water taxi, but you can get a normal taxi. It will not be cheap, but doable.

Info for thruhikers: There are very few info sources for thruhikers: ft-l is almost dead - hardly any traffic and not much info. The Florida Trail room on Trailforums.com is equally dead. The FTA is not geared for thruhikers. Although the staff is friendly, you will not get much help with thruhiker issues there - unfortunately. I found this a very unique situation, as all other trail organisations I have been dealing with have been very efficient and helpful for thruhikers - not the FTA though. If you have questions or need help, you have to contact the local section leaders (you will get their names and contact info from FTA with your thruhiker package). Every section leader I contacted has been extremely knowledgable, friendly and forthcoming. I owe a lot of thanks to these people.

Trail angels: You will get a trail angel list with your thruhiker package. I stayed with 3 official trail angels and was recommend on to 2 "unofficial" trail angels. I had a wonderful time with each one of them. These trail angels are a great asset of the FT. But keep in mind that all the trail angels are clustered in the Orlando or Tallahassee area and there are hardly any trail angels in between.

Resupply:  Resupply can be challenging despite the fact that Florida is a very populated state. I did not send any resupply packages and did not hitchhike into trail towns, which made life a bit harder for me. There is not a single outfitter directly on the trail that sells gas cannisters. You rely on trail angels to shuttle you to outfitters for that. Plan accordingly or eat cold... In smaller towns grocery stores have a very limited selection. The trail town services do not cater for hikers or any type of outdoor people except hunters and fishermen.

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