The Ultimate Backpacking Gear List for Hiking the Florida Trail
Since 2018, I have been section hiking the Florida Trail, one of eleven congressionally-designated National Scenic Trails in the United States. At more than 1,300 miles, the FT has been called the “toughest hike you’ve never heard of” for its exceptionally diverse track over the span of the Florida peninsula.
The Florida Trail presents hikers with every extreme: wet and dry, hot and cold, remote, and urban… and all of the wildlife for which the state is so well known. Whether your section hiking or thru-hiking the Florida Trail, you need to be prepared for a variety of seasons and conditions… often on the same day.
New to hiking the Florida Trail? Start here with five tips for backpacking the Florida National Scenic Trail.
THRU-HIKERS: Be prepared for very sporadic resupply points and mail drops. Those making a thru attempt are encouraged to make resupply arrangements with members of the Florida Trail Association and Florida Trail Hikers on Facebook.
PILGRIMS: This is not a supported hike. You will need to pack and prepare your own food, lodging, and resupply. For more information, please visit the Florida Trail Association.
Note: The majority of my trekking travel is for solo hiking. If you are traveling in a group, you may be able to split gear among several people and travel even lighter.
THE ULTIMATE PACKING LIST FOR THE FLORIDA TRAIL
BACKPACK SIZE: 58L
TOTAL GEAR WEIGHT: ~17 lbs, depending on season
BACKPACK: Osprey Exos 58L Mens
The Osprey Exos (and women’s specific Osprey Eja) is a dream carry for thru-hikers and casual backpackers alike, especially in Florida. This highly ventilated pack features a full-frame transfer to the hipbelt and Osprey’s Airspeed suspension to increase airflow and cool the back as well as cushioned and ventilated shoulder straps to further dissipate heat while ensuring a comfortable carry for long days on the trail. The Exos has become my go-to pack for its lightweight features that prioritize comfort on the Florida Trail and Appalachian Trail. It’s lightweight without the sacrifices of ultralight.
I chose this highly-adjustable, great fitting backpack for a number of reasons:
- Most comfortable, lightweight pack in its class – every other lighter pack sacrifices comfort
- Great accessible pockets (internal and external) for easily organizing gear
- Well-ventilated suspension transfers weight to the hips and allows airflow to keep your back cool
- Mesh exterior pockets for storing wet items separate from my clothes and gear
- Outstanding side pockets with inside-out compression to hold everything from water bottles to tent poles
- Detachable top-lid (brain) to reduce weight and attachment loops for sleep pad or other large gear
- Best-in-class Osprey lifetime warranty (a.k.a. “All Mighty Guarantee”)
I’ve used Osprey packs for years on the Florida Trail, Appalachian Trail, Camino de Santiago and for other local hikes. While they are not the cheapest option, I know that I won’t be dealing with a broken pack harness or strap at the least opportune time.
The Florida Trail throws every imaginable weather condition at you. You need a great shelter system with a bug-net feature. Because of the sandy soil and frequent storms, I prefer a free-standing backpacking tent and there’s really not a more reliable shelter for the trail than the Big Agnes Copper Spur series. Coming in at a little over 2 pounds, the Copper Spur is an absolute sure-thing on the trail.
As a lighter alternative, the Big Agness Tiger Wall tent series approaches the seemingly unattainable goal of double-wall, two-pound tent. This semi-freestanding, three-pole tent that offers the best features of the Copper Spur Series (side entry, spacious vestibules) and improves upon them with lighter weight and even greater ventilation. That weight saving comes in the form of even lighter (almost delicate) materials such as a #3 zipper instead of a #5 and 15D silnylon floor instead of the more robust fabrics in the Copper Spur. Visit your local REI store and you can see both tents set up side-by-side. If your budget allows it, the Tiger Wall Platinum is approximately one pound lighter with approximately the same space. For solo hikers, the Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL 2 Platinum is a really exceptional choice.
Sand, silica and sand spurs are brutal on tent floors so I highly recommend using a tent footprint, either the Big Agnes tent footprint that allows for Fast Fly setup or an amply-sized piece of polycro as a ground cloth. Don’t skip the footprint; you don’t want sand spurs or other debris cutting into your tent floor in Florida.
For those who prefer a hammock system, a bug net and tarp are essential in Florida.
While I’m not much of a coffee drinker, I know there are a lot of hikers who “don’t exist” until they’ve had a hot cup of coffee in the morning. For me, I prefer a really quick breakfast but a good dinner after a long day on the trail. Regardless of where you fall on the meal spectrum, a good cook system is key.
Recommended: JetBoil MiniMo Stove System
Recommended: MSR PocketRocket Mini Stove Kit
Both of these cook systems are highly recommended, with the JetBoil being more efficient and the PocketRocket being more compact. There is a slight weight penalty to the JetBoil, however, it does offer greater ability to cook/simmer and requires less fuel to boil water.
It’s critically important to get sufficient rest while on the trail. In my experience, a great sleep mask and earplugs are key to getting a good night’s rest.
One critical decision for the Florida Trail – which will vary by trail sections and season – is your primary sleep system, usually a sleeping bag or quilt. While more popular, sleeping bags will be bulkier and less efficient, in that the loft under your body does not insulate when compressed beneath you, whereas quilts will provide the same warmth at a lower total weight. I generally use quilts during cooler times and more lightweight sheets (similar to a bedsheet) in the warmest seasons.
To select the best sleeping bag or quilt for your expected conditions, refer to the COMFORT RATING on the bag rather than the name of the bag.
Some manufactures will use the comfort rating in their naming convention (“SLEEPING BAG 55″ – meaning the bag should be comfortable at 55 degrees and provide warmth below that temperature”) while others will use the LOWER LIMIT to name their bags (“SLEEPING BAG 55″ – meaning the bag is comfortable at approximately 65 degrees bag will not provide warmth below 55 degrees”).
RECOMMENDED SLEEPING BAGS AND QUILTS:
50 Degrees and Up:
Recommended: Sea to Summit Traveller TraiI 50
Recommended: Enlightened Equipment Revelation Quilt
Alternate: REI Co-op Helio Sack 50
Below 50 Degrees:
Recommended: REI Magma 30 Quilt
Recommended: Enlightened Equipment Revelation Quilt
Alternate: Nemo Disco 30
I recommend that you make note of the compressed volume for bags and quilts, especially lower-temperature bags. Those made of down will be more compressible while synthetics will take even more space in your backpack. The above are recommended not only for their warmth/price value, but also for their compressibility.
Depending on the season, you may not need a sleeping bag or quilt on the Florida Trail. In the hottest parts of summer, nighttime lows might be near 80 degrees Fahrenheit. One alternative to a bag is the Sea to Summit Traveller Adapter Bed Liner with Insect Shield.
Treated with permethrin to resist ticks and mosquitos, bugs, the Traveller Liner with Insect Shield is a rectangular-shaped sleep sack (85” length x 36” width) made from a very lightweight polyester intended only as a sheet, not as an insulating layer. It packs up smaller than a solo cup and weighs just 11 ounces. Think of it as a tick-resistant bedsheet.
Other items that might complement your sleep system:
RECOMMENDED: Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core SLX Sleeping Pad – Max Comfort Air Mattress (3.5″ thickness)
ALTERNATIVE: Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite Sol – Minimum Comfort Foam Mattress (0.75″ thickness)
Lastly, be sure to stay hydrated in the evenings and prior to sleeping. This small step will help you stay well-hydrated for the following day.
Hiking shoes are very much a personal preference item, perhaps more so than any other piece of gear a hiker may have. The Florida Trail is not a technically challenging footpath; however, you will encounter sandy trails that may cause your feet to slip laterally. It’s also worth noting that the daytime temperature of the sand can approach that of asphalt. For these reasons, I recommend a shoe with lugs to give you lateral traction and underfoot protection.
For the FT, I recommend non-waterproof trail running shoes over boots. While you will encounter water crossings (and even swamps) on the Florida Trail, the temperatures are warm enough to allow shoes to dry out quickly and the greater ventilation will reduce perspiration. Personally, I prefer a more cushioned trail runner, for both the increased traction and to feel more refreshed day after day.
My current shoe of choice is the Altra Olympus. This is a max-cushioning, zero-drop trail runner with a foot-shape toe box. I find the shape really works well for wide feet (2E width – 4E width). Offering great ventilation, flexible midsole, and good grip, these shoes are ideal for a distance walk across different terrains such as the Florida Trail or Appalachian Trail. Because I have wide feet, I find that I tend to wear a half to full size larger in Altra brand shoes.
Recommended: Altra Olympus
Alternate: Hoke One One Challenger ATR
Trekking clothes should be made from highly breathable fabrics that layer well and dry quickly. For the majority of my kit I prefer merino wool and dry-weave polyester, as these fabrics actually help you stay cooler in the Florida heat and resist odor – perfect for a hiker!
Be sure to check the average temperatures for your sections of the Florida Trail, as the morning/night temperatures can vary greatly in different parts of the state. Also, be aware that much of the Florida Trail is regularly maintained, so you will not need to do much bushwacking, if any. Lastly, much of the FT has full-day sun so consider long-sleeve shifts and pants with UPF ratings as an alternative to sunscreen lotion.
2x merino wool polo shirts (long/short sleeve depending on the season)
Recommended: WoolX Summit Merino Polo
Recommended: Minus33 Kearsarge Merino Wool Polo
Alternate: Champion Double Dry Performance L/S
Alternate: Columbia Silver Ridge Lite Shirt L/S
Second Layer for wind / mornings / evenings
Recommended: WoolX Merino Wool Mid-weight 1/4 Zip
Recommended: REI Merino Wool 1/2 Zip
Recommended: Icebreaker Merino Wool 200 Oasis Zip
1x 100-weight long sleeve fleece shirt (seasonal)
Recommended: Arc’teryx Delta Grid Fleece Zip
Recommended: North Face TKA100 Fleece Zip
1x down/synthetic mid-layer vest (seasonal)
Recommended: North Face Thermoball Insulated Vest
Recommended: REI Down 650 Fill Vest
Recommended: Eddie Bauer Microtherm 2.0 Down Vest
2x lightweight nylon pants (pants/convertible pants/shorts depending on season)
2x merino wool light cushion hiking socks
Recommended: Darn Tough Micro Crew Cushion Socks
3x polyester wicking liner socks (wicking socks reduce moisture and friction, reducing your chances of blisters!)
Recommended: Fox River Coolmax Wicking Socks
3x merino or polyester wicking boxer briefs
Recommended: ExOfficio Give-n-Go Boxer Briefs
Trekking poles enhance your overall stability and provide support regardless of the terrain. As I wrote in my detailed review (The Best Hiking Poles for the Camino de Santiago), I prefer hiking poles that are foldable so that they store easily in my backpack pocket, feature cork grips to dampen vibration, and offer lever locks to ensure they do not collapse or break along the way.
RECOMMENDED: Paria Tri-Fold Carbon Cork Hiking Poles
ALTERNATIVE: Black Diamond Ultralight Distance Carbon AR
New to hiking poles? Click here to read how to size, select, and use hiking poles for your next hiking trip.
Having a good shoe system will largely prevent blisters but foot care is essential. My homemade kit goes into a ziplock bag and includes:
BodyGlide Foot Anti Blister Balm – Glide works to reduce friction, lowering the risk of blisters
Alcohol wipes & individual Neosporin antibiotic ointment packets
Metatarsal pads & bandages – these are essential for me, as I often suffer from sore footpads on concrete
Needle and thread to lance blisters
36″ of KT tape – remove from a larger roll and rewrap around drinking staw; snip straw to 1″ wider than tape
Click here for a more detailed overview of my First-Aid Kit for Blisters and Foot Care.
Also, since I make most of my hikes alone, I also wear a RoadID bracelet to ensure that my vital information is available at a glance in any emergency
I’ve probably created and carried more than 30 unique first-aid kits over the years. I say “created” because – more often than not – retail first aid kits are not specialized enough for backpacking – lacking a few critical care pieces – and generally not conducive to hiking due to their size and weight.
Please click here for a detailed review and product links to create your own backpacking first-aid kit.
No time to create your own hiking first-aid kit? The Adventure Medical .5 Ultralight first-aid kit is a good place to start.
THE MOST IMPORTANT ITEM IN ANY FIRST AID KIT
If you’ve followed my hikes or read my blog posts, then you may know that I never hike without my Garmin inReach GPS Personal Rescue Communicator.
Beyond its GPS functions, the Garmin inReach Personal Rescue is an essential life-saving device, giving you immediate access to rescue and emergency services in any country as well as the ability to text directly with first responders to assess your situation and plan to provide care. I’ve carried the Garmin InReach all across the world and I strongly suggest you carry a two-way satellite communicator for all hiking trips the life you save could be your own.
Opinions vary but I prefer a hydration reservoir over carrying bottles of water because I drink more and stay hydrated when I don’t have to stop for water breaks. I also have greater peace of mind knowing that I have 2L of water in my pack versus needing to find places to refill. I’m not sure I’m in the majority but it works for me. HYOH
Katadyn Micropur Purification Tablets (Backup Purification)
TIP: I wrote this gear-hack on how to quickly refill a water reservoir from water bottles or water filters so that you never have to remove the water bladder from your backpack.
As a lightweight alternative to a bladder-style resrvoir, you may wish to use two large SmartWater brand bottles, as they attached perfectly to the Sawyer Squeeze filter.
I prefer to keep my devices fully charged when traveling to reduce the size of (heavy) portable batteries. I keep all of my cables and charger in a small bag inside my pack. Remember A-B-C: always be charging!
Apple iPhone with Gaia GPS mapping app and trail specific apps
Apple iWatch with GPS (Gaia GPS mapping app)
JACKET / RAIN JACKET: Outdoor Research Helium II
Exceptionally lightweight, the OR Helium II does double duty as a world-class rain jacket and breathable outer shell for cooler days. With a drawcord hem, elastic cuffs, and sealed seams, this jacket keeps you completely dry. Pertex layers are inherently more breathable and the Helium II adds underarm pit zips to increase breathability. The entire jacket folds and stores into its own pocket making this a very compact option for almost any weather condition. I keep all of my rain gear in an outside pocket of my backpack so it is easy to access quickly.
RAIN PANTS: Outdoor Research Helium Rain Pants
While some skip rain pants in favor of dry weave trousers, I’ve seen DWR wet-out too often putting you at risk of hypothermia at 60F or below. The Outdoor Research Helium rain pants are made of the same lightweight, breathable fabric as the Helium II jacket and perform just as well. These pants pack down small into their pocket and are ideal for clear trails but may be damaged in heavy brush. For an even more lightweight option, consider a silnylon rain kilt, such as the 3F Ultralight Rain Kilt, which is even easier to put on / take off quickly on the trail, weights less, and will comes in nearly five times cheaper than rain pants.
Journal and Fisher Space Pen
Printed Topographic Maps (from Gaia GPS or CalTopo)
Always test your gear to ensure your pack weight and choices will support your needs throughout the trek. In the end, you have to feel comfortable with your gear choices before embarking on any international trek.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE FLORIDA TRAIL
- Layering Ultralight Clothing for Pilgrimage Backpacking
- The Top Hiking GPS Apps for iPhone and Android
- How To Read and Follow Trail Blazes in North America
- PACKING LIST: Backpacking First-Aid Kit
- The Ultimate Backpacking Gear List for Hiking the Florida Trail
- The Best Months to Hike the Florida Trail
- PACKING LIST: First-Aid Kit for Blisters and Foot Care
- Five Tips for Hiking the Florida Trail
Husband. Father. Backpacker. Pilgrim. Author.
My recent treks include the Camino de Santiago through Portugal and Spain as well as section hiking along the Florida Trail and the Appalachian Trail. Provided I can do so safely, in 2021 I’m walking the California Missions Trail in the United States, as well as England’s ancient Pilgrims’ Way from London to Canterbury. Afterward, I’ll begin the Via Francigena, the historic way in Europe connecting Canterbury to Rome.