I recently recommended a really fine trail guide to my Florida Rambler partner Bonnie Gross, and she suggested that we put together a list of our favorite things as gift suggestions for our readers. So here are our recommendations, and they are truly our favorites.
Without a doubt, this is the most comprehensive guidebook for finding campgrounds in Florida, and I have owned a copy since the first edition was published by Foghorn in 1998.
Florida is huge, and this guide lists almost all of its campgrounds, from the most primitive to the most developed, and they are neatly organized by region. This guide is not just a list but a descriptive review of each and every campground. The author pays special attention to natural amenities and nearby recreation opportunities. And each campground gets a scenic rating.
This edition was published in 2007, so I’ve noticed some things are already out of date, and I encountered a bad phone number when I called to make a reservation at one campground. But overall I have found this to be the ultimate resource. I own dozens of campground guides, including the popular Woodall’s and Trailer Life guides, and none come close to this one.
This is the guide I recommended to Bonnie in my introduction to this list. I purchased it recently from the Visitor Center at Canaveral National Seashore and was blown away by the descriptions and information written by freelance writer Tim Ohr and the outstanding photography by Pete Carmichael.
Ohr describes the trails as if you were there, and he provides valuable information about options for landings, where to put in and take out, as well as colorful sidebars on human (and not-so-human) characters he’s met along the way. He gives tips on where to camp, but provides little detail.
The maps and photographs are stunning, taking this guidebook to heights not achieved by any other in my outdoors library. This book is truly fabulous.
Bonnie swears by this book for planning her nature excursions. She likes its comprehensive approach. It’s a few years old (2005), so some of the information is dated (mostly commercial establishments, but the natural features haven’t changed. )
This trip planner breaks the state into 31 “eco” destinations, and each destination has sections for trail tripping, paddling and boating, guided tours, nearby natural areas, nearby attractions, wildlife, habitats, campgrounds, lodging and how to get there. Based on Bonnie’s love of this book, I’ve added it to my personal wish list for Christmas, and you should too.
Every couple of years, I find myself buying a new camp stove, and I’ve owned many, from the classic Coleman two-burner liquid-fuel stove to my old reliable Aussie (which has been retired to my deck at home). My favorite, until now, was the Coleman Grill Stove, which has a grill (with interchangeable griddle) as well as a side burner, which allows you to cook while you grill. For my recent tent-camping expedition exploring natural campgrounds in Central Florida, I wanted something compact, so I purchased the Coleman All-In-One at Bass Pro Shops in Fort Lauderdale.
The stove grate, grill and skillet in the All-In-One are nested inside the stove, making it compact and easy to store, but you can only use one at a time. On the other hand, you can use a much larger pot on the stove (think steamed clams and crabs), and there is an optional stock pot/slow cooker ($50) that sits perfectly on the stove, curbing lost heat. (I left the stock pot on the shelf.)
The stove has a powerful 5000 BTU burner that uses the standard 16.4-ounce propane cylinder. I’ve never perked coffee as quickly and easily as I did on this stove, and I wasn’t inconvenienced by having to simultaneously stove-cook and grill because I favor one-pot cooking. Admittedly, the inability to stove-cook and grill at the same time could be an issue, especially with families, but you can always use the campground grill or reheat the veggies after you pull the meat off the grill.
For years I’ve struggled to find the right life vest for comfort and safety while paddling but come up with nothing reasonably priced that does the job. Paddling in Florida can get downright hot at times, so I often end up strapping any old vest to the deck of my kayak instead of wearing it. There are plenty of “sport life vests” out there, but most are geared to water-skiers and lack the comfort you need for paddling. And those vests don’t have any pockets, so you end up stowing your carry-alongs in dry bags or hard-to-reach compartments on your yak.
And then I found this inexpensive fishing vest at Bass Pro Shops. It’s perfect. The top is mesh, and it drapes easily and comfortably over your shoulders, and it has a comfortable neoprene collar that doesn’t bind or make you sweat. The flotation pads are lightweight and wrap comfortably around your upper abdomen, and there are two zip pouches for tackle, a small camera and other essential paddling gear. Best of all, there is ample, non-binding arm room for paddlers.
There may be “better” vests out there at your canoe outfitter’s store, but you can bet they are going to be far more expensive than this $30 vest from Bass Pro. I wouldn’t recommend it for ocean excursions, or whitewater, but it is perfectly fine for Florida’s inland rivers and bays with good buoyancy to get you back to your boat or to shore.
I don’t know about you, but I do a lot of reading when I go camping, so the Kindle allows me to pack a lot of reading material into a compact, lightweight package. Perfect for backpackers, but also a good idea for car campers and RVers.
Initially, I didn’t plan to include the Kindle on this list, but when my friend and author John Grogan (“Marley and Me”) said he was carrying his Kindle on a recent backpacking excursion into the Pennsylvania mountains, I reconsidered. I, too, carry my Kindle on camping trips for convenience and space-saving.
The new Kindles weigh only 8.5 ounces, about the same as a single paperback, and they are easier to read because you can adjust the size of the type to your comfort level. They are not backlit, so you need an external light at night. There are several compact, inexpensive book lights on the market. Personally, I find that a camp lantern works quite well, and I synchronize my Kindle with the free Kindle apps on my backlit iPod Touch and iPad to finish a chapter after dark.
A couple of drawbacks: trail guides rarely have Kindle editions, so you still have to carry them, and there’s been recent push by publishers to force higher prices on e-books to preserve the integrity of their printed editions. (E-books are not yet counted for bestseller lists). Still, the Kindle rocks.
If you are interested in purchasing any of these items, you can support FloridaRambler.com by buying them using the links on this page. On some items, we will get a small percentage of the purchase price, which we will use to produce what we hope is more useful coverage for you.
Our choices for this list are based solely on merit. If we didn’t like the product a lot, it wouldn’t be here.