As I packed recently for a tent-camping expedition into the wilds of north-central Florida, I was reminded of a few basic preparations unique to Florida that will help make your camping trip successful.
1) How big is your tent? The cardinal rule for Florida camping is a tent at least double the capacity that you need. In other words, if there are two of you camping, get a four-person tent. Four of you? You want a tent that can sleep eight. Seems extreme, but you’ll be thankful for the extra air that circulates. Also make sure you have cross-ventilation, ideally one door or window on each of four sides, with extra-fine screens to keep out those tiny (and pesky) no-seeums.
2) Find a shady site — near water if you can — so that you get a fresh breeze all night long. If there is no shade available, create your own shade with a canopy. The canopy will also help disperse water if there’s a sudden storm during the night. Use tie-downs so it doesn’t blow away. During the day, move the canopy away from the tent so you can use it for refuge from sun and rain.
3) Tent stakes! You never really know where you will be able to pitch your tent — sand or hard ground — so you need to be prepared for both. Metal spikes are fine for hard ground (bring a hammer), but they pull out of sand too easily. Buy a set of plastic stakes with ridges at Sports Authority for $1 apiece. (I just resupplied my camp box today.)
4) Pack a breathable, lightweight, waterproof rain jacket, such as Gore-Tex, which serves as both a rain jacket and a windbreaker but won’t smother you in your own sweat. Mine is from LL Bean, weighs 12 ounces, and it’s yellow so it can be seen clearly in the woods, on a highway or in the water. I don’t ever leave home without it.
5) Bring plenty of water. Camping seems to dehydrate me quicker than anything I do, and more so in Florida than anywhere else. When camping in remote areas, as I often do, I freeze two gallon jugs of water for my cooler ahead of time. I also bringing a case of bottled water and a 5-gallon jerry can for washing the dishes and myself. On a hot day, you’ll be thankful you have extra water to pour over your head.
6) Repellent and sunscreen. When you are outside all day in the Florida sun, those UV rays sneak up fast, even on a cloudy day. I pack SPF 45 for insurance. And then, when that sun starts falling in the west, the mosquitoes and no-see-ums can be frightful. My favorite repellent is Avon Skin-So-Soft. You can buy it online, and YES, it works. I also carry repellent with a high dose of DEET, just in case. And here’s another tip: I usually can get away with just putting it on my ankles, wrists and a dab or two on the neck.
BONUS TIP: If your tent is big enough, and you’ve got room in the car, those fold-up camping cots are not a bad idea. Cots allow the air to circulate under your body and have a significant cooling effect. A hammock tent is a good alternative if you’re backpacking.
This is not, of course, a complete tent-camping checklist, just highlights unique for Florida. You also need food, cooking gear, sleeping bags, etc. All of the gear you “need” can get out of hand. For a more complete checklist, I suggest you see my Tent Camping Checklist for Florida
If you are adventurous and want to try kayak camping, you have a special set of needs (and not much room). Warren Richey, author of “Without A Paddle,” offers these tips: Kayak Camping: Sharkchow’s Checklist, .
And if you have a suggestion unique to Florida tent camping, let us know in the comments below.