Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Gear to grab before setting out on a hike

Cool morning, clear sky and no precipitation in the forecast — that's all the motivation I need for a walk in the woods. It's days like these that I thank my lucky stars that I live in the Sunshine State. While friends and relatives shovel snow up north, I'm hiking the Florida Trail in a T-shirt and shorts.

In the past 40 years, I've explored some pretty interesting places, always on foot. I've scampered along the rocky trails of the Swiss Alps and slogged along muddy footpaths of Central America, sauntered through the streets of Paris and trudged across the outback of Australia. Despite the varied terrain, my gear has always remained the same.

Boots: We've all seen the old Westerns where the bad guy steals the cowboy's boots. That's because everybody knows that you can go anywhere, mountains or desert, with a good pair of boots. I wore the same pair of Vasque Sundowners for 365 days straight once, on the beach in Hawaii, on the streets of Auckland and in the rain forests of the Cape York Peninsula. They never failed me once. Here in Florida, many walkers/hikers/backpackers go for lighter boots, footwear that dries quickly but still protects the soles of the feet. A new generation of light hikers, as comfortable as running shoes but as durable as steel-toed work boots, are stylish yet functional. I wear Salomon Ultras (made by the ski boot manufacturer) nearly every day to work, school and play. They are ideal for one of my favorite pastimes — urban hiking — which is what I call walking wherever I go.

Socks: Quality boots won't do you much good without quality socks. Many adventurers balk at paying $15 to $20 on socks. But all you need is one blister on the first day of a week-long trek on the Appalachian Trail to make you wish you'd heeded my advice. Remember, when it comes to socks, you get what you pay for. If you are going to travel the world but you've only got room in your pack for two pairs of socks, make sure they are the best you can buy. Look for a wool blend — yes wool — which you will find actually feels more comfortable on a hot day. Two of my favorite brands are Smart Wool and Darn Tough. They cost more than your standard athletic store variety but they will last for years, and more importantly, hot spots and blisters will be a thing of the past.

Walking stick: As a boy, the first thing I'd do on any campout was find myself a sturdy stick. A strong staff will not only help you keep your balance, but it can come in handy for poking things that you might not to touch with your hands — such as spider webs, venomous snakes, pesky raccoons and seat-stealing little brothers. Fashioning a hiking stick is a long-cherished camp tradition, but there is no dishonor in purchasing a store-bought variety. They make great gifts and can be adorned with any number of accoutrements to show the individuality of the holder. A good, hardwood hiking stick will cost anywhere from $35 to $50. In the past decade, I have probably bought two dozen from various manufacturers, gifts for recent graduates and Eagle Scouts. They come in all lengths, even pint-sized for youngsters. Give a kid a hiking stick and you'll start them on the road to adventure.

Maps and trail guide: Long before there was GPS and smart phones, adventurers relied on good, old paper maps to keep them on the right track. A big part of any expedition is planning. I've spent hours sitting at kitchen tables with my buddies pouring over maps and charts. Its good clean fun, and every hour spent planning will likely save you eight hours on the trail. I bought a set of maps of New Zealand and Australia a full year before I actually stepped on a plane to go Down Under. I've got a box of maps in my office of places I've been and places I dream of going. But start off small: go to and check out the maps and guide books available from the Florida Trail Association. Every great adventure starts out with an idea.

Good eats: My friends joke that the only reason I hike and backpack is to eat dried meat. Unless you work on a ranch in Wyoming, it is socially unacceptable to break out a plank of beef jerky and tear off a "chaw." But out in the woods, you can do (and eat) whatever you want. That's why I always pack some tasty treats. A can of smoked oysters tastes heavenly on the fifth day of a 10-day backpacking. So go out and buy yourself that pocket stove and espresso kit. Nothing beats a hot cup of coffee halfway through a hike. Make yourself some soup or carve up a Snickers bar and share it like birthday cake with your friends. You've burned the calories on the trail, so celebrate. Put the party back in picnic. Cookies, candy, and yes, salty, smoked meats always taste better on the trail.

Contact Terry Tomalin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8808.


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