Going out? Take the essentials

Published Jan. 16, 2014

Warm, sunny days and bone-chilling nights — that's what I've learned to expect living here in Florida. It is not uncommon to have a temperature swing of 30 or 40 degrees this time of year. That's why like any good Boy Scout, I'm always prepared when I head out for what is supposed to be a short day hike or paddle. Some have accused me of carrying too much safety gear, but 25 years on the outdoors beat has taught me to expect the unexpected. It's better to be safe than sorry. As the legendary polar explorer Roald Amundsen once said, "Adventure is just bad planning."

Hydration pack: Many people think they don't need water when it is cool outside, but that is a big mistake. Stay hydrated. You may not feel soaked because of the low humidity, but you are still sweating.

Smartphone: A great gadget in case you need to call for help. And most smartphones have apps and GPS maps, a big plus when you think you might be lost, and weather radar to alert you to approaching storm systems.

Signal mirror: An inexpensive piece of equipment that may just save your life, especially if you find yourself stranded in open water.

Insect repellent: Mosquitoes are not that bad this time of year, but there is nothing worse than encountering a horde of blood-thirsty insects and having no defense.

First-aid kit: Great for cuts and sprains but also filled with other backcountry essentials, i.e., painkillers, antibiotic ointment, etc.

Emergency blanket: This one piece of equipment can make a lonely night in the woods or on a sandbar not so horrific. Don't leave home without one.

Compass: Take frequent bearings so you won't get lost, and then you won't need all of this other stuff.

Headlamp: Take the wrong trail and find yourself hiking at night? A headlamp will help you see trail markers and hazards such as roots, holes, rocks, etc.

Glow stick: Tie this to the back of your hydration pack so you don't get separated from the group.

Pocket knife: Helpful for fashioning an emergency shelter, making kindling or filleting a fish that you have just stuck with a wooden spear.

Waterproof matches: Best way to get a fire going for warmth or to signal rescuers. And who wants to eat raw fish?

Emergency poncho: I always carry a lightweight rain jacket with me on the trail. The poncho is for my traveling companion who may not be so well-prepared.

Signal whistle: This is an essential piece of safety equipment that is often overlooked. In fact, it's not photographed here.

Terry's tip: When venturing into the wilderness, prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Before you head out, tell a friend or relative where you're going and when you plan to be back.

Terry Tomalin can be reached at or call (727) 893-8808.