Beach & coastal hiking tips

5:42 p.m. on November 7, 2015 (EST)
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I just got stationed near Panama City, Florida and will be here for the next year. I used to live in NC and would hike in the piedmont are or in the mountains of NC/TN.

Well, now things are changed and I need to adjust my mindset.

Any advice for how I need to approach hiking at some of these beachy/sandy/coastal parks (let's say day trips to 1-2 night trips)? Any advice from "what type of shelter do you normally use?" to "do you wear boots, trail runners, or sandals like Tevas/Chacos?" would be appreciated. I'm even interested about whether your pack has a unique item that normally you wouldn't have if you were in another region.

Being in the panhandle, it is relatively warm all year round. Humidity level can be high at times and the sun is blazing. Things like my water cache and sunscreen just hit a new high on my list! I already have an overnighter planned for next week and I can't wait to check out many more sites over the next year.

Thanks in advance! 

10:54 a.m. on November 8, 2015 (EST)
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Winter is the best time for backpacking in Florida. You can go light because the country is flat with lots of water. I would also consider an overnight  canoe or kayak trip because FL has some beautiful clear streams and springs.

3:36 p.m. on November 8, 2015 (EST)
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@ppine, I definitely plan on doing some sort overnight kayak trip. My wife and I got an Ocean Malibu Two kayak and I'm itching to check out some cool places!

7:52 p.m. on November 8, 2015 (EST)
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I've taken a few day-trips in Florida when visiting family members and friends. After the first trip, the one thing I regretted more than anything was not carrying a pair of binoculars. Each time out since, I carry a pair, usually just small ones that aren't too heavy but work reasonably well.

The reason being: Florida is chock full of birds, some species more abundant there than many other places. The state's only endemic species, the Florida Scrub Jay, is a beauty to encounter on the trail and can get a little cheeky.

9:45 p.m. on November 8, 2015 (EST)
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I've got nothing productive to add (sorry Daniel) but I am eagerly reading along with the responses. 

I took a trip down that way this summer with my family. Got a couple day hikes in, nothing extreme, and have never felt quite so out of my element. It s funny the comfort level you develop within your home range. Boreal forests and mountains- second home to me. Tropical and deserts- foreign to me! I wouldn't go as far as to say scared, but definitely more anxious than I would normally be hiking. I don't know the animals, how they move, react, etc and as you said certain gear can take on a whole new priority level that you may be unaccustomed to.

Hopefully some locals can help you out. I believe both Leah and Mike are down that way. Congrats on the move.

10:25 a.m. on November 9, 2015 (EST)
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The way to feel the comfort of familiarity, is to get out there more.

2:09 p.m. on November 9, 2015 (EST)
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Hey Daniel,

  Welcome to flat land.

I'm a little north of you living 35 miles inland, just west of Charleston SC.

I moved here 15 years ago from the Chattanooga TN area which has a lot of wonderful wilderness areas & trails.

I haven't lived in Florida, so my input is related to coastal SC, but I hope it helps.

Where I'm at now there are very few foot trails. We have a handful of short ones, plus a single statewide trail that happens to pass close to me in a National Forest. We do have quite a few 'Water Trails' for kayaks & canoe's, these usually have maps available and blaze marks on trees or signs just like hiking trails.

Most of our wilderness areas are wetlands, swamps, marshes, or islands out in lakes or the ocean.

The area I'm in has thousands of tributaries & other waterways which in many ways makes kayaking or canoeing more convenient than traversing expansive wetlands on foot; although I have found a lot of wetlands that allow hiking & backpacking, there just isn't a trail system to use like you would have in the mountains.

The outdoor stores here tend to stock a lot of surfboards, kayaks, paddle boards, etc. along with a selection of backpacking gear and apparel.

I think climate wise we are very similar. 

It tends to be hot, humid, & very buggy in the warm months.  Mild, but often rainy & wet during the cold months.

Spring and Fall are usually fantastic.

Wind coming off the lakes, marshes, or ocean can be surprisingly chilly & damp almost any time of year, but it is great on summer and nights and dictates the location of my trips in June, July, and August when the heat & humidity would stifle a Rhinoceros. The heat index often reaches 115 F.

Sources of drinking water are plentiful inland above the brackish water line where salt water is no longer mixing with fresh water, I can even dig down a couple feet and get water if I have to. Close to the ocean you have to carry all your water, which is yet another reason why watercraft come in handy.

My biggest annoyances here are:

1. The heat and humidity

2. Insects, I always have Permethrin treated long sleeve shirts and long pants with me, plus a head net in the warmer months.

3. Poisonous Plants.

4. Risk of getting sunburned.

5. Lack of a foot trail system.


1. The things I enjoy are:

2. Mild winters, when I want snow I go to the mountains.

3. Fish and Seafood is abundant, easy to harvest with simple gear.

4. Abundant sources of water inland.

5. A plethora of wading and shore birds to learn about, and watching them hunt food.

6. Island camping with lots of sub - tropic plants, cypress trees, very large birds including Osprey's.

For footwear it really depends on where I'm going, I tend to stay down on the lightweight end of the scale with sandals, Five Fingers, Croc's, and light hikers. I do have a pair of snake boots for trailblazing across swamps & marshes, I think it's prudent based on the number of Cotton Mouth snakes I see there.

I prefer tents that are mostly mesh, have a bathtub bottom, and a nice rainfly. I love tarps, but I really must have a bugnet also even in most winters here. I find hammocks work very well for me and are typically cooler than a tent in the warmer months, especially if I camp where I can get a cool breeze off a body of water.

Wood fires in my area work very well inland (if you're a fire guy) and we have more downed timber than anyone would ever need, but in marshes and along shorelines wood tends to stay soaked, and i have found that drift wood (which is also plentiful) does not burn well at all.

Sand....if you are in sand it will eventually get in all your stuff including food, and even down in your underwear. It will grind the space between your toes raw before you realize it.

To avoid mosquitoes camp out in the open where you have a stiff breeze. Places like shorelines, grass savannas near bodies of water,  open sandy areas along islands or tidal creeks work well in my area. Once you move into wooded areas they will attack you.

I hope you like shrimp & crabs.

More later, Mike

10:33 a.m. on November 10, 2015 (EST)
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The lack of trails and thick vegetation makes water travel the preferred way to go. Then you can bring better food and some ice. Longer trips are feasible because of the cargo carrying capacity. You can bring more comfortable gear including some furniture.

1:39 p.m. on November 10, 2015 (EST)
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@Mike, I was hoping you'd chime in with your two cents. Great info for me and anyone else in this situation reading this thread!

You and ppine make great points about the lack of foot trails down here. There are numerous state parks and even some state and national forests, but still, the foot trails are shorter in length or often soggy and washed out. I plan on incorporating more island camping and kayaking into my repertoire.

Right now I have two state parks on my schedule for this weekend and plan to kayak out to St. Joseph Peninsula State Park in the next weeks.

@Kiwi, I'll definitely bring my binoculars!

3:19 p.m. on November 10, 2015 (EST)
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I live in the Orlando area and do most of my camping in Georgia.


I gear up the same as I would when I lived in Pennsylvania.


Only difference is clothing.

9:41 a.m. on November 11, 2015 (EST)
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Great point about the birds in the wet lowlands of the South. I remember a trip to the Everglades in a rented boat over 40 years ago and the bird sightings are still memorable. Binoculars are a smart thing to have along especially on the water.

The older I get the more I like watching birds. It is a great experience to go out with some skilled birders. A Christmas Bird Count around New Year's is an opportunity to get involved in a bird census. I like New Year's Day because then I don't do any drinking the night before in anticipation of getting up to hit the field at first light.

6:58 p.m. on November 27, 2015 (EST)
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One other thing.....I have had to buy longer tent stakes because of the loose Sandy soils found in the coastal plain. I have also started to use deadman anchors for guy lines when I'm in sand, I do it exactly the same way you would in snow - works great!

11:13 a.m. on November 28, 2015 (EST)
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Mike is the guy to ask about camping and hiking in the lowlands of the South.

Thanks for sharing your experience.

12:13 p.m. on November 30, 2015 (EST)
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Sand will get anywhere and everywhere...a truer thing has never been said.

Thanks for the advice everyone, it's been great so far! 


3:01 p.m. on December 1, 2015 (EST)
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Great to see you out and about!

Very cool photo of the tent.

January 26, 2020
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