Friday, August 17, 2012

Books for Ultralight Backpacking

During the hot and rainy Florida summer I have been stuck inside the air conditioning reading and reviewing two books which I find perfect for the Ultralight Backpacker.  In the evenings, just when the temperatures drop to the mid 80's, the lightning starts and the rains begin.  We got a very short walk in last week on one of the local paved trails before the sky opened up.  When we got back home, it had never rained.
The two books are the Ultralight Backpacking Tips by Mike Clelland and the Ultimate Hiker's Gear Guide by Andrew Shurka.  Click the link to find the books on  I really like Mike Clelland's cartoons and the Tips format, and the read is light and enjoyable.  This is the one book you really need to get started with Ultralight Backpacking.  The first 10 tips are an overview of just about everything you need to know about UL backpacking. The rest of the book adds in the details and skills up to Tip #153 and includes a "10-day model trip", gear lists and food prep.  Mike's link is here for more information.  For a couple of my close 'traditional' backpacking buddies I've given them the books to help them appreciate Ultralight Backpacking and ultimately enjoy this activity.  I love my Kindle version except for some reason the packing lists do not change font size for easier reading.
Andrew Shurka picks up where many of us leave off with the manufacturing details of the gear we use.  I believe he has tried just about every item available at the backpacking gear store at some place just off the margins of the world atlas.  30,000+ backpacking miles gives him the experience to coach us neophytes in what we should do in the outdoors.  Andrew starts the book with the questions we all need to ask like,   "(1) what are my objectives, (2) what route and environmental conditions will I likely encounter, and (3)what gear, supplies, and skills will best help me achieve my objectives and keep me safe and comfortable?"  The rest of the book answers these questions based on the variety of locations and season you may be backpacking.  The meat of the book explains how the different varieties of Gore Tex are made and how they work (or don't), how different fabrics are constructed and in general, why gear works like it does.  Armed with this information you can make an educated guess when trip planning so you are carrying what you actually need in order to have a safe and comfortable trip while Ultralight Backpacking.  Plan to reread this a few times before planning your next adventure.  There is so much information to remember, I'll be referring to this book for years.  Also check out Andrew's web site here.  Especially read his blog called "Stupid Light" which was included in Gossamer Gear's online newsletter recently (and do read this before buying gear).  Andrew also leads group training sessions in the outdoors and I cannot think of a better person to learn from.
Both books should be required reading for new ultralight backpackers, and Andrew Shurka's Ultimate Hikers Gear Guide will benefit anyone backpacking or travelling outdoors.
I expect the Florida weather will be cooling off soon; we may even have to weather a peak-season hurricane next week to break the heat cycle (or not-we never know a few days out).  The best thing for me to do now is plan backpacking trips for the fall/winter season.  I really like Myakka River State Park near Sarasota, provided the water is low.  They have a huge and low back country prairie section with 20+ miles of hiking trails and 6 primitive campsites providing a few 2-3 day trip options.  There is no hunting allowed at Myakka during the cooler hiking season, perfect for Florida!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Kratzert and Deltona Library Hikes

Kratzert Trailhead
My wife has warned me about hiking during hunting season, that life is not worth much when being shot at while outdoors.  I grumble about wearing my orange vest, but still go, keeping my head down and just hiking.  When I hear the shots I am still startled and start to feel guilty for being there.
Kratzert pine trees
My first day of hiking in 2012 started during deer hunting season in January.  It was cool, but clear with a light breeze that became windy as the afternoon passed.  My start was a short hike along the Kratzert property on the east side of Lake Monroe, then I was to hike the Lyonia blue bird trail at the Deltona library.  As I was getting my gear ready at the Kratzert trail head, I noticed my bright orange hunting vest wasn't with my gear.  OMG, I must have left it at home!  My wife would just kill me if I got shot!  The young hunters waiting in the parking lot seemed to understand my plight and passed a vest over with no worry as to how they would get it back.  I thanked them and showed them where I would leave it for them after my walk.  As I pulled the vest on, they drove off after telling me to have a good time.  Their moms would be proud.
I followed the trail to the right just past the trail sign into an old field planted with pines.  I mention the trees because it smelled sweet and strong like pine-sol.  The 1.5 mile loop is short but follows streams, was dry and heavily shaded.  It loops around palm hammocks, with massive oaks and vines.  In a small clearing trail-side a spent shotgun shell lay on the ground.  As the trail rose back up to the pine field, I passed a horse fence on my left.  A few more yards and I was out with no shots being fired!  I stuffed the vest into it's hiding place and drove out around lake Monroe where I stopped to eat lunch at a park and enjoyed the lake view.
Lyonia trail map
From here it was a short Interstate drive to Deltona, a quick exit and follow the signs to the Lyonia preserve, that 400 acres surrounding the Deltona Library building.  This is ground zero for Scrub Jays in central Florida. The trails take off to the right of the building, I took the Lyonia, then Red and Blue loop trails to see the most of the site.  This was pure Florida scrub with little to no shade and I was thankful for the wind.  Part of the trails include the historic deer hunting path from Enterprise to Deland.
The trail loops up and over short hills, at one point reaching the highest site in the county (75 feet, woo hoo!).  I sat here a few minutes to drink water and watched the wind blow the trees.  There was a lake in the middle of the site and I watched a turtle drag himself into the bushes.  Just after the high spot I saw my first of three Scrub Jays.  It followed with me for several yards then was replaced by another, just as beautiful blue bird.  Down near the lake I saw the last Scrub Jay for the day, it was building a nest.  The birds seemed very friendly to me, and all flew close enough for me to touch.  Per the warning signs I kept my hands to myself and enjoyed their song.  I have heard it since at Seminole State Forest but just saw the blue flash of a bird there.
At the end of the hike I toured the museum, store, lunch counter and more.  Quite a lot has been built here to celebrate these birds and I hope people continue to create spaces for them to nest and grow.  It was a nice relaxing day hike here and I highly suggest this for families and kids.
Scrub Jay
Directions:  Kratzert Tract, from SR 46 and SR 415 near Sanford, go north on 415 for 2.5 miles, cross the St. Johns river bridge, turn left onto Reed Ellis Road, trail head parking is the second lot on the left.
Lyonia Preserve:  I-4 exit 114, drive south on SR 472 for 2.5 miles to Providence Blvd., turn right.  Go 0.7 miles to Eustace Ave., turn right into the library parking lot, park near the trail kiosk on the right side.
Be sure to check out the Lyonia Preserve activities and maps at and
Always remember to wear blaze orange vest/clothing when hiking during hunting season and hike during the weekdays to reduce your exposure to weekend gunfire.  There are many sites to visit in Florida where no hunting is allowed and I'm working on a hunt-free list for next season.  My wife will like that!