The recent heatwave may have dimmed your enthusiasm for outdoor activities. But it’s perfect weather for reading, especially for a book about all the incredible Florida hikes you can try in finer temps. Johnny Molloy’s Backpacking Florida (University Press of Florida), 2023) is perfect to get you dreaming – and planning.
Molloy has written extensively about hiking, paddling, and camping in Florida, including his 2008 chronicle of thru-hiking the entire Florida Trail. Molloy’s voice is pragmatic, insightful, and — on a topic where experienced outdoorsfolks can often become a bit preachy or pedantic — surprisingly chill. One example is his witty description of varying philosophies around how to pack. Whether you’re a “backpacking purist,” a “make-do hiker,” a “minimalist,” or a “gearhead,” you’ll appreciate Molloy’s pithy insight.
“Wilderness adventuring has no commandments,” he writes. “Each person literally carries his or her own weight — and lives with their choices.”
The book covers 40 different hikes located across the state in a variety of terrains. Each entry contains a map, a detailed description of the route, and a number of helpful planning factoids such as distance, difficulty level, best season for visiting, and how to find the trailhead and where to park your car. It also usefully rates each trip in terms of scenery, solitude, and family friendliness (as well as canine friendliness!). You may wish to supplement your reading with a bit of internet research, as the black-and-white photos pale in comparison to Molloy’s peripatetic prose. The book also provides a detailed, though small, map of each route. (Molloy thoughtfully refers readers to the best maps to supplement what you’ll find in his pages.)
A particular highlight of Backpacking Florida are Molloy’s “sidebars” — short detours packed with insights on topics like finding water in the backcountry, choosing a great campsite, packing for cooler weather, dealing with insects, or experimenting with night hiking. While they primarily serve to convey his well-seasoned advice, Molloy weaves in some fun trail stories, covering things like the sad consequences of bringing an inadequate sleeping bag, or various “experiments” with the shelf life of cheese on the hoof.
Questing for Backpacking Jewels
With a fair share of poorly planned, semi-disastrous Florida outdoor excursions under my belt, I can attest to the fact that successful Florida backpacking requires some expertise and preparation. But, with its rich variety of forest, seaside, scrub, and swamp, Florida contains a wealth of — as Molloy puts it — “unforgettable backpacking jewels” for those who know how to enjoy them. Backpacking Florida is a great way to get the lay of our special land, from a writer who clearly loves it.