Surviving the Wilds of Florida

If you like the Florida outdoors, this book is just for you.

Fend for Yourself

To safely enjoy any wilderness setting, you must know how to fend for yourself while you're there. Such knowledge not only makes you safer, it can also add to your enjoyment of the great outdoors.

Are there any wilds left in Florida?

When I told a wholesaler the title of my new book was Surviving the Wilds of Florida

A view of Big Cypress National Preserve from the Tamiami Trail

, he immediately asked "Are there any wilds left in Florida?" The answer is not as much as there once was, but the Sunshine State still boasts some of the wildest country east of the Mississippi.

Florida, this nation's last southern frontier, is, after all, home to the world-famous Everglades National Park and the Big Cypress National Preserve. Drive along U.S. Highway 41 between Naples and Miami, and you'll see for yourself the miles of wilderness still part of an otherwise heavily populated South Florida.

There are other wild areas in the state, to be sure. Take the entire Big Bend coastline, for instance, or the over one million acres of national forests, 373,000 acres of national wildlife refuges, the 150 or so state parks, 31 state forests, yet undeveloped tracts of private land, and miles of some of the most beautiful rivers anywhere.

But wild Florida doesn't have to be the great Everglades or some other huge, undeveloped territory. Round any bend in the state and you're apt to run into wild Florida. It can be your favorite picnic spot in a lightning storm, or ten feet from the trailhead where that cow-killer of a diamondback lurks, or in the rough surf just a few yards from the beach.

The book's purpose

When I wrote Surviving the Wilds of Florida my main goal was to give people the knowledge that would make them safer in the backcountry. This knowledge, I reckoned, would lead to increased confidence, and allow them to enjoy their wilderness pursuits more.

Many of the survival techniques discussed in Surviving the Wilds of Florida apply to anywhere in the world.

No matter where you are, for instance, you'll need to know about hypothermia (getting too cold), the big killer in the wilderness.

It may surprise you to know that hypothermia can be a big problem even here in sunny Florida.

But, if you know how to build a fire in an emergency, your knowledge could save a life one day.

The quickest route to hypothermia is cold-water immersion, and Florida boaters, especially, should be aware of this danger.

Speaking of boaters, for safety's sake, all Florida boaters should have a working knowledge of vhf marine radio.

Back to temperature-related issues, you'll need to know how to deal with hyperthermia (getting overheated) and dehydration.

In that sense, it's a general survival book.

At the same time, however, it's also a book about Florida, and its unique environment. There are plenty of survival books about how to take care of yourself in deserts, jungles, arctic, and mountainous regions. But Florida is neither desert, jungle, arctic, or mountainous. Florida is just Florida, and there's no other place quite like it.

The central idea behind my book is to present the principles of wilderness survival in a specifically Florida setting. I didn't want just another survival book, but a survival book that all but screamed Florida.

What you'll find

You won't find anything in its pages about how to dig a snow cave or tickle for trout, but you will learn how to build an emergency shelter from sabal palm fronds, how to cook a gar fish (don't eat the poisonous roe), and how to harvest and prepare swamp cabbage--things that have been done by Florida woodsmen for centuries. You won't find any nifty tricks to do with river rocks, because, other than a piece of limestone here and there, we don't have river rocks in Florida. But we do have plenty of mosquitoes, and you'll find what you need to know about them.

In addition to ways to maintain your body heat and hydration levels, you'll find a section on how to disinfect wilderness water for drinking. (Hint: just dropping an iodine pill in doesn't get it; it's more complicated than that.)

Sabal palm fibers

Also, there are helpful tips on fire making. Did you know, for instance, that sabal palm fibers make excellent tinder for starting a blaze, especially on those cold, wet days when it may be the only dry stuff available?

A large alligator moves quickly on all fours.

And who thinks of Florida without also thinking about alligators? Did you know they can run 30 miles per hour over a short distance? It should come as no surprise that they can move like that. After all, they're basically just big lizards. And you know how fast a lizard can move.

The section on wildlife covers not only alligators, but also crocodiles (yes, we have them too), feral hogs, panthers, bears, manatees, snakes, stingrays, barracudas, sharks, mosquitoes, sand flies, and ticks.

My favorite chapter in Surviving the Wilds of Florida is the one on backcountry navigation. You'll find simple ways to navigate the wilderness using baselines and checkpoints. Precise compass courses aren't necessary, and you can often find your way with the sun, the moon, and the stars. In this age of GPS, few people possess these valuable skills.

Know what takes more lives in Florida each year than all the hurricanes, tropical storms, tornadoes, and lightning combined? Did you guess rip currents? That's right. These killers take about 20 lives per year. Learn what they are and how to save yourself if you're caught in one.

Most people don't think of cold-water surivival when they think of Florida. Yet, according to Captain Paul Ouellette, boating safety co-ordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, "Water doesn't have to be icy to cause hypothermia. It just has to be colder than you are." Florida waters can be dangerously cold, especially from October to March. You'll learn ways to better protect yourself in a cold-water survival situation.

Thunderheads over Keaton Beach

Did you know that central Florida is the lightning capital of the nation? On average, there are about 100 thunderstorm days each year there. To protect yourself, remember the 30/30 rule: If the time delay between the sight of lightning and the sound of thunder is less than 30 seconds, take protective action until 30 minutes after you last observe lightning or hear thunder.

Sand in your shoes

This book was two and a half years in the making. During that time I traveled the state's wild areas to remind myself of the things I had learned growing up and living on the peninsula. The result was I came to appreciate Florida and its creatures even more deeply than I had before. This is a beautiful state with wild areas that we can still enjoy.

Old Florida folklore says if you ever come to this state and get sand in your shoes, you'll always come back. That's one way of saying if you ever get off Florida's beaten track and discover the subtle natural beauty here, you'll do whatever it takes to return to enjoy it once again. Experience that beauty more than a few times and Florida begins to get in your blood. For this reason, Surviving the Wilds of Florida is dedicated to those "with sand in their shoes and Florida in their blood."

Always another adventure,


Return from Surviving the Wilds of Florida to FloridaAdventuring home page

Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.