Reconnect, Recharge, Repeat

Backpacking Puts You In Touch With Nature and Yourself


Photos by MJ Cernevale & Shannon Carnevale

When you’re hiking alongside a river and pausing to watch the wildlife, you quickly forget about how hectic everyday life can be. At a campsite, there is no traffic and there are no car horns blaring.

“Backpacking is one of the very few ways that we have to really reconnect with nature, in my opinion,” says Shannon Carnevale, Shannon Carnevale, Natural Resources and Conservation Extension Agent for UF/IFAS Extension Polk County. Carnevale is a Leave No Trace Master Educator (a Level Two Instructor) and is Wilderness First Aid Certified.

For her, being outdoors in the wilderness and engaging with nature is nothing short of “magical.”

For the Beginner
If you are a novice backpacker, Carnevale advises starting slowly. “Choose the right season,” she says. “Go in the winter. One of the most important things about backpacking in Florida is to not underestimate the weather.”

The weather can present a variety of challenges that require advance preparation. It’s important to know how to find water on a hot day or how to protect yourself in a thunderstorm.

Carnevale suggests new backpackers begin by taking day hikes and to progressively add time and distance to your hikes.

“When you are looking for a place for your first backpacking trip, try a state park or other property with employees so you can call for help,” she suggests. One of her key emergency kit preparedness tips is to always have cell service. She also suggests going on your first backpacking trip with a friend or guide who is knowledgeable and experienced.

Once you’ve chosen the trail for your first trip, plan it out. State parks have online access that will give you maps. She suggests finding a loop trail with a campsite in the middle so you don’t have to shuffle cars and people.

“These well-worn trails that are maintained regularly will have accurate maps and access to water,” Carnevale says.
“As you get more experienced, your level of comfort in being in wilderness areas will grow,” she says. “As a result of that, you can take trips of longer duration. You’ll do more miles per day and hike more consecutive days in a row.”

She says the factors that stress a novice backpacker, like water, food, and food safety, become second nature for the advanced backpacker.
“They can go more interesting places.”

Wildlife Interactions
“We don’t have wildlife that intentionally goes after humans,” she says. Most conflicts are because an animal and person are too close together for either of their comfort. Be aware of your surroundings and give wildlife creatures space to prevent those encounters.
“Insects — mosquitoes and ticks — are more dangerous than a bear, snake, or alligator,” she continues. “Mosquitoes and ticks carry a lot of diseases that are problematic to people. Preventing insect-borne illness is what people need to spend more time being concerned about.”
She says backpackers should remember to spray quality insect repellant on their gear as well as themselves.

Learning Resources
The UF/IFAS Polk County Extension/Natural Resources and Conservation program is presenting two upcoming webinars and an in-person seminar to provide information on getting started with backpacking and to help those already familiar with backpacking increase their skills.

Two “Backpacking 101: Introduction to the Hobby of Backpacking” webinars will be held — one on Aug. 16 and one on Jan. 10. Both webinars cost $5 each.

The two webinars are introductory while the in-person seminar is more in-depth.

The “Backpacking 101: Introduction to the Hobby of Backpacking” in-person seminar will be held Oct. 24 and Oct. 26 from 5:30- 7:30 p.m. This classroom-based training will provide information on common backpacking gear and mapping a route. Early-bird registration (prior to Sept. 23) is $12 plus EventBrite fees.

To register, go to

“We want people to leave with the confidence that they could actually do this,” Carnevale says.

The Magic of Nature
“I ask friends and family to not bring electronics with them [when they backpack] so they can really connect with one another and nature,” she says.

“People come back with a new sense of independence. It gives a sense of confidence,” Carnevale continues. “It’s a unique sense of pride and independence. By hour three on a hot day, you wonder why you did it. As soon as you get back to the car, you want to do it more.”

For more information about both webinars and the seminar, go to:

You can also contact Carnevale at for more information.

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