As a traveler and a writer, my partner will vouch for me that the one thing I must always have when heading out for a new trip is a hiking journal. As ironic as it is, there really are no words to describe why anyone in particular feels the urge to record their travels. For the memories? Yes. To remember information you might later forget? Yes. To emulate your feelings about what you’re experiencing into an object that theoretically just listens? Yes. But, it’s much more than that. Keeping a journal has a different purpose for every backpacker, but if you’re new at this, here’s how you can start:
Get a Hiking Journal
Getting a journal for me is sometimes the most difficult thing. Honestly, while I prefer the $1.00 ones at Wal-Mart, some of those just might not hold up while being in the outdoors. I also hate spirals, because those fall apart sooner or later, and you’ll find yourself having to literally put the pieces back together.
For backpacking specifically, it’s best to get one that’s smaller and more compact, has a sturdy covering and binding, and is not too thick that you can’t fit it inside a protective covering. I like bendy-ness to my journals, especially when I’m out traveling. If you feel the urge to write, you should be able to take it out anywhere, anytime, and write even when you don’t have a flat surface. Get a journal that has blank pages or lightly lined pages, so you can sketch and put in souvenirs you find along the way.
Have a Backup
This might be a bit extreme, but I always have two journals with me. One is a bigger journal that’s my actual ‘bible’. This is what I use when I actually have some down-time to sit and write a longer entry. The other is usually a very small notebook, less than the size of my hand, or a tiny memo-pad. This I would keep in an area of my backpack that’s easily accessible, so if you get an idea or feeling and need to write it down immediately, you don’t need to forget it as you dig out the bigger one.
Get Disciplined with Your Hiking Journal
If you’re eager to keep a journal but you know you’re lazy sometimes, get out of that now. If you don’t make it your business to write, then trust me, you won’t do it. During a few of my trips, it was essential for me to write an entry each and every night, no matter where I was or how much I had to force my eyelids open.
While you’re hiking, it shouldn’t be hard to find some time at night to write a small entry. In order to remain disciplined, I recommend pushing yourself to write at least a few crucial things every day, if you’re too tired to actually write. This could be anything from the date, where you went today, your overall reaction, and your favorite memory of the day. Doing this will ensure that something gets written no matter what.
Be Free in Your Writing
While it’s good to discipline yourself, getting the motivation to write at least once is awesome. That being said, how many times have you ever written in a journal as if someone was reading it over your shoulder, or it might fall into the hands of someone you don’t want to see? While those feelings are normal, remember two things. One, is that a person who reads your hiking journal without your permission is just an awful human being. Two, is that you shouldn’t let this control how you write. Write as if it’s the only thing you’ll have remaining of you after your die, but be free in the sense that it’s for your eyes and your eyes only.
What I mean to say is, don’t censor yourself, even if you might want to publish your hiking journal someday. The best pieces of writing are the ones that are the most honest, and the more authentic you are, the more the distinctive memories will come rushing back to you twenty years from now when you read this journal again.
Write Anything, Everything, and Nothing
Journaling has no rules. Whether you prefer to write a few short sentences, endless pages of what happened along the trail, or simply make a sketch of that canyon or that wildflower you saw, it’s YOURS. Keep it original. The only suggestions I have is to of course write the date and where you went. For more detailed entries, consider your five senses when figuring out how to put your experiences into words.
Preserving It All
You’re not obligated to do anything with your hiking journal when you get home, but you should at least store it in a place where it won’t get destroyed. Personally, I like using it as a basis of a project I put together after a trip, which for me is usually a scrapbook made up of a little bit of everything, including excerpts from my writing. Take care of it.
Next time you head out, give journaling a shot. You might surprise yourself.