Spending time in nature is a great way to decompress from the stress of everyday life and feel present in the moment. It is also a great opportunity to reconnect with your creative side, whether that be through music, poetry, or in my case, painting. Over the course of the 4,000 miles of backpacking that I have done, I have always carried a sketchbook and a small set of paints. The paintings I create on trail are raw and authentic memories that I will cherish forever.

Maintaining a creative practice on trail can be a daunting task but there are many tricks I have learned over the years that have made it more achievable for me.

  1. Make sure what you are bringing is packable and reasonable for the trip you are doing. I carry a very compact set of paints, and normally just one brush. I carry a sketchbook for longer trips, but if I am only going to be out for a weekend I will limit myself to just two or three loose pieces of watercolor paper. The same mindset can be applied to journaling- consider a small pocket journal over a thicker hardback journal. For musicians, explore plastic, travel versions of your instrument, or use your backpacking trip as an opportunity to explore smaller instruments like a harmonica or ukulele.
  2. Prioritize your comfort when choosing your moment to be creative. I always carry a sit pad so I can comfortably settle in a cozy spot for painting. When I learned life drawing in college, I was taught to explore every angle of my subject before picking a spot to draw from. In the woods I take a different approach: I find a spot I know I am going to be comfortable first- protected from the elements and preferably with a log or rock to lean back on. Then, from there I draw whatever happens to be in front of me. It might not be the most engaging composition, but I know that I will be more likely to be patient with my practice rather than rushing through because my leg is falling asleep, or I am getting sunburned.
  3. Try to avoid letting your practice feel like a chore. Backpacking can be hard, and at the end of the day you are often exhausted. If you don’t feel like being creative, don’t force it. You don’t want to have a negative association with your practice. That being said, establishing your creative practice into your camp routine is a great way to ensure growth. Like anything else, it is all about balance. Sometimes, I do have to force myself to pick up a paintbrush on trail, but if the task seems particularly daunting, I know to let myself take a break from painting for that day.
  4. Finally, understanding the importance of your creative practice is key. For me, painting and drawing serves as a fundamental memory tool. By scrutinizing the landscapes before me and doing my best do document them on a page, I am committing every ridgeline, leaf shape and shadow to memory. It preserves the precious moments that I spend on trail. I have also used drawing as a tool to learn wildflowers- after spending an hour sketching out the unique shape of individual columbine leaves, I am significantly less likely to forget the name or details of that flower. 

Not everything I create on trail is a masterpiece, or anywhere close for that matter! But the moments creating in nature are what truly matter. Just like hiking itself, it's about the journey, not the destination.


Heidi is a Blue Ridge Hiking Company Guide and watercolor artist. You can view her work in our store and on her website. She has been featured in several media publications, including a recent feature in Blue Ridge Outdoors. To get started with your creative practice on the trail, check out our Trail Watercolor Kit or  join Heidi on a guided Watercolor Backpacking Trip.