How To Bring Your Hobbies on the Trail, and Why You Should

Thru-hikers’ lives can be boiled down to eat, sleep, walk, repeat. They put one foot in front of the other for upwards of 14 hours a day, which doesn’t leave much time for hobbies. Not to mention the extreme laziness that hits when they reach camp. Who wants to do anything other than sit and eat a calorie-loaded meal after a 20-plus-mile day? Journaling: tedious. Reading: sleep-inducer. Drawing: requires daylight. It’s hard—really hard—to undertake any sort of hobby while logging high-mileage days for weeks on end.

Is it worth it? Bringing a hobby onto the trail requires carrying extra weight, takes time, and can become a chore.

Here is one reason it is worth it: memories. Bringing along a luxury item can create many additional memories during a thru-hike. Some of the most unforgettable people will be the ones who brought a Frisbee, paint set, or even a travel-sized board game to share. (It’s also an easy way to acquire a trail name.) Even ultralight hikers should be able to indulge in a few extra ounces for the sake of fun.

Here are a few of the most common hobbies seen up and down the long trails, and how to make it doable for yourself. Did you pack something along your thru-hike for added entertainment? Let us know in the comments!

Journaling

Not going to lie, keeping a daily journal can suck. Talk about becoming a chore. If you don’t write one night, you have to write two entries the next day… and writing about one day is hard enough. But if you don’t write about the previous two days tonight, then tomorrow you have to write for three days… it can become a tedious burden. But! Your future self will love you for doing it. Going back and reading the thoughts from each day, as they were written in real time, is a wonderful way to relive a thru-hike and remember the nuances that may have been forgotten. Even something as short as a list of bullet points can evoke memories. Journals can double as a sketch book or doodle pad, and paper can be used for messages for trailing hikers. (Note: ALWAYS add a Leave No Trace memo on messages left on trail. Example: If this is note is found by Saturday, June 12, please pick up.)

If weight is a concern, buy multiple tiny journals, and send them in resupply packages along the way. Also remember: pens do run out of ink, can freeze, and don’t work well in rain. You can buy a “space pen” that can write upside down, in extreme heat and cold, and underwater. They aren’t cheap, but are a pretty sweet writing utensil for outdoor adventures. Rite in the Rain makes a great weather-proof diary.

Art and Photography

Both watercolors by “Airplane Mode,” PCT 2017. Photos courtesy of Annie Varnot

Journaling is probably the most common “hobby” maintained on trail. But there are other ways to document a thru-hike. Painting, drawing, and photography can capture breathtaking views and poignant moments with wonderful people. It may take time and patience, but these forms of documenting are irreplaceable keepsakes with one’s own personal style. Bringing a small painting kit doesn’t add too much weight—just a small pad, a few tubes of paint or a small watercolor set, and a single brush. Forgoing the entire rainbow cuts back on ounces. If that seems like too much, pack a pad and ink pen to sketch the trail in black and white. Again, it will take time and motivation to stop walking and to sit down to artistically record the surroundings, but those who do won’t not regret it. Here are some watercolor pieces from a 2017 PCT thru-hiker. She carried a 3.5×5-inch Moleskine, two tubes of paint, and a brush that held liquid in the handle. Putting pressure on the handle caused water to squirt out so it could mix with the watercolor paints. Pretty rad way to remember the trail, if you ask me.

Photographer and Trek Blogger Tommy Corey showing what magic can be worked with an on-trail camera

If painting seems too time consuming, try photography. SO many hikers, including ultra-light hikers, will carry extra ounces in the form of a DSLR or other fancy-shmancy cameras. The landscapes, profiles, and portraits will be some of the most picturesque ever taken. And if not for anything else, do it for Instagram. Your number of followers will skyrocket. Remember that cameras can break when dropped or from being exposed to water, and they take a decent amount of battery power. A larger external battery is necessary, as well as extra care in rain, snow, and water crossings. Here are some of the best cameras and lenses for photographing your thru-hike, and how to master them before you take off. Not into the DSLR? Here’s how to make your smartphone pictures look even better.

Music

Most hikers bring headphones and listen to podcasts and music, but live music really takes the cake. Hikers who carry harmonicas, ukuleles, banjos, and even violins bring people together in the most beautiful settings. They become famous up and down trail: “Oh, you mean the guy with the uke? That girl who rips on the harmonica? The Fiddler on the Trail.” They create some of the most memorable moments. Ukuleles can be found for under $50, and harmonicas are an easy, lightweight option. As one thru-hiker put it, “ I don’t have any regrets from carrying , but there were weeks that I didn’t play it at all. The few chances to jam with others and the couple of songs I learned made it all worth it.”

Toys

Settlers of Catan: Photo courtesy Brooke Eller

This might seem ridiculous. But remember how much fun toys were growing up? The MOST fun. Bringing something to play with on a thru-hike can create hours of entertainment and something to do on zero days. Frisbees can be thrown while hiking, if everyone has superb aim, or during any break. The official ultimate disc weighs 175 grams, or 6.2 ounces.

175g ultimate disc

Simple items such as juggling balls can provide hours of leisurely fun; and with how much time is spent on a thru-hike, it is possible to get damn good at it. Other people can even get involved in juggling, and before you know it, it becomes a walking circus. Check out these guys, who practiced every day and became the PCT’s best juggling team:

Video: Julie Williamson

Of course, if there is more wiggle room in the weight category, heavier items can be carried along for entertainment. Cards, travel-sized games, inner tubes…The list goes on for things that enhance a thru-hike. One deck of cards equals a plethora of games. Settlers of Catan makes a travel-sized board game—loser has to carry it. Inner tubes are awesome for lakes, especially if cold water is an issue. Carry a squirt gun when it gets too hot or a favorite stuffed animal for posing in pictures with you.

It might seem silly, but in the end, it can be worth the extra effort. Living outdoors in nature is a glaring contrast to “normal” life, but it’s okay to bring some accouterments of life back home on a thru-hike. Some of the best memories will occur when you’re not walking, so anything to supplement these stationary times makes the memories even more amazing. Fun is worth the weight.

Feature image: Lindsey Fox

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Comments 3

  • Avatar
    Tommy : Feb 5th

    Thanks for the shoutout! ❤️

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Bonsai : Feb 6th

    Ah the feels- I miss those camps moments. Great article!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Ruth morley : Feb 7th

    I plan on “bringing” my yoga to do in the AT shelters after everyone else has left in the morning. I did it last summer, too, and it was wonderful. A new way to experience the great outdoors, and great for the poor , abused body.

    Reply

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