Top 5 Ways to Use a Trail Journal (Pocket Notebook) on Your Adventures

Trail Journal at Camp

Most of us constantly have an electronic device in our pockets that documents just about everything in our lives, and that we often rely on as an on-hand resource. With a smartphone in your pocket, what do you actually do with a paper notebook while you're out in the wilderness? 

First, let's point out the obvious issues with relying on a smartphone for documenting your trip or as a resource (for navigation, notes, etc.). Keeping it charged is a problem, especially in cold weather that saps a battery. Cellular coverage is a double-edged sword. If you do have it, it's all too easy to check out of your outdoor experience and check into social media. If you don't have coverage and are relying on your device for navigation or trail details, you could get stuck in a tough, even dangerous, position. If you're bringing your phone with you, put that bad boy in airplane mode (or turn it off!), tuck it away, and enjoy the great did come outside for a reason, right? 

Meet your new best outdoor friend: the trail journal (a.k.a. the pocket notebook). The Cairn Crew prefers the Rite in the Rain Top Spiral Pocket Notebook (featured in a recent Cairn Collection). It keeps your notes smudge free and safe from the rain, sweat, or accidental dunk in a river. So now you've got your notebook, you've got your adventure planned, now what are you supposed to do with it?

Even for those of us that remember life before constant connectivity (gasp), the idea of journaling or documenting an experience with pen and paper can seem like an afterthought. Journaling on the trail or at camp isn’t all about how you’re feeling about your time outside, though that can be some of it. Trail journals have very practical uses, too.

Rite in the Rain Pocket Notebook

 1. Trip Plan / Navigation

Particularly on an extended hike, backcountry adventure, or multi-day trek, you may not be able to rely on well-marked trails. Yes, you'll have a map (and potentially guidebook), but having a quick reference in your pocket can be extremely helpful and keep you from missing important navigation points along the way. Make notes before you hit the trail about key turn-offs, that hot spring you want to hit, or the location you'd like to set up camp at the end of the day. 


2. Checklists / Organization

Before you head out, make a checklist of what you need to pack and how you'll organize it. Not only will it be a major assist as you pack, but you can reference it when you're repacking at camp so you don't leave things behind. Even better, you can make notes for yourself on what you'd add, get rid of, what failed, and what was a shining star. The next time you hit the trail, packing will be a breeze.


3. Document Experience / Conditions

While you're on an epic hike or camping trip, you may be thinking, "This is amazing, I'll remember every second of this," or "That trail re-route was brutal. No way I'll forget that."  But before you know it, those epic memories will be shuffled to the back of your mind to make room for other things. A few notes on trail conditions, important landmarks for navigation, unique viewpoints, and the sweetest spot to make camp will jog your memory for the next time around and make you a superstar with friends and fellow hikers that may look to you as a resource.


4. Personal Musings / Big Ideas

Yeah, I know, you may have a gut reaction (and not a positive one) to the idea of keeping a "journal." But there is something that happens when you spend a lot of time in nature. Your mind clears, making room for ideas and thoughts you will definitely need to write down.


5. Entertainment

Sometimes you need a fun distraction to pass the time at camp or while you're waiting out the weather. Tic-Tac-Toe, Hangman, or just straight doodling can be surprisingly entertaining and competitive. 



Sheets of your notebook can be a backup fire starter. Yes, you can burn waterproof paper (plus it won't be soggy if conditions are damp)!


How have you put your trail journal to use? Have we forgotten something? Comment below!


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