I have always been inspired by the sketches and watercolors of explorers, cartographers and scientists who lived before the invention of photography. I have tried bringing watercolors myself, but didn't end up using them, since they ended up buried deep in the pack. I assume that those old-timers must have developed efficient, lightweight methodologies for bringing their art supplies on extended trips where weight, space and ease of access were of major concern and I assume that some of that knowledge is still around.

I hope some of you who have a lot of experience creating art in the great outdoors could share what materials to take on the trail, how to carry them so one actually uses that stuff, and techniques for making art when easels and straight table-surfaces are hundreds of miles away.

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    They didn't have cool lightweight methodologies. Quite the contrary. They carried tons of gear that all weighed more than anything we carry today. They also had mules, horses, and often had servants and/or slaves to do the harder parts. Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 18:26
  • @RussellSteen: Point taken. Then I guess I am looking for modern day solutions
    – DudeOnRock
    Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 18:30
  • Yeah, that's why I didn't post as an answer... I'm hoping some artist types can reply :) Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 18:33
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    I frequently wonder the same thing about taking my camera backpacking/climbing. But that is a lot of really fragile, expensive equipment. Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 21:06

4 Answers 4


I've hiked with photographers, painters, sketchers, and writers... two things that will help:

  1. Make time for it. Sometimes you have to choose: draw, or hike up that ridge.
  2. Put the supplies in the top of your pack, easily accessible. As you found out, if it is buried, you won't use it.

Other than that, just slim down your kit the bare minimum (small tubes of paint rather than big ones, etc.) And if you run out of a color - improvise. Wild art ain't studio art.

  • Some art supplies come in highly portable forms, such as the Sakura Koi watercolor set. Don't forget that the smaller it is, the more options you have for positioning it to be conveniently accessed.
    – rlb.usa
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 23:51

On my treks I usually keep a trail journal. I only bring a pencil and some eraser (i.e. super light-weight), and use this to write about the journey, draw small maps/diagrams and sometimes even sketches of what I encounter.

Get a routine
I also force myself to write an entry on every single day, that way I'm ensured I won't end up forgetting about the thing and ending up with an empty book. Mostly I wrote/sketched during lunch brakes and after dinner, while the others in our group where resting/chatting/reading a book.

Tip: Do an improvised herbarium
I sometimes collect small flowers, interesting grasses and the like and stick them into the book with some medical tape from the first-aid kit. Very useful if your drawing skills, like mine, are not quite up there, and it makes up for not having any colored illustrations. (Obviously you should only do this where allowed, so don't go collecting protected species...)


I personally use a Canson mixed media sketchbook in the 5.5x8.5 size (140 x 216 mm), two sturdy mechanical pencils with long, extendable erasers, a Sakura Field Kit watercolor set of 48 colors, and a set of 3 water brushes.

I try to sketch at just about every stop, but use a timer on my watch to make sure that I don't get distracted for too long and I actually get to wherever I'd like to go.

All of my art supplies are in their own pouch, or on some occasions, in their own individual hip bag. Never let that stuff get to the bottom of the bag, or you'll never see it again.


Small sketchbook, and colored pencils. You can sharpen them with a knife, or whatever sharp thing you have, and it is unlikely that you will entirely use up a pencil on one trip. Lots of color, versatility, and portability. You can even get water-color pencils. I also like chalk pastels, but you have to be more careful not to crush those, and the dust tends to spread. Fun on short trips or day hikes though. I also always carry some kind of fine-point sharpie, because I really like defined lines, but that's just me. Also, something to be for plain old ball-point pen sketches.

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