Keeping a trail journal is one of the time-honored traditions in the thru-hiking community. It serves as a personal diary of your hike and is a great way to keep your friends and family up-to-date with your journey. Several of the Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassadors have contributed their thoughts and tips on how to keep your trail journal. These tips from experienced hikers will help you improve your journal.
Information about the Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador that contributed can be found here.
Why Keep a Trail Journal?
Dave “Lucky” Brunstein: A journal is a keepsake for you to capture the memories and emotions of your epic journey. I love going back and re-reading them and letting the great memories from my PCT hikes flood over me.
Heather Knight: I use the journal as a place to remember my adventures. It’s so great to go back and read old trip journals.
Liz Thomas: A journal is a beautiful thing to look back on. I kick myself for all the trails I didn’t record anything.
Erin “Wired” Saver: It’s wonderful to have for the rest of your life.
Rob “QWiz” Kelly: I found it to be fun, and it has also been great to go back to it and reminisce. Family and friends could also follow my progress.
How do you record your journal?
Walter Underwood: My trail journals are on little Rite-in-the-Rain notebooks
Jan McEwen: I find I must jot down notes as thoughts come to me. I use a notes app on my phone for that purpose. Otherwise, the details even by the end of the day are gone. I also use the screen shot option to capture my mileage and elevation stats each day. There is a WiFi SIM card now that you can use in your camera to transfer photos wirelessly to your phone. This provides an option for having your blog written offline and ready to publish when you have service.
Liz “Snorkle” Thomas: It doesn’t matter where you keep your journal (online or on paper or scribbled on maps) or what you write–what matters is that you keep a record.
Jen “Shuttle” Adach: I bring along a Moleskine notebook and write (or try to…) each night.
Dave “Lucky” Brunstein: I use both a small 3 X 5” notepad/golf pencil and my iPhone notes for easy cut & paste later. Both are stored in separate Ziplock bags.
Philip Werner: I bring a digital tape recorder. I just record enough to jog my memory.
Heather Knight: I use a Moleskine notebook in a LokSak bag with a pen.
Tripp Clark: I just added a digital recorder on my fall AT hike, and loved using it. The recorder was readily at hand and I could make frequent notes at any time. It worked great. I also have a voice memo feature on my camera so that I can record voice notes about pictures. This too is helpful.
Rob “QWiz” Kelly: I used an iPhone for both the journal and the photos I took on trail.
How Do You Publish Your Journal?
Heather Knight: I prefer a clean blog using a simple theme with a white background and a simple black font. I personally prefer Squarespace for hosting and blog writing. I will take parts of my personal journal and incorporate it into blog posts.
Rob “QWiz” Kelly: I used trailjournals.com to keep an ongoing journal while preparing for the trip and while hiking.
Jan McEwen: I use WordPress and find it easy to manage. Having a “follow” option is important (and not just RSS). I don’t like TrailJournals and Postholer as they have no follow option and it’s hard to know when updates are published and where you left off.
Dave “Lucky” Brunstein: I used Trailjournals.com for both my PCT hikes. I transfer my handwritten notes or copy from my phone when I get to a trail town and have computer access. For personal safety, many hikers like to lag a week or so behind in posting their updates so readers don’t know exactly where they are on the trail.
Erin “Wired” Saver: I enjoy photos in a blog, so I don’t like postholer and trailjournals as much at other platforms. I prefer WordPress and Blogger, but I know from a writer’s perspective that those can be more time consuming to post from the trail on a smart device.
What Are important things to Include in Your Journal?
Jen “Shuttle” Adach: At the very least, I write down the miles, where I camped, what I saw.
Erin “Wired” Saver: I like to include the basic mileage and elevation chart (if possible) and start/end timeframe to give perspective. I like to recap the day, but not in too much detail. I tend to leave out the details of scenery and let the pics do that while talking more about the experience of the day and how I felt. I want it to feel like those reading are hiking along with me, so I try to just be open and blunt about what I’m experiencing since I blog daily.
Jan McEwen: If it’s a new trail for me, I enjoy writing about firsts and using photos and stories to tease the reader into exploring further. I usually include a few lessons learned, considerations for future trips, mileage, elevations, trail conditions and trip resources.
Heather Knight: I write about the day, how many miles, what time we started/ended, what the weather was like, what we ate, and any cool things we saw. Sometimes if the experience evokes more emotional stuff, I write about that too.
Dave “Lucky” Brunstein: I try to keep my audience in mind and try to share stories from the trail – it seems more interesting than just data. But I do try to weave in mileage, elevation, what I ate, important landmarks, and who I met. I focus more on how I feel (emotions) than on describing the scenery of the trail. Don’t hesitate to write about and capture the rigors of the bad days.
What Advice Would You Give Future Writers?
Erin “Wired” Saver: I say don’t put any expectations on yourself to do a ton as you don’t want it to detract from your experience, but at least document something as I find it helps me to appreciate it so much more when I reflect on my experiences.
Dave “Lucky” Brunstein: It’s OK to emulate the style of journalers you admire. Look at the length of their paragraphs and posts. Get a feel for what it is about their writing style that makes the post enjoyable to read. But remember, in the end the journal is for you.