Many people’s first thought on the topic of a backcountry sketchbook is “I’m not an artist”. Well, I am here to explain why it does not matter; bringing a sketchbook into the backcountry could be one of the best decisions of your life.

Now, bear with me, I am prepared to explain why. First and foremost your sketches, much like a journal entry, are for you. They are a unique way to capture and connect with a place, person, event, or afternoon through your own interpretation and perspective. But, unlike a journal entry, sketches also have potential to become more; they can be used as a tool for further preservation and conservation of the land. Sound abstract? Let me elaborate. Sketching in the field gives you time to truly develop a sense of place. This sense of place can then be shared with your friends and family through the sketch who could then feel inclined to build their own love for the subject of your sketch by visiting it themselves. This process can be seen as a cycle of ‘free advertising’ for that region, resulting in more people falling in love with it. The more a wild area is loved and respected, the more likely it is to be protected.

Here are some tips and tricks to sketching in the backcountry.

1)   Take a Moment to Enjoy a Moment

After a long day on the trail, a little R&R is often top priority. With hiking boots thrown aside, rump perched on a rock fireside with friends, it’s time to pull out the sketchbook. Moments of reflection in the backcountry have the potential to be some of the most impactful in life and sketching can help facilitate this. Whether you are surrounded by friends or giving yourself some alone time, capture these moments in a way a camera never could; this will allow you to remember these glimpses of meaning long after they pass.

Drawn while watching a Ranger fly-fish in a mountain lake.

Drawn while sitting with Forest Service friends around a campfire.
Sketched in my tent after an unexpected encounter

2)   Capture the Views Your Camera Cannot

While hiking down a trail on a hot August afternoon in the northern Idaho wilderness, I encountered
an unexpected visitor. I jolted as I heard rustling in the bushes; looking to my right, I spied an equally startled young black bear 15 feet up a dead fir tree attempting to hide from me. I hooped and hollered and let the young bear know I was moving away and not to be messed with. After exiting the heat of the moment I was unable to shake the image of the little black bear, with fear in his eyes, staring at me from its tree. That evening I pulled out my sketchbook to remember the moment.

Sketching can be used in the same way a camera can, using your minds eye as the lens of the camera.

3)   Connect to a Place

Imagine you have reached your destination after a long days hike; this could be a desolate peak with vast views, a crisp alpine lake with fish leaping to and fro, or even a cabin you are will rest at for the night. Regardless, each location means something to you as a temporary home. A place you love, or have grown to love, and a place you hope will remain wild. Pull out your sketchbook and capture this spot through your own perspective. The sketch might not look like the actual landscape, but it’s the beauty that captured by your own eyes that counts. This act could end up being playing a crucial role in the protection of that landscape.

Drawn while taking a break at the summit of a peak and absorbing the views.

  The view form my cook spot at a Forest Service cabin.

4)   What Notebook to Use
In the same way you want quality camping gear, you also need high quality paper. After experimenting with numerous options, I found that the most pleasant backcountry sketchbook option is the same as a front-country sketchbook. While ‘water-proof’ paper options are great for the field scientist, they do not work as well for the field artist. I recommend a small (4in.x6in. to 6in.x6in.) sized notebook with heavyweight drawing paper. This thickness of paper will be more resistant to the elements, but still hold your medium as expected.
Some of the necessary tools for sketching in the backcountry.
5)   Necessary Gear
When you head out on a trip, you have a few leading artistic options, depending on your personal style and preference. Your best backcountry choices are pencil or pen. There are many benefits and drawbacks of both tools. Here’s what you need to know for either option.
Pencil is great for the mistake-maker. Pencil will be forgiving and allows for attention to detail, but fails to withstand the elements. If using pencil, buy a small set of artist graphite pencils and test to see what density graphite suits you best. I typically bring a HB and a 6B with me on the trail. Three other necessities if working with pencil are a gummy eraser, a small blending stump, and, of course, a small pencil sharpener.
Pen is perfect for the non-meticulous types. Pen will allow you to move quickly through a sketch and will hold up well to the craziness of the backcountry, but is unforgiving when it comes to mistakes. If using pen I recommend using Pigma Micron brand, purchased at any art or office supply store, in one or two sizes. I typically bring sizes 0.05 and 0.01 into the backcountry. 
Beyond the tips and tricks of sketching in the backcountry, the most important thing to keep in mind is to enjoy each moment, and to capture that moment in whatever way you see fit. You do not need to be an artist to appreciate places and moments or to use sketching as a medium to commemorate and reflect on those events.