Whenever I need a break from everyday life, nature never fails me. The deeper into the forest I go, the more peaceful I feel. My worries fall off of me like a heavy coat, and I can focus my attention on the present moment.
I notice the smell of fresh pine and cedar, the crunch of raw earth underneath my feet and the fresh air against my skin.
It’s a feeling I don’t want to forget, and that’s why I always bring my journal along with me. My journal entry isn’t always a masterpiece, but I can count on it to help me feel calm, grounded and grateful.
Journaling in nature brings introspection that makes me more aware of myself and my surroundings. It helps me connect with nature and with my true self. It’s a valuable practice that has the power to help us all heal and grow. –Mandi Carozza, 52 Hike Challenge content creator
Although the practice of journaling certainly isn’t new, it’s definitely a bit of a forgotten art. In today’s digital age, we tend to use our smartphones for everything.
But the physical act of putting pen to paper, especially while spending time outdoors, can be very calming, relaxing and rewarding. Not only can journaling help you remember all your amazing moments in nature, but it can also deepen your connection to the outdoors—and to yourself.
Keep reading to learn how journaling can benefit you on all your outdoor adventures, along with tips for getting started.
Benefits of Journaling Outdoors
Journaling is often a meditative and therapeutic practice, so you may even experience a profound shift in your mental well-being after you start writing. Combining journaling with spending time outside offers a unique opportunity to connect with your surroundings while processing your thoughts and emotions.
Journaling can help you:
- Improve your mood
- Reduce stress
- Gain mental clarity
- Practice presence
- Unplug from technology
- Better understand your emotions
- Develop a deeper sense of gratitude
- Improve critical thinking and problem solving
- Boost memory
- Practice mindfulness and enter a meditative state
- Enhance your appreciation for nature
According to research, writing may offer physical benefits to people battling illnesses and those healing injuries. One theory is that through writing, you can structure and organize anxious feelings, allowing you to get past them.
Taking the time to sit in nature, appreciate the outdoors and write it all down can be tremendously rewarding.
In August 2019, I undertook one of the grandest and most challenging adventures of my life: to hike the John Muir Trail (JMT) [Nüümü Poyo]. Coined the “finest mountain scenery in the United States” by the Pacific Crest Trail Association, the JMT is a 211-mile thru-hike, mostly on the Pacific Crest Trail, stretching from Yosemite Valley to Mount Whitney. I wanted to complete the journey in under 27 days.
With my journal in tow, I looked forward to each evening in my tent, where I would write down thoughts, feelings, ideas and memories of each day. I knew that one day, I would want to revisit these moments and reflect on them.
“7:51pm Bear just came into camp. I heard a loud crack; bear was right behind my tent!”
“Since we had to set up in the rain, during all the commotion, Connie broke her tent pole. Thankfully, with quick thinking, we fixed it with the spare tent tube. I never knew how to use it; thankfully, she did!”
Reading back on my entries, I’m truly grateful I got to journal my experience.
Who knows, maybe these journal entries will inspire my future grandchildren to hike the trail one day. Oh, and about the completion, we did it in 21 days! –Karla Amador, co-founder of the 52 Hike Challenge
Tips for Journaling Outdoors
Whether you’re going on an epic backpacking adventure or enjoying the natural beauty in your backyard, here’s how to set yourself up for a successful journaling session:
What to bring with you:
- A pen or pencil (or two)
- Paper, a notebook or a journal
- Something to sit on: a comfy sit pad or lightweight backpacking chair (optional)
- Your senses
How to find a good journaling spot:
- Your journaling spot should be somewhere you feel safe and relaxed
- If you feel instantly inspired by a certain area, it’s most likely a great place for you to stop and pull out your journal
- Your lunch break is also a good time and place to reflect
How to get in the right headspace:
- Settle into your space by taking a few deep, cleansing breaths
- Close your eyes and set your intention to journal
- Invite distractions to settle into the background
- Tune in to the sensations of nature all around you
- Start writing!
It’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong way to journal. Allow the words to flow and let go of any attachment to how your journal entry should be. This practice is for you, and only you.
Getting Started: Journal Prompts
If you’re new to journaling or not sure what to write about, here are some prompts and exercises to help get your creativity flowing.
Pre-adventure journaling prompts:
- How am I currently feeling?
- What would I like to gain from today’s outdoor adventure?
Journaling prompts during your adventure:
- How has my mood shifted since I got outdoors?
- How does being outdoors make me feel or impact me?
- Observe your surroundings and connect with your senses. Be present with what you see, feel, hear, smell, etc. For example, what is the texture of the surface you’re sitting on? What colors do you see? How does the air feel today? What sounds do you hear? How does it feel to be in the moment?
Post-adventure journaling prompts:
- What mental and physical challenges did I face on my adventure?
- Did I encounter any negative self-talk while on my journey? How can I practice self-love and kindness toward myself instead?
- List three insights you had while outside
Journaling Prompts for Any Time (Home or Outdoors)
- List three things you are grateful for today
- List three things you appreciate about yourself
Now that you have some great prompts to work with, it’s time to start journaling. Grab your pen and notebook and step out into nature. You won’t regret taking the time to sit down and enjoy all of the sights, sounds and sensations of the great outdoors.
Need a new journal?
Check out the 52 Hike Challenge Journey Journal, the ultimate companion for your journaling on the trails.
Editor’s note: REI has partnered with 52 Hike Challenge since 2015. Through this partnership, the organization receives financial sponsorship, in-kind benefits and support for events the organization hosts, among other efforts.