The Ultimate Backpack--Professional Tips for Packing Light

20 Apr 2011

Here's John using his heavy-weight watercolor
gear while painting in Colorado.
Through trial and error, over the years, we have figured out how to pack for our foot-powered plein-air painting adventures. We like to keep our heavy-duty Eagle Creek packs ready to go at a moment's notice with most of the tools that we might need.  Here we're showing the different configurations that our watercolor equipment might take, depending on the type of outdoor painting trip. Of course, if we are working from a vehicle, we might just take everything! The packs and watercolor plein air easels we use have traveled to Europe and back several times, no worse for the wear. Top-quality equipment can turn out to be a good investment because it lasts. Notice the carry handle attached to the pack--a very useful feature. The full-length article at The Artist’s Road website also illustrates our pastel painting plein air gear and the plein air oil painting gear we use when traveling. What would you add to the pack, based on where you are and the kind of plein air painting you do?

--John & Ann

The smallest outside pocket is perfect for holding
small items you want frequent access to:

waterproof matches
sunblock/bug spray
glasses repair kit
travel journal
The second pocket (next larger) is perfect for holding
larger items:

small roll of paper towels
collapsible water container for painting
small sketchbook
view catcher
fleece gloves (chilly mornings)
emergency space blanket
The largest pocket when used for watercolor holds:

folding ultralight watercolor painting palette
collapsible easel umbrella with universal clamp
brushes with case
mini-water bottle for wetting palette
raincoat/polar fleece (not shown)
This photo shows an alternative, heavier-weight
watercolor set-up used for shorter hikes:

larger John Pike palette (allowing room for paint
and mixing)
12 x 16" Arches watercolor block
Anderson easel setup with heavyweight watercolor gear.
We custom-made this light-weight birch palette holder.
It simply slides onto the tripod legs.

Related Posts
+ Add a comment


KatPaints wrote
on 21 Apr 2011 6:06 PM

Thanks, I'm getting my plein air supplies ready tonight and I'm raring to go this season. I'd like to get my organization down so I can focus more on being creative.  This helps. I recently bought a Soltek and I'm in love with it. It was  expensive, but it's exactly what I wanted and perfect for me.

I had a tote bag that I used last season, but I don't think it will work out with my new easel. What is the height of your Eagle Creek Pack? The height of my easel is 14"

I like the idea of having pockets. That way I wouldn't need to scramble looking for stuff. I found that this was a drawback to my tote bag. And I like the water bottle on the outside.  I also like the holes for the brushes. That would be the only thing I'd change about my easel.  I'm sure I can eventually find something to attach.

I understand most of your supplies, but I was wondering about the waterproof matches?? for summer?  And the emergency blanket -- is that the tiny silver pack? If so where do you find something so small? Also, I found that my guerilla umbrella - silver on the outside and black inside caused too much shadow on my palette. I think it is the same one you have in your photo. The person  I paint with also has the same problem. At times it is difficult to see the actual color. I was wondering if you have any ideas. We were thinking that maybe we actually need a white umbrella. The one thing that I like about my guerilla umbrella is that it folds as shown in your photo.

I'm also debating on getting a lightweight fold up stool, since I found that I wanted to sit down on some of the hot days. Also please tell me you never really needed the eye glass repair kit......That's my nightmare.

KeriKeene wrote
on 22 Apr 2011 9:10 AM

Great article! I know it's specific for watercolor, but how do you pack your paints? Specifically oils? Do you just put the tubes in the largest pocket or store the tubes in something to put in the backpack?

KatPaints wrote
on 22 Apr 2011 2:24 PM

What type of easel are you using?

For my half box French easel I stored my paints inside the drawer and my new Soltek has a compartment where I can store my paints inside. Pochade boxes are the same.

on 26 Apr 2011 10:52 AM

To KatPaints:

My backpack is 16" tall, not sure if your Soltek will fit-but there are others that will.  Be sure and keep the sliding legs and folding joints of your Soltek very clean before you fold it back up, or they can jam up.  Matches, space blankets, etc., come from camping stores, and are emergency items for long hikes. I now prefer my EasyL umbrella for all but the longest hikes/overnites - not as compact, but sturdier, and no shading problems, either.  Do get the stool. Yes, repairing sunglasses is not hard, but very handy.


on 26 Apr 2011 10:58 AM

To KeriKeene:

I put my oil tubes in a gallon-sized ZipLok bag - we don't want them to leak inside the pack!  Keep in mind, also, that when travelling by air, the changes in the air pressure affects the tubes, which can force them to ooze out or get pressurized and "pop" when opened, squirting oil all over.  The bag is good insurance, and the airport security people can visually check them easily that way.


tartist3 wrote
on 2 Jun 2011 2:14 PM

Hi just read the article and comments.  Love all the information...didn't realize so much was available online.  I have probs with mosquito and horsefly bites and have found the new battery powered devices are great...don't forget to bring an extra battery or two, and extra repellent replacements.  They work great outdoors and out in the patio.

I'm currently in S. Ca with at a friends house and would like to know where the plein air painters are in this area...any ideas how to get that information?  

Wonderful article with visuals!!!