“A page of my Journal is like a cake of portable soup.
A little may be diffused into a considerable portion”
James Boswell, 1740-1795
Three Points of the Compass has almost always carried a notebook (or journal) on longer hikes, frequently on day hikes too if wanting to take nature notes etc. (above). In my younger days this was simply a scruffy, soon dog-eared, little notebook from the corner shop or Woolies. Leaking biros soon proved to be an unwanted nuisance so a pencil sufficed. And that is all that is really required by anyone today that wishes to keep a journal, make notes, record expenditure, or leave scribbled words for someone trailing along behind.
While it is possible to pick up a cheap little covered book for journalling for just a few pennies if looking in the right place. That will not necessarily hold up to much abuse, offer good quality paper or be of a size that is suited to what we want from a journal. I now prefer something more functional. Something that may actually look good even if what it contains is the demented ramblings of a fool. My own preference is usually for blank pages as this gives me the opportunity to include maps, scribbles, handstamps and, if feeling particularly inspired, a poor artistic rendering of a scene. I will also occasionally stick in ticket stubs and oddments picked up- feathers, leaves, flower heads etc to make the memories more vivid. Though my journalling is strictly amateurish compared to that created by some others. If you want to see the type of memories that can be put into a journal while hiking, have a glance at The Hike Guy, Kolby Kirk has done a great job of working found objects, rubbings, beer bottle labels, notes, paintings and much more into his journals.
To this end, and always with the notion of replacing good with better, acceptable with lighter, functional with still functional (and possibly multi-functional), I have taken a glance at some type of journals available. This list is not exhaustive, not by any means, but every single one is a decent notebook. As a result of my labours, I find that one or two rise head and shoulders over others shown here, including the one that Three Points of the Compass has used for the past decade or so- the classic Moleskine journal. I now find that I can replace the Moleskine with one of a couple of quite stunning products.
Taking a page from each of the notebooks, I have run a streak or two across of three colours from the Winsor & Newton watercolour range: Intense Blue, Sap Green and Cadmium Red Deep. These are followed by a range of pens including the brush pen from the Faber Castell shades of grey range. I also tried a small variety of pens and an orange highlighter, finishing off with two 2B pencils, the last being water soluble.
Notebooks I looked at for this post are listed below:
|Name||Type||Type of cover||Pages||Page type||Size||Weight||Country of Origin|
|Field Notes||Memo book- ‘Expedition’||Soft||48, stapled||Dotted, white||90mm x 140mm x 3mm||31g||USA|
|Field Notes||Memo book||Soft||48, stapled||Plain, white||90mm x 140mm x 3mm||28g||USA|
|Rite in the Rain||All weather Memo book No. 954T||Soft||56 perfect bound||Dotted, tan||90mm x 127mm x 8mm||71g||USA|
|Leuchtturm1917||Notebook||Soft||121 thread bound||Blank, cream||92mm x 148mm x 10mm||95g||Germany|
|Leuchtturm1917||Whitelines notebook||Hard||185 thread bound||Lined, white on grey||93mm x 150mm x 14mm||152g||Germany|
|Moleskine||Cahiers||Soft||64, stitched||Plain, ivory||90mm x 140mm x 4mm||41g||China|
|Midori||Passport size 003 Traveler’s notebook||Soft||80, stapled||Plain, ivory||90mm x 124mm x 4mm||29g||Japan|
|Backpocket Journal||Tomoe River Edition||Soft||48, hand sewn binding||Plain, cream||89mm x 133mm x 2mm||19g||USA|
Field Notes, Memo Book- Expedition edition
A memo book for those that will buy just about anything with the Field Notes name on the front. When this edition was released in 2012, the first printing comprised 60,000 volumes.
The makers state that these booklets stand 139mm tall, however I measure mine at 140mm x 90mm x 3mm. Lets not quibble- 3 1/2″ by 5 1/2″ in old money. Each journal has 48 pages held in place with three staples. Pages are not numbered and have no features at all beyond a dot matrix design.
The FNC-17 notebook was the fifth of the ‘Colors’ range (that commenced in 2008) produced by Field Notes. They seem quite proud of their bright orange cover (Antarctic Survey Orange apparently) and all black back cover (‘Polar Night Black’!). The paper itself though is where the innovation lies. This is a water and tear proof Yupo synthetic product with a dot grid design printed on light grey.
I am not a great fan of the paper used in this notebook. It seems to take forever for ink to dry; easily resulting in smudges unless great care is taken. The very smooth surface holds on to an ink with reluctance. Writing with my default pen for ‘outdoors work’, the Fisher Space Pen, results in a poor line. The worst I have ever experienced from this pen. This despite Field Notes claim that the ‘paper’ works well with this pen. Most water based gel and roller ball pens are simply not a practical option for use with this book.
All that said, if you can find a pen that suits you and writes on this paper well. The bright colour means you are unlikely to lose a journal and the tough paper will hold up well in damper conditions. The lack of perforations does mean that attempting to tear out a page is a difficult task. Beyond its construction materials and lack of compatibility with most pens, this is a fairly no-frills product. Pencils are a decent medium to use on the smooth paper but the dot page design may discourage many from using the journals for sketching.
Field Notes, Memo Book
This is the classic, much coveted little journal purchased every year in its tens of thousands. Beside the Rite in the Rain journal, the basic Field Notes is possibly the most popular notebook used by travellers. Not surprising really. Field Notes have recognised that there remains a niche for this product, while also bringing out a consistent range and stream of new products to satisfy the loyal collectors and completists out there. This would include the orange and black Expedition product shown above.
The brown covered, plain paper Field Notes Memo Book looked at is the basic run-of-the-mill product from this company. Each volume has 48 pages, none are numbered or perforated. Pages are held in place by three stainless staples. That shown here features plain paper but there is a product for all- Graph and ruled also being available. A three pack containing three of each or a mixed pack is available.
None of the pages are perforated, there is no gusset pocket in the cover. It is simply a note book, no more and no less. And the product is all the better for that.
Rite in the Rain All-weather Memo Book- No. 954T
The Rite in the Rain paper concept was first developed in the 1920s to answer the challenge presented by the wet weather of the Great Northwest of America. The paper meets stringent archival specifications so any of these products that you do purchase and use is likely to be around for some time…
These little notebooks have a large following. Quite why I struggle to see. They may hold up well to inclement weather, resisting any urge to turn into wood pulp, but they also resist most types of pen too. If the small format of this notebook appeals to you, and it fits into a shirt pocket with ease, be sure to try out your pen of choice before leaving home. But, horses for courses and all that. If you do like the technology behind this, perhaps living in a rainforest, then have a look at their website as there is a bewildering choice of product available. One possible option is to buy loose Rite in the Rain pages and store them either in the proprietary binder or whatever takes your fancy.
The cover and paper of Rite in the Rain 954T are tan in colour. The journal is also available in a green format (954). Pages are perfect bound; this is not a favourite method of mine for securing pages as they can come adrift, particularly with age as the substrate dries and cracks. However I have not had enough years experience with this journal to be aware if this is an issue. The cover is termed by Rite in the Rain as their ‘Field Flex’ which is supposed to be their toughest variant. Certainly it feels durable. I do like the rounded corners which last well, resisting curling with use and feel good beneath the digit when thumbing through.
The 1/25,000, 1/50,000 and 1/100,000 scales on the inside front cover are potentially useful if working to maps of one of these scales.
Many people just want to keep the odd note or jotting. With the right pen and ink, this notebook will hold up well, but don’t even think about using it for any artistic renderings utilising either paints or water soluble pencils. Hardly surprising, given its ‘Rite in the Rain’ promise, the paper fails to hold on to a pigment at all.
I could never persevere with one of these journals if I wished to continue including the odd (very odd) sketch and field drawing. The reluctance of the paper to hold on to just about any writing or drawing medium is a very real issue to me. Even though they are by no means one of my favourites, this is a bit of a disappointment as these little volumes have quite a lot going for them.
Leuchtturm1917 Pocket Notebook
German company Leuchtturm have been making stationery for decades. Founded in 1917, their experience is there to be seen in this carefully designed and feature rich product. If some of the products looked at elsewhere on this blog can be deemed simple in design, that can not be applied to the Leuchtturm1917 range of products. The company pride themselves on making a premium product- ‘we are convinced that small details make a big difference’. Having used Moleskine for over twenty years (and there is a simple product if ever there was one) I cannot help but agree with that statement. I have looked at two Leuchtturm’s products; the pocket notebook and another; that features their ‘Whitelines’ technology.
The A6 sized book I purchased has blank pages but it can also be bought with a choice of either dotted, ruled or squared pages. This is a soft backed notebook and has 121 numbered pages. Before these, there is a name and address page at the front, followed by three contents pages. The final eight pages (sixteen sides) are perforated and can be detached. These notebooks have the widest margin left once pages are detached that I have come across’ a remnant measuring 10mm being left intact. The book is thread bound and comes with a gusseted flap in the rear of the book. The page marker is black, as is the elasticated closure band. You buy these notebooks with a single page of stickers to apply to outer cover for archiving purposes. The paper is ink proof and acid free to aid in this. Obviously the first few pages could be cut and removed if wished to reduce weight by a negligible amount however with the large number of internal pages, a contents page could be useful for some.
It is a joy to write on the paper in these notebooks. The 80g/m² paper feels good under the pen, smooth with no drag but holding an ink well. The more I use this notebook, the more I like it. For longer, multi day hikes, this journal would take some beating. What I don’t understand is the preference in the UK for Moleskine over these when there is so little price difference.
This notebook is useful when there is a considerable amount to be recorded. Perhaps on a trek lasting multiple weeks or months. This is the larger and tougher version of the soft backed variant above. The hard backed cover means that this will stand up to continual and extended use. Obviously this has a weight penalty- this 185 page volume weighs 152g against the 95g, 121 page soft back book looked at earlier. Pages are both ink proof and acid free for long term archiving. White lines on grey pages are designed to prove less of a distraction and disappear when copied, scanned or faxed. The notebook is only a little bulkier in the hand than the soft backed version (above) and is comparable in height & width dimensions to the Field Notes memo book.
This is a chunky hard backed notebook with 185 numbered pages. Before these, there are three blank tables for contents. The final eight pages (sixteen sides) are perforated and can be detached. The margin left in the volume once pages are detached is narrower than the soft back version above; measuring 6mm. Being thread bound, the book is advertised as opening flat, however it may require a little persuasion before it does so. There is a gusseted flap in the rear of the book, this is actually a usable feature. There is bright orange page marker and elastic enclosure band, as with the previous journal, this adds some bulk to the overall volume.
The makers of this notebook proudly boast that it incorporates ‘Whitelines Link‘ technology. Having scribbled, doodled or drawn on a page, it is then possible to open up the (free) Whitelines app on a mobile device, capture the full page, then tick a ‘quick’ box to store or share via email, Evernote or Dropbox. Once scanned the white lines on the page are not visible.
Moleskine cahiers notebook
These little journals come in sets of three. They are a very simple affair and therein lies their effectiveness. No bells, no whistles, just 64 plain pages in a cardboard cover. They also comes as ruled or squared variants. The inside of the rear cover has the ‘famed’ flap for gathering loose notes in. This is open at the inside and top edge and has no gusset so does not hold a lot before gaping open or having contents spill out.
Paper is an ivory coloured 70 g/m² acid-free. The rear sixteen pages (32 sides) are perforated and can be detached. There are no page numbers. Each journal weighs 39g, though I have found some variation in this having come across examples that weigh 41g. Word has it that outsourcing supply in recent years has resulted in some quality control issues. I cannot say that I have encountered any problem with recent purchases, but that may be that because it is such a simple product that exceptionally high quality is not going to be found anyway- as I say, they have kept it simple and that is what it is.
The closest rival to this product reviewed here is the Field Notes Memo Book. While that is an excellent, if basic, journal, the Moleskine wins out with the addition of the inside rear flap and, particularly, the perforated pages. However, taking in to account the tendency for inks to bleed through, in truth, there is little in it.
The only slightly above average quality of the paper is apparent with uneven drying of paints and inks. However the paper does not drag on a pen excessively and feels fairly smooth to write or draw on.
Midori Traveller’s notebook- 003 Passport size
‘a notebook for life’
While I use the large Midori Traveler’s Notebook, complete with thick leather cover and various sundry parts, for work, I had never experimented with the smaller format ‘Passport’ size for hiking with. This is to a different size format than all others looked at in this blog, being squarer in design, annoyingly so if you want to slip it into a shirt pocket or similar whereupon you will find it too wide. In addition, the pages could do with rounding at the corners.
These notebooks are amazingly light. There is a fair bit of guff on the interior page, presumably made to ‘mimic’ a passport. The lightly perforated pages are useful. But do require a page to be folded before attempting to detach from the entirety otherwise will rip. I think the paper used is similar to, if not the actual paper, to the famed Tomoe River product.
The soft back cover keeps 80 ivory coloured pages together. Even with the minimal ‘special pages, this is a lightweight offering at only 29g. A perfectly functional basic little notebook that can be married with similar sized, completed notebooks in Midori type folders/binders should you feel a burning need. I don’t.
Be warned, the Midori community is large, passionate and can suck the unwary in. YouTube is rife with hundreds of videos explaining how to personalise your Midori, what to add, what to stick in. To be frank, what I have seen has been mostly excruciating. There is always the off-switch.
Backpocket journal- Tomoe River Edition
While only offering 48 pages, this is one of the most promising and exciting (yes, really!) journals that I have looked at. It is minimal, yet presents a good quality product (paper) in a format familiar to most.
These journals are made by Steve Curnow at his Curnow Bookbinding & Leatherwork business. It is a slightly peculiar affair ordering these, you contact Steve via his Facebook page. Send him an email with your enquiry and he replies pretty promptly with what’s available and shipping costs. Curnow Bookbinding produces three packs of a standard Backpocket Journal, with a variety of snazzy covers, or alternatively, you can step up to the little gem shown here. The journal reviewed here features 52g/m² Tomoe River paper (the clue is on the front cover).
The Backpocket Journal is larger than the Midori above. Any serious lightweight hiker would think that Curnow had been interviewing hikers as to their requirements. This is a basic, no frills journal that utilises fine quality papers and thin covers. My only wish would be for it to come in a double or even triple format as the 48 pages is pretty meagre, though this is the same as the Field Notes offerings. I will probably either contact Steve and see if he can run me up a few thicker versions or try and sew a couple together myself.
When writing about this particular journal (September 2015), I see the various editions from Steve Curnow featuring Tomoe River paper comprise those below. The one reviewed here is the first listed:
Backpocket Journals (3.5″ x 5.25″, 48 pages):
Tomoe River Edition (creme paper, blank) …….. $12.50
Tomoe River Edition (white paper, blank) ………. $12.50
Backpack Journals (4.375″ x 8.25″, 60 pages):
Regular (blank or lined) ………………………………. $15.00
Tomoe River Edition (blank, white or creme) …. $18.00
Tomoe River Jumbo Edition (blank, 128 pgs) … $32.00
A5 Journals (148mm x 210mm, 80 pages):
Tomoe River Edition (blank, white or creme) …. $19.00
Tomoe River Jumbo Edition (blank, 128 pgs) … $33.00
What a lovely paper! It is very pleasant to write on and takes a 2B sketching pencil well. Paint and ink dry quickly and, despite the thinness of the paper, without cockling. This is probably my favourite of all the papers looked at for writing on, though the thinness could prove problematic if being stressed too much, such as if being used for rubbings or sticking heavier mementoes to.
A word about electronics. Three Points of the Compass has dabbled in digital journalling. In 2005 a high end (at the time!) Dell Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) proved fun for a while but was both heavy (179g) for backpacking and laborious to input notes and diary. This had speaker, microphone, a 3.7″ VGA screen, ran on Windows Mobile 5.0 (later Windows Mobile 6.1), Windows Media Player 10, 624 MHz processor, 256 MB flash ROM, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. I did later try and improve things with a Think Outside Stowaway portable keyboard. This connected via Bluetooth but also proved simply too bulky and heavy (289g). Despite having a removable 1100mAh battery, life was only ‘OK’. I did get a double size 2200mAh replacement battery for the device but this stuck out the back quite awkwardly beneath the large replacement battery cover. The device came with both Compact Flash and Secure Digital card slots for expansion and other pretty useful features, using the pocket pc proved unsatisfactory to me and, to date, I have been disinclined to repeat the experiment with the smart phones that followed in the PDA wake.
Being an oral historian (part of my day job) I am also looking at options for sound recordings on my trips. The professional quality Marantz equipment I use at work is simply too heavy and bulky for hiking with and most Dictaphones I have seen and used do not offer the quality I am after. While it is possible to use an iPhone or similar, I am probably looking for something that is unavailable at present, the search goes on…
So, what has Three Points of the Compass determined from this exercise? As I mentioned earlier, I have happily relied on the easily found, fairly cheap to purchase, simple yet functional plain Moleskine Journals for years. Field Notes are just as good and some may say they possibly have the edge with their ever increasing range of cover options etc- wood anyone? Looking around at alternatives has shown that there are better, if pricier options easily available. It is possibly to hunt out very lightweight and minimalist offerings, or more fully specc’ed products. It will depend if it is day hikes or longer trips that I am looking to supply. For the next few years at least, I believe I have found a worthy successor… or two. Only time will tell what is the perfect notebook. But in truth, it is the actually using anything, of any make or design, that results in the perfect notebook
Great review! From the images, it looks like the Field Notes paper made the watercolors look the most vibrant, with little bleed through. Would you say that you liked that paper the best? What about other features? If you could Frankenstein your ideal journal from these examples, which components of which journals would you use?
I have always wanted to get into journaling, but i have found that i am too antsy to be consistent. Also, i don’t draw well. But i absolutely adore reading journals. Kolby Kirk’s are truly magnificent.
Thanks for your comment ann. I hesitate to suggest a ‘best’, in truth, ANY of these journals is a decent product and up to the job, depending on what that job is. For me, looking at what is most suited to my needs, two of the journals stand out. The backpocket journal is great for day or weekend hikes, though I would prefer it if it had more pages. It is a lovely paper, minimalist in design, lightweight and despite the thinness of the paper holds up well. If looking at a multi day trip, I want something that has a bit more beef about it, that will stand up to more constant thumbing, flattening out, knocks to the cover, bits of leaf or feathers and tickets being jammed in, that sort of thing. I reckon the Leuchtturm1917 Pocket Notebook is the one to go for, provided an appropriate pen, pencil and possibly colours are used. This journal works well with my ‘go to’ Fisher Space pen. If knocking together a Frankenstein- then Leuhtturm1917 soft cover, elastic band and ribbon and rear gusset. Plain creme Tomoe River paper with one quarter being perforated 5mm from the spine, plus ten pages of a quality, white paper such as the heavier weight Midori paper not reviewed here. No need for contents pages. Not much to ask for is it!
What a literary lot you walkers are.
Here’s one better – a whole Johnson walk. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XOI18l9HjrQ
b.t.w. what a shame – I notice not one of the journals you review are manufactured in the UK. I can’t help thinking there must have been a time when we lead the field (so to speak).