It seems as though few hikers are carrying a notebook for journaling these days. Weight, bulk and perhaps cost may be given reasons, but everyone carrying a phone on trail seems to have removed hikers from actually recording their thoughts and days on trail in physical form. Three Points of the Compass urges anyone on day-hikes or longer backpacking trips to consider carrying a small notebook in which to record their trails, or even trials! It can be brief, incomplete, scrappy, difficult to commit to when tired, but those dog-eared and stained pages will, one day, bring it all back. A trail journal is to be treasured.
It is some time since Three Points of the Compass wrote of his search for a decent journal to use on longer hikes. A couple of excellent notebooks emerged from those looked at, one was not only lightweight, but also contained the fantastic, fountain pen friendly, Tomoe River paper, one of the World’s best papers. I found that with care I could also do light sketches in these notebooks but a heavier weight paper was preferable. However these were pretty pricey and a tad difficult for a UK hiker to get hold of. At that time I also required more pages and something a little more robust for a hike of many months. I settled on another notebook for that purpose and kept my lovely Curnow backpocket journals for week long hikes. In the years since my five month hike I also tried a few other products.
For the last couple of years I have been using wider notebooks. These were Sketch & Note booklets from German company Hahnemühle. These measure 105mm x 148mm, have stitched binding and 40 125g/m² (gsm) white pages. I also used the similarly sized and then difficult to find, but now unavailable, UK made, Traveller’s Notebook from Darkstar that had 40 100gsm pages. These had stapled pages, which are not so much to my liking. The creamy plain pages measured 100mm x 148mm. Feathering or bleed through was seldom a problem with either of these products. Having used these slightly larger formats, I wanted to get back to the slightly smaller size of journal I prefer. I focused on my ideal of paper, stitching and covers, in lightweight form, but also looked for some cheaper and simpler options for daywalks and similar.
I had purchased so many experimental choices of notebook a few years back that I have only recently worked through them all. Thankfully in the intervening years the number of notebooks that feature my preferences has blossomed, not only that but tracking them down has become a little easier as a small number of specialist retailers fill the void. Three Points of the Compass has settled on a one-stop shop that will hopefully handle my journalling requirements for a good few years. Nero’s Notes was taken over by new management in 2017 and proprietor Stuart has continued to deliver excellent service. Having placed an online order of my selected notebooks on the Thursday, two neat packages arrived on my doorstep the next morning. Inside each were a number of carefully wrapped, green tissue paper encapsulated bundles, along with a handwritten thank you note.
I have chosen different notebooks to meet different note-taking and journalling needs. I tend to keep a walk to a volume, writing each trails name and the year across the closed end of each journal so that they can be easily located when stacked on a shelf. I have three stacks of these on my shelves now and it is surprising how frequently I am checking on the detail recorded within many of them.
Short trails require less pages, longer trails require more. If I am planning on taking a little art kit on trail with me for a little sketching, I then want a plain, unlined and sans matrix, paper to suit, possibly also with stiffer covers to give a little support while perching it on my knee as I (poorly) capture a moment.
The first three notebooks shown below are all lightweight quality items. I would probably prefer to use these exclusively but do not wish to be too purist! I also purchased some cheaper, slightly heavier, but perfectly functional notebooks. All of the notebooks shown below have rounded corners, measure 9 cm x 14 cm (3.5″ x 5.5″), but have varying numbers of pages.
Lochby Pocket Journal Refill
These may only be advertised as refills for a journal but work perfectly well as stand alone notebooks, much as the Midori offerings do. Those also have Tomoe River paper but the small Midori come in an A6 size format that I find a little awkward for my on trail journalling. I much prefer the size format of the Scottish made Lochby journals and others shown below. Sandwiched between stiff card covers, my pages are plain. Ruled and dot page versions are also available. These journals contain 36 pages (72 sides) of 68gsm white Tomoe River paper with stitched binding that allows them to lie flat when opened. This is probably my ideal number of pages for a week long trail. The 68gsm white paper is just a little heavier than the Tomoe River paper used in the Pebble notebooks and can handle sketches and fountain pens just a little easier. To my mind, this is just about the perfect backpacking notebook for journalling.
Pebble Stationery Co. Tomoe River Notebooks
The notebooks from Pebble are gorgeous. They are slightly better presented than the Lochby offering which is unsurprising as while those are refills, these are standalone notebooks. The Pebble notebooks have 40 pages (80 sides) of Tomoe River off-white paper 52gsm and my choice has a faint grey 4mm dot grid on each page. The slightly lighter weight paper means that this little journal, just three millimetres thick, comes in three grams lighter than the above book. Pages are sewn stitch bound with an attractive 350gsm grey linen finished cover. If I am not planning on sketching on trail and am not using a fountain pen (their ink will show through this lighter paper) these lovely Australian notebooks move into my number one slot for a weeks hike. An additional little prompt toward these notebooks is that Pebble donate pencils to children for each pack sold.
Endless – Storyboard Standard Dot
Designed in Madras and made in India, the Storyboard Standard Dot notebook from Endless uses a 68gsm Tomoe River paper with quite fine centre thread stitching. Different page printings are available- plain, lined and the dot graph, or grid design, that I purchased. These thin notebooks (2mm) contain just 24 pages (48 sides) so will suffice for shorter hikes or when note taking is cursory at best. This is the lightest option in my recent purchase. At less then 30 grams, with one of the best papers available, while also superbly made with great ‘lay flat’ stitching, it is difficult to fault these “ink-friendly pocket notebooks“. The Storyboard Large Notebook version, measuring 5.1″ x 7.5” is a good choice if concentrating on sketching.
Calepino No. 2 Papier Quadrille
The No. 2 notebooks have 24 pages (48 sides) of 90gsm graph, or grid, paper. Squares measure 5mm x 5mm. The paper is an off-white with a pale green printed grid. Moving away from my preference for stitched signatures, pages are stapled, which is to be expected at this quality level and price point. These French made notebooks are functional, well-priced, with a decent if undramatic paper. Feathering and bleed through from ink is minimal and there is a degree of ‘tooth’ to the paper that is a pleasure to write on with a pencil. While not up there with the best of papers, it certainly isn’t down there with the worse. I wouldn’t necessarily take these on a longer hike but as a general use notebook they are one of the best available. And if I want a dot matrix page instead, then I can use the No. 4.
Calepino No. 4 Papier Dot Grid
These are similar to the No. 2 variant above but instead come with a 5mm square, grey printed, dot grid matrix on an off-white, almost pale cream 90gsm paper. Lined (No 1) and plain paper versions are also available (No. 3). Each French made notebook has 24 pages (48 sides) and are, again, stapled. The Calepino notebooks come with quite heavy weight stiff card covers that hark back to their origins. The founder found a similarly designed notebook in his father’s workshop and went on to produce these simple and functional notebooks himself. I am not sure why the No. 4 notebooks are 2 grams heavier than the No. 2, but they are. These Calepino notebooks are for assuaging any guilt of the imagined sound of forests crashing to the ground. Paper and card covers are 100% recycled and no chlorine used in the whitening of paper. Even the ink is vegetable based.
The simple notebooks from Clairefontaine are a bargain at just two quid each. These French made books have 48 pages (96 sides) of 90gsm lined paper. Clairefontaine paper will handle fountain pens without feathering or excessive bleed through. Eye-burning bright white pages have blue lining at 7mm spacing which is a little narrow for my preference if I must have ruled pages, but come on, who can complain at this price? The only downside to these is that ink can take a little longer to dry. The fairly stiff card covers are available in different colours. Each has a shiny surface that, if not weather proof, will at least encourage rain to run off to a degree. Befitting their cheapness, pages are stapled. Why would I buy a Moleskine with their poor paper when these are available? These are for general note taking and day hikes where my notebooks seem to have a rougher life, pulled in and out of packs for many months. However these are pretty weighty options.
So that was my little purchase, that should last me for a good few hikes. I know that the ubiquitous Field Notes and Moleskine notebooks can be purchased in many a High Street shop or online, I have filled dozens of each myself over the years, however the paper used in both of those is not that good at all. They may suit some, but I prefer something better. It is now also possible to buy dedicated trail journals made from waterproof Yupo ‘paper’ (it isn’t really paper). Even Field Notes have used Yupo in some of their products, but if you have read my previous search for suitable trail journals, you will see that this synthetic slippery paper is often pretty horrible to write on, and terrible for sketching.