Thursday, March 15, 2012

Field Notes Memo Books

Field Notes Memo Books fall into the class of "pocket notebooks", although at 3½'' by 5½'' they seem a bit large to be truly pocket-sized.  The notebooks are made in the United States - a notable feature these days when so many others are being manufactured overseas - and are sold in packs of three.  I picked up the "mixed three-pack", which includes one each of graph, ruled, and plain memo books.

The notebooks claim to be made of "durable materials", but the covers are only made of card stock and bound with only three staples.  The Rhodia Staplebound and Moleskine Volant pocket notebooks that I reviewed earlier are similar but their card stock covers both have some kind of plastic-y coating, and the Moleskine is stitched rather than stapled.  What is going to be more durable?  I suppose it really depends on where and how you plan to use your notebook, so you'll have to decide for yourself.

The corners of the these notebooks are rounded - a nice touch, but I noticed that two of my notebooks had their top edge cut slightly unevenly.  It is only a small detail, but one that does detract, however slightly, from the overall image of the notebook.  The covers are boldly printed with the "Field Notes" name - I don't mind this (I actually rather like it), but if you prefer your notebooks to have minimal branding, then this is not the one for you.  And as for that name, I don't know how many people use these notebooks for actual work in the field and I suppose it would depend on the nature of your work, but these don't seem to be the ideal "field notebooks."  If you're staying dry, they'd probably be okay, but if you're working in wet or dirty conditions in the field I would suggest a Rite in the Rain notebook.  And a sturdier cover would be better if you plan to carry your notebook around a lot.

Opening the notebook up, the inside front cover bears spaces for you to write in your name, address ("pertinent coordinates"), relevant dates, and contact email.  It also includes the amusing touch of boxes you can check to indicate whether there is or isn't a reward waiting for someone who finds your misplaced notebook.  The inside back cover includes a ruler (in inches) along the edge, further information about Field Notes (including an obsessively detailed list of specifications), and a list of suggested "practical applications" (including everything from "inspired ramblings" to "shady transactions" and "escape routes" - the latter presumably needed for when your shady transactions fall through).  I continually get the feeling that Field Notes is trying for a classic, old-time feel in these notebooks, but that they're not entirely succeeding.

The graph and ruled notebooks are lined with fine brown lines, a pleasant change from the more standard blue or black ruling.  The lines are 1/4" apart in the ruled notebook and 3/16" apart in the graph - both of which seem to be reasonable widths, at least for my writing.  The graph notebook has no margins, but the ruled notebook has a narrow bottom margin and a wider top margin set off by a bold double line.  If I had a choice, I'd prefer a simple ruling without any fancy margins, but this is hardly a major issue.  One thing I do like is that the lines go straight to the edge of the page.  I suspect that the graph notebook will be my favourite of the three, but I am glad that I got the mixed pack so I had a chance to try each of them.

Now, on to the most important aspect of any notebook: how does the paper hold up to writing with different  kinds of pens?  I tried a number of different pens in the lined notebook (the paper is the same in all three of the notebooks) and, at first glance, things looked good.  The paper is a very slightly off-white, and the ink colours stand out well with virtually no feathering.  There was some very slight feathering with the Pilot Petit1 fountain pen, but even the Uni-ball Vision, which is a very wet pen and typically feathers on just about everything, did not do so on this paper.

However, looking at the back side of the test page, things don't look quite as good.  Virtually all of the pens exhibit slight to considerable show-through, although only the aforementioned Pilot Petit1 and Uni-ball Vision actually bleed through considerably.  Given the amount of show-through (it looks worse in person than it does in the photo), I'd suggest that this paper is really only suitable for micro-tip gel pens (0.5mm or less), ballpoints, and pencils, although of course you would need to experiment to determine what level of show-through is acceptable for you.  Or, since the paper is otherwise quite acceptable, you could also choose to sacrifice the back of every page and write only on the front side.

(I don't know why these photos always make the back of the page look like a different colour than the front of the page.   The front and the back are in fact the same shade of off-white.)

In conclusion, the Field Notes Memo Books are a decent set of pocket notebooks, although they have a few too many issues for me to love them.  They are not ideal for every purpose or for every pen, but in the right situation they could be an excellent choice.  Field Notes is trying really hard with these notebooks and they're probably going to pull some people in, but I don't think they're quite worth the hype they sometimes receive.  Still, these are thoroughly acceptable little notebooks and my overall opinion of them is positive.  Just don't expect too much of them.

Related reviews: Gourmet Pens, Planet Millie, Coffee-Stained Memos, Capitolism, Stationery Review.


  1. These are by far my favorite notebooks, have a regular purchase of them. I have also had a set come "miscut" but a quick email to the FN team had a new set on their way gratis. GREAT customer service will always keep me coming back.

    As far as the cover, the "colors" books to seem to have a bit thicker cover, maybe the nature of the stock for the colors? not sure. I do know the craftsman edition they put out was nice and sturdy.

  2. Thanks for the great review! I considered getting some of these, but perhaps I'll stick with Rhodia. Maybe if they beef up the cover and use heavier paper I'll try them.

  3. I love the very unobtrusive ruling on these, but mine bled ink like a stuck pig. I guess there are good production lots and bad production lots in everything.

  4. Great review - I have been very curious about Field Notes for awhile now but haven't gotten any of their notebooks to try out. You did a great job on offering a non biased perspective. Thank you for this review!

  5. Rite in the Rain are serious outdoor notebooks; where I live, they're sold in shops catering to law enforcement and emergency services people. There's also something called "stone paper" notebooks that, I think, are very good for outdoor/inclement weather use. Pulverized stone in a plastic binder material. I was given one (Xonex?) but don't know much more about them.

    Field Notes didn't click for me. Jack/Ohio


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