It seems that pocket notebooks are definitely back in fashion at the moment. The world, thanks to the internet and kickstarter, has become awash with them. As a writer, I’ve carried a notebook around with me for most of my life, so I decided that this is one area I definitely have an opinion on.
Despite the countless brands, the current two front runners are Moleskine and Field Notes. I’ve only recently succumbed to buying Field Notes as they are quite tricky to get hold of outside America without making a bit of an effort. However, I’d heard so much about them that I thought I would have to give them a try.
Both notebooks discussed below have gone through a complete lifecycle in my handbag (purse to any US readers, obviously). Despite all those hardy, manly, everyday carry instagram shots, I don’t think anything competes with the assortment of crap I carry around with me on a daily basis that these notepads have had to survive next to.
Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover
Except in this instance. The hardcover pocket size Moleskine stands up well to most environments. It’s still got a lot of trend factor, as well as standing up to approval in the boardroom meetings. Because I use a hardcover one, it makes it easier to grab and write if there isn’t a surface available. Oddly, out in the field, using Field Notes is actually more difficult in this sense. Field Notes as a brand has a definite cover cool factor right now, especially some of the limited addition colours ones. But by its very nature, it is more casual; while it might provoke a bit of interest in meetings, it’s not going to be taken as seriously in a corporate environment. Especially after a bit of use. Which leads me to…
Durability and Longevity
Field Notes have considerably fewer pages than Moleskine books, meaning that this one was only on rotation for about a month. The Moleskine, on the other hand, was in my bag for around six. One looks hardly touched, the other looks well loved. I don’t have to tell you which way round that is. Again, that beat up look has a bit of cool factor to it, but as I keep all my notebooks and constantly refer back to the content in them, it does make me question if they will stand the test of time like the original concept they were based upon.
In the bid for market share, the quality of paper actually often seemed to take second place to design factor. A lot of brands have started to realise that as more and more people turn away from an entire dependence on smartphones and yearn for the analogue capture of yesteryear – often with a fountain pen to go alongside it – paper matters. On the whole I don’t use fountain pens, largely because I have a mythological perfect one I am still searching for, but I do use a variety of ballpoints and rollerballs. Despite a lot of people complaining about Moleskine paper quality, I would say that the two of them match up pretty well. If anything, the Field Notes have a little bit of show through (but not bleed through) on the back. I’ve yet to try out the Shelterwood edition, which has considerably thicker paper, but in the interests of fair comparison, I’m reporting here only on the standard book. Both brands have options of lined, plained and grid, so pick whatever works for you and knock yourself out.
I love the Moleskine back flap for storing bits of paper and the bookmark is definitely a great feature. These are both missing from the Field Notes, but with considerably fewer pages, the bookmark becomes less of a necessity. I’d recommend using a modified to suit your needs Bullet Journal system with both. I recently went back and actually did this to all my notebooks that had a couple of blank pages at the beginning or the end and it makes a huge difference to usability. Field Notes has a built in ruler along the back sleeve and some fun uses. Both have a user information page at the front, although both brands clearly approach it in different ways.
To Sum Up
Which side of the fence you come down on will always depend on how you use your notebook. For me, the pocket notebook isn’t for work – but when I am working I will use it to capture things so I don’t want it to look too out of place. I love the look of Field Notes especially when I am travelling; there is definitely something of the open road about them. The first real test will be on a road trip around the US and Canada next month, where I’m much more likely to be shoving them in my pocket for practical reasons, rather than just creative ones. After this first run through though, I am still slightly on the side of Moleskine for the way I can actually use them in any environment. If I had an idea last month, I don’t need to go and find the other book because I’ve already run out of pages and moved on.
Finally, I’ve used a cheap supermarket brand (£3/$4.50 US) and found that once you take the ‘street cred’ element away (the ‘look at me, I’m a writer/hipster/adventurer’ element) it works just as well on all fronts as the others, at a fraction of the cost: