Things I Like: Field Notes

Field Notes

Well, first, you can use them with fountain pens — especially fountain pens with fine nibs with ink suited for poor quality paper. But honestly, that’s not really the main thing for me.

Here’s what I like about Field Notes.

The size. They are perfectly portable. In your purse, in your pocket, or even your hand.

The look. A Field Notes memo books is attractive in an unpretentious and utilitarian way (usually).

The utility. They are user notebooks (usually) and they take a lot of abuse. I end up bending them; I write on the covers; I wind up with mysterious spots on the kraft paper covers, bent corners and gouged spines. A Field Notes book doesn’t seem to mind. They bend, but they don’t break.

Field Notes

And Field Notes offers enough variety even for my short attention span. There’s a range of cover choices. When it comes to the paper inside, there’s blank paper, graph paper and lined paper available in the regular memo books.

One of my Field Notes packs has a wood laminate cover. I thought I’d like that cover more than I do, but it turns out I prefer the kraft paper (more bendable and mussable). But I still adore the wood ones, because of my favorite detail ever: copper-colored staples.

Field Notes

Then there are the limited edition Field Notes, which come out quarterly.  You can subscribe, or you can just buy the ones you like. It’s these limited editions that caused me to qualify some of my comments above with the word “usually.” Because the limited edition Field Notes can be very different than the usual Field Notes.

Field Notes Byline Edition

That’s the last limited edition, called the Byline. It’s not a memo book, but a long, thin tribute to an old-fashioned reporter’s flip notebook. I think it’s the bomb.

Field Notes put this together with a journalist, and it references the reporter’s notebook of Hollywood legend. I happened to have been a reporter back in the notebook era. And, honestly, the working reporters I knew didn’t use these. We were furiously copying down quotes, writing hastily and messily. We needed wider notebooks — usually large steno books.

But where’s the romance in that? This one is so much better looking. It even comes with a dictionary of newspaper terms that is both accurate and a thoughtful improvement on real reporter’s notebooks, whose blank covers were equally lacking in instruction or whimsy.

Field Notes Byline Edition

The Byline comes with helpful reminders, too, on what you need to focus on.

Field Notes Byline Edition

There’s even a tiny fake newspaper with tiny fake news.

Field Notes Byline Edition

Well, I love the Byline special edition. It’s a terrific creative piece and a loving tribute to newspapers back in the day. But the normal Field Notes memo book is what I really use day to day.

I just like the way the normal memo books are designed. The basic books are well-thought-out and practical. They are visually attractive and nicely made. They also are a little quirky and a little droll. Reading Field Notes text is like being around funny, intelligent, interesting people with great visual sense.

Field Notes

I know some of the Field Notes folks must be fans of typefaces and fonts. Because Field Notes do solemnly declare that they “only” use Futura.

Field Notes

Normal people might be like, um, what, and so? But as a fellow typeface fan, these are my people.

Field Notes puts “specifications” on the back cover of every book. This is from a recent wood-cover Field Notes (the one with the coppery staples).

Field Notes

It’s cute, that level of detail. But it also gives me the sense that Field Notes does sweat the details. Making memo books is their work, after all, and I get the feeling that they take pride in doing that work well.

Nonetheless, outside of those specs, Field Notes isn’t particularly serious. They aren’t making pharmaceuticals. It’s a memo book. So they make it attractive. And they make it fun.

Field Notes

But of course nothing is perfect. There are some things I don’t like about Field Notes.

Mostly, the paper. It’s not bad paper. It’s just not (usually) fountain-pen friendly. The special editions vary, and have better papers, but the regular ones use thin, absorbent paper. Fountain pen ink tends to show through, so I can use only one side of a page.

A lot of fountain pen inks will feather, spread and look duller on the absorbent Field Notes paper, too. Using fine and extra-fine nibs helps, but you can still get feathering with many inks.

On the other hand, even the lowest level paper works well with ballpoint pens, pencils, rollerballs and the fine markers I use. Plus, my favorite fountain pen and ink combination works perfectly on Field Notes: a Lamy Safari with fine nib and Pelikan Brilliant Black.

Field Notes

But honestly, I’ll use any ink. I don’t mind some feathering in notes to myself. The idea is to write something down to remember it, not to admire. And the lower-quality paper is fast-drying; for quick notes that’s useful.

That said, a more fountain-pen friendly paper would be welcome to many people, and I wouldn’t be upset either. It can be done: there’s the wheat straw paper, and I even have a similar, inexpensive memo book made by Molekine that has great paper for fountain pens.

Field Notes and Moleskine pocket notebooks

That Moleskine memo book, which is very good, reminds me of one last little thing I don’t like about Field Notes memo books. Sometimes it seems as if everyone else has decided to put out a similar product. There’s a crowded field of little memo books.

But that’s just my grumpiness. So what if the memo book aisle looks like the cereal aisle at the grocery store? I use Field Notes because they are a pleasure to pick up, leaf through and use. They make me want to jot things down. Some other memo books have better paper for fountain pens. But it’s only Field Notes that makes me want to carry around a memo book.

8 thoughts on “Things I Like: Field Notes

  1. I wanted to try Field Notes for ages, but the company wouldn’t sell them overseas (to here at least) and I could never find a seller who would do so at a reasonable cost – this was before the current crop of online sellers. Then I heard they changed their paper and it was no longer FP friendly, so that put the kibosh on that. Presumably the paper change was for financial reasons? Mind you, I have found that smaller notebooks to be used for very quick jottings on the go are not really the best place to use an FP – think drying times!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They change their paper at times, but I think the regular Field Notes paper (not necessarily limited editions) has not been fountain-pen friendly for years. But Field Notes works well with other types of pens and pencils, and the drying time is quick with fountain pens. Like you, I only use these tiny memo books for “very quick jottings on the go,” which means I love the fast dry time.

      The thing about us fountain pen users is our numbers are pretty small overall, especially in the US, where Field Notes is (Chicago! and Portlandia). Probably the vast majority of Field Notes users use other writing implements. So the company has to balance a lot of factors, and “fountain pen friendliness” may not even make the list. There are other companies whose paper is better for fountain pens, for people who only use a fountain pen.

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  2. I’ve read about Field Notes and thought about trying them, but I’ve also read (as you stated) that their paper is generally not fountain pen friendly. I rarely write with anything else though, so I’ve held off. It seems like the heavier papers will tend to work better with fountain pens, but they don’t seem to make very many editions with heavier papers. IIRC, most of their books use 50-pound paper and only a few (so far) use 60- or 70-pound paper. Have you tried out these different paper weights? If so, could you suggest a minimum weight for use with fountain pens? I generally use medium nibs, FWIW, so I can’t rely on just using a finer nib in these books (I’d be limited to a very small number of pens if I did). Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I suspect weight is not the only factor that goes into paper’s fountain-pen friendliness. I think materials and finish must go into it, too. With printer paper I usually get good results with 24# paper, and the wheat straw printer paper I wrote about is only 21# and also great. My Moleskine memo book (not regular Moleskine notebooks) has very thin paper, and works well with fountain pens (but it’s also a few years old, too).

      Older Field Notes used 50# paper and the current standard ones use 60# paper, and both tend to feather and show through for me. So that’s why I think it’s not just paper weight.

      Of the recent limited editions, Byline uses 70# and it’s a bit better, and Sweet Tooth uses colored 70# paper which does not feather or show through, but takes a while to dry.

      And that’s the good thing about Field Notes regular paper: it can feather and does shows through with most fountain pen ink, but it also dries instantly, which I love in a memo book. Ink choice also can help with feathering.

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  3. I rarely write with anything other than a fountain pen these days. I use a regular pen for my check book, and that is mostly it. Now and then I pull out my pen roll with my favorite regular pens in it. Sometimes I do write with a pencil, but that too has not seen much use, since I got into fountain pens. If they would just put FP, or FPF on some small corner on the back cover, then we could know. I usually resort to hearing the results of how fountain pen friendly they are, before making a purchase. By then many times they are GONE. I tend to use my Japanese fine to write in my Field Notes though. I know Field Notes has heard of the requests before, this is nothing new. I am not used to being in the majority, so that was cool. Thanks for the great blog Laura.

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  4. I have a few Field Notes left, that are unused. I have always loved them. I wish they would make fountain pen friendly designations, so I wouldn’t waste money. Other manufacturers have been happy to fill that void. That is a shame, because I would prefer to use Field Notes, where possible. They are a great company in my opinion. Field Notes should make random or full time editions with fountain pen friendly paper. I refuse to write on one side of the page. The little notebooks aren’t cheap as it is. I don’t bend mine, or keep it in a pocket. I have a notebook cover for it, with a zipper. It also has a pen holder in the front of the cover. I can store a total of 4 notebooks in that cover as well. I also use Vaultz to store filled notebooks. They have one that is a perfect size at Wal-Mart.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is neat. You are a good notebook owner, and my notebooks probably wish you owned them, instead of me. 🙂

      I know the vast majority of fountain pen people join you in wanting the better paper. I’m an outlier here. Field Notes are the only little notebooks I enjoy, so I live with the paper. It helps that I use other pens and pencils, and that I prefer fine nibs. But I have a number of friends who can’t deal with the paper, and I get it. With a pencil, ballpoint or Hi-Tec-C 0.4 gel pen, you can write on both sides of the page. But I can’t with any fountain pen. So that’s a non-starter for a lot of fountain pen fans; you are in the majority there. 🙂

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