I keep a pocket notebook with me at all times, for writing down anything and everything. My notebooks contain things I need to do around the house, article outlines, business ideas, meeting notes, and more. I like thin, pocket-sized notebooks because they are easier to carry and because it only takes 2–3 weeks to fill them up, which is a nice interval for processing their contents.
I’m explaining how I use my notebooks because the way I use them has a lot to do with which notebooks I prefer. So does the pen I carry everywhere with me — a Fischer Space Pen.
So, my notebooks need to last 2–3 weeks and they need to be able to survive being stored in my back pocket most of that time. And the paper needs to hold up to a Fischer Space Pen (which is roughly equivalent to most ballpoint pens). With those requirements in mind, here are the ones I have tried, and my thoughts on each.
Moleskine notebooks are everywhere, which probably makes the cahier pocket notebooks the default choice. They were for me, anyway. I love the company’s other products, and I’ve gone through dozens of cahiers.
Pros. These are relatively sturdy little notebooks. The cover is stiff and just barely durable enough to last for the 2–3 weeks it takes me to fill one up. The stitched binding is best-in-class, and makes it easy to open the notebook flat or fold it all the way over for a firmer writing surface.
Moleskine’s paper is controversial and it is certainly unique — smooth, thin, and off-white. For writing with a ballpoint pen or pencil, at least, I think it’s great.
Cons. As I said, the paper is controversial. It’s actually a bit too smooth and thin for a fountain or gel pen. The lines show through to the other side, and fountain pen ink tends to soak through in spots.
Also, half the pages are perforated. This isn’t all bad. I sometimes pull pages out of my notebook for my daughters to draw on when we are waiting (like for our food when we eat out). However, I never need to pull out more than a few pages, which means plenty are left over, and the perforated pages that are left tend to rip along the perforations when I would rather they stay put. On balance, I think the perforations are a negative, but I imagine some people love them.
Finally, the cover does hold up over 2–3 weeks, but not particularly well. By the end, it can be a bit of a mess, especially in summer.
Summary. The Moleskine cahier journal is fine, but the only really great thing about it is the stitched binding. Keep reading for better options.
Pros. Of all the notebooks I have tried, the Fabriano has the best paper. It’s thick, and ink doesn’t bleed when you write on it even with a fountain pen. EcoQua notebooks exude quality when you pick them up. The linen-texture cover is thick and durable, and lasts 2–3 weeks with little of the wear and tear you get from a Moleskine cahier or Field Notes notebook.
Cons. The construction is almost too solid — it’s difficult to fold the cover all the way over. And as with the Moleskine cahier, half the pages are perforated. Unlike the Moleskine, the perforations are about half an inch from the binding. This (plus the overall construction of the notebook) makes them less prone to unintented tearing, but it also reduces the writable area of the page too much. When I get to the perforated pages, I feel cramped and like I am wasting paper.
Summary. The Fabriano EcoQua is probably the best choice if you carry a fountain pen or if you just really like nice, thick paper.
Pros. They just look so cool. And unlike the Moleskine, there are no perforated pages, so you can use the whole notebook without worrying about pages coming loose — at least not due to perforations.
Cons. Overall, Field Notes just aren’t very durable. The cover is thinner, and it just doesn’t hold up well to being stored in a back pocket. The paper is thin and porous, and bleeds badly if you try to write on it with a fountain pen.
Plus, there’s just something I can’t quite put my finger on. For all the beautiful typography and clever printed messages, it feels cheaply constructed. It reminds me of a knock-off drugstore spiral notebook more than a well-designed pocket journal.
Summary. I really don’t understand why these are so popular.
Nelos Pocket Notebook ($8 for 3)
Pros. Field Notes are flimsy. The thin and perforated pages of the Moleskine cahiers get on my nerves. The Fabriano EcoQua is too stiff for my liking. But I have found a notebook that gets it all right.
The Nelos pocket notebook has thick, wonderful paper for writing, and no perforated pages. The binding is stapled, but still lets you fold the notebook over all the way for a firmer writing surface. And it has one thing none of their others have, a laminated cover that makes the notebook incredibly durable. That is the reason this is the notebook I now carry 24/7 for capture. I’ve been through five or six of them, and I can’t see myself using anything else, ever again.
Plus, it is the cheapest of the bunch, so you’ll even save money!
Cons. There isn’t really anything I don’t like about the Nelos pocket notebook. The only thing I’ve noticed is that, like the other notebooks, the Nelos isn’t great for fountain pens. The paper is thick, but ink from a fountain pen still bleeds a little, making lines fuzzy. Otherwise, I don’t think you will be disappointed.
Summary. Get these notebooks.
Of the four pocket notebooks I have tried, the Nelos is the best all-around and I’m glad I found it. I wish there was a version with blank or dot-grid pages, but I’m fine with the lined version. If it weren’t available I would probably stick with good old Moleskine cahiers. Although if you carry a fountain pen for everyday writing, try the Fabriano EcoQua since it has the best paper.