What I Use: Pocket Notebooks

Pelle Journal Cover Side View

Pelle Journal Cover Side View

Field Notes & fountain pens have been the subject of some recent internet discussion and some recent Pen Addict podcasts. I have to admit I can’t get worked up one way or the other on the topic. But it did get me thinking about what I like in my pocket notebooks. Especially since some of what other people mentioned as a negative I consider a feature.

I rarely use the notebook that’s actually in my back pocket. It’s often faster for me to use my phone for a quick note (usually using Drafts). It’s so rare for me to pull the notebook from my pocket I have considered not carrying it, but inertia and habit keeps it in my pocket. So when I say pocket notebook I mean a notebook that is about 3.5“ x 5.5” in size so it does fit in a pocket, although I don’t have to pull it from a pocket to use it.

Nock Co Fodderstack XL with two Vanishing PointsI wrote about my Nock Co. Fodderstack XL and I do carry a pocket notebook in there. Since the pen and notebook are together I’m more likely to use this instead of the notebook from my back pocket. Currently I have the Nock Co. DotDash Black Notebook in this. When the notebook is full I’ll replace it with a different type. More on why when I discuss paper later. I typically use this for quick notes so this notebook’s biggest competitor is my phone. I will occasionally pull this notebook out and carry just the notebook and a pen in my shirt pocket.

Pelle Leather Journal Cover

Pelle Leather Journal Cover with Field Notes peaking out around the edges. The pen my Pelikan M805 Stresemann

These days my pocket notebooks are mostly carried in a Pelle Leather Journal cover that I purchased years ago. The cover is slightly smaller than a pocket notebook, with a height of about 5.25″. I rather like being able to see the edges of the notebooks that are inside. I tend to pick notebooks that match up aesthetically. The Pelle holds three notebooks. I suppose more could be squeezed in with some creativity, but three is enough for me. The Pelle cover is no longer available although it is similar to the smaller Midori Traveler Notebook.

The Pelle is too bulky to be carried in my pocket, at least during the summer. There are some where it will fit, but it’s just not convenient. So I usually carry it in my bag, or just in my hand from place to place. I have gotten into the habit of just making sure it’s with me.

My use of the Pelle cover has ebbed and flowed since I got it years ago. I started using it again at the start of this year when I filled it with a set of three Field Notes Ambition notebooks. I’m in the seventh month of nearly constant use.

I use the ledger book for lists, usually that I will refer to more than once or over a long(ish) period of time. This notebook is less than a third full after nearly seven months.

The second notebook is the weekly planner. This is a 56 week planner so it’s still going. Each night I use this to record three, sometimes four tasks that I want to accomplish the next day. I don’t use it as a typical planner, only updating it at night for the next day and checking off what I accomplished.

The third notebook started off as the grid ruled ambition but has since been filled and replaced. Currently it is a Field Notes Workshop series notebook although I will probably replace it before it’s filled. (Again, the reasons will be under paper types I like.) I use this for longer notes when I’m sitting at a desk or table. It’s often things I’ll want to refer back to, at least during the next week or two. This notebook does get used a lot so it’s been filled a few times. Between the Ambition and the Workshop notebooks I used a Field Notes Pitch Black edition and a couple Doane Notebooks.


I am terrible at organizing and tracking multiple notebooks. At one time I thought it would be good to have notebooks dedicated to certain topics. This quickly devolved into a hot mess. The notebook I wanted was never handy and I had notes scattered all over the place. That’s when the Pelle Journal returned to use. My active pocket notebooks are now either in it or my Fodderstack.

I also found that keeping multiple notebooks, each dedicated to a topic, in the Pelle didn’t work for me. This is one reason I had stopped using it before this year, I just didn’t need three notebooks at once. The lists and day planner notebooks, along with the general notebook, does seem to be working for me. I could incorporate them into the same single notebook but I find that the three notebooks works well for me. The lists and planner allow me to swap out the general notebook once it’s full and not have to worry about needing it for reference or transferring information.

I don’t scan my notebooks when they are full or otherwise index them. I will occasionally scan a page or two with my phone or copy some info into a more permanent notebook or computer document. I used to save all my pocket notebooks by throwing it in a box. But after never referring back to them I now destroy them when they are full. Even the planner really only has info that’s fresh for a day. I have a full fledged electronic task list but I find the written list of top tasks helps me avoid the distraction of seeing other tasks and allows me to focus.

Paper Types

I hate fountain pen friendly pocket notebooks! There, I said it. Ok, hate is too strong a word, but it makes my point. The reason the Field Notes Workplace Edition and the Nock Co. DotDash black notebook will be replaced is because they are too “fountain pen friendly”. I’m using them because I decided to force myself to try to adjust to the paper. It doesn’t seem to be working although I still hate to remove the notebook before it is full.

No doubt the paper is nice to write on. So why the hate? Smudges! Being fountain pen friendly extends the ink drying time since the ink is absorbed into the paper more slowly. I don’t want to carry blotter paper and I don’t want to wait before closing the notebook or turning the page. I also don’t want to rely on ink specially formulated as fast drying. I get smudges when I carelessly put my hand on the written word when holding the notebook. Less fountain pen friendly paper absorbs the ink faster so it dries faster. I have fewer problems with the the regular paper, such as with the Field Notes Ambition series. I can concentrate on the writing, not how I hold the notebook or if I can turn the page.

Field Notes Workshop edition Writing sample

Fountain Pen friendly paper but with ink smudging from turning the page. Minor in this case because I was being careful where I put my fingers. It annoys me more than the next photo.

Field Notes Ambition grid notebook writing sample

The problem with non-fountain pen friendly paper. I embrace the show through but a ink burp soaked clear through four sheets.

I use thin nibs so the less friendly paper is not a problem for me. There is often show through but I actually like that and I can still easily read what I wrote. I am destroying the book in the end so as long as I can read what I wrote before it is destroyed I am happy with it. Smudges bug me, show through does not. I rarely encounter bleed through and it’s usually when a pen burps ink. Honestly, show-through and even some incidental bleed-through gives me the impression of a well used notebook. Smudges make me feel like I’ve been careless.

Doane Paper pocket notebook

The Doane Paper Pocket Notebook I carry in my pocket. The pen is a Kaweco Brass Sport.

Doane Paper Grids+Lines is my favorite paper ruling on any paper size, including pocket notebooks. This is interesting and was a surprise to me because the traditional grid ruling is my least favorite overall, although in a pocket notebook I would pick grid over a standard line ruled paper. A dot grid ruling is a close second to Grids+Lines and it is more readily available.

The paper type in Field Notes can vary widely although I’ve never encountered one where it’s been so bad with my fountain pens that I can’t use it. I can see where others wouldn’t like them with fountain pens but in my pocket notebook I value quick drying over everything else. Plus I like the “I’m being used” look of show through. I don’t like the “Hah! Now try to remember what you wrote” look of smudges.

Because of past Field Notes subscriptions and my hoarding of Doane pocket notebooks (from when they are on sale) I have a lot of these pocket notebooks waiting to be used. I don’t typically try other pocket notebooks and I don’t feel compelled to find a better notebook. I’m very happy with my current options. While I like the Doane Grids+Lines better than all the other options I do like the variety and design of Field Notes so I do switch between the notebooks. That said, I have to admit to buying the odd pocket notebook here and these.

Wrapping Up

The Pelle Journal cover has made my pocket notebook harder to carry since they no longer fit into a pocket with ease. This wasn’t a problem in the winter since a winter jacket always had a big enough pocket. But even know that summer is here I’ve still kept the habit of making sure the notebooks are with me. So the reality is I’ve gone through pocket notebooks faster since switching to the cumbersome three notebook Pelle Journal cover.

Knowing that the notebook will eventually be destroyed keeps me more diligent in moving those important notes to where they belong. In the past I’d procrastinate, knowing the book will always be available. Yet I’d sometimes have to go mining through old notebooks looking for something I knew I wrote down. Now I’m diligent in reviewing my notes at least at the end of the week if not sooner. Anything that was possibly important enough to exist longer than the notebook was move someplace where it could be searched from electronically. There’s actually very little that I need to copy from the pocket notebook so it’s note time consuming. Scanning entire notebooks prior to destruction would take longer and not be any more useful.

What, if any, pocket notebooks do you use?


2 thoughts on “What I Use: Pocket Notebooks

  1. Good post Ray and you’re brave pen guy for the fountain pen friendly paper rant LOL…Either I’m not smart enough to keep track of them or I don’t have enough going on to keep more than one pocket notebook going at one time. I have a large stock of blank notebooks that I want to try still. My favorite would be the HitList if the small one came with lined paper. Current is a Field Notes Workshop edition, I think I’m on plumbing and will probably fill it by the end of August.

    • Hi Bob,
      I never heard of HitList (or I forgot about them). I’ll keep them in mind but I have far too many pocket notebooks sitting in a box so I’m avoiding trying any new ones. I don’t go through them fast enough so I can’t add anymore.


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