Pocket Notebooks: Get Off to a Fresh Start

Pocket Notebooks: Get Off to a Fresh Start

February 18, 2013 - Posted by Lucy to Guides, Paper

Pocket Noteboooks

When you keep a pocket notebook, surprising things happen. The transient ideas that bubble up, surfacing from time to time in your subconscious, suddenly have a place to go. Appointments, conversations, diagrams, passwords, and poems form a small riot within its pages.

Still, the photos of meticulously organized Moleskines on Instagram can be intimidating. It’s easy to get the feeling that pocket notebooks must be aesthetically pleasing, or that every page should be polished and perfect. In reality, pocket notebooks are just accessible, reliable, and predictable receptacles for information of every kind. Write down all of your half-baked thoughts, nonsensical ideas, and mundane observations... and somewhere in there, you should be able to find a small and quiet sliver of genius.

In this article, we’ll cover the advantages of using a pocket notebook, highlight a few stand-out notebooks from our selection of Pocket Notebooks, and start you out with a few ideas on what to write.

Open spiral notepad versus locked smartphone
Accessibility: Say you're trying to record a phone number as quickly as possible. To save a contact on a smartphone, you have to turn the touch screen on, unlock it, navigate to your contacts app, add a new contact, and enter the number with a cramped and unreliable keypad. At each step there's plenty of room for user and software error, and the concern of battery life adds even more friction to the process. In comparison, pen and paper are fast and predictable.
A Property Survey from Henry David Thoreau's Journal
Permanence: Pocket journals give an excellent sense of a person's everyday life. There are journals that have been around for hundreds of years, and can easily last for hundreds more (Mark Twain, Henry David Thoreau, and Benjamin Franklin, to name a few). Ever find a box of homework from fourth grade in the attic that mom never got around to tossing? Or an old journal full of recipes? These things are often passed down from generation to generation, imparting a sense of culture and identity upon its recipients.
Blank notepad versus smartphone screen cluttered with apps
Focus: Sometimes, all you want to do is write. Digital devices are awesome because they can multi-task. You have your music, movies, books, chat, internet, banking, camera, and everything else you could conceivably want right at your fingertips. But there’s a trade-off: you’re constantly barraged with notifications of all kinds. Every now and then, it’s a relief to take refuge in the peace and quiet of a blank page.
Using pocket notebook to organize a mountain hike
Organization: Pocket notebooks are usually catch-alls, receiving all kinds of input from your daily life. The information tends to be recorded in the order you received it, and can't be re-organized according to subject, chronology, or usefulness. Although notebooks receive information well, they aren't so great at retrieving it, especially if you're looking for something specific. In the end, you're stuck with a notebook that's 50% irrelevant -- appointments that have passed, shopping lists containing items that have already been purchased, and so forth.

This can be very frustrating. The thing is, most pocket notebooks are not meant to be the permanent resting place for important information. A pocket notebook works better if you treat it like a temporary transit station, housing the information safely until it can be shuttled to its proper residence. For an example, appointments can be added to your office calendar, recipes to the large notebook in the kitchen, and phone numbers to your smartphone.


Everyone has different requirements when it comes to pocket notebooks, but some qualities you should consider in the selection process are: aesthetics, durability, size, binding, paper quality, and type of rule. If you have an extensive fountain pen collection, you’ll probably want a pocket notebook that can handle wet ink. Conversely, lawyers looking for a quick jotter might not care about paper at all. Click on the writing samples for a bigger view.

Lihit Lab Aqua Drops Twist Ring Memo Notepads
Have you ever started writing in a fresh notebook, only to suffer an unusually bad bout of scraggly penmanship that ruins the entire page? Luckily, Lihit Lab is here for you. This innovative notepad has a unique “twist ring” mechanism that allows it to open and close like a binder, meaning that you can add, remove, and arrange the pages to your heart’s content. Compulsively neat students can clean out all the clutter (like outdated to-do lists), while dedicated writers can organize their ideas.
Writing Sample for Lihit Lab Aqua Drops Notepad
The twist ring mechanism doesn’t require much force to open and should be handled gently. If you have superhuman hand strength and accidentally rip the mechanism apart, don’t fear -- it’s easy to put back together. Just press the two plastic sections together until they fit snugly against each other with a click, and compress the metal spring to re-attach it to the center of the spiral. At 2.8” x 4.7”, the Aqua Drops Notepad is smaller than the pocket Moleskine and can slip easily into most pockets.

Despite its revolutionary design, in many ways it’s a no-fuss notepad that can go anywhere. Unlike staple, glue, and thread-bound notebooks, it doesn’t need to be held open. The front and back covers are made from flexible plastic, and the white paper in between is overlaid with a grid of 5mm x 5mm gray squares. Results of a quick writing test were better than expected, with only faint show-through for the ballpoint pen, gel ink pen, felt tip marker, and pencil. The fountain pen was the only one to feather and bleed. Grab a paper refill to keep your pages and ideas moving.

Pair with: Ohto Petit-B Ballpoint Pens / Zebra SL-F1 Mini Ballpoint Pens

Best for: Writers, Students

Perforations on Kokuyo Tidbit Free Cut Memo Pad
It doesn’t get any more inventive and, well, Japanese than this. With seemingly plain off-white paper stapled to a cardboard cover, the Tidbit can almost pass for your typical A7 size memo pad. Look a bit closer though, and you’ll that the 2.9” x 4.1” notepad is divided with a perforated grid composed of 280 tiny squares. These squares can be “cut out” into various shapes and sizes. Individual squares are a bit too small to handle comfortably, but larger sections tear off without a hitch.
Writing Sample for Kokuyo Tidbit Memo Pad
Soon, you’ll have an impressive pile of Tetris-shaped paper blocks next to a rapidly diminishing memo pad. Unless you’re an origami expert or a practitioner of abstract expressionism, the question soon becomes, what are you really supposed to be doing with the Tidbit? Is there some secret, ultra-specific function that hasn’t been discovered? Interestingly enough, the adage that “history always repeats itself” applies here. When Mark Twain designed his own notebooks, he opted to include detachable paper tabs on each page.

After completing the page, he’d tear the paper tab away, like a bookmark. You can do the exact same thing with the Tidbit. Fill the pages up with character names and one-liners like Twain, but try to do so in pencil or ballpoint ink. Testing revealed that the gel ink pen, fountain pen, and felt tip marker all bled through, with a lot of feathering from the fountain pen. Ink also tends to leak through the perforations onto subsequent pages, so it might be best to stick a post-it to the back of the page to soak up any extra ink.

Pair with: Platinum Mini Mechanical Pencil / Pilot Birdy Switch Multi Pen

Best for: Artists

Field Notes Color Cover Memo Book - Day Game Edition
In a world saturated with advertisements, neon signs, and over-engineered devices, people turn to minimalism and simplicity to reduce the ratio of signal to noise. Field Notes rises to the challenge with its collection of 3.5” x 5.5” memo books, which are all manufactured and printed in the USA. These sweet and simple memo books consist of 48 pages stapled into a plain cardstock cover. Although they might be too big lengthwise for most shirt or pants pockets, they’ll do well in coats, jackets, purses, and glove compartments.
Field Notes Color Cover Memo Book - Day Game Edition Writing Sample
Just be sure to keep them away from liquids, since the cover will not provide any protection from water damage. We enjoy the Pitch Black edition for its minimalist, yet polished aesthetic. The covers are 100-lb French "Blacktop" with "Stealth Gray" text, and inside, the 50-lb Finch Opaque Smooth pages are printed with a light gray dot grid.

The papers can accommodate gel ink pens, ballpoints, fineliners, and pencils with an acceptable amount of show-through, but like their predecessors, they tend to feather and bleed-through a bit when it comes to fountain pens.

Pair with: Tombow Pfit Clip Mini Ballpoint Pens / Pilot Hi-Tec-C Slim Knock Gel Ink Pens

Best for: Scientists

Various Sizes of Metaphys Blanc Fabric Cover Memo Pads
Award-winning Japanese designer Chiaka Kuraka designed the Metaphys Blanc to be bold, minimalist, and yet sophisticated. The Blanc comes in three sizes, ranging from a standard Moleskine-esque size to a tiny rectangular pad. It’s also the only pocket-sized notebook with a fabric cover. Not only is the cover thick and stain resistant, but it extends past the paper pad by a few millimeters on all sides -- which is just enough to protect the precious pages within from wear and tear.
Writing Sample for Metaphys Blanc Fabric Cover Memo Pads
The smallest Blanc (2.6" x 4.1") is perfect for quick logo sketches and task lists. In fact, since the glue-bound pages can be easily removed from the memo pad, they’re ideal candidates for jotting down grocery lists and reminders to post to the bulletin board or fridge. The biggest Blanc (5.1" x 3.4") challenges the Moleskine Classic and Rhodia Webnotebook for the role of all-purpose pocket notebook and journal, especially since the paper actually feels pretty good under a fountain pen nib.

Although fountain pens, rollerballs and fineliners will definitely show through to the other side of the page, fine fountain pens write surprisingly well on the crisp paper, with minimal feathering and bleed-through. The cover tends to tilt upwards when in resting position, so that the memo pad isn’t fully closed much of the time. If it becomes a problem, try applying a thick rubber band to keep the memo pad closed.

Pair with: Kaweco Special Al Mechanical Pencils / Kaweco Liliput Al Fountain Pens

Best for: Office workers

Rhodia Webnotebook with Black Cover & Lined Paper
It’s rare to find notebooks that are portable and compatible with fountain pens, but there are options for the fountain pen monogamists out there. The 3.5” x 5.5” Rhodia Webnotebook is well-known for its fountain pen compatibility. It has a solid, sturdy leatherette cover, which protects 96 lined sheets of gloriously acid-free Clairefontaine paper. The ivory papers are thick and smooth, handling most extra fine and fine nibbed fountain pens with ease. The Lamy Safari and Pilot Prera glide wonderfully across the paper without any feathering or bleed-through.
Rhodia Webnotebook
Surprisingly, show-through was also minimal. Just give the ink a little more time than usual to dry, and there shouldn’t be any problems with smudging. For me, the best thing about the Webnotebook is that you can write on the reverse side of the paper without feeling like you’re scribbling over faded newsprint. However, because some inks are wetter than others, there’s always a chance that your fountain pen will bleed through the paper. Try a quick test run before doing any serious writing.

For even more recommendations, check out this article written by our resident fountain pen expert -- Our Favorite Notebooks for Fountain Pen Use.

Pair with: Ohto Rook Fountain Pens / Pilot Petit1 Mini Fountain Pens

Best for: Travelers


Have a shiny new pocket notebook, but still clueless about what to write? In case the esteemed examples listed above have somehow failed to get your heart racing with an insatiable zest for pocket notebooks (and life in general), here are some quick ideas on what to write in your pocket notebook:

  • Ridiculously long Wi-Fi passwords
  • Character names for your novel. If the novel doesn't work out, you can always distribute the names to children and pets.
  • Family recipes
  • Names that are so perfect for a Norwegian death metal band that you have to write them down, despite the fact that you don’t, nor will you ever, listen to Norwegian death metal.
  • Dinner with mom at 6:30 - DO NOT FORGET
  • Foreign phrases that require translation.
  • T-shirt designs involving herds of roaming jellyfish
  • Travel plans for Morocco. Morocco tops the list of desirable travel destinations because the fictional city Agrabah (depicted in Aladdin) was based on one of its cities. Yes, it actually exists! In real life!
  • Songs to buy later. In the era of mashups and remixes, this results in an unmanageable list of ridiculously named songs like “Black Van & Oliver vs. Goldroom - Inside Fifteen Ft. Chela (Silenx Mashup)”. Yes, this is a real song.

The immediacy of the pocket notebook is what makes it so special. Inspiration doesn’t usually stick around, and so most first impressions, crazy business ideas, and clever punchlines end up slipping through the cracks. Once you keep a pocket notebook full time, you’ll be surprised at the random and amusing observations that spill out.

Now that the holidays are over, people are starting to think about their plans and goals for the year ahead. For me, the blank pages of a notebook signify the promise of a fresh start. My New Year’s Resolution is to stick to writing in just one at a time. What do you use your pocket notebook for?

Model Size Cover Binding Paper Best For
Lihit Lab Aqua Drops Memo Notepad 2.8” x 4.7” Flexible plastic Twist ring Graph Writers, Students
Kokuyo Tidbit Free Cut Memo Pads 2.9” x 4.1” Cardboard Staple Perforated graph Artists
Field Notes Memo Book 3.5” x 5.5” Cardstock Staple Dot grid Scientists
Metaphys Blanc Fabric Cover Memo Pad Various Fabric Glue Blank Office workers
Rhodia Webnotebook 3.5” x 5.5” Leatherette Book Lined Travelers

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