As smartphones get bigger, more are ending up in users’ bags rather than their pockets. This means two things: first, that whipping out a smartphone for every little need will be more of a hassle, and second, that some pocket real estate will be freed up. If your solution to any problem is to spend money, you’ll fix the first problem by buying an Apple Watch. Others may swing in the opposite direction. They’ll feel liberated by that newfound pocket space. They’ll find a joy in being a step removed from notifications (and in having increased leg movement). To them we say: don’t stop there. Embrace the life of the luddite by using one of the oldest technologies: the written word. Invest in one of these quality pocket notebooks, which prove there’s plenty to look for beyond the standard Moleskine. Pull one out when you would normally feel compelled to pull out your phone. Write a note about something you would normally take a picture of. Notice what words you use to describe it. Jot down your thoughts hurriedly or meaningfully. Underline certain words really hard. Doodle something.
Wow. Now what are you spending hundreds of dollars on a data plan for, again?
Word. Notebooks Adventure Log
Best for Journal Keepers: We were early fans of Word. Notebooks. The dedication to clean, durable design that won us over in 2012 has carried through to their latest product, the Adventure Log. Where the original notebooks served as handy to-do lists (or idea lists, grocery lists, talking points lists — anything, really), this collaboration with outdoor gear producer Bradley Mountain is meant for chronicling what you’ve done and your accompanying thoughts, with spaces for your location, date of writing, weather conditions, companions and general notes on each page. And any nature-loving adventurer should appreciate the materials of choice: 100 percent post-consumer recycled matter for the covers and acid-free paper. But frankly, you don’t have to be an outdoorsy type to get a lot out of the Adventure Log; it’s a perfectly sufficient journal for your everyday, your nights out, or your weekend shenanigans.
Doane Paper Small Flap Jotter
Best for Occasional
Baron Fig Apprentice
Best for Nomadic Scribblers: Those with no use for Word. Notebooks’ more guided experience can revel in Baron Fig’s more open-ended Apprentice notebooks, which match Word. Notebooks in paper quality and overall build, with cleanly woven binding and a nicely textured cover that opens flat. The notebooks come in blank, lined, and dot-grid pages, the last of which offer a functionality similar to Doane’s grid paper (and a little easier on the eyes, if that matters to you). The company has perfected their notebooks’ designs through continuous customer feedback, leading to such features as the inclusion of perforated pages in the tail end of each notebook, so you can leave yourself or someone else a note without tearing out the binding.
Write & Co. Ledger Notepad
Best for Luddites: The materials used in this notebook give it a distinctly old-fashioned look and feel, from the brass spiraling to the fat rubber band that keeps it shut (don’t lose it). That doesn’t mean it’s bereft of modern touches. The 60-point board stock covers are 100 percent post-consumer recycled materials, like its competitors; they are also pleasingly thicker than most, giving the notebooks a clipboard usefulness, and they open more smoothly than most spiral-bound offerings, whose covers can often catch midway. Each page of 70# paper stock is also micro-perforated for easy removal. But the biggest selling point for some will be charity: for every notebook sold, the company donates one to an inner-city school.
Best for Fountain Pen Enthusiasts: It happens precisely when it shouldn’t: you’re struck with inspiration, your pen in perfect synch with your every racing thought, filling page after page of your notebook — and when you look back at your work, every page is illegible from bled-through ink. Hitlist Notebooks were made specifically for fountain pens, with 148-gram acid-free paper ensuring little to no ink bleeding; and indeed, of all our sample notebooks, Hitlist’s paper was the most substantial, and downright creamy smooth. Additionally, the spine of each notebook contains space for the subject and date of the contacts within, making organization a cinch for prolific notebook-fillers, and each cover features a small notch in which to clip your pen.
Rite in the Rain Waterproof Notebooks
Best for Outdoorsmen, Pacific Northwesterners, and Bath-Time Writers: This notebook can be written on underwater. Sounds like some NASA shit, but Rite in the Rain’s patented waterproof sheets are actually a century-old innovation. Each page is dipped in a chemical solution that dries into a “moisture shield”; the shield, as well as the post-consumer-material-constructed paper, is entirely biodegradable. As demonstrated on the manufacturer’s website, pencils and ballpoint pens write legibly on the notebook when fully submerged, as can Write in the Rain’s specialized pen; felt-tip and fountain pens, not so much. The notebooks were designed with woodsmen in mind, which makes them a good companion to the Word. Adventure Log; those outside of the wilderness can likely find their own use for one. For example: this review was written in the shower.
Hobonichi Techo Day Planner
Best Smartphone Replacement (If It Comes to That): Admittedly, it’s a little bit of a stretch to call the Hobonichi Techo Planner a pocket notebook; if you’re trying to slip it into a pair of 501s, it’ll be a snug fit, to say the least. But the versatility that earns the notebook such a strong following in Japan and stateside makes it a worthy yearlong tenant in your jacket or satchel pocket. Whereas most day planners feature constricting formats — a scant handful of lines to organize your entire day, uniform timetables — each page in the Techo features a spacious grid sitting beneath the date, day, phase of the moon and other info. In the center of the grid’s left-hand margin sits number 12 — indicating noon, should you choose to use the grid as a timetable of your own design — and on the bottom left-hand corner, a small cutlery symbol, suggesting a space for you to plan your meals for the day.
You can use these guidelines forego them entirely; Hobonichi’s line of notebooks are used as planners, sketchbooks, journals, diaries and more, and there’s nothing stopping you from alternating between each from day to day. Whatever your purpose, the publisher attempts to inject some inspiration in the form of inspirational quotes from (mainly Japanese) artists, executives, writers and more, including several from Shigesato Itoi, the esteemed copywriter, editor and occasional game designer. Additionally, each planner is annexed with, among other things, an index of national holidays worldwide, international clothing size charts, and of course, a guide to Japanese ryokans.
Mead Cambridge Memo Pad
Best for Bulk Use: It’s easy to see why Mead notebooks are the go-to for classrooms and offices alike. Sometimes you just need something to jot some things down on, for Chrissake. Something cheap, functional and reasonably durable. At $1.39, Mead’s Cambridge notebook is just the thing if you feel no romance towards writing whatsoever. It’s just the slightest step above their standard memo pads; the extra 20 cents buys rounder edges and more durable binding. They’re appealing enough, aesthetically, that you’ll actively want to use them, and disposable enough to buy in bulk and use for any number of reasons — memos for yourself, your whole office, your team, your roommates, your family, and so on.
Leuchtturm 1917 Jotbook
Best for OCD Types: Leuchtturm’s Jotbook is another option that should appeal to those with OCD-level organization skills. “Details make all the difference”, says their motto, which is why each pocket notebook has a blank table of contents, 60 numbered pages (30 of which are perforated for easy removal) coming in either line-ruled or grid form, and a labeling sticker — all nominally small features that culminate in one of the smoothest pocket notebook experiences you’ll find. Additionally, each thread-bound notebook opens flat, adding a crucial ergonomic ease. Just don’t plan on filling this one up with a fountain pen, as the pages are rather thin.
Field Notes Steno Pad
Best for Everyone: Field Notes gets a lot of much-deserved love for their pocket notebooks, lovingly designed by Aaron Draplin. We’re going to give this one to their steno pads, though. The covers, made of Newark Paperboard Mills “Super Duty Chipboard”, are firm yet not too thick, as they should be for anyone writing without a flat surface available; and if there is a flat surface available, the pad will lie flat upon it thanks to the well-constructed wiring up top. But perhaps best of all, each pad comes with a guide to shorthand abbreviations printed on the inside cover, allowing beginners to practice and become faster note-takers. It’s well constructed enough for veterans while still offering plenty of guidance for newbies — what more could you want?