Field Notes Shenandoah: Back to Basics

I love the innovation Field Notes brings to the pocket notebook market. They constantly surprise and delight with their quarterly COLORS releases. They always seem one step ahead of us who try to outguess them, but it’s great fun to experience the build up, speculation and excitement around each of their COLORS releases.

The latest COLORS incarnation is out and unlike the more strongly themed recent issues, Shenandoah does, one might say, go back to the basics. Their much beloved early versions featured nature colors and strong connections to the natural world. And their latest release goes back to that approach, but with a few modern spins.

Field Notes Shenandoah

The three notebooks comes wrapped in a wood-laminated belly band, a first for Field Notes, although they’re old pros at bonding paper and wood via their Shelterwood and Cherry Wood notebooks. Belly bands are typically disposable, recyclable bits that get tossed, but I’m scratching my head on what to do with this one: it’s too nice to simply toss away! The notebook covers use an interesting print technique of bonding two sheets of paper together to form a multi-tone, more durable cover than the typical Field Notes notebook. The effect is a winner, as are the colors used. I love the colors/covers despite some meh-ness on the outer paper texture. Inside is their standard 3/16″ graph layout printed in a moss green, a nice complimenting color to the three cover colors.

Field Notes Shenandoah inside backs

For me, one of the best parts of this release is the back covers. Each notebook features a tree via a leaf imprint and fascinating story about the tree and its connection to the Shenandoahs. Red Maple, Chestnut Oak and Sweet Birch comprise the three featured trees, and Field Notes carried this theme into three buttons given to subscribers that also depict the leaves. And for those diehards collectors who love the inside back covers, a new set of practical applications appears for our entertainment, including one that’s a Lat/Lon coordinate leading to…well, I’ll give you the joy of Googling that one!

Field Notes Shenandoah leaves

Field Notes Shenandoah fp testThe paper is 60#, a departure from their typical 50# text, but unfortunately for fountain pen lovers it’s not enough. In my opinion, 70# remains the starting weight for decent fountain-pen-friendly paper (depending on other factors), although as with all papers, selection of nib/ink/hand pressure can vary the results dramatically.

Field Notes Shenandoah show-throughMy definition of fountain-pen-friendly paper is smooth to write on with very little feathering/bleeding, and with light-to-no show-through on the back side to prevent distraction and poor readability when writing on both sides. Shenandoah’s paper does well for the first aspect of smooth and little feathering, but not so good on the second criteria. As my tests show, using my active stable of five pens/inks and my normal writing pressure, the show-through is pretty obvious and for me, a primary fountain pen user, that means if I want to use Shenandoah for my needs, I’ll have to work at finding the right fountain pen combo. That said, the writing experience is very nice with a fountain pen and the nibs glide smoothly as I’d expect with the Finch papers. Feathering was great to good, so my single issue in using Shenandoah with a fountain pen is the show-through I experienced in testing. Still, other tests I’ve seen show far less show-through, so each person’s experience may vary. I have to say, though, that Shenandoah is not a home run for fountain pen people, although some may do okay with it.

Graphite? Writes like a dream…smooth, easy on the touch, and an ideal combo in my tests. I don’t typically test with gels or ballpoint, but have no doubt the Shenandoah paper would work great with those as well.

In the final analysis, I do like this edition and plan to use it frequently, just not with fountain pens; for that I have others that sing too well with most any nib/ink combo I throw at them, including the Field Notes fountain-pen flagships: America the Beautiful and Shelterwood.

Giveaway

Giveaway is over. Winner is Jack Mason!

Results of mini-poll: What do you like best about the Field Notes Shenandoah?

ShenGiveaway Graph

Unboxing a Journey Companion: Superior Labor Leather Carrier

I’ve always taken the time to pack goods from Notegeist with a personal touch, as do many others such as CWPencils, Hedgerow General, and Zeller Writing Company to name a few. Enhancing the customer’s experience separates us from big box who simply toss goods in something and ship…albeit fast and cheap.

But today I had a visit from the master of this craft, Baum-Kuchen out of Los Angeles, CA. I was so impressed that I decided to write a review of their packaging instead of the product! The product is overwhelmingly wonderful and deserving of its own review (coming later!), but the experience and sights during unboxing deserve a special post to share a world-class example of how to make a customer’s experience exceptional.

Without further ado, I present the unboxing. Enjoy.

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Story Supply Pocket Staple: Just Another Notebook?

Story NotebookStory logoI received a pack of these sharp looking notebooks to review and went into the evaluation with low expectations. After all, we seem to be buried in pocket notebooks these days and it’s getting difficult to separate the chaff from the wheat, so to speak.

By the time you finish reading this review, however, I’m betting you may be adding this one to your list.

There are two stories here with this little pocket guy, one being the story behind the story, and the other being the choices Story Supply Co. (SSC) made in spec’ing the notebooks.

Story Inside Back CoverThe story behind the story is the mission they’ve adopted to drive and help build stronger communities through stories. How? By partnering with organizations that help kids in under-served communities find their voice through the wonders of story capture, telling and sharing. SSC donates a supply kit to one of these kids with every SSC product sold. Noble stuff indeed, and so valuable to a kid’s future it’s hard to describe in the short space I have here. Plus, you’re itching to know how they WRITE, right?

The second story is the effort and intention SSC put into choosing materials. I have to believe it wasn’t random, but with a quality goal in mind. The covers are thick and substantial and seem like they’ll hold up well in many a back pocket.Story Inside Cover But the shining star is the paper inside:  Cougar Natural Smooth 70# with a light graph grid. With the thick cover and the 48-page interior, these 3.5″ x 5.5″ notebooks are thicker than the typical pocket notebook, but it’s worth the weight, especially if you’re a fountain pen user. I found in the FP tests that, in my opinion, it’s among the best writing paper out there in the pocket notebook niche that I’ve tested! FP users eyebrows perk up when they see 70# and memories of Field Notes Shelterwood or America the Beautiful, but I think this paper FP-writes a bit better than those two. Bleed and show through is very, very light. And graphite users will also benefit from the 70# paper as it makes for smooth writing although not much tooth if that’s your thing.

Story Tool TestThese notebook packs are coming via a new Kickstarter which just launched, but they’ll be available after the Kickstarter at SSC’s site. I’d recommend you support their Kickstarter effort, as I probably will, and help make these available to us all and support the story effort SSC is championing to help under-served kids find their voice and strengthen their characters and confidence through story. Magic stuff for sure, but in this case, it can happen.

Steno Showdown: Field Notes versus Write Notepads

NOTE: You can now read my archived and current stationery reviews at Ink & Core. This specific review is now at https://inkandcore.com/2015/09/07/steno-showdown-field-notes-versus-write-notepads/

I’ll admit having trepidations going into this review/comparison for two reasons:  1) the Field Notes Steno has been a personal staple of mine for years, and 2) a big fan of Write Notepads work but have been hoping for better fountain-pen friendly paper and top spiral binding. Dreams do come true, it appears.

FN-Steno-Write-Graph630At first glance, these are very similar, but as you’ll see, they have numerous distinctions and will likely fill different needs. The givens:  both are well made in the USA, use quality materials, are durable like few notebooks, and are likely become one of your favorites should you try either one (or both!). On to the review results and see which one comes out on top and which one you’d like to win if you enter the giveaway at the bottom!

Field Notes Steno Book

FN-Steno-Inside-CoversOut of respect for the more seasoned competitor, let’s start with the Field Notes Steno. Comparison specs are in the table below, so I’ll skip that and jump into look, feel, and use. The thick cover flips over the top to reveal white ruled pages with a vertical line down the center as an homage to the steno pads of old. The lines are inked in a nice light brown ink that’s pleasing to the eye. The paper writes well for both graphite and fountain pen, and strokes are crisp and readable with virtually no feathering with the inks, although some inks performed crisper than others on the paper (that’s expected and experienced on just about every paper I’ve ever tested). The single knock for fountain pen users is there is more show-through/light bleed-through than the Write, but not so bad it prevents one from using FPs in the Steno. I’ve done that for years and isn’t a deal killer for me.

FN-Steno-Tool-TestFN-Steno-Backside-FPtestI’ve always used my Steno mostly for lists and planning. That vertical line does draw one to sort things on a the page and arrange items across from each other. That said, I’ve also written freehand across the vertical line so pretty versatile. Journal purists aren’t likely users for this paper style, though.

The Steno’s inside covers do provide a great break from whatever you’re trying to put to paper, and that’s both good and bad! As the photo shows, Field Notes has stuffed the insides of both covers with useful stuff, although admittedly after reading this in my very first Field Notes Steno, I don’t think I’ve looked since, although occasionally I use the rulers on the inside back cover. Very handy.

Write Notepads Graph Paper Ledger Notebook

Write Notepads out of Baltimore, MD, is a printer and notebook producer with definite touches and connections to how things used to be made in this country. On top of that, they give generously back to their community through their program of donating a notebook for every one sold. On the inside of the back cover you’ll find a code that you can look up and see which school benefited from your purchase.  I looked up the code for my notebook provided by Write for review, and sure enough, Callaway Elementary School in Baltimore got another notebook. Cool and noble (one can be both, you know).

Write-Tool-TestWrite-backside-FPtestBut onto the notebook itself! Thick covers also flip over to reveal white paper with light green graph grid, also quite pleasing to work with. Graphite and fountain pen were both a delight on this paper:  smooth, nice feeling, and no issues with smearing or feathering. For fountain pen users? The acid test:  I flipped the page over and remarkably, virtually no show-through or bleed-through for my tests! So I’ll have to qualify this paper as very fountain-pen friendly, more so than Write’s other notebook papers (which work okay with fountain pens). I don’t know whether they switched papers or processed it differently, but the change is noticeable and happy-dance time for fountain pen users.

Write-Backcover-InsideHow you might use the Graph Paper Ledger Notebook is going to come down to whether you like graph grids. For some users, that’s all they like to use, as it’s versatile and lets you write, list, draw, doodle, or for writer’s-block play with an awesome game of Battleship with someone. Personally, if I’m writing out in length, I prefer ruled. But since I use a fountain pen most of the time, this is one pad I’ll make and exception on (re: graph vs. ruled) and use it for the FP-friendly aspect alone.
The covers of the Write notebook are plainer and more utilitarian than the Steno, but that’s not necessarily bad. The inside back cover has a space for general important information, but as said in the Steno section, after a few times all that matters is the paper between the covers.

The Winner?

Tough call on this one. They’re both highly useful, and each nudges the other out in certain areas. It boils down to what’s important to you. For me, the usurper Write Graph Paper Ledger Notebook unseated the Field Notes Steno as my choice going forward, but it’s a thin win. I’ll still use my Steno, but for narrower uses and will start using the Write Graph more often. In the end (for me) the Write nosed out the Steno at the finish line for two primary reasons:  I like the slightly smaller size better and as a fountain pen user, I’m a sucker for notebooks where my nibs are really happy. Those aren’t huge things (unless you’re a FP user who’s particular about show/bleed through). As with all things subjective, your mileage may vary on these two, but one thing is certain:  depending on your need and likes, you can’t go wrong with either one:  they’re both winners.

Where to Buy

First, if you’ve followed papernery you know what’s coming next: that’s right, the giveaway! I have one new copy of each of these spiral babies to giveaway. Just follow the instructions at the bottom of the post to enter and win. But if you just can’t wait (and who could blame you?) here’s where you can achieve more instant gratification:

Field Notes Steno:    Field Notes Brand or  Zeller Writing Company
Write Graph Paper Ledger Notebook:  Write Notepads

Giveaway

Two winners drawn randomly: Katie Mouton, Dale Thele
And the results of the survey poll in the giveaway:
Writing Tool Choice Survey

Legal Pad Reimagined: Cheshire Paper Co.

NOTE: You can now read my archived and current stationery reviews at Ink & Core. This specific review is now at https://inkandcore.com/2015/08/15/legal-pad-reimagined-cheshire-paper-co/

Brainstormer NotepadI received an interesting prototype writing pad, called The Brainstormer Notepad from Cheshire Paper Co. Since I still frequently use yellow legal pads, narrow ruled (Ampad Gold when I can get them!) I was curious how this new pad approached a twist on the old standard.

While I’m not sure how the retail version of this pad will end up, this prototype sample has two very interested and compelling things going for it: heavyweight white paper that is really fountain-pen friendly, and what I’d have to call an innovative approach to writing guides on each sheet.

Want to write? Sketch? Draw? The Brainstormer provides an environment in one notepad to do all three. The paper is printed on one side only; the verso is blank, which in itself makes for some interesting cross-functional possibilities with this pad. The narrow rules are combined with two types of dot patterns: one to somewhat allow a grid-like arrangement for those needing that geometric structure, and dots to form an isometric grid to help perspective drawing. Neat concept, although for me in this prototype I found the dots a little light. Here’s an image of the concept that shows the intent better than I could show in a photo.

Brainstormer-writing sampleThe writing experience is very nice with either graphite or fountain pen, and I especially like the perforated pages. They release from the pad so much cleaner (and quieter!) than my usual yellow pad. The quality is top notch, and I’m truly intrigued by writing guides on one side, blank on the back. In past usages, I’ve often written on the front side of my yellow pad page, then flipped over to sketch out something related. With the Brainstormer, that’s a cleaner, better result if one needs to copy and share the sketch.

The site’s shop page is showing the pad available for sale so looks like they’re out of prototype phase and ready for customers. If you’re a fan of letter-size pads and like white paper, and especially are a fountain pen user, then you probably should seriously check out The Brainstormer Notepad from Cheshire Paper Co.