When it comes to pocket-sized notebooks, two companies stand above the rest: Moleskine and Field Notes. Both are incredibly popular and work great for what they are, but choosing between the two is difficult. We're here to help you make that choice.
While you have thousands of options for paper notebooks, Moleskine and Field Notes are two of our favourites. Both companies make fantastic notebooks, but they're made differently, have different paper selections, and have drastically different covers. For the sake of consistency, we're going to stick to pocket-sized notebooks for this comparison, since that's the only size Field Notes makes. Moleskine has a much broader selection of sizes though, so if you're looking for something larger, that's the brand you'll want to go with. With that out of the way, let's take a close look at the two contenders.
- Moleskine: Love them or hate them, Moleskine notebooks are ubiquitous. There's a cult following around the company that's at least partially due to the their trademark hard covers, the variety of notebook sizes the company offers, and a small selection of different types of paper. Moleskine notebooks are available everywhere and their pocket-sized options come in a variety of types specific to individual needs. Their pocket-sized notebooks (3 1/2" x 5 1/2") come packed with 192 pages and retail starting at $16. Moleskines are designed in Italy and manufactured in China.
- Field Notes: If Moleskine are the Evernote of notebook brands, Field Notes are the plain text equivalent. With only one exception, they stick to a single size (3 1/2" x 5 1/2"), though they offer a variety of different colours and types of paper. Picking the right notebook for you is as simple as finding the paper style you prefer. Field Notes are sold in a three-pack of 48-page notebooks as opposed to one single, larger notebook. Pretty much all editions of the Field Notes three-packs are $18.95. Field Notes are designed and Made in the U.S.
You can walk into just about any department store or bookshop and walk out with a notebook, but these two are so popular they have each have their own followings, and for good reason. Let's take this comparison a little deeper.
Moleskine Has More Covers but Both Are Durable
Comparing the covers of Moleskine and Field Notes notebooks is a little disingenuous because of the number of options Moleskine offers compared to the one basic Field Notes cover, but it's necessary nonetheless.
Moleskine notebooks come with three basic cover options, soft, hard, and cardboard. Let's take a closer look:
- Hard cover: Moleskine's hard cover notebooks are their bread and butter. The hard cover notebook is what most people think of when they think of Moleskine. The cover is cardboard bound, features a cloth bookmark, an elastic closure, and an expandable inner pocket in the back.
- Soft cover: Moleskine's soft cover notebooks are basically the same as their hardcover, but feature a much more flexible cover. Like the hard cover, they come with a bookmark, elastic closure, and an expandable inner pocket.
- Cardboard: If there's a direct analogue between Moleskine and Field Notes notebooks, it's Moleskine's Cahier line. The stitching in these notebooks goes across the spine in a way that looks like it's done by hand. The covers are a lighter cardboard than the hard covers. This notebook does not have the trademark elastic enclosure of other Moleskine notebooks. This line of notebooks comes in three different sizes, but the 64-page pocket version is the closest to Field Notes. Like Field Notes, these come in three.
In my experience, all three of Moleskine's notebook styles are durable and can take a pretty good beating. The hard covers are the most durable, but the material the soft cover is bound in is pretty strong too. You can rip those soft covers apart if you try, but if it's just sitting inside a bag it tends to be fine. The Cahier line that mimics the Field Notes style is a pretty stiff bit of cardboard and the stitch style means it doesn't fold and bend as much as Field Notes book.
Speaking of the Field Notes books, their covers are way different than Moleskine's. The standard Field Notes books come in a brown light cardboard cover that's the same colour as a paper grocery store bag. They're pretty floppy too, closer to something like the cover you'd find on standard spiral notebook. That doesn't mean they're not durable though. The floppiness means the Field Notes notebooks fit more comfortably in your pocket. They roll up in your pocket easily, which is a nice perk if that's more your style. The binding is three staples, which feels tough and makes it so you can flip the book around or bend it to suit your needs.
While Field Notes' covers are pretty standard, they do have some special edition books worth pointing out. Their cherry wood cover is a bit more durable than their cardboard covers, their Pitch Black notebook features a stocky 45kg "blacktop cover," and their Expedition notebooks (my personal favourite, if you're curious) are tear proof and pretty hard to destroy. The Expedition notebooks are also waterproof, which is handy if you have your notebook in a garage or take it out into any kind of weather.
Both Companies Have Similar Paper Quality and Variety
Moleskine on the left, Field Notes on the right Besides the cover, paper quality and variety are the most important things about a notebook. Both companies give you a lot of options.
Moleskine offers all of their notebooks with ruled, squared or plain paper. On their popular models, including all the pocket-sized notebooks, they also offer dot-grid paper. Field Notes only offers ruled, squared, and plain, but also offers a mixed pack (remember Field Notes are always sold in threes) where you get one plain notebook, one ruled notebook, and one graph notebook. Some of the Field Notes special editions do come with dot-grid paper too, including the Pitch Black and Expedition notebook.
I'm no paper expert, but the quality of paper in both the standard editions of Field Notes and Moleskine notebooks seem similar. Ballpoint pens don't leak through, but markers will. Writing with a pencil also works fine. Neither has thick, heavy stock paper that will work well with markers or paints. Put bluntly, neither paper is particularly great. If there is a noticeable difference, it's that Moleskine's paper tends to be a bit more yellow, while Field Notes tends to be a much more vibrant white. So if that matters to you, then it's something to consider. Moleskine's paper is acid-free, 70 gsm, 21kg text stock. Field Notes changes their paper around depending edition, but they seem to use 50 lb text stock the most. That's about the same quality as cheap printer paper. If you're curious to read more about the paper in each, here's a deep dive into the paper used in Moleskines. If you want to see the various papers used in Field Notes notebooks, Three Staples has a pretty comprehensive guide.
Both companies also offer some specialty paper options. For example, Moleskine has a sketch album that includes sketch-grade paper. As for Field Notes, the previously mentioned Expedition notebook features waterproof, tearproof paper. Likewise, the Pitch Black edition has a 23kg stock paper on the inside, which makes it a bit tougher than the standard paper.
Field Notes Keeps It Simple but Moleskine Has More 'Special Editions'
On top of their standard notebooks, Moleskine also offer a bunch of themed notebooks made for specific writing themes like keeping a film journal and even city-specific notebooks for travel. They have notebooks just for music notation, storyboarding and even one influenced by Japanese scrolls. Beyond those, Moleskine also routinely releases special notebooks with branded covers from the likes of Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Batman and more. They even offer "smart notebooks" that work with Adobe Creative Cloud and Evernote.
Field Notes takes a much simpler approach. Aside from their regular line of notebooks and the Pitch Black and Expedition editions we've already mentioned (which may also be limited runs, but have been in print for a while now), they also release a variety of coloured special editions throughout the year. For example, right now they have the Shenandoah pack and the Sweet Tooth Edition. They also have specialty notebooks for logging flights or different DIY projects.
The Verdict: 'Best' Depends On Whether It will Actually Live In Your Pocket
When we started this comparison, we noted that it was a bit unfair because Moleskine offered such a massive variety of notebook options. Still, even with those options, which notebooks is best for you depends on what you'll use it for.
Personally, none of the Moleskine models fit in my pocket comfortably, so if I'm planning on lugging a notebook around with me full-time, it's a Field Notes notebook. Likewise, if I'm working on anything out in the world, whether it's in a garage or taking measurements during some weird DIY science project, I like the Field Notes notebooks because they can bend around a lot easier.
But if I'm doing more than that, especially if I'm planning on doing any sketching or longer writing, then Moleskine notebooks are better suited for my needs. The elastic wrap and bookmark is also a killer feature for some people, though I never make use of either. The pocket in the back of Moleskines, while a fun idea, has always always been a useless little addition to me, though I'm sure others have found some use for it.
Of course, beyond that, it's about aesthetics. Which one looks better to you? Are you a fan of fun colours or do you prefer designs based on pop culture? Is a hard cover necessary? Do you want a simple notebook, or do you want bookmarks and closure straps? Pick the one you'll actually use. Notebooks are worthless if they're not written in.