My first Field Notes subscription has come to a close with the Campfire edition, so I figured I would share my thoughts with each edition I received, rank them, and talk about the actual subscription. Since there are already so many bloggers who review each Field Notes edition that comes out (such as Jinnie from Three Staples), I will just cover the basics and let you know what I think. I figured discussing the design, paper, and extras for each edition should give you a good enough idea of what I like about each of them.
Before we jump into each edition, let’s start with what made me subscribe in the first place. Easy answer: I was buying 2 of each edition anyways, so I would save money by subscribing. Field Notes has a pretty handy spreadsheet to calculate the actual savings, but mine was more geared towards the international shipping on each order and how I felt like I had to add more products to my cart to make the shipping worth it. That’s an easy explanation for someone who is already addicted to these damn notebooks, but what made me like them in the first place?
I don’t want to make the assumption that you’ve read all of my posts, but if you remember way back to when I reviewed the Clairefontaine Pocket Notebook, you may have noticed me bashing Field Notes a little. This bashing was not based on actually using the product, but rather off of some of the things I’ve read online about them. I also only knew about the Kraft Field Notes, so if I was being totally honest, my opinion about them would likely be the same if they didn’t do so many cool things. Let me explain.
My first exposure to Field Notes goes back to the best pen day of my life, when I won the Platinum 3776 King of Tiger fountain pen from Pen Chalet. With that pen, they included a pack of the newest Field Notes edition, “Two Rivers.” For many months I didn’t think much of them and they just sat there, never being close to being used, but it did open my eyes to the Field Notes colours editions, and I noticed a few cool ones from the past (this includes the still available at the time “Ambition” edition, which is now one that I am still on the hunt for more).
The “Workshop Companion” edition came out and while it was pretty cool, it didn’t make me want to buy it, and I still didn’t break open that pack of “Two Rivers.” Next was “Shenandoah”, which was the first time I felt a tinge of anticipation before an announcement because it was the first ones I actually wanted to buy. I wasn’t obsessed yet, so I promised my now wife that I would wait for Christmas so she could buy them for me. It appears that waiting to get my hands on these helped me catch the Field Notes bug. Once I finished that Clairefontaine, I ripped open my pack of “Two Rivers” and used a cool looking yellow one and started a 2nd one as a recipe book. “Snowblind” came out as I was still waiting for Christmas and I ordered them immediately and the rest is history.
That was a little longer explanation than I thought it would be, so let’s get into the editions I got in my subscription!
“Lunacy” – Fall 2016
Before sending my money to Field Notes for my subscription, I had to decide whether I wanted to wait for the next announcement to subscribe, or do it now and be a part of the excitement and anticipation. I chose the latter only because I made the decision to subscribe right after “Byline” was announced, but yet didn’t want to start with “Byline” because I already knew what it was. I’m a sucker for the unknown.
These are some awesome looking notebooks. I will admit that when I first saw them, I was not super thrilled about them because of all of the black, and coming off of “Byline” I was hoping for a little more colourful. This feeling of disappointment, for a lack of a better word, completely vanished when I finally got them in hand. We were only a few weeks from leaving for our wedding when they were announced and I was so anxious to get them before we left. Luckily they showed up with a few days to spare and I couldn’t be happier.
The black covers are more than just black covers. The texture is by far the best I’ve felt for any notebook with almost a fake leathery feel. Not only do they feel good, but they also are quite durable. The die-cut moons in the cover was an interesting choice to say the least, but I would say they turned out awesome. I chose the half-moon to use first and didn’t have it catch on anything that it wasn’t supposed to, so my original concern of them ripping when you looked at it wrong wasn’t warranted I guess. To top off this gorgeous edition, they chose to use black staples to round off the look. Perfect choice.
Like the design of “Lunacy”, I was skeptical about the paper when I first saw that it was grey, but like the design, I was completely blown away once I got them in hand. The grey is not too intrusive and in my opinion, doesn’t get in the way of my colours I use. They also chose to use reticle grid on this paper, which is one of my favourites and fits very nicely with the theme. The best part about this paper though, is the fact that it is fountain pen friendly. Being that it is only #60 (now the standard for Field Notes), I thought that it would have a little bleed through, but it was perfect. Just enough feedback for me, zero bleed through, and barely any ghosting. I haven’t had the chance to use all of the past editions yet, so I can’t speak for all of them, but this is the best paper from Field Notes that I have used to date with “Byline” being a close second.
I mentioned earlier that Field Notes likes to include little extras with each edition to subscribers to entice you a bit more beyond the savings. The extra for this one blew my socks off. You got 2 extra notebooks that isn’t even available to anyone else! The 3 that you get in your standard 3 pack is a quarter moon, half moon, and full moon, meaning that all of them are die-cut to some degree. The subscribers got a 4th book of a new moon, meaning there is no cut outs and the cover is all black. I think this looks amazing and is probably my favourite of the bunch.
“Black Ice” – Winter 2016
This edition is one that had quite a bit of controversy, mainly surrounding the type of binding they used. Besides “Byline”, this will was the first time they didn’t use staples for the binding. There were a few rumblings that Field Notes was trying to copy Write Notepads as they use a similar binding, but I highly doubt a company like Field Notes to do such a thing. With that said, I have ordered some Write Notepad to give them a try since I’ve been hearing so many great things about them. Back to “Black Ice”.
Unlike “Lunacy” where my initial reaction was muted, but grew as I used them, my experience with “Black Ice” was opposite. When I first seen the email, I was floored by the beauty of these and thought they would become my favourite of all time. I am a hockey player, so the shiny cover that represents ice is right up my ally. Orange is also my favourite colour, so the fact that the spine is orange is perfect. The PUR binding did throw me off for a little bit, but I was quite excited to give it a go.
One thing that worried me about the cover was just how glossy and shiny it was. “There is no way this won’t show fingerprints and look like crap after light use” is what I was telling myself as they were in the mail. Boy was I wrong. Somehow, as if magical, these covers do not show fingerprints at all. However, they do show scratches and other scuffs, but I consider this a positive since it makes it look like a cut up rink. That, paired with how nicely the orange binding wears makes it a real winner in my books.
The paper in this edition made me go on quite the roller coaster. The second I seen #70 paper, I thought that it would amazing and even better than “Lunacy”. Since I am in Canada, my shipments are always a bit delayed compared to those in the states, so I was hearing that the paper was not fountain pen friendly before I got mine and was very disappointed. I ripped open the pack and started writing in it as soon as they arrived, and much to my relief, my fountain pens were working perfectly fine. As I used it more and more, I did see the concerns about the paper from the previous comments. The paper is definitely more absorbent than usual, so inked dried very quickly, but that resulted in next to no shading or sheen, being a bit toothy, and even the odd case of feathering depending on the ink I was using. This was acceptable to me as it is still way better than their regular paper and was a joy to use.
I should also point out the ruling in this edition, lined. I love this! Before being exposed to other types of ruling such as dot grid and reticle, lined paper was all I used and needed. The lines in “Black Ice” are the perfect width for me and the double orange rule at the top makes the writing a visually pleasing experience as well.
Being a winter release, it makes sense to stick close to a Christmas theme for the extra and that is exactly what they did. They included very cool metallic and orange wrapping paper and labels for you to wrap up a pack and gift them to loved ones. While this is a very cool idea and I hope a lot of people did that, my wrapping paper is still sitting in my drawer waiting to be used. I might use it for a gift one day, but my gut tells me that I’ll just hang on to it. Not quite as useful as the extra notebook you got with “Lunacy”.
“Utility” – Spring 2017
For the first time in my short life as a Field Notes subscriber, I felt almost nothing when I seen the announcement. I wasn’t waiting at the mail box impatiently like usual and thought I would mix them into my rotation eventually. The only thing that got me excited was the fact that they included Ledger ruling in some of them! Once I got them in hand my opinion did change for the better, but only slightly.
If I were looking at this design from the perspective of them sticking to the theme that they were aiming for, they were spot on. Looking at it from the perspective of my own personal tastes, not my favourite. I do really like the yellow, but I am not a huge fan of how they show what the ruling is right on the cover. It’s a great idea and may work for some people, but I’m just not a huge fan.
The most controversial part of this notebook is the ruler in the back. Instead of just making it inches only on the back cover, they decided to have it fold out to show cm’s too. The only way to make this work was to have the back cover barely shorter than usual so the corner rounder didn’t get cut off. While it is good that they managed to create their vision of making a fold out ruler, I think they were better off just not doing it.
The paper is by far the best part about this edition. This is in regards to both the paper quality and the ruling options. The paper is decently fountain pen friendly depending on which way you look at it. It has #70 paper, so it is thick enough to handle most inks, but it does have quite a bit of tooth to it. I don’t mind that tooth at all when it comes to a pocket notebook, so it works for me! I would compare this paper to the “Workshop Companion” edition as it is very similar, but I would classify “Utility” paper to be slightly more rough.
The ruling is where this edition really gets some points. I have been looking for more ledger ruled Field Notes since “Ambition” sold out everywhere and I didn’t realize that’s what I wanted until they were gone. I managed to snag a few, but as soon as I seen that I could get more ledger books with “Utility”, I ordered an extra pack to make sure I was covered. Maybe one day they will do another ledger in a book that I love (I wish I knew about Field Notes back in the “Travelling Salesman” days).
The other option was the utility graph ruling. While not as useful for me as the ledger, it is a very cool variation of standard graph paper and was quite enjoyable to use. I didn’t get an extra pack of these ones, but there is a chance I’ll use all 3 that I have.
Another positive was the subscriber extra we received. An awesome “After Hours” Field Notes themes bottle opener was just perfect and fit with the theme so good! This might not be the best extra for those who never have to open bottles (like me with the wrapping paper), but it is perfect for me since I like to indulge with a cold one after work every once in a while.
“Campfire” – Summer 2017
It may be a little too early to give an opinion without incorporating the newness factor, but I’ll give it a shot. First impressions were through the roof on this one! A small spoiler, when I first ranked these 4 editions, I immediately put this one at the top because I loved the look of it so much. This was only 2 days ago and it has since dropped down a bit, so stay tuned until the end to see where it fell to.
I give the design on the “Campfire” edition 10/10. I grew up sitting around campfires (never good ones like the video) so this hit home for me. They used a different kind of printing to get the photos on the covers and it turned out amazing. Check out their product description for a little for info on how they did it, because I don’t want to pretend I know what they were doing.
The colours are what stands out the most to me. Each one brings out the different stages of camping while just focusing on the campfire itself. You have the set up where you are either running around doing activities, or just hanging out waiting for the fire to cook your hot dog. The actual fire is the best part since you get to sit around it telling stories, enjoying a beverage, or cooking hot dogs or marshmallows. Depending on how long your day was, you may end up like me and fall asleep in your chair before finally making your way to bed. I also seem to wake up early while I’m camping and have always enjoyed the mornings. It’s always so peaceful quiet, so grabbing a book and some coffee does the trick.
The paper is what knocked this edition from the top. It is #60 paper, which is the same that was used in “Shenandoah”. I really enjoyed the “Shenandoah” edition for many of the same reasons as this one, and the paper made it a usable edition. I just say usable because it is not the best paper for fountain pens. It can handle finer nibs and some well behaved inks, but for the most part you will get a little bit of bleed through. For many it could be a deal breaker, but I still find it good enough to use both sides of the paper without complaining because it is just a pocket notebook after all. My grading for the paper = good enough.
The ruling goes backs to the basic, just like the overall feel of the notebook. It has the standard graph ruling for all 3 books, but has different coloured lines for each to match the inside cover, which corresponds to the outside cover. I think this is a super near detail that adds even more to the appeal.
I am not 100% sure if this is a subscriber only extra, or if it’s included in every pack they made, but included in my packs was a “Campfire Master” Field Notes patch. I won’t complain if everyone get the patch because it is pretty cool, but I suppose that would technically mean there was no subscriber only extra. I am not sure what I’ll do with the patch yet, but I am glad I have it if that situation ever came up!
“Final Exam” – Subscriber Extra
This was my first time subscribing, so I don’t want to speak out of place, but it does appear that Field Notes likes to do something extra for subscribers each year outside of the mini extras each release. Last year they did commemorative reprints of their first ever colours editions, “Butcher Orange” and “Butcher Blue”, with the belly band customized with your name. I really wish I would have been in on that because they turned out amazing!
This year they went in a slightly different direction, they gave you an exam! First, it looked they just sent some larger format blue books, but upon closer inspection you would have found that they are a little more special than that. Enclosed with the blue books was an instruction sheet to write an essay and then an envelope to return one of the books to be entered in a prize, which includes a custom print run of Field Notes, or one of Aaron Draplin’s Pretty Much Everything book. These are graded like any test, so if my high school English marks are any indication, I have zero chance of winning.
While these blue books are very cool and bring back memories from school, it made me feel like I missed out on the Butcher Orange and Blue even more! Now those are sweet extras that I might have actually used if I got brave enough, and if not, they would be awesome keepsakes that had my name on them. I had fun writing a story and sending it in for this final exam, but I will now have 2 blue books that I won’t use and that are hard to store.
That’s a little too much complaining for something you get for free and unexpected when you subscribe, so sorry about that. The moral of this story is that there is a chance you will get a really cool extra on top of the regular colour releases.
Now that I’ve gotten the chance to use all of these editions (haven’t completed a “Campfire” yet), I feel like I know these enough to form a bit of a ranking between the four. I know you can just scroll down, but I am going to go in reverse order to add the smallest amount of suspense.
This was still an alright edition, but lacked the design elements that I love with Field Notes. The thing that saves it for me is the “utility” of it (sorry, couldn’t resist) with the paper and unique ruling. Anything with a ledger will grab my attention.
The design is what I liked most about this edition. While the paper is still good and trumps many other editions, I had higher hopes for a #70 paper. The different binding was a nice touch too.
I had this edition slotted at #1 when I first made the list. This is because the covers absolutely blew me out of the water. The paper is what knocked this one out of top spot. The slight amount of bleeding is not a huge deal for me, but I would obviously prefer if it was just perfect for fountain pens.
Based on the fact that this is the quickest selling out edition since I have become interested in Field Notes, I would guess that a lot of you would agree with me. “Lunacy” checks all of the boxes for a great edition. Great paper, great design, pushes the envelope, and is simple enough to fly under the radar. A+!!
The bottom line with reviews like this comes down to one question, would I subscribe again? Absolutely! Do I already have more than enough notebooks for me to reasonable use up? Sure, but I love them and for only $99/year, I get to participate in something exciting and get products that I truly enjoy.
Disclosure: I paid for this subscription with my own money and will do the same for all future subscriptions. All thoughts are my own