Expectations and Expeditions, Field Notes that is.

Field Notes + tools

If you have spent anytime on Twitter the past couple weeks you’ll probably be aware that while everyone is tickled with the colors and the durability of the new Yupo-based Field Notes Expedition Edition, there has been a lot of blowback about how usable these notebooks actually are.

If you have note heard about these books, the Expedition Edition is the latest in the limited edition offerings of Field Notes. I love the color of the cover, the tone-on-tone map of Antarctica on the back and the dot grid in grey on the warm white paper. This time, the books are filled with a hard-wearing, plastic-based paper called Yupo for both the covers and the inside papers.Why is that cool? Well, it doesn’t tear and it will not break down if wet. But on the downside, issues have come up because the paper is so tough, it pretty much repels most inks. Why? Because most of the inks that we use rely on a water-based formula, particularly the inks used in fountain pens and a lot of felt-tip style pens. Even softer lead pencils risk being a smeary mess on this practically indestructible paper.

Field Notes Expedition Edition

Both Pencil Revolution and the Pen Addict have done some testing and reviews and established that the tools we all normally favor (fountain pens, PIlot Hi-Tec C’s and Palomino Blackwing pencils) may not be the best tools to combine with the Yupo paper used in the Expedition Edition of Field Notes.

Oh no Pile

So I decided to do my own testing. Since I love pens and pencils with equal enthusiasm, I hope to combine the results from Brad and Johnny into one pile. Pictured above are the tools I tried that did NOT work, which include:

  • ordinary ballpoints (Milan green from Rad + Hungry)
  • Fiction erasable pens: Pilot Frixion Point 04 (blue black, similar models sell on JetPens)
  • Marvy LePens
  • Rollerballs: Uni Vision Micro, Muji and Acme
  • Sharpie Pen
  • Gel-based pens like Zebra Sarasa and Pentel Slicci
  • Pentel Hybrid Technica
  • Felt-tipped like Sakura Micron and Copic Multiliner
  • Pentel Sign Pen (mine is the mini model)

I let all the writing set for a longer amount of time than I would with a standard notebook– anywhere from 30 seconds to several minutes. As a left-hander I tend to run my hand through my writing every few lines so I gauged my drying time on an estimate of how long it would take me until I was running my hand through the writing. Some inks I could clearly see were still wet so I gave them time to lose their sheen before running my finger over them. The metallic silver Slicci 0.7 smeared so completely I had to write in what is was with another pen. I found that the regular ballpoint ink was clumpy and behaved strangely though after an indeterminate amount of time it did dry and not smear. Rollerballs and gel ink pens did not do well. Rollerballs, particularly the Uniball Vision Micro still smears 12 hours later — not as badly but still not good. Given enough time, the gel inks do dry and, the finer the point, the quicker they will be to dry, but I wouldn’t recommend them for serious notetaking. All the fiber-tipped pens like the Sharpie Pen, Microns and LePens were pretty much unusable.

The YES pile

Pictured above are the tools I found that DID work:

These all preformed well. The Marvy LePen Permanent and other alcohol-ink based marker pens are a great combination with this paper. The ink does not bleed, feather or show-through the way that it does on wood-pulp paper so if you’ve been wondering when you’ll ever use an alcohol-ink marker/pen, this is a good place for it.

I love the quality of color from the Autopoint Twinpoint on the Yupo paper. The colors of the red/blue mechanical pencil seem sharper on the Yupo than standard wood-pulp paper. I also feel confident that any standard mechanical pencil 0.5 or so or wood pencil, loaded in the range of 2B or HB lead, will be a good tool on the Expedition. I did not eraser testing. Foolishly, I was more concerned with making marks stick than removing them. I’ve just gone back to try erasing my marks (using my trusty Staedtler white plastic eraser) and the marks made with the mechanical pencil and Blackwing 602 leave a ghosted image.

I feel a little mischievous for doing it, but I pulled out my beloved Sanford Noblot and tested it and its been my favorite pencil on the paper so far. I realize this is probably going to create a run on Ebay looking for the last remaining Noblots but what the hell? Everyone deserves paper and writing tool happiness. Any indelible pencils will provide a level of permanence on this paper that you might not get with a standard graphite pencil.


While the other reviews I read said that fountain pens and Pilot Hi-Tec C’s do not work, I got passable results. In a pinch, I could use these to take a quick note but they require a good five minutes of drying time. The Hi-Tec C seemed okay after drying for awhile and used a fine 0.4 point. The fountain pen filled with Kaweco turquoise ink was okay once dry as long as I didn’t rub it a lot. So, I’d say in a pinch, if you had to jot something down, these would work but they certainly aren’t the recommended tools.

Tool Testing

As you can see above, the LePen Permanent was the clear winner here, followed by the Palomino Blackwing 602 and a mechanical pencil with 0.5mm lead and probably a HB or 2B lead.

Tool Testing

On my second page of tests, you can see that the UniBall Jetstream, the Autopoint TwinPoint and the Sanford Noblot won for performance here.

Overall, for this Yupo paper, I recommend the finest point on a pen you’re willing to use (0.5mm or smaller), hybrid ballpoint inks like the Jetstream, alcohol-based marker/pens and harder lead pencils. If you’re really working in harsh outdoor conditions, your best bet is going to be a pencil anyway since they don’t freeze. A mechanical pencil eliminates the need for a sharpener and you can carry multiple leads in most models so you can rest assured you won’t run out while in the field.

I hope this helps to ease some concerns about the usability of these notebooks. I love that Field Notes has been willing to try some unique materials and interior layouts. This is a special notebook that will require a special tool but once you find your perfect pairing, I’m sure you’ll be happy with the results.

PS: Field Notes has compiled its own recommendations for writing tools for the Expedition Edition as well.

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6 comments / Add your comment below

  1. As a fellow leftie, I’ve had concerns about these notebooks too. I have problems with smudging on normal paper even with HB lead in mechanical pencils – have you tested a large amount of writing with the 2B lead? I probably should just go get a Space Pen or a Le Pen permanent to use these. A pity, because I was very excited about the dot grid paper… 🙁

  2. That’s really interesting. I had a “stone paper” notebook from Target a while back, and I think it was pretty similar to the paper in these pads. Stone paper is really crushed up limestone mixed with some polymer stuff. Mine worked really well with ballpoints, and really badly with anything fine-pointed. Maybe the limestone added a little roughness that helped the ballpoints work?

  3. I’ve been using a Staedtler Triplus ballpoint, and it’s worked well and been a complete joy to write with. Haven’t tried any other ballpoints, but I’m surprised to hear others aren’t working given how successful the Triplus has been.

  4. Since I frequent a number of pen and notebook blogs, I’ve left this recommendation on a couple of other blogs: of the ballpoints I tried on this notebook, the Uni-ball Powertank .7 worked absolutely flawlessly. It produced a clean, dark line, and dried quickly. If you plan to use the Expedition notebook much at all, adding a Powertank to you collection would be worth the modest investment.

  5. Thank you so much for the rundown! I’m planning to use Yupo for my Winsor & Newton pigment markers review, and I’d been looking for a pen that will not only not smear, but won’t react when other materials are applied on top. Crossing my fingers that the alcohol based Marvy LePen work out ok with the pigment markers, or at least work out with watercolors/waterbased markers.

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