Notebook Review: Field Notes National Parks

Review by Tina Koyama

If you hang out in the Field Nuts Facebook group as I do, you’ll know that fans of Field Notes Brand notebooks have been clamoring for years for an edition honoring our National Parks. Iconic America, the great outdoors, back to our roots – the National Parks seem to fit right in with the basic principles behind Field Notes’ simple pocket-size memo books.

It turns out that Field Notes Brand has been thinking about the idea for as long as we’ve been demanding it; the Chicago company was just looking for the right way to execute it. For its summer 2019 quarterly limited edition, Field Notes finally gave us what we’ve been wanting: the National Parks series. A collaboration with artists associated with Fifty-Nine Parks, the series includes poster art featuring nine beloved parks. To further support the cause, Field Notes is donating 5 percent of sales of the books to the National Parks Service.

The nine books are offered in three three-packs: Series A (Yosemite, Zion, Acadia), Series B (Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, Mount Rainier) and Series C (Rocky Mountain, Great Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone).

series A

In addition to the gorgeous cover art, the cover stock is one of my favorite features of this edition. The 100-pound French Pop-Tone paper is colored – each book in a different hue – and the printing involved “a custom, five-color process that started with under-printing white ink. This allowed us to incorporate the color of the paper into the artwork.” I read this information before receiving the books, but I didn’t appreciate what it meant until I had them in hand. Colors pop beautifully, and images are sharp and vivid. (Maybe I’m in the minority, but I’ve never been a fan of the deliberately low-res landscape images used in America the Beautiful.)

series B

As soon as I got my packs (OK, I ordered several sets, and so did my spouse guy, and he isn’t even a notebook user), I ripped them all open to decide which I would use first. Should I pick my favorite park? Ooh, that would be tough. . . Yosemite? Joshua Tree? Zion? Or vote my allegiance to my own hometown park, Mount Rainier? Or simply choose my favorite cover art? Oh, no – tough again! Rocky Mountain’s stag is a beauty, but the bison roaming near Old Faithful . . . ! Or stunning Half Dome. . . !

series C

After much shuffling around and changing my mind, I chose Joshua Tree, which gets points for being one of my favorite parks so far (though I still have many to explore) and for having an especially gorgeous cover. I was delighted to open it and see that its cover stock is purple! It’s been my daily-carry for several weeks, and the cover’s edges are beginning to wear beautifully, exposing a bit of the stock’s color.

Joshua Tree cover showing some wear

The space for “Pertinent Coordinates” that typically appears on the inside front cover has been replaced, appropriately, with a space for a visitor’s official National Park passport stamp. (This is the best reason I’ve seen yet for “collecting” Field Notes!)

Joshua Tree inside front cover

Other cover stocks are not quite as bright as Joshua Tree’s purple, but they were all selected to bring out the best in each cover art.

colored cover stocks

The inside back covers also depart slightly from Field Notes’ tradition. Instead of the more typical “Practical Applications,” information about the featured park is provided (plus the usual paper and printing specs).

inside back cover info

The back cover recognizes the collaboration with Fifty-Nine Parks. Now, I didn’t check every single Field Notes I own, but as far as I recall, this is the first time a quarterly limited edition was made by collaboration and acknowledged as such.

back cover

The graph-ruled innards are 60-pound Finch Paper Opaque Smooth. It’s not a paper I would generally choose to sketch on (I much prefer the 70-pound innards of Sweet Tooth, Workshop Companion and Dime Novel), but it works in a pinch. I used a Tombow Fudenosuke brush pen to make a sketch, and wherever my pen point paused, the ink went right through to the reverse side (and even a bit onto the facing page).

Tombow brush pen bleed-through

But I accepted long ago that sketching with brush pens is not what these simple notebooks were made for, and I don’t expect 60-pound paper to meet that need. More typical writing instruments fare perfectly well on this paper. I grabbed several implements on my desk to make test scribbles. Nothing feathered, and only the Derwent paint pen and pause points of the Zebra fountain pen bled through. The Finch surface is perfectly compatible with all the pencils, ballpoints, gel pens and other utilitarian writing instruments that most users (including me) typically grab to jot in Field Notes.

ink and pencil tests

reverse of ink tests

A long-time user of Field Notes, I have several all-time favorite editions – for their designs as well as for what they represent – and National Parks is right up there with Night Sky, Lunacy and Coastal. In fact, National Parks has moved to the top, if only because this one edition has nine cover designs to put into rotation. I can’t imagine tiring of it.

Rumor has it that the National Parks quarterly edition might be only the beginning of a full series possibly featuring all 59 parks (similar to the unlimited County Fair edition honoring the 50 US states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico). I certainly look forward to using (and more important visiting) all 59 someday.

P.S. Below is my solution when I like a cover design but don’t care for the 60-pound paper inside: I just Frankenbook it. At left is a Pitch Black cover that was Frankenbooked for me by a fellow Nut; at right is a Graduate Hotels edition cover featuring my alma mater’s Suzzallo Library that I Frankenbooked myself. I have big plans for a lot of red Sweet Tooth paper going into National Parks covers.

Frankenbooked covers

Disclaimer: All Field Notes Brand notebooks reviewed and mentioned here were purchased. (Ed. Note: No compensation was received for this review, all opinions are the reviewer’s.)

tina-koyamaTina Koyama is an urban sketcher in Seattle. Her blog is Fueled by Clouds & Coffee, and you can follow her on Instagram as Miatagrrl.

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2 comments / Add your comment below

  1. The National Parks series is an inspired idea for a Field Notes collection. I had never used a Field Notes before, but could not pass up Series A since I’ve experienced such memorable visits to both Yosemite and Acadia. This series release also coincided with a trip back to Acadia last month, so I brought that notebook with me and filled it up during my time there – best souvenir ever. And you can bet that I got it stamped with the official National Parks Passport stamp!

  2. Thank you for this review! The covers of these are ravishing, but I am particular about my paper, so I always buy my notebooks in person. Your review helped me decide to get some even though I can’t test them. Much appreciated!

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