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.


    • I’ve also used the Forest Choice steno, but for the $ there are better options I think. Also have the Ampad steno-likes in my arsenal, from Staples ‘natch. But gotta love these fat chipboard covers. Could drive a nail with ’em in a pinch, I swear. 😉

  1. Great match up, recently discovered the pure usefulness of stenos and they may become my main notebook for choice. Only tried the field notes steno though.

  2. Thank you Gary for bringing the Write stenos to my attention….was aware of and used the Write notebooks but not the steno pads.

  3. I’ve always wanted to try the Field Notes steno but don’t think the ruling is for me. The new Write Notepads with a grid is more compelling for me.

  4. The Write Notebook would be more useful for me. The size would work better, and the use of fountain pens on the paper are two big factors.

  5. My partner and I are both avid writers, and once she saw the Steno on the Field Notes website she became very excited! Great review Gary, thanks for running this giveaway.

  6. Thanks for the helpful review Gary. I think I would go with the Write first, because of the FP friendlier paper…

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