Field Notes Shenandoah: Back to Basics

I love the innovation Field Notes brings to the pocket notebook market. They constantly surprise and delight with their quarterly COLORS releases. They always seem one step ahead of us who try to outguess them, but it's great fun to experience the build up, speculation and excitement around each of their COLORS releases.

The latest COLORS incarnation is out and unlike the more strongly themed recent issues, Shenandoah does, one might say, go back to the basics. Their much beloved early versions featured nature colors and strong connections to the natural world. And their latest release goes back to that approach, but with a few modern spins.

The three notebooks comes wrapped in a wood-laminated belly band, a first for Field Notes, although they're old pros at bonding paper and wood via their Shelterwood and Cherry Wood notebooks. Belly bands are typically disposable, recyclable bits that get tossed, but I'm scratching my head on what to do with this one: it's too nice to simply toss away! The notebook covers use an interesting print technique of bonding two sheets of paper together to form a multi-tone, more durable cover than the typical Field Notes notebook. The effect is a winner, as are the colors used. I love the colors/covers despite some meh-ness on the outer paper texture. Inside is their standard 3/16" graph layout printed in a moss green, a nice complimenting color to the three cover colors.

For me, one of the best parts of this release is the back covers. Each notebook features a tree via a leaf imprint and fascinating story about the tree and its connection to the Shenandoahs. Red Maple, Chestnut Oak and Sweet Birch comprise the three featured trees, and Field Notes carried this theme into three buttons given to subscribers that also depict the leaves. And for those diehards collectors who love the inside back covers, a new set of practical applications appears for our entertainment, including one that's a Lat/Lon coordinate leading to...well, I'll give you the joy of Googling that one!

The paper is 60#, a departure from their typical 50# text, but unfortunately for fountain pen lovers it's not enough. In my opinion, 70# remains the starting weight for decent fountain-pen-friendly paper (depending on other factors), although as with all papers, selection of nib/ink/hand pressure can vary the results dramatically.

My definition of fountain-pen-friendly paper is smooth to write on with very little feathering/bleeding, and with light-to-no show-through on the back side to prevent distraction and poor readability when writing on both sides. Shenandoah's paper does well for the first aspect of smooth and little feathering, but not so good on the second criteria. As my tests show, using my active stable of five pens/inks and my normal writing pressure, the show-through is pretty obvious and for me, a primary fountain pen user, that means if I want to use Shenandoah for my needs, I'll have to work at finding the right fountain pen combo. That said, the writing experience is very nice with a fountain pen and the nibs glide smoothly as I'd expect with the Finch papers. Feathering was great to good, so my single issue in using Shenandoah with a fountain pen is the show-through I experienced in testing. Still, other tests I've seen show far less show-through, so each person's experience may vary. I have to say, though, that Shenandoah is not a home run for fountain pen people, although some may do okay with it.

Graphite? Writes like a dream...smooth, easy on the touch, and an ideal combo in my tests. I don't typically test with gels or ballpoint, but have no doubt the Shenandoah paper would work great with those as well.

In the final analysis, I do like this edition and plan to use it frequently, just not with fountain pens; for that I have others that sing too well with most any nib/ink combo I throw at them, including the Field Notes fountain-pen flagships: America the Beautiful and Shelterwood.

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