testing testing

The 100 Best Notebooks, As Tested by Strategist Editors

From spiral-bound to linen-clad to 1950s-era.

Photo: Stella Blackmon/New York Magazine
Photo: Stella Blackmon/New York Magazine

Hardcover or soft? Leather or cloth? Spiral-bound or sewn? Are the pages gridded? Are they a comfortable writing size? Do they tear out easily? Whether you use your notebook mainly for jotting, reporting, journaling, list-making — or some Beautiful Mind–esque combination of all of the above — the details really matter. And there are so many to consider. Finding the best options can be an obsessive quest — and thus one we couldn’t resist.

In the same way we went about ranking 100 pens, we started by digging through our own archive of notebook coverage, consulted dozens of experts, and gathered up our personal favorites to determine the top competitors. Then we called in notebooks of all kinds, including bullet journals, composition books, waterproof reporter pads, and a few exciting additions from around the world — places like Portugal, Japan, even Bulgaria — and put them to the test. The resulting list is a ranking of the top 100 notebooks, according to Strategist editors and writers. And if you agree or disagree (or have a favorite we missed), let us know in the comments — we just might test your favorite when we update this list in the future.

Criteria

Among our team members, we have those who prefer lined notebooks, others who like blank ones; we have our spiral diehards and bullet-journal enthusiasts. And while individual preferences may vary, we’ve aimed to standardize our judgments by evaluating each notebook on a scale of 1 (poor) through 5 (excellent) in the following categories:

Design: Is there enough room to write? Do the aesthetics and ergonomics of the open notebook encourage you to use it? Do the lines/dots/grid feel impactful in a good way or overly designed and distracting? Or are they, in fact, perfectly muted?

Page Quality: Is the paper smooth enough for writing? Is it thin or thick? Does the weight of the page make it feel luxurious or flimsy? Is the texture soft and smooth or coarse and scratchy? Is the paper recycled/recycled-feeling? Colored or unbleached or bleached bright white? Does the ink bleed through?

Overall Feel: Does the notebook feel substantial or flimsy? Is it a good weight and size? How portable is it? Does it pack easily into certain bags? Will it hold up against wear and tear? Are there too many/too few pages? Or is it just right?

The Cover: What design elements stand out? Is it hardcover or softcover? Is it nice to look at or jarring? Is it minimal, classic, and clean or just boring? Design-y in a cool way? Or is it overdone or even a little immature-looking? Does it come off as expensive or cheap?

Methodology

Once we had our notebooks in hand, we divvied them up among our 13 writers and editors to be rated according to our criteria. We asked our team members to use their favorite pen for each notebook to have a control factor. And since personal tastes vary — some of us prefer lined paper, others dotted or blank — we each stuck to judging the type of notebook we tend to use anyway.

Each tester used a single notebook for at least one full day for all writing needs (brainstorming, note-taking, journaling, list-making). And to get a real feel for the experience of actually living with the thing — carrying it around and stowing it in a bag — we all brought our test notebooks to meetings and on our commutes. Here, top 100 notebooks, ranked in order. Click here to jump to the top 80, top 60top 40, or top 20.

1. Public Supply Soft Cover Notebook

Design: 5 | Page Quality: 4.9 | Overall feel: 5 | The Cover: 5

I’m a devoted Muji Paper Bind user (see below), but this notebook from Public Supply came out a little further ahead for a few reasons: First, Public Supply donates a portion of every sale to public-school classrooms throughout the U.S. It also comes in a ton of vibrant colors and special editions. As for the notebooks themselves, the pages are a nice eggshell color and easy on the eyes, which I prefer to bright-white pages (my only gripe is that they’re somewhat narrow). The dot grid is super-subtle, so it helps line things up without taking over. And the surface of the paper is slick, which means ink won’t bleed, and the paper is FSC certified, meaning it’s sourced from responsibly managed forests. —Liza Corsillo

Total score: 4.975

2. Muji Paper Bind Notebook A6

Design: 4.8 | Page Quality: 5 | Overall feel: 5 | The Cover: 5

This is the notebook I use on a regular basis for writing to-do lists, drawing on the subway, recording my feelings, and jotting down ideas. I am extremely attracted to the no-nonsense design and construction of these — and the price. I buy them in bulk so I won’t run out and so I can line them up on a shelf in my apartment when they’re full. The pages are smooth and creamy. They fit inside nearly every bag or purse I own, and their weight is imperceptible. I like that they’re slim and bendable — I can slip one inside the pocket of a hoodie — and since they’re not overly precious, I don’t have to think twice about filling them up with random musings. Larger, fancier notebooks can make me worry that what I’m writing isn’t good enough for their pristine pages. And though I love a beautiful linen or leather cover, I like that this Muji notebook has a card-stock paper cover so I can draw on it or label it with dates and project names. In my opinion, this notebook has only two design flaws. One is that the pages are slightly transparent when used with inkier pens, and the other is that they don’t lie open on their own. But with a little encouragement, I can bend one to my will so it’ll stay flat.
—LC

Total score: 4.95

3. Appointed Dot Grid Workbook

Design: 4.75 | Page Quality: 5 | Overall feel: 5 | The Cover: 5

I typically use lined or blank pages with a stitched (not spiral) binding, but this dotted spiral notebook made me reconsi