Let’s get this out of the way up front, shall we?

There is a ton of information on how to build an EDC (every day carry) notebook setup on the internet. Like most things on the internet it’s not all great info and more than a few holy wars can be encountered. I’m a programmer by day and enjoy analog writing as a hobby. To say I’ve seen the holy wars erupt and turn decent people into toxic mushrooms feeding on feces would be understatement.

This post is full of ideas and starting points. Nothing more. I have no time, interest or desire to start a holy war, rile up the blood or anything else toxic. I have my preferences which aren’t for everyone, I get that. This post is meant to inspire and get the ideas flowing.

Time for a mini confession : I’ve gone through at least 6 forms of an EDC writing setup. I had a hard time teasing apart various ideas I found online initially and my needs have shifted over the years. I also have an EDC for ‘me’, and one for ‘day job’. Let’s just say I’ve iterated my setup over time and what I’m putting forth below are all things that have worked to varying degrees for me along with at least one massive failure. Like epic fail style.

Please read this post with an open mind for ideas. What works for me may not work for you and vice versa. I publish this with the goal of getting people thinking about their ‘pocket notebook’ (or bag or purse or desk or…) setups. Please remix and adapt these ideas as you see fit.

Writing Instruments

Let’s start off with an overlooked component that took me forever to sort out. The pen/pencil that goes with everything else. Take some time on this and try more than one option if you’re unsure. I went through something like a dozen pens and pencils before finding my preference in an EDC. I tried various 2mm lead holders, fountain pens, ballpoint pens and rollerball pens. Each has merit, utility and are highly subjective for the writer. I personally use a Karas Kustoms Retrakt with Ohto 0.4mm black refill as my EDC writing instrument. It’s a simple setup that definitely goes for utility above all else. Definitely not what people expect when they find out I own a full pen roll of fountain pens or that I own dip pens or that I own tactical pens or…

Don’t let people dictate what works best for your EDC writing instrument. Find the one you love the most and use it.


After writing instrument the notebook/paper is critical in my experience. As long as you have a writing instrument you can find something to write upon. Even better if it’s your preferred paper. The form, functions and type of paper is just as annoying to sort out as a writing instrument. This is another area I spent a ton of time sorting out. Quite a few epic failures in this world too for me. In the end it was worth it.

I tried FieldNotes, Travelers Passport refills (regular and lightweight), Rite-In-The-Rain pads (small, medium), Leuchtturm1917 notebooks, Rhodia memo pads (A4, A5, A6, A7). I also tried blank, dot grid, lined and graph varieties as available at the time of my attempts to find my preferences. YOu can also add engineering paper, composition notebooks, top/bottom binding, spiral/no spiral, and all other manner of forms of paper to the list of options that will cause pain for finding your favorite.

Those better at math than me could tell you how many combinations I just put forth but we can clearly see it’s too many options and daunting at a minimum.

But Wait! There’s More!!!

It’s a suckers game to try all the paper options.


When I started out with paper, I tried most of these options not because I wanted but because I was putting together Four[!] EDC notebook setups at the time. Five if you count a very specific notebook related to spending time outdoors. I have my personal EDC notebook, one for my day job, one for ‘outdoor stuff’ and one for ‘film photography’ presently. I’ve also needed a travel EDC that would pull duty as a wallet/passport holder, one for health diary needs and last but not least: my journal.

For each of these I started with my core needs and narrowed down my options based on size, weight and other parameters that would reduce options.

For example

My EDC personal notebook needs to hold 2 paper refills, fit in my ass pocket, have some storage for business cards, receipts and the like. This greatly limits the options. I also know I prefer dot grid paper the most with blank a close second, graph third and lined if I have no other choice. I also prefer top bindings but that makes cover selection tricky so I went with side bound and tear out sheets in at least one of my EDC refills. These parameters reduced my options greatly. I also found out I prefer the Travelers Passord and FieldNotes sized pages over A5/A6/A7. That was annoying to figure out but worth the hassles. Because of these parameters (restrictions) I reduced my options o much there was little left to verify and test.

I recommend starting simple with page size, then into dot grid / blank / graph / lined then into bindings and other parameters. Bonus points if you intermix the options a little to get more than one parameter sorted per test notebook. I epic failed this point early on.

Covers and Inserts

After writing instrument and paper a lot of folks are going to want some kind of cover and/or inserts for their daily carry needs. Covers and inserts aren’t a one size fits all situation and quite a few people will prefer naked notebooks (no cover/inserts). Whatever works for you is valid.

Pockets, no pockets, sticker pockets, how many refills will fit properly, etc. There are a bunch of options in this space.

I personally prefer a cover with pockets or a simple cover with an insert or two. I also prefer waxed canvas to leather. In the end (lots of personal testing) I found I need some form of front and back pockets as well as room for 2 refills in my notebook covers. Depending on the covers pocket layout I may also need an insert that adds additional pockets to my setup.

Some of my favorite finds over the years are products I found on Etsy and similar sites. Going off the beaten path is usually a good call for covers and inserts. There are a lot of smaller artisans out there with great products and ideas.

Charms and Other Bling

All I’m going to say is charms, stickers and washi tape are forms of bling to me. I don’t bling my notebooks beyond a small tritium charm on my personal EDC. I have the charm on mine so I can find it in low light scenarios. I leave you to sort this piece of your notebook. There are just too many options to articulate for anyone’s own good.

Analog Org Mode

No post about pocket notebooks and EDC notebooks would be complete without mention of organizing systems. Two of the most popular I’ve seen are Getting Things Done (GTD) and Bullet Journaling (BuJo). I’m not fond of either as they are generally presented. GTD is way too constrictive for my mind. BuJo is a little too open ended for me. When I went to sort out my organizational system I borrowed from both of these systems and others. I also spent a few years trying different options and iterating heavily.

I ended up with an electronic to do list in my phone for day to day ‘churn’ that turns around quick, a paper refill in my EDC with tear out pages for quick notes and the other things I need to scribble down and another (non tear out pages) refill for longer note taking and fleshing out ideas. I also have some OneNote notebooks to keep track of some longer running items.

My approach if very hybrid and highly tuned for my productivity needs and ways of thinking. I tried many systems and took the pieces that worked and made my own. I strongly suggest trying many systems and adapting them to your needs. It will be frustrating at times but will be worth it in the end. Even if it’s an app on your phone. That’s valid too!

Final Thoughts

I hope the above can provide you a starting point for digging deeper into EDC notebooks and putting one together. My original outline had more products and clearly laid out starting points. As I thought about this post and started writing I realized abstract and encouraging was a better fit for me and my approach to presentation.

I hope I got you thinking and wanting more.

Parting Thought

I almost forgot : I’m not a total jackass. Links to all the cool stuff below to get you started.

Bullet Journaling
Getting Things Done
FieldNotes Notebooks
Wanderings Notebooks
Travelers Notebooks
FieldWorkCo Artisan - Waxed Canvas and Leather
Yellow Birch Outfitters Artisan - Leather Covers
Thats My Planner Artisan - Felt Inserts
Travelers Times Artisan - Covers and Inserts
Jewelry Toolbox Artisan - Misc charms and more

See also