Mapping Tools, Part 1: The Notebook

I wanted to start this series with the single-most important tool for surveying an area and making a map. My first thought was the compass, but on second thought, the most important tool of all is… well, the most “boring:” The notebook.

Especially important in the early days of mapping, the log book contained all the information and observations made by the surveyor, including measurements, sketches, land formations, etc. In fact, in the early 15th century, cosmographers set up shop near ports and collected stories and observations from sailors, in order to cobble together world maps.

I’m always amazed at how they were able to weave together stories to create a graphic of the world. I love that idea!

What makes a good log book?

For me, I like my notebooks to be:

  • Portable, but spacious enough that I have space to write (around 6″ x 9″ or A5 size)
  • Gridded (preferably with a dot grid, they’re just visually very clean)
  • No bleed-through on the pages, again for visual clarity

Lately I’ve been favoring Rhodia’s products, specifically their side-stapled Dot Notebooks.

Here’s how I use my log book:

Of course, how you use yours is entirely up to you! Sometimes I’ll record wildlife, sketch a striking feature, or anything else that may help with assembling the map later on.

I enjoy color-coding, but really don’t like to carry a bunch of different pens into the field. One black pen, one notebook!

Next up, we’ll look at the next most important tool: The Compass.

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