Start Bay Navigator A5

Start Bay Navigator A5 Traveler’s Notebook

I’ve said before, but traveller’s notebooks (TNs) continue to be extremely popular. They offer a degree of flexibility bound notebooks cannot. After some hesitation, I took the plunge and am currently using a personal size TN daily, and a passport size less frequently. I was excited to try out an A5 though. Start Bay, based on the South Devon coast, offered a sample of their A5 Navigator cover to United Inkdom for testing.

Start Bay Navigator A5
Start Bay Navigator A5

Size

The Navigator is a large TN. It’s 160mm x 225mm x 25mm and so it comfortably accommodates several wide A5 (145mm x 210mm) notebooks. Start Bay themselves state that it will hold 4 notebooks (it has 4 elastics at the spine) but you could easily rig it up to hold more than that. If, for example, you were using slim notebooks like the Taroko ones I previously reviewed, you would want to add in a lot more than 4. (There are lots of YouTube tutorials to help you out if you’re not sure how to do this.) Its size is a huge plus point for me. You can fit a hardback notebook, like a Leuchtturm, in here with plenty of room to spare. This would be a useful way of managing a bullet journal with separate collections notebooks, for example.

Start Bay Navigator A5
Start Bay Navigator A5 with Lamy Al-Star for scale

The Navigator is made from hard-wearing full grain leather which will handle a potentially large amount of paper inside. The leather is 3mm in thickness and is stiffer than many TNs available. I currently have the slim Taroko notebook, a slim Filofax Flex notebook, and a heavier Midori MD Notebook – A5 Plain Paper. This combination leaves plenty of room (it only uses 3 of the 4 elastics). You could easily fit a Leuchtturm 1917 or even a Moleskine notebook (if you can bear Moleskine’s terrible paper) along with other items. However, it does make this a moderately heavy item to carry around. Mine currently weighs about 22oz/650g, without hardback notebooks in it.

The size is a big plus for this TN. The otherwise good Paper Republic cover was let down by its awkward size. By making the TN itself A5, Paper Republic have drastically restricted the availability of notebooks to go with it. Start Bay have avoided this important pitfall by making a cover into which A5 notebooks will fit. This is not only much more convenient, it also conforms to what people expect from a cover marketed as a standard size.

Start Bay A5 with 3 notebooks
Start Bay A5 with 3 notebooks

Looks

The Navigator is a classic, elegant design. The simplicity of the design means you could almost certainly use it in a work environment if you wanted to. They offer four colours of leather: original dark brown, mellow mid-brown, statement Sahara, and chic tan. They are also available etched with Paisley pattern.

The leather is full grain. It may include small “imperfections” and it will pick up scuffs and dents are you use it, but because the leather is good quality, this adds character rather than making it look scruffy. I think it will age well. It certainly feels like it will cope with being a bit bashed around in a bag. The thick, stiff leather makes me feel like I don’t have to be especially careful with it, the way I do with my softer leather TNs, where scuffs are more noticeable.

Start Bay A5
Start Bay A5

Value

These covers are available from Start Bay for £48 (£58 for Paisley) which is very good value. These are high quality leather covers which will last. They are large enough to accommodate big notebooks and as many of them as any sensible person could need! Start Bay don’t try to trap you into a non-standard sized insert, so you can fill the cover with whatever notebook you’d like. They don’t even manufacture tehir own inserts (though you can buy some, like Rhodia and Clairefontaine, through their website. You can therefore manage the on-going value of your TN yourself.

Keep an eye out for a follow-up review in 2018!

Start Bay A5
Start Bay A5
Start Bay Navigator A5

Paper Republic Grand Voyager review

United Inkdom has received a number of Paper Republic Grand Voyager XL traveler’s notebooks for review. Paper Republic is an Austrian company, based in Vienna, founded in 2012 but their products are starting to make a splash further afield now. Their small team (only four people) have worked hard to produce a high quality product and to keep that quality high.

Traveler’s Notebooks (TNs) are enjoying huge popularity at the moment. Essentially, a TN is a cover (usually but not always leather) with vertical elastics to hold interchangeable notebooks in place, and a horizontal  elastic closure. There are some standard sizes, but also a great deal variation, usually designed to house particular notebooks (such as A5 or Fieldnotes). I currently have a standard sized TN made by Ink Bandits on Etsy, and a smaller one which was a gift. The appeal of this system is its adaptability. Covers hold varying numbers of notebooks, but it would be reasonable to expect a cover to hold 3-5 without too much trouble. Some wider designs hold more, and of course it depends on the number of pages and paper weight of the notebooks. There are, of course, a huge variety in the inserts available. Etsy is a great source for these.

Paper Republic make two sizes of TN: the passport, the and the XL; and a phone case which doubles as a TN. I have road tested the XL, which they sent to me free in exchange for an impartial review.

Cover

Firstly, the cover. Mine is black leather with contrasting orange elastics (other colours of leather and elastic available). The leather is tanned in Tuscany (a very good pedigree), and is soft and flexible. As with all leathers, it will get scuffed with wear but in such a way as to add character rather than detract from its appearance. I’ve had mine in my bag getting bashed about for a week or so and it’s not looking worn. The covers retail at €60 from the manufacturer in Austria (with free shipping for orders over that amount), or £54 from Cult Pens.

Paper Republic Grand Voyager
Paper Republic Grand Voyager

Inserts

PR Insert ink test
PR Insert ink test
Ink test reverse
Ink test reverse

The inserts are available from Paper Republic and Cult Pens, in plain, ruled, or grid, with 56 pages and 80 gsm white paper. They are available for 2 for 13 EUR (around £11.42 or $14.57 at today’s exchange rate) or £12 from Cult Pens. This is reasonably good value for money. The paper itself is ok (see ink test) but I’m not wildly excited about it. (There are also two types of undated planner insert but I could not determine from the Paper Republic website what, if any, differences there were between the two.)

You can see from the ink tests that the paper stands up to most inks with no feathering or bleed through, and very little shadowing.

(Pen test in order: Stabilo Boss highligher & pastel highlighter; Zebra Mildliner; Muji gel pen; Staedtler Triplus fineliner; Uni-ball Eye; Pentel Touch sign pen; Tombow Mono Twin; Tombow ABT; fountain pens with Diamine Tyrian Purple, Grape, Imperial Purple inks; flex nib fountain pen with Diamine Asa Blue ink.)

Sizing

Insert
Insert
Insert on elastic
Insert on elastic

The biggest issue for me is the sizing. The XL is not actually A5. It’s close, but not close enough. A5 is a standard size: 145m x 210mm. The XL cover is 150mm x 210mm, so it’s a little wider than A5 as you would expect for a cover, though at only an additional 5mm, it’s not really wide enough to accommodate multiple A5 notebooks. That’s not necessarily a problem but the effect of the non-standard sizing is that much of the ability to customise the TN is lost.

 

The inserts, to fit the A5 cover, have to be much smaller than A5: only 135mm x 200mm. This makes more sense for the narrowness of the cover, but it also means that customers must either buy proprietary sized inserts from Paper Republic or trim down another notebook manually. You could, for example, trim down a large Moleskine Cahier to fit. However, these are expensive notebooks to cut up, and the paper is poorer quality than that of the Paper Republic inserts. You may, understandably, be reluctant to doing that though.

 

Despite the inconvenient proprietary sizing, this is a good TN. The leather is clearly high quality and has a lovely leather smell. The contrasting elastic colour gives the plain cover some character. I’d probably never have chosen orange but it’s really grown on me.

Paper Republic Grand Voyager
Paper Republic Grand Voyager
Back cover embossing
Back cover embossing
Paper Republic
Paper Republic

 

 

 

 

 

Insert and elastics
Insert and elastics
Cover, insert, elastic
Cover, insert, elastic
Insert and elastic
Nice match with the Lamy Copper Orange