The Write Stuff: My pencil/paper weatherproof logging combo!

If you’ve followed my field reports in the past couple of years, you’ll know that I predominantly use Rite In The Rain notepads and mechanical pencils.

When I first started my POTA journey in 2019, I would print out log sheets for each activation just like I did during the National Parks On The Air program in 2016. It was a very inexpensive and organized way to manage all of my written logs.

Over time, though, I made a shift to small pocket-sized notepads (Moleskine, Moji, Mead…) basically any pad that took up less space and could remain in my QRP field kits.

Rite In The Rain

After a couple of moisture mishaps with Moleskine pads (which, by the way, I otherwise love) I decided to completely shift to using Rite In The Rain spiral-bound notepads.

I resisted doing this for a long time because Rite In The Rain pads aren’t cheap; they typically cost about $6-$7 US each, but they are made in the US and are very high quality. They don’t smudge or smear.

My father-in-law is a retired professor of Botany and the bulk of his research time was (literally) in the field–in the mountains of western North Carolina. He’s always been a huge fan of Rite In The Rain and we often purchased these for him as gifts.

I switched to Rite In The Rain and haven’t regretted it. Yes, they’re pricier than all of the previous options I’d used, but they are insanely durable, can survive getting wet, and they hold quite a lot of my 45-60 minute POTA and SOTA activations! One pad will typically last me several months.

There are two sizes of pads I use:

(Left) 3×5″ and (Right) 4×6″ Notepad

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The 3×5″ sixe easily fits in my Pelican 1060 case

I find that both sizes work well. I tend to use the larger 4×6 size most of the time, but I love the 3×5 size because it fits in some of my smallest field kits including the MTR-3B SOTA kit I highlighted last week.

When you use a Rite in the Rain pad, it will hold up in the rain if you are using any pencil, or one of their pens which has a special ink that bonds to the paper permanently.

I use mechanical pencils when I log, although I plan to start using pens more often only because it makes it easier for my YouTube video subscribers to read my logbook as I write (pencil can be more difficult to read from the camera angle, depending on reflection, etc.).

Mechanical Pencils

This is an area where (being fully transparent here) I can geek out a bit (understatement alert).

I’ve always had a place in my heart for mechanical pencils. It dates back to my high school years when I took drafting classes. These were the days when drafting desks, pencils, T-Squares, triangles, and templates were tools of the trade (CAD was just becoming accessible to students).

I found mechanical pencils to be an amazing piece of engineering and, while I couldn’t afford a lot of them, I would spend my hard-earned money to buy them. To me, visiting our local drafting store was like a trip to the toy store.

But I digress…

In the field, performing a POTA or SOTA activation, I don’t look for the same precision I needed in drafting class. Quite the opposite–I’m looking for durability and reliability.

Wooden pencils, to be clear, are both of those things and will serve you well in the field. What I love about mechanical pencils is that their leads are consistent when writing and there’s no need to pause and activation to sharpen them. Just click and keep going.

There are currently three mechanical pencil models I use.

My wife recently gave me a uni Core Keeps Sharp Mechanical Pencil as a gift. She did so after reading a comment from one of my readers (I had no idea she even read QRPer–I’ve got to be careful what I say around here!). 🙂

What makes this particular pencil unique is that it rotates the lead as you use it. This keeps the line looking sharp since the lead doesn’t wear to one side.

So far, I love it. This one has a .5mm lead, which is small–I tend to prefer .7 or .9mm because they’re more durable. Expect to see this in activation videos soon.

Next is the Zebra Mechanical Pencil, Del Guard, 0.7mm. This particular pencil lives in my MTR-3B SOTA field kit. The Del Guard has a double spring mechanism that acts as a shock absorber when you write.  If you apply a little too much vertical or angled pressure, it absorbs the energy thus saving your lead from breaking.

I find it works really well, in fact. I tend to have a heavy hand when I write in my log books and I find I have less lead breakage in the field.

Finally, the mechanical pencil I’ve adopted as my primary SOTA and POTA pencil is the amazing GraphGear 0.9mm 1000.

This pencil is the most durable mechanical pencil I’ve ever used.

Bruce (KO4ZRN) introduced this to me when he joined me on a SOTA activation of Craggy Dome a couple years ago. This pencil is incredibly strong. In fact, I’ve even used it in woodworking and carpentry projects to mark cuts on wood.

At this point, I think I probably own about six of these GraphGear pencils and I couldn’t be happier.


I actually made a short (for me) video about my notepads and pencils:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Again, you don’t need anything fancy…

If you’re not into waterproof paper and mechanical pencils, just use what you have to log.

I remember once using the back side of an envelop and a pen I found in my car to log a NPOTA activation–it worked perfectly! I even remember another NPOTA activation using a pen to log and running out of ink, so I used the pen to log in the dirt on the ground. I only copied three or so more contacts then took a photo of the ground. (I can’t recommend this, but point is, practically anything can be used for logging!)

I just find that when I do something on a regular basis, I’m willing to invest in tools I love using. I feel they serve me well in the end.

How do you log?

I’m curious how you log. I know that a large percentage of POTA activations never write a thing on paper logs–they simple log directly to an app on their phone, tablet, or laptop.

I prefer making a paper copy of my logs, then taking a photo of them when the activation is complete. I worry less about my app crashing, phone running out of power, and, frankly, I just find the process of logging more fun on paper. Furthermore, rain can disrupt touch accuracy on capacitive touchscreen devices, making logging difficult in wet conditions.

I’m curious how you log in the field. Please comment!

Thank you

Thank you for reading this post!

Of course, I’d also like to send a special thanks to those of you who have been supporting the site and channel through Patreon, and the Coffee Fund. While not a requirement, as my content will always be free, I really appreciate the support.

Have a brilliant week and I hope you run out of paper due to the number of contacts you must log!

Cheers & 72,
Thomas (K4SWL)

36 thoughts on “The Write Stuff: My pencil/paper weatherproof logging combo!”

  1. I’ve been using Rite-In-The-Rain products since the 70’s. They are a little pricey, but worth it. I currently use the 4 x 6″ top spiral bound for logging. I have recently started using the Graphgear 1000 0.7mm lead. I use “H” hardness lead as it is a little less likely to smudge. I also use their hard cover books for journals. They don’t self-destruct if you jam them in a back pocket.

  2. On your recommendation, I use both Rite In The Rain notebooks and the Zebra Del-Gaurd pencil while logging in the field.

    I like the top spiral notepad because it lays flat and you don’t have to fight with any left or right side binding. Granted, any spiral notebook can do that, but the quality waterproof paper has saved my log several times and pads are extremely durable. The only negative, which may be a feature not a bug, is forget about erasing. Attempting to erase just makes a mess. If you make a mistake, just cross it out and move on.

    Also, where I tend to activate, wind is usually a significant environmental factor so I have a rubberband around the logbook to keep the pages from flipping over while I’m operating the radio.

    The Zebra Del-Guard pencils are quite comfortable to write with and the “shock absorber” really does mitigate lead breakage. You can’t always be delicate when writing in the field.

  3. I really like the Rite-In-The-Rain pads – I just wish that they’d erase better. Sometimes I want to fix a mistake or clear up some hastily scribbled callsign, but these pads don’t erase like regular paper.

  4. The only other thing that I’ll add that is part of my paper logging strategy with these small, top-spiral pads is this – I keep a small binder clip on the pad, usually clipped near the bottom of the page, to keep the wind from flipping the page up while I’m busy sending a reply.

  5. At the start of every school year Walmart offers those notebooks with the marble pattern covers for about a buck fifty each. The a few feet farther down the aisle is a pack of a dozen mechanical pencils for 4 bucks. Works fine for cheapo me. 🙂

  6. There’s several reasons I don’t paper log,

    1) I’m too lazy. I log directly into my iPad using a fairly new app called PoLo. I’ve had an activation consisting of 481 contacts. Can you imagine how long it would take to transfer that to a logging program/app? Right now my average activation is 60 contacts per activation. Not to mention having to keep track of the time. Even that would take quite a bit of time to enter. I do use a pad and pencil to jot down partial callsigns during pileups.

    2) I don’t paper log because my handwriting is sloppy, especially when hurried and have made mistakes decoding said handwriting and several stations didn’t receive credit for working the park because I got their callsign wrong.

    3) Paper logging doesn’t afford me the luxury of knowing who I’m talking to unless they’re a regular (which there’s lots of them). I run my activations differently than most. I greet each station by their first name and location. Not only do I find this cordial but it gives me a system of checks and balances to help ensure I’ve got the right person.

    These all stay backed up to my iCloud account once the .adif files are saved for upload to POTA & QRZ logbook.

    1. Same. I started paper logging, but then I have to go back and type them in. It’s an extra step. When paper logging (and I bring it with me just in case), I use Rite In The Rain and a Bic mechanic pencil. But I took the leap to Ham2k PoLo and haven’t looked back. It’s superior in almost every way. Should I lose battery power on my phone, I can paper log if needed, but PoLo is a game changer.

  7. I’ve been a Rite in the Rain user for many years, a very long time before I became a radio operator. I’ve kept one in my canoe pack and my backpack for keeping canoe trip journals and recording hiking trail reports. When I started into amateur radio in 2021 and investigated log book options, Rite in the Rain was my obvious first choice. Despite the advantages of digital logging, I’ve stayed with paper. There’s a reason for that, beyond the logical ones that others have mentioned. It’s mostly to do with how my brain works! When doing a POTA activation, QRP of course, I find I’m often hunting to make my 10 QSOs. When I see a station on the POTA Spots, and dial up their frequency, there are many times I can’t make the contact due to pile ups, QRM, etc. On paper, I have their call sign and frequency recorded, and can quickly go back and try them again at a later point. Once I add the time and signal reports, I know that QSO was completed. I also record the time and frequency when I’start calling CQ, as this helps me analyze whether hunting or calling is more productive. I find that afterwards, I can transfer the QSOs to digital for upload to POTA and QRZ very quickly. I’ve tried digital logging but always go back to paper! One more thing- I now use an (inexpensive) mechanical pencil at Thomas’s suggestion. After reading this blog post, I now I have “deluxe mechanical pencil envy!”

  8. The Uni KuroToga’s are some of my favorites. Some of them have tips that retract as well which I prefer. Many people sometimes end up pressing hard when using a mechanical pencil with regular HB lead to get a darker line. I’ve switched to 4B leads which are very soft and don’t require as much pressure to get a dark line. It’s a little more prone to smearing but my logging is not artwork anyway…

  9. I have tried to log on my phone and lap top but always go back to paper loging. I too love mechanical pencils and use Koh-I-Noor and Pentel brands. My pad is a basic small but thick spiral.
    Ed N2GSL Long Island NY

  10. I carry a Rite in the Rain notebook, but I only use it in wet weather. Most of the time, I use cheap 4×6 notepads I buy on Amazon. I also carry at least two cheap Bic mechanical pencils. I buy those in quantity, too.

    The cheap notepads erase better than the Rite in the Rain notepads, when I make the rare mistake. 🙂

  11. For portable logging I use 8.5 x 11 printer paper cut in half (8.5 x 5.5). For activations where I’m carrying more gear I put those on a small clipboard. For lighter activations I fold those sheets once to make a small “booklet” (5.5 x 4.25) that fits in my KX2 bag. Either way I usually use a Pilot G2 pen (black, fine). Of note, for my next outing I’m planning on experimenting with using a 2 mm lead holder (it’s not a “pencil” it’s a “lead holder”!) with either 2B or 4B lead. For the inspiration for that experiment, read on.

    For my SWL log I use a 4 x 6 spiral notebook that I got for free from a local extension service. I didn’t realize until I looked just now that it is, in fact, a Rite in the Rain. With that notebook I use a Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth Mephisto mechanical pencil, 0.5 mm. Until recently I was using HB lead, but recently changed to Pentel Super 2B lead. I’m amazed at how strong the Pentel lead is! Despite the relative softness of 2B, it is quite rugged. My one gripe with the RitR paper is that it is difficult to erase. I think I should perhaps give a 0.7 mm pencil a try.

    Bonus Report: In the shack I have a trio of stainless steel Parker Jotters — 0.5 mm pencil, ballpoint pen, and fountain pen. While operating I take notes with the pencil on 8.5 x 11 printer paper. For logging I use an ARRL Logbook and write with either the ballpoint or the fountain pen depending on how the mood strikes me. Taking time to log the details of a contact by hand is, for me, the perfect conclusion to a QSO. (I have two desktops, two laptops, a Chromebook, and two tablets, so don’t assume I’m a computer Luddite!)

  12. At long last I think I have some gear that I think works really well.
    One caveat is that I use cheapo small flip notebooks, that are similar to Rite in rain, but cheaper. I do this, because I confess that I do not log in them in a way that is worthy of keeping as an artifact. Though it is getting more organized, I am still transitioning from the “Panic! There’s a call sign! Write down something in a huge font with bad penmanship, all because of the panic.”
    Then I transfer it to Hamrs almost immediately, not trusting that I got the call completely correct unless I see a geographic match with a QRZ lookup. Though if cell coverage is spotty, I have little recourse.

    Ugly cheapo books aside, I have two lovely pencils:
    Staedtler Mars Technico Lead Holder (780 C)

    And the even better
    rOtring 600 Mechanical Pencil, 0.7 mm, Black Barrel (1904442)

    And to erase, a nice stick-eraser

    These all fit in my small pencil case:

    The case is almost exactly the same dimensions as my KX-2 face plate. When in direct sun, I carefully place it over the display and my radio is less likely to overheat.

  13. I have been using Rite-in-the-Rain notebooks for quite some time to paper log, using one of their brightly colored pens. My activations are mostly about an hour to an hour and a half so I rarely have more than 25 contacts which is not a big chore to enter into the manual logging section on the POTA site. One thing I do really like about these notepads is the version with the spiral binding at the top. Those of you who are right-handed can’t appreciate how annoying it is to use a small spiral bound notebook with the binding on the side. Being a lefty is also why I prefer using their pens instead of a pencil. I find that the ink is quick drying so more of it ends up on the notepad than on my fingers, unlike with a pencil.

  14. I am also a pencil and paper logger. Rite-In-The-Rain 4×6 are my go-to notebooks. I began using them years ago doing field service work and they worked through rain and snow.

    I currently use a Rite-In-The-Rain mechanical pencil. The lead is a bit thicker than I would prefer and I’ll have a GraphGear on order by the end of the day I suspect. My favorite pencil for office work has been the 0.5 mm Pentel Model P205 for decades. I like them so much that I have a stash of them in case they quit making them.

    1. Tim – right on! For mechanical pencils there are none better than the Pentel P200 series (P205=0.5, P207=0.7, P209=0.9). The same great design for over forty years! I also buy extras – just in case! Glad to hear I’m not alone. 😉

  15. I, too, am a dedicated paper logger. I tried logging software but paper is easier to handle, especially if you are somewhere without an internet or cell connection. As Rod VA3MZD said, when hunting, it is easier to write down the stations I want to chase since the spotting page periodically changes the order in which activators appear. Then I can add the pertinent details if I am actually able to work them. Also, since I write articles about my activations, I can jot down notes like when I switched bands or issues I encountered.

    I do have a Rite-in-the-Rain notebook and pen as a backup but haven’t had to use them yet. As for paper, I usually use inexpensive 3×5 spiral top-bound pads since those fit well on my kneeboard. I agree with Alan W2AEW that a small binder clip on the bottom keeps the paper from flipping around on me. That is isn’t generally a problem in Georgia’s hot and humid summers but it is an issue in the cooler and windier months.

    Thanks Thomas for bringing this item to our attention. It is interesting to see what tools others use and why and if there is a change one should try for their own kit.

    The POTA Babe

  16. I made some log sheet templates that I used for a while but got tired of having to reenter the data into my main log. I went to HAMRS and it works pretty well. I’ll have to look into Polo.

  17. While I certainly have logs that I’ve regretted needing to transcribe from paper, most of my activating is done at a pace where a computer or phone for logging is more of a burden in the present than eventually transcribing and proofreading is. I also typically keep everything well formatted as a complete log, though woe upon yee who wants to read three lines of log per line on the paper!

    My current notebook is a “stone paper” (that is, clay in plastic) spiral-bound notebook I received from a vendor at work that goes along with a Graphgear 1000 0.5 mm mechanical pencil and a Uniball Onyx fine point pen. The pen is for backup use or for the regular paper staple-bound notebook, if needed.

    As durable as the Graphgear 1000 series looks, I’ve lost two 0.3 mm ones to the interior plastic tube fracturing at the junction between the handgrip aluminum tube and the upper tube with the clip. Both times it was from some lateral pressure due to a bag falling over or having something fall on it. Unfortunately there’s not another version I’ve seen that offers a more overall durable design with the same retractable tip mechanism.

  18. I paper log from time to time and when I do I ask “why”? Granted, I don’t have many activations and am still sorting the computer out, but I like N1MM and N3FJP’s products. When I am writing I tend to not record the time as consistently and same goes for frequency changes. And I get it, one less thing to worry about by paper logging and certainly not having to wonder if it is charged or not. I have a Maestro evolve (uses 12 volts to charge) but I haven’t tried it yet. Great article.

  19. I use normal paper and a Spacepen which can write on wet paper without the ink smudging or a 2H pencil. Works fine for me.

    73, Martin PE1EEC/PE6X

  20. I can’t really use paper logging 🙁 About 5 years ago, I developed what my doctor called “essential tremors” that has made writing really difficult and slow. To write, I have to concentrate on forming each letter just like a preschooler learning to write does. This is way too slow for real time logging.

    So, I started using the Hamrs logging SW on my 7″ Android tablet. Hamrs worked fine but I found the touch screen on the tablet could be “picky” at times, making logging difficult. This past spring, I broke down and bought a 11.6″ Lenovo Windows laptop and run N3FJP’s logging SW on it. It works great! The laptop is very small and light and easily fits into my POTA kit. So far, I couldn’t be happier with the Lenovo/N3FJP combination.

    If you can log by hand, count yourself very fortunate!!
    73, Nat, N4EL

  21. I’ve used RiR field books in my work (mining) for many years… and I love them. Top shelf stuff. But I often use quad paper as well, usually a couple of folded pieces inside my RiR field books. It’s a cheaper alternative, and when it’s not raining, well… It works.

  22. Thomas – totally agree abt computer/fone logging being a burden, especially for SOTA activation, or a day with extreme glare. Then, there’s logging errors or phone dying & losing a valuable log. I just use the little spiral at the top 3×5 pads from Office Depot. For a pencil, guess it’s old habit, but I use the same short pencils as we use for golf score cards – no eraser – good weight and write legibly. For a sharpener, your teeth work quite well. Guess I’m crude, cuz when our daughter was a child, & I was going hiking, she would tell me “Don’t eat rocks !”
    73 de K4RLC Bob

  23. Rite-in-the rain 4×6, side-spiral, and Rite-in-the-rain mechanical pencil with 1.3 mm. lead. The 3×5 style is attractive for compactness but my messy and chaotic logging style only gets 2 or 3 QSOs on a page. When I get a KH1 I might have to make the change anyway.
    I transcribe using Xlog, which works well with Linux Mint, to produce electronic logs for submission to POTA / SOTA, etc.

    Interesting to read everyone’s comments! Thanks!

  24. Rite in the Rain also makes “printer” paper which you can use in a regular laser printer. I ordered it directly from their website, available in 50, 200, or 500 sheet packages:

    I don’t have a KH1, but if I did, I’d use their template with this “printer” paper to make waterproof log sheets. It’s also handy for custom sheets for the radio kit (band plans, frequency lists, etc)

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