When it comes to memories from a thru-hike or other backcountry excursion, little can compare to the daily on-trail notes. Maybe it was the few lines about conditions, the mention of mileage, or the description of the view — whatever you write down, those notes can jog your memory and bring back the experience in a way even photos or social media cannot.
Thrunotes takes that note-taking to an outdoor-friendly (and sustainable) level, making it easy to avoid your phone for at least one thing. Thrunotes are compact, vibrantly colored, waterproof notebooks that can stand up to the tests of trail life.
UK-based Thrunotes founder Russel Hepton (his trail name is Soggy Whopper, which seems worth mentioning) had always wanted to invent a product for the outdoors. After his 2020 PCT thru-hike was cut short due to Covid, he decided to buckle down and make good on his wish.
“I always took (trail) notes on my phone,” Russell says, “but it felt so impersonal.” He was looking for a perfect notebook to take on his backpacking trips: something strong, durable, lightweight, and tear-resistant. Everything he found would “turn to mush” after a few wet days, or was too tall and heavy.
With plenty of time on his hands during the pandemic, Russell set out to invent the trail-worthy notebook he’d always wanted. His trendy, durable notebooks were launched in September of this past year, and have sold nearly 1,000 units so far.
The original 32-page Thrunotes notebook is called the “Thru,” which is where it all started. Russell is keen on intended use, and his original notebook was specifically designed for thru-hikers. It has sections for adding contacts, noting resupply points, and rounded corners for even more longevity.
After this first season, the best-selling notebooks are the Explore and Sketch models. Like all of the notebooks, these are specifically designed for outdoor activities. The Explore has dotted pages for writing and doodling, while the Sketch has clean pages for people who would rather draw on line-free paper. The Blaze rounds out the four-model collection, with clean, solid lines for writing the day’s trail notes.
Thrunotes notebooks are defined by being waterproof and tear-proof from cover to cover, and Russell also designed them to be used like a flip book. The corners of the pages have spaces to write the distance and time hiked each day, so users can flip through and find a particular day or location. Specifications like this, made for long-distance backpackers, are what sets these nifty notebooks apart. The sizing is compact, tucking easily into a front shirt pocket.
Russell developed the notebooks himself, using his knowledge of desktop publishing, typesetting, and book binding. From computer imaging to the real-life notebooks, Thrunotes are manufactured on specialist industrial equipment. Russell looks for consistency, clean lines, and vibrant print and colors. Once the pages are printed, the notebooks are collated, trimmed by hand, then bound and shipped ready to sell. Selling the notebooks has never been a problem, as the demand for niche, artsy items to add to hikers’ packs seems to grow each season.
One of the biggest challenges for Russell as he started the company was finding a manufacturer that aligned with his mission for a sustainable company.
Russell is dedicated to running an environmentally-friendly business. Thrunotes uses no plastic packaging, partners with environmentally responsible companies, and uses an eco-friendly printing press. He searched high and low for a sustainable printing company who owned the right printer, could source the right materials, and print whenever he dropped a request. Finding a company willing to produce small orders and use updated, sustainable processes was a challenge, but once he located the manufacturer, it was all systems go.
“Perfecting Thrunotes to get it to a level of quality worthy of being part of someone’s kit list was key,” says Russell. “If I wouldn’t take it out with me, I wouldn’t expect anyone to.”
Russell gets a thrill every time he sees a Thrunotes notebook as part of someone’s pack kit, or listed on a gear list—this makes all of the challenges and dedication to “doing it right” worth the effort.
He’d love to see his notebooks on more retailer shelves within the next few years, and hopes that expanding his company will lead to developing new products, donating to more charitable projects, and being a voice for sustainable sourcing and manufacturing in the outdoor world.
Next time you pull out your phone to type out the day’s notes, consider the old-fashioned option … made even easier with notebooks designed to be beat up in the outdoors.
Maggie Slepian is a full-time freelance writer based in Bozeman, Montana. She is the co-founder of BackpackingRoutes.com, and spends as much time outdoors as possible. You can follow her here, or find clips and contact info at Maggieslepian.com