The Kolo Essex Travel Book is an interesting hybrid of a Moleskine-type notebook and a Filofax. From the outside, it looks a lot like a Moleskine, but with some important differences.
An elastic band holds it shut. On the back, the Kolo logo is in the usual spot, but it’s a little cloth patch rather than embossed.
When you look at the spine, you start to see some differences– it’s a separate piece from the front and back cover, and around it are wrapped the thin elastic bands that hold the notebook components into the interior.
Inside is where it starts to look like a Filofax. Off the shelf, the Essex comes with a lined notebook insert and a photo album insert, and 2 elastic bands to hold them in. I bought an additional graph paper insert plus a set of extra elastic bands. Kolo also offers blank, address book and planner inserts, and photo inserts in black (mine came in ivory).
I love that you can mix and match what you put inside the notebook, and holding them in with elastics makes it easy to add other non-Kolo inserts if you want. I tried inserting a Field Notes notebook and though it’s a bit bigger than the Kolo booklets, it still works fine.
It’s a very flexible system, similar to the Midori Traveler’s Notebook. My only beef with it is how the elastics are exposed on the outside spine of the binder– I always worry that things like this could snag on other items in your bag, perhaps snapping the elastic. It would be interesting to design a binder in which the elastics were somehow covered.
The binder is thick enough to hold the photo insert and 2 notebooks. It doesn’t close to a totally square shape, but probably would if I had some photos in there.
The inside back cover has a small pocket where you can tuck papers, but it’s quite tight and not much would fit in– an accordion pocket would be preferable.
The photo insert also has a little window that you can fill with your own image, which then seals shut with a self-stick strip.
The notebooks inside will flop back and forth a bit when it’s open, but you can open them completely flat, and even bend the cover fully back if you want.
The booklets are similar to Field Notes or Moleskine cahiers, though slightly smaller. Other key differences: cute contrasting color stitching down the spine and squared corners. The booklets are 48 pages each.
I’m happy to say that the paper in the Kolo inserts is very nice. The graph paper has a fine grid very similar to that found in Piccadilly and Moleskine notebooks. The paper is a similar off-white color, and it’s nice and smooth. All my usual pens worked quite well on it. I’ve also started testing all my notebooks with a pH pen to see if the paper is acid-free, which the Kolo notebooks are.
My final verdict? If I was designing this from scratch, I might make a few tweaks to it, but even as it is, the Kolo Essex Travel Book is a really nice product. I love the versatility of it– you can use it like a Filofax with the address, planner and notebook inserts, or you could turn it into a mini photo album, or any combination of the above. The covers are available in several colors, clothbound and leatherbound, and a larger size is also available. The small clothbound binder with photo insert and journal is currently $18.75, and small inserts are around $4.00, all available on Amazon.