Two years ago, I read Josh Ginter’s Tools & Toys review of the DDC Stuff Sheath. His explanation of what made using a notebook sleeve great was more than enough to convince me to purchase one of my own, and in the following years I’ve seldom not had one with me.
The Stuff Sheath has simple quality materials, a great combination of protection and wear for your notebooks, and durability in spades. So when I saw Bellroy had designed a product with the same goal but had taken a different approach, my love for leather goods and analog products couldn’t resist.
I did that without having any sort of issue with my Stuff Sheath, mind you. With the Bellroy Cover coming in at $79.99, it wasn’t a cheap purchase on a whim. In order for buying the Bellroy to make any sort of sense it has to take the things I loved so much about the DDC Stuff Sheath and make them even better. Let’s see how it stacks up.
On The Outside
Even before I start talking about the Notebook Cover, Bellroy’s packaging and presentation is worth a mention.
The Notebook Cover comes packed in a charming cardboard envelope complete with its own subtle branding and stitching — a sign of things to come. Open it with the patterned pull-tab and you’ll be treated to more charming lettering, a colorful logotype pattern, and your first sight of the product itself.
Inside, along with the Notebook Cover and an included Bellroy notebook, is a card informing you about the Cover’s features and perks. It’s simple, informative, and attractive. It made me genuinely smile upon reading through, and little touches like this are what makes a premium product like the Bellroy Notebook Cover start to feel like its price tag.
Once out of the packaging, the Bellroy quickly makes a strong first impression of its own. This Cover is in the understated “Eucalyptus” color. But no matter which colorway, the Bellroy is a nice display of minimalism.
The cover is made entirely from one piece of leather on the outside, and one can only spy a few lines of stitches around the corners and along the spine. The only other exterior adornment is a small Bellroy logo.
Another easy thing to notice about the Bellroy is the quality of the leather — this is some nice leather. Based on the price, I was hoping the Notebook Cover would feel premium, but even still I wasn’t prepared for how great this Cover feels in my hand.
Bellroy says they vegetable tan the leather before dying it all the way through with a color. According to Bellroy, this will keep the leather looking more vibrant, make it bend easier to how you use it, and age more gracefully over time.
The leather is soft and supple in a way that only quality leather can be — the kind of leather you don’t want to stop running your hands over. That comes both from it being fantastic hide in its own right and from it being sliced a little thinner than my old Stuff Sheath.
Instead of being fashioned entirely from a single slice of leather like the Stuff Sheath, the Bellroy Notebook Cover uses a book-cover design that folds the leather over itself on either side. This keeps the leather on the outside feeling as smooth and supple as possible, but still allows for a thick layer of protection between the outside world and its contents.
Out of the box, the Bellroy’s thinner leather made me worried about the Notebook Cover’s long-term durability. In my use thus far, it’s held up great. Because both sides of the Notebook Cover are doubled over and stitched together, it actually ends up being just a bit thicker than the DDC Stuff Sheath in use. That extra bulk does wonders for peace of mind.
And judging by my time using the Bellroy, it’ll look good in the process. Whether you love it or hate it, part of owning a leather good like the Notebook Cover is how the leather ages and gains a patina over time.
My Stuff Sheath went from a brilliant orange when brand new to a more subdued sunset color after a few years of toting it around, and the Bellroy Notebook Cover seems to be on the same track. In the month I’ve had it, the Cover has picked up some light scratches and has begun to shape itself to my back-pocket. Scattered around its surface, I can also pick out a couple spots where the Notebook Cover’s color has already begun to darken.
Like I said, this is all a part of owning a leather good. I’ve personally fallen in love with the newer, faded green “Eucalyptus” color, and so I’m hoping that Bellroy’s claims about their leather retaining its shade are true.
On The Inside
Start to crack open the Notebook Cover and you’ll notice a little bit of tension keeping it closed.
In what’s one of my absolute favorite things about the Notebook Cover, Bellroy put a magnetic closure inside to ensure nothing slips out. This keeps your notebooks and credit cards more secure and I love the feeling of cracking open the Cover each time. It’s a decidedly premium and thoughtful addition.
Once opened, you can spy more of the same minimal stitching and beautiful Eucalyptus-colored leather from the outside of the Cover. On the inside though, the leather is stitched to create two sleeves along the left and right sides of the Notebook Cover.
The right sleeve will receive the most use, as it’s designed to fit the back cover of most A6 notebooks and passports. Sliding the notebook into place is easy. Once inserted the grippier lining of the sleeve keeps the notebook from moving around too much or falling away.
This design is another one of my favorite things about the Bellroy. While the notebook is secured by its rear cover, the rest of the book is free to be used inside as it would usually. Crack open the Bellroy, lay it flat on a surface, and just start writing — you don’t need to insert or remove the book each time like with the Stuff Sheath.
On the left side of the Cover, you’ll find the same secure sleeve system used for the notebooks. However, the left side has two additional slots meant for cards. Both business cards and credit cards fit equally well. If you’re into the idea of using the Bellroy as your wallet, I’ve found US currency fits just fine when folded over twice. Your mileage may vary with different types and amounts of bills though.
Lastly, the Notebook Cover is designed to fit a pen along the inside spine. This is a great idea in theory, but aside from the thinnest of generic ballpoint pens, I wasn’t able to fit any of my favorite writing utensils in a way that didn’t feel like the Notebook Cover was being stretched to capacity or being forced to shut. No product is perfect, but it would be nice to store any of my larger gel or fountain pens inside the Cover.
A quick addendum that may only apply to me: how a cover applies wear to the notebook itself.
The DDC Stuff Sheath has a rough interior that applies a near-magical amount of wear to a Field Notes book. After a few weeks of use, your Field Notes book comes out not too bent or scarred, but with enough creases and smudges to give you that worn-in look.
The Bellroy Notebook Cover — with its smoother leather on the inside, magnetic closure, and protective sleeve — seems to keep Field Notes safer than the Stuff Sheath. There’s some creasing if you keep your notebook sleeve in a rear pocket like I do, but this Black Ice Field Notes book hasn’t lost its sheen like it may have in the Stuff Sheath.
Whether this is a good or bad thing is entirely dependent on you. This certainly isn’t enough to spoil the Bellroy experience. I personally like a bit more wear on my books, but to each their own.
Value and Wrap-Up
At the end of the day, the Bellroy Notebook Cover is just a notebook sleeve. This means what you see in the photos above is what you’re going to get, and it also means that $80 is quite a high price to pay.
For that price though, the Bellroy has proven its value. The quality of the Notebook Cover’s leather, its unique design, its thoughtful interior layout, and its magnetic closure are things I appreciate for daily use. Combining all these things has made the experience one that I’d say is worth the $80.
The outcome of that value proposition will differ from person to person. For a first-time notebook user or for someone unsure of an $80 sleeve, I’d recommend trying out something less expensive first, like the excellent DDC Stuff Sheath.
If you’ve already fallen in love with notebook sleeves like I did a couple of years ago, or if you’re absolutely sure the Notebook Cover and Bellroy’s attention to detail and craftsmanship are the thing for you, then look no further.
The Bellroy Notebook Cover is a true improvement on something I didn’t think could be improved upon. It has quality materials, provides durable protection for your notebooks, and has little thoughtful touches littered about — exactly what I was hoping to find.