If you’re all-in on the ever-growing neo-index card lifestyle, then you should really work at adding some actual style to your fichier boîte practice. If your note taking has you going through cards like water, you’ll likely want something to carry them on the go, and often it can be useful, especially in meetings, to have something that not only looks nice, but will hold up through heavy use over the years. Maybe you want something fashionable to fit the change of seasons? Something to suit the occasion whether it’s a corporate board meeting or something to go with your red carpet black tie look? Are you taking notes at romantic wedding get-aways or at the beach? What are you using for storage?
In the vein of my article The Ultimate Guide to Zettelkasten Index Card Storage, below I’ve collected a number of various sorts of daily carry index card cases, wallets, covers, and folios one might consider using. Some, where indicated, are items I use regularly, but others are interesting options I’ve run across in my travels, and though they didn’t fit my particular needs, they might fit yours. I don’t (yet) consider it to be the ultimate guide to this space, so if you’re in the market, feel free to check back occasionally or add your thoughts, suggestions, or reviews to the comments below. Since some items aren’t designed specifically for index cards, notes about their usability and portability with respect to note taking or zettelkasten practices are appreciated.
As I did for boxes, I’m going to focus primarily on the 3 x 5 inch and 4 x 6 inch index card form factors which are more common, and for which these products are often more readily available. If you’re using larger cards, then you might consider searching for folders, cases, and related containers for equivalent sizes of paper in terms of notebook covers, filing solutions, and other binders keeping in mind that equivalent European or DIN A-sizes (A5, A4, etc.) may also suit your needs as long as they’re big enough to physically accommodate your cards. If you find something spectacular, let us all know.
Please double check sizing as I have run into instances where some items were fractions of an inch too small to fit the cards I wanted to use.
If you’re doing your own targeted searches some of the following words can be useful: cases, wallets, covers, pocket briefcases, folios, pouches, bags, pen and/or pencil cases, and fountain pen cases. While some of the pen related cases may not be as suitable, some are free-form pouches which will easily accommodate index cards in addition to other items you may want to carry with your cards. You can’t take notes without a writing instrument, so having space for a pen or pencil or two isn’t a bad thing. You’ll probably notice that some items come with pen loops for such eventualities. Trawling through some of the fountain pen and stationery communities can also give you some creative ideas for portable index card storage.
It bears noticing that one could also go the DIY route and make their own portable index card holders. This would allow one to have the exact form factor and specifications for their personal note taking styles. If this is you, hopefully some of the options below will give you some ideas about what form factors are available for designing your own. You’ll find that there are options in a variety of materials including leather, cotton, canvas, waxed canvas, sailcloth, metal, and even Harris Tweed.
What will you choose?
Size independent options
Before we delve into some of the card size-specific choices, let’s look at a few that are size independent.
Binder Clips. Everyone is likely aware of it, but we will mention that in true old-school hipster PDA-style (aka Parietal Disgorgement Aid), one could certainly use a binder clip, which makes a certain statement, though not the one that many might wish. In a similar vein, I’ve heard people say they rely on rubber bands, or especially in hot climates where rubber bands break down quickly, plastic sandwich bags (Ziploc to keep out the moisture), or even envelopes. Envelopes may present an intriguing practice for those into slip-based project management or forms of kakeibo (家計 簿).
Binder rings. If you want to go flashcard style, then you’ll want to search for a good hole punch (I recommend the Mutual Centamatic Punch No. 250) and some binder rings which come in a huge variety of sizes, materials, and even colors.
Chicago Binding Screws. If you appreciate the flashcard style, but not the esthetic and would rather look a bit more corporate than playground, then perhaps Chicago binding screws (available in various sizes and finishes) will give your deck of index cards a more buttoned up look? For those who are fans of index card filing rod solutions, these can also be used to bundle up cards on the go using your pre-punched cards. Higher end metal finishes (brass, copper, oiled bronze?) can really up the game on this option.
Gangnam Style. Just kidding—I’m just checking to see if you’re still awake. But seriously, the stiff upper body movements in the video were the result of decks of index cards in the suit jackets. I swear!
Uninspired Plastic. If you really must… Only for the indiscriminate completists, I’ll mention the ubiquitous cheap plastic cases, some with snaps or elastics for closure which hold 50 to a few hundred cards. If you carefully follow some of the zettelkasten box market, you can get a solid antique or vintage wooden box for almost as much as you’d pay for a dozen of these cheap toys. I don’t want to shame anyone, particularly those who are still test driving the analog index card life, but perhaps this is what you’ve got now and you’re here searching for a modest upgrade? Good! Keep exploring to find your new index card lifestyle.
3 x 5 inch index card versions
Not only are there a variety of custom solutions specifically designed for 3 x 5 inch index cards, but one can also profitably search for and use items designed for passports (3.5 x 5 inches) or pocket notebooks which are slightly larger, but still serviceable. A variety of high quality solutions are designed specifically for a variety of common brand name pocket notebook products including Field Notes (3.5 x 5.5 inches), Moleskine (3.5 x 5.5 inches), Leuchtturm (A6), Hobonichi, Midori, Jibun, etc., so searching for these within the space can provide some additional options for the discerning buyer.
In some cases, products meant for A7 size paper (74 mm x 105 mm or 2.91 x 4.13 inch) may also work, but check the sizing as A7 is physically smaller than 3 x 5 inches. Similarly A6 size paper (105 x 148mm or 4.13 x 5.83 inches) products should work as they are slightly larger than both 3 x 5 inch and 4 x 6 inch index cards, though depending on your card size they may be a bit roomy.
Simple leather wallets. I have an inexpensive, but nice leather notebook cover/wallet that I usually have a few 3x5s in. Searching for covers for pocket notebooks or A6 notebooks one will find lots of these which are more ubiquitous than those that will hold the larger 4×6 inch cards. Hundreds of variations of this sort can be found on Amazon, Etsy, eBay, and other online and leather retailers. After you’ve seen a few you can pick and choose ones with the number of pockets or slots you’d like, whether or not you want a pen loop, the ability to use it as a wallet for your cash and credit cards along with your notes, etc. Prices can generally range from US$15 to well over $100 with a variety of colors, types of leather, and even personalization options.
Passport wallets. Similar to the above, there are a huge number of commercially available passport wallets in a variety of shapes, configurations, and materials. Most should fit index cards within the pocket designed for the passport. Search and see what you come up with. One correspondent said they loved their Aspinal of London passport cover.
Levenger carries some nicer index card-specific “pocket briefcases”. Their offerings are only for 3 x 5 inch form factors, but they do have a variety of those size cards and small notebooks as well as the ability to custom print stationery at that size if you’re looking for something personalized.
Kaitiaki has a unique form factor. It not only holds cards, but can be stood up as a display as well as be used as a small writing desk while you’re on the go.
Rite in the Rain has a variety of notebooks and index card products whose primary premise is that they are waterproof. Naturally they also carry a variety of protective cases and pouches, most made of cordura, with a variety of configurations to suit a variety of needs. Browsing around here will find a variety of interesting and rugged options. Also of note, they have an index card wallet designed specifically for 3 x 5 inch index cards. Some may also appreciate their field desks for writing on the go. Slightly more difficult to find amid their cordura offerings are their Guide and Sherpa leather wallets which should comfortably fit 3 x 5 inch cards.
Lochby is primarily in the notebook and planner space with a variety of offerings featuring a durable waxed canvas esthetic. Their Pocket Journal case, meant for pocket notebooks, will easily hold a hundred index cards with additional internal pockets for business cards or credit cards and external pockets for miscellanea as well as a pen. It is small enough one could use it as a wallet and it will fit in most back pockets, though depending on its contents, it may not be comfortable to sit on for extended periods. Their larger Venture Pouch has two zippered sides, one for pens and the other with two separate spaces for index cards or other portable office supplies. If you don’t mind a bit more bulk in your portable office, Lockby’s Tool Roll should easily fit 150 index cards along with a variety of pens and side pocket for miscellaneous needs. If you’re price sensitive, sign up to their newsletter as they have regular sales and discounts throughout the year.
IF provides some off-the-beaten-path options for the avid reader and note taker. Of particular note in their line up, is the Bookaroo Notebook Tidy, which is available in a number of colors. It provides eight elastic bands on the front for a variety of storage options, one of which could easily be your 3 x 5 inch index cards (it sadly won’t fit 4 x 6 inch though one could use a binderclip to attach them to the back of the tidy in a pinch). Turned over, the back is a firm surface that could be used as a small writing desk. Also included is an adjustable elastic band which can be used to attach the tidy to an A5 notebook or to a wide variety of standard hardcover novels and non-fiction (9.5 inch tall) books. Just attach your tidy with some note cards and you’re ready to read and take notes at your favorite home away from home.
Rickshaw, an offshoot company from Timbuk2 bags, offers a wide array of bags, wallets, pouches, and miscellanea in a huge variety of materials and form factors. While some of their larger items will certainly fit 3 x 5 inch cards, some of their smaller offerings include: The Diplomat, a wide variety of pocket notebook folios, and lots of pouches and wallets.
Traveler’s Notebook manufactures passport size notebook covers meant for their range of notebooks which are held in by way of elastic bands. This makes them potentially less useful the index card afficionados as unbound or unclipped cards may not stay in them as easily. However, if you’re making or using small index card pads of the sort I’ve discussed in the past, then you can easily slip them in and go. TN also makes a variety of other useful inserts which may make this a intriguing choice.
4 x 6 inch index card versions
In this category, there aren’t as many custom made solutions, so searching specifically for them has generally been fruitless. The better bet for this size factor is to search for the slightly larger A6 sized notebook covers, holders, cases, and pouches and be comfortable with them being slightly larger. In most of my experience this is fine and there’s isn’t so much extra space that the difference is worrisome or noticeable. Some particular brands that might work include Hobonichi, The Superior Labor, Leuchtturm, etc.
King Jim makes the cotton Flatty Works #5460, an A6 horizontal pouch with small internal and external thin pockets and a clear front plastic window. At H4.8×W6.8×D1.4 inches it easily fits not only 4 x 6 inch index cards but has enough clearance for tabbed dividers as well. I have one I use as a daily carry and love it. I’ve written more details and a review elsewhere on the site.
Lochby. Mentioned above, their only product which will fit 4 x 6 inch cards is their “Adventure Pouch”. It will also provide you with space for a variety of pens, pencils, a pair of glasses and other small niceties. 4 x 6 inch cards won’t fit into the pockets of their tool roll (pictured above), but if it’s compelling enough, you could roll them into the apparatus and they shouldn’t fall out when clasped shut.
Rite in the Rain. Also mentioned in the 3 x 5 inch section, Rite in the Rain offers a handful of covers and pouches which are slightly bigger than 4 x 6 inch and will easily accommodate these index cards. Weatherproof, most are made out of cordura and have a rugged appearance and feel.
ateliers PENELOPE makes a variety of canvas bags and storage solutions, but their large Diary Pouch may be a classy solution for some of your larger index card on-the-go storage. Given its size, it’s got space for both index cards as well as some of your other portable storage needs. It’s small enough that it should fit easily into a briefcase or other larger bags or purses. If you have some index card “notebooks”, you might also consider their A6 canvas covers which are lovely and colorful.
Rickshaw. With a pedigree stemming out of Timbuk2, this San Francisco purveyor of bags for a variety of purposes offers two that look like solid options for the portable 4 x 6 inch index card fan (and which are certainly big enough for 3 x 5 inch users). The first is their Travelers Notebook Case and the second is the Coozy Case. Some may find that their larger A5 cases or their pouches may also suit their needs. The benefit of these options is that they come in a huge array of colors with customizable options. Browse around their site to see if something here strikes your fancy. Houndstooth anyone? Harris Tweed!?! Add-a-Patch? Yes, please. May I have some more?
Galen Leather. Galen, generally beloved within the fountain pen and stationery communities, offers a wide variety of leather notebook covers, folios, bags, and zippered cases which are compatible with a variety of index card sizes. One unique option here is their Writing Box, inspired by a writing desk owned by Thomas Jefferson.
I’ve been trying to get Aaron Aiken to make a custom leather billfold/cover, but it’ll be a few months before he gets around to it. If this is of interest to you, do ping him with your interest. (See conversation thread for details.)
Have I missed anything interesting?
What is your favorite index card holder when you’re out on the go? What’s holding your fleeting notes?