It may surprise you to learn that there is no requirement to keep a logbook. The FAA has no such rule.
However, student pilots are required to keep a record of their training flights. And certificated pilots need to document hours and the aircraft category and class flown to prove their currency and that they have earned the credentials applicable to their certificates and ratings.
One way to do this is by keeping a logbook that reflects reality—not one that embellishes your total time or experience. Each listing should be complete and accurate. Thankfully, FAR 61.51 provides specific guidance on information that should be documented.
The date of the flight is essential, as are the total flight time, departure and destination locations, and the aircraft type and N number. You’ll also want to include whether that time was flown solo or as part of a dual instructional flight with a CFI. Was it daytime or night? Instrument conditions? Simulated instrument conditions? Were you flying a single-engine or multiengine airplane, a seaplane, or a glider? As a student pilot you’ll want to make sure your CFI signs each entry as well. These are all pieces of information that are pertinent to the flight and your experience as a pilot.
Ironically, while the FAA requires pilots and student pilots to keep records, the agency provides no rules as to how to do it. You could meet the legal requirement by writing each flight’s specific details on a series of napkins that you store in a shoebox in your bedroom closet. That’s not a very efficient method, but it would meet the FAA’s requirements.
Traditionally, pilots maintain paper logbooks that are available commercially from FBOs, flight schools, pilot shops, and online. In recent years electronic logbooks have become a desirable option for many students and pilots—they make calculating total hours and various details far easier than the paper version ever could. Still, the paper version provides a tangible hard copy that some pilots prefer.
Whichever option you choose, make it a point to record each flight in the proper manner with all the appropriate information included. Maybe keep a copy somewhere for safety’s sake. The saddest pilot stories of all involve pilots who have lost their logbooks in a fire, or a theft, or a less than well-coordinated move to a new town.