Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Switching Gear(s)

I have written a lot about flashlights and folding knives, primarily because they are really cool, but, "satisfied" with what I have in both lights and folding knives, I have recently I have started hunting down other things. I am a lawyer and I travel from court to court everyday. I do a lot of note taking and a lot of hearings. As a result my things need to be really sturdy. Typical ballpoint pens either run out or are destroyed in about a week. My law books and client files (as well as brutal New England winters) put a lot of strain on my bag and so it needs to be tough.

Here is my typical "office" EDC:


In addition to this stuff I have a Tumi Alpha T-Pass briefcase for holding client folders and papers/pens. The last thing I carry is an insulated Kleen Kanteen from LL Bean (it is out of production now, replaced with a crappy LL Bean in-house design that stinks; if you find one of the KK versions, BUY IT, it is awesome) with the plastic shell (to prevent dings) and a Human Gear CapCap.

The Tumi Bag is great, indestructible in most places and replacement parts for everything else (I have gone through three straps, made of seat beat material no less, in seven years). I wish it were a bit smaller as I no longer need a laptop compartment (and really, with smartphones and tablets, who does?). The bottle, I think, is the best of each component available. I love the iPhone 3GS, and the Incipio Feather iPhone case I have works perfectly. Of course, nothing bests the Aeon, in my opinion. The Dragonfly has gotten better, but that is something I am planning on upgrading soon.

This leaves the pen and the notebook. My notebook is actually a paper calendar, a softcover Moleskine 18 month calendar. The pen seen in the picture is a Retro 51 Tornado (I am not linking to it because it is a piece of shit, two broke within a period of about four months). The Moleskine is OK--it works, but it is not sufficiently durable to withstand the daily grind my stuff suffers through. I can't go hardcover, because it is just not pocket friendly, so I am looking for a slightly sturdier notebook. It might seem odd that I have a paper calendar with an iPhone 3GS and it is wonderfully easy calendaring, but the reality is that my schedule is the single most important thing in my daily work. Being late, even a few minutes, can have a huge impact on my clients and my career, so a back up, in the form of a paper calendar, is required. It also helps judges when they say "break our your calendars." Some look at the iPhone as if it were a Gameboy (or a 3DS), so a classically shaped calendar puts them at ease.

I have been looking for something sturdier and I found this AWESOME blog. Like the little notebooks they review, Black Cover is a simple, well-designed, and well-thought out blog reviewing and discussing all things Little Black Book. Their favorite, the Stifflexible, is something of an internet Yeti. It is supposedly available online at the famous (and my favorite law school haunt, it was right around the corner) Bromfield Pen Shop and the Italian producer. It is hard to figure out if they have a calendar version of the Stifflexible. There are other choices out there, the Rhodia Webnotebook and the Eco Systems Notebook. I really like the eco systems--MADE IN THE USA and 100% recycled. I haven't had a chance to check out the back pocket (which I use for business cards, a case summary list, and a motor vehicle fine schedule) on either so the search continues. Oh and in case you are CRAZY, here is the Spy 007 of notebooks: Smythson Note Book. At 150 pounds or $248.64 (as of April 27, 2011) it is RIDICULOUSLY expensive for something that is a one use item. NO DOODLING. Search continues.

Then there is the pen problem. Here is an incomplete list of pens I have used over the past two years: Retro 51 Tornado (x2), Zebra F-401, Zebra F-701, Parker Urban Twist XL, and the classic Parker Jotter. There is no doubts about refill--Fisher refills are simply unquestionably superior to everything else out there. They may not have that gel liquidity or the grace of a fountain pen, but they work on everything and for what seems like an eternity. As such, all of the above have used Parker compatible Fisher Pen inserts.


Blue ink. Always use blue ink. In my job, the Court MUST receive the originals of a pleading and signing in blue ink makes distinguishing between copies and originals very easy. Given that blue ink is just as accepted as blank ink and has this anti-copying quality, I cannot understand why anyone would use any other color ink besides blue (absent special applications where different colored ink is required).


The problem with all of these pens is one of two things: either they are flimsy and the clips break (Retro 51, Urban XL Twist) or they feel like your writing with a toothpick (Parker Jotter), which cramps the hands after a while. Right now I am using the Zebra F-701 with the Parker insert mod (seen here). I used my drill press to thin out the plastic tip guide instead of a SAK awl, but the idea and results were the same.

I really don't like pens with caps as it is yet another thing to lose (I have the same rule for USB drives). I also don't like the new trend in tactical pens. First, they are ridiculously large. Second, they are really uncomfortable in the pocket. And finally, I am not sure I'd be allow to bring them into a secure facility like a jail or prison. Plus, they look STUPID. Worf may I borrow your Klingon pen? Ugh. Enough with the tactical stuff for non-tactical folks. The new Surefire clicky looks really nice:

The problem is that it costs $139. I lose my pens probably once a year or so, which is why all of the above listed pens are under $20. It is just a fact of life--my constant travels make it impossible to keep a pen for a long time, so I am wary of dropping big bucks. One "tactical pen" that is interesting is the production version of the Tom Anderson Twister. Still, it looks a little too tactical for me. But at $12.99 at the FABULOUS JS Burly's (run by the proprietor of EDCF and used to support the forum), it is worth a flier. And of course it works with a Fisher refill. But, as with the notebook the search goes on.

Any suggestions on either front would be greatly appreciated.


  1. Have you tried the Rotring 600 ballpoint? It's very durable and accepts Parker type refills. Definitely consider the upgrade to the Dragonfly 2, the wire clip is a huge improvement.

  2. I have a County Comm Embassy Pen. Super stout, not tactical looking, and takes Fisher refills. The only challenge is that they only have the Ti ones in stock, which ( at $100) kind of break the price point. I treat mine like a knife or flashlight, which I'm very attentive to not losing.

  3. You may want to look at Field Notes They are not too durable, but they are okay. And they are cheap enough you can buy plenty. The special editions can be very cool.