Though the tactical pen trend tells you otherwise, you definitely don't want some thing heavy. This means stuff like the cigar-sized Benchmades or the seemingly made of lead Rotrings are a non-starter. If this is the pen you use all of the time, every day for every writing task, having something that weights a lot will kill your hand and the quality of your handwriting. After hours of taking verbatim notes in court, I can tell you your hands will be mad at you if you choose one of the heavy, battleship designs.
Second, lots of fountain pens are great writers, but they can be a hassle, especially on the road or in less than ideal conditions. If you work in an office all day with zero interruptions or challenging environments, then a fountain pen is perfectly fine. But if you find yourself traveling a lot, writing in weird places or while standing up against walls, they just don't work. Plus all of the ink maintenance rituals are a chore--flushing the pen, getting new cartridges or ink from a bottle, keeping the nib clean. It can be a hassle and this is supposed to be your zero-hassle, always writes pen.
Third, you want a pen that can write for a long time. I don't just mean that it allows you to write comfortably for a long time. I think it is important for you to have a pen that can use a refill that lasts. The Fisher refill is a great refill in this regard, but others are good too. In fact, some fountain pens can store a huge amount of ink, letting you write with them forever.
I have some preferences and I think you should know them going into this list. First, skip the frail fountain pens--only a few will hold up. Also, and I know this is a bit of heresy, skip the Fisher Bullet Space Pen. Its too expensive for what it is and really you just want the refill. Third, I don't like the County Comm Embassy pen. It is too big and too heavy, plus the cap doesn't post. A cap that doesn't post is a like a car that doesn't drive. I will also admit that I am not a fan of uber thin lines and so I have basically ignored all of the microtip pens and pen bodies from Kickstarter. If you are fan of those, I'd look at the Karas Customs Render K.
With all of that out of the way, here are my top 5 EDC pens:
1. Prometheus Alpha Pen
2. Zebra F-701 with Fisher Space Pen Mod
I understand the EDC crowd's adoration for the Fisher Space Pen refill. It lasts forever, it writes anywhere and under most conditions, and it is very durable. But it is an awful writer. Even the fine refill is still slick and oily. But, over time, you get used to it. What I don't understand is the obsession with the Bullet pen. It has no clip. Its very slick in the hand. The cap and pen body are simple and beautiful, but they look much less so over time. Of course there are upgraded pen bodies from Fisher, but they are exceedingly expensive (the clicky version runs around $60).
With very simple modifications, outlined here, you can have an amazingly tough pen body, the F-701, with the durable, long lasting performance of the Fisher refill. All of this comes very cheap--around $8-$10. That is simply too much value to ignore. Its about half the price of the Bullet pen and twice as functional and durable. Additionally, this is a heavy duty pen that avoids the tank-like weight that some other pens have, making it a good writer over the long haul. If Zebra were smart, they'd make the pen compatible with the Fisher refill out of the package. They've got to know that there is a healthy contingent of folks modding their F-701s.
3. MaxMadCo Bolt Action Pen
Its durable, relatively lightweight, not insanely expensive, and it is compatible with Parker-style refills. The bolt mechanism is lightyears better than the competition as it is fast and discrete. The barrel is a little plain, lacking anything like a grip area, but it has a minimalist feel to it. The pen is also a bit slick in the pocket, as the well tensioned pocket clip is merely pushing fabric on to a slick barrel. Those to dings aside, this is one of the best EDC pens you can buy.
4. Kaweco Sport
The lone fountain pen on the list is a great, budget-friendly fountain pen. I love the Vanishing Point much more, but its complex mechanisms make me weary of pressing it into EDC duties. The Sport, on the other hand, is dead simple. This is the pen equivalent of the Al Mar Hawk Ultralight--a sub 1 ounce tool that has been refined to utter perfection. Its not the most durable or hassle free thing in the world, but the writing experience is glorious. It writes like a much more expensive pen and though it lacks a clip (an accessory clip is available), its diminutive size makes it easy to carry. Unlike the Bullet Pen, this pen has an excellent grip section and the cap stays put. There is no better example in the pen world of accessible, high quality German design than the Kaweco Sport. The fact that it runs on very widely available International size ink refills is another plus. Oh and it is pretty darn cheap too.
5. TuffWriter Ultimate Clicky
The only traditional "tactical pen" on the list is here primarily because of how it diverges from the horde of crenelated beasts. First there are no pokey or pointy parts. It doesn't look like a castle tower. Second, it is a clicky, which I greatly prefer for EDC use (no cap to lose). Third, the grip section, a rudimentary as it might be, its actually quite good. This pen weighs more than I'd like, but if you opt for the aluminum version is not too bad (though the titanium version is much prettier). The clicky is an amazing clicky and the pen just impossible to destroy. Nothing has held up to the rigors of lots of travel and daily use better than the Ultimate Clicky. Its expensive, and the Karas Customs Retrakt uses the same clicky mechanism for less, but its singular ability to write well and absorb damage makes it worth the price and better than its competition.
Honorable Mention: Pilot Vanishing Point
The Vanishing Point is a truly amazing piece of design and engineering. It writes supernally well. It can take refills or use bottle ink. It has a pocket clip. It looks like a million bucks. But my experience tells me all of those mechanisms associated with making it a retractable fountain pen would get messed up if I took it with me from court to jail to prison and back again. This may be a theoretical concern, but given the price (its the most expensive pen on this list), it would be painful to find out. That said, the allure of the new metallic bodies will probably make me buy one sooner or later. I wouldn't be surprised if it vaulted up the list once I did.
Second Honorable Mention: Tacticle Turn Mover or Shaker
Consulting with the Emissary of Ink before releasing this list was a crucial step. Brad Dowdy's knowledge of pens is unrivaled so when he suggests you listen. I haven't personally used these pens, which are just now being sold directly after a successful Kickstarter campaign, but they look very good. They share a lot of features with the TuffWriter, but they are cheaper and sleeker. One of these will almost certainly come my way for review sooner or later.
You can find the Fisher Space Pen refills, the Mont Blanc Fineliner refills, the Zebra F-701, the Kaweco Sport, and the Vanishing Point on Amazon and the sales benefit the site. Use this link: