Saturday, May 17, 2014

Top 5 EDC Pens

These aren't the best pens out there. They aren't the most beautiful.  They aren't the best writers.  In fact, some of them are downright junky writers (Fisher, I am lookin' at you), but these are pens that will write and endure.  This leads to three attributes that make for a great EDC pen: 1) low weight but high durability; 2) low maintenance; and 3) long lasting refills.

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

The Fineliner refill is an amazing writer. Its smooth and bold, like a good bourbon. The blue (more specifically Pacific Blue) is truly brilliant. The metal body holds up over time and the electroplating on the aluminum version patinas to a cool gun metal gray. A clicky version would be awesome, but as is this is the best combination of durability and writing performance out there. The one knock I would have against the Alpha is the fact that the Fineliner refills aren't the longest lasting refills in the world.

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:



  1. Awesome! Is a Kaweco Sport review in the works?

  2. The Uniball Jetstream is both cheap and a very good writer.

    1. I love the Uniball Jetstream. It really is a great writer. However, I can't recommend the plastic barrel. Its not a question of them breaking and replacement costs, it is really a question of them breaking and causing a mess. I had a Bic Cristal detonate on me before. No fun.

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  4. Fisher Space Pen Bullet - Clip: $2.

  5. In the realm of "Tactical" pens, there's a bolt-lock pen by Boker called the .45 CID (Clip Integrated Design) which is rather large but also grippy and really cool. It comes in aluminum or titanium. I was wondering if you could take a look at either, because I'm deciding between that or the maxmadco. The madco pen with the grooves in the barrel seems like the absolute perfect pen.

  6. No stainless steel Parker Jotter? I guess the F-701 sort of fills that role, but the Jotter will take a space pen refill without modification and is a somewhat classier alternative.

    1. I like the Jotter a lot, but after three or four I realized they were not robust enough for my daily use and lots of travel. The F-701 held up much better.

  7. There is also the Caran d'Ache 849. All-metal, single-piece body, takes space pen refill with a bit of trimming of the back plastic piece of the refill, or any parker refill, with the same trimming (1.5-2mm). Indestructible, colourful and not tactical looking at all.

  8. I have the F701 and its great but since getting a Parker Jotter I don't carry it as much.

  9. I've had some very nice pens over the years. A recent favorite has been the Fisher Telescoping Pen, but the one I keep coming back to is the PaperMate Profile 1.4B retractable. Yes, it's a cheap, all plastic, essentially disposable ball-point pen that writes smoother and darker than anything else in my experience. I use reading glasses and when I'm not wearing them I keep them in my shirt pocket along with this pen. With the all-plastic exterior of the pen, I don't have to worry about my glasses getting scratched. Everyone who borrows the pens has commented on how much they like them, so I ended up buying a box of 12 and just let them keep the ones they borrow. Probably won't satisfy your gadget fetish.

  10. You can get the Maxmadco pen with milled rings for added grip. I have one and they work beautifully.

    You need to get your hands on a Matthew Martin clicky.

  11. Fear not using the VP as an everyday workhorse: as long as you don't bang it on the cell doors it'll hold up just fine.

  12. It's a damn shame this list doesn't include the Fellhoelter TiBolt. In fact, it should top this list. I've owned three of these pens, and the Fellhoelter rules by far. The weight, the feel, the versatility of refill, second to none. Add the fact that it's indestructible and has by far the most superior bolt action mechanism that's both pleasing to the eye and addictive, it reigns supreme.

    1. Its good but the Maxmadco action its better and the bolt itself is much less intrusive.

      Also, it is hard to have a non-fountain pen be the best writer. Even the best refill (probably the Schmidt EasyFlow) is not even close to a good fountain pen nib.

  13. Is there a revision of this list (and maybe the multitool list as well) in the works? I would be interested to see how the list would shake out, especially since this article you've reviewed six reviews that scored 17 or better, including two 20/20 Perfect.
    Also have you thought about going back to the first three reviews without scores and actually scoring them? That would probably assist in getting a general sense of relative quality when glancing at the review list.