Pens are everywhere when you don’t need one, and nowhere when you do. Such is the order of things—unless you decide to master the situation and arm yourself with one of these awesome, everyday carry (EDC) pens.
Back in the ’90s, coffee mugs full of free promotional pens were everywhere. We wore Teva sandals, just to protect our feet from the dangers of beach pens hiding beneath the sand, waiting to strike. Like the worms in Tremors.
Now, the only practical tool most people carry around is their smartphone. But the EDC movement is pushing back, and pens might be at the forefront. Think about all the possible scenarios. Need to draw a T-Rex on a bar napkin? EDC pen. Have to sign an autograph for a fan? EDC pen. Want to poke some evidence at a crime scene, but don’t want to put on your forensic gloves because they get that powder all over your hands? EDC pen.
And that’s not where the utility of a great EDC pen ends. Check out the list below for some of your best bets.
Best Overall: Rite in the Rain Trekker Pen
Rite in the Rain’s Trekker pen is elegant in its simplicity, yet brutish in its ability to write on just about anything, as long as it’s within the “Goldilocks Zone.” While that means this pen would theoretically be useless on, say, Mercury, it’ll work just fine from -30 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. At such extremes, you won’t be fine, but the pen will be content—even comfortable.
So, it works on earth. Space, too, most likely, given the pressurized cartridge. This little guy is particularly happy writing in, well, the rain. Or perhaps it’s not happy at all, but rather completely indifferent to the rain. Buy the pen, and you can ask it yourself.
Aesthetically, it evokes the simple utility of a slender hand grenade. The barrel is metal as hell, with a rubber grip to keep it from slipping in wet conditions. The refillable ink is also all-weather, of course. It’s almost like this pen was designed by ducks with engineering degrees.
A word to the wise: the keyring is attached to the cap, and the cap is press-on. So, be wary of hanging the pen from your person by the keyring, or you might lose it.
Best Premium: Ti Click EDC Pen
Sometimes, it’s hard to say why a “premium” pen is premium. Big Idea Design’s ain’t one of those poser premium pens.
The Ti Click is a heretical creation, sustained by feeding on the refills of other pens. It’s compatible with over 100 types of ink refill cartridges, but how?
If you could somehow get underneath the Ti Click’s titanium skin, you would find mind-blowing horrors. Its interior jaws are much like those of the bit holder for a power drill, so they can be adjusted to grip tips of different sizes. Its body is adjustable, too, telescoping to accommodate different refill barrel lengths.
It’s also got a nice little clip for your pocket and comes in three finishes: Stonewashed, Midnight Black, and Machined Raw.
Best Budget: Zebra F-701
Maybe you don’t have $105 for a pen, even if it is capable of cannibalizing other pens’ refills. Still, you want a good pen with a stainless-steel body that writes really well. And, if you lose it, fine—you can buy another.
And if it has a product name that sounds like an advanced fighter jet, well, so be it. That’s the Zebra F-701. Zebra pens feature some lovely ballpoint-rolling action and leave good lines, so they’re great to write (or doodle) with. The knurled grip gives you great control, and the retractable plunger is silent, in case you need to click it anxiously while hiding from bats. This one comes with black ink, but you can buy refills in other colors.
Best Compact: Fisher Space Pen Bullet
In space, no one can hear you scream, which is why you need to write things down.
When our brave astronauts need to write their screams, they do it with a Fisher Space Pen. The patent (#3,285,228, if you want to look it up) was filed in 1966, albeit with a longer, non-bullet design. The big deal with this patent wasn’t just creating a pressurized ink cartridge, which was necessary for writing in zero gravity. Pressurization is easy. The real trick was creating the thixotropic ink that’s a gel at rest, but a liquid under pressure. Otherwise, you’d have a pen that leaked uncontrollably, due to the pressure.
Check out the Smithsonian magazine if you want to learn more about the scientific history of this tech, which is half the fun of owning one of these pens. There are a number of modern form factors, but we chose the Fisher Space Bullet Pen for this EDC list because it’s compact while capped, so it easily fits in (or on, with the clip) your pocket. Also, that thixotropic ink prevents any accidents from happening—unless your pocket is a high-pressure environment.
When you’re ready to write, stick the cap on the tail end, and the whole thing sits in your hand like a full-size pen.
Do be careful if you use this one in outer space, though—its matte black color makes it difficult to see in the endless void if you drop it.
Best Tactical: Gerber Impromptu Tactical Pen
When you hear the word “Gerber,” two things usually come to mind: knives and baby food. This pen comes to us courtesy of the knife-making Gerber.
The Impromptu is a rugged, angry pen, ready to smash windows with its integrated glass-breaker, should you ever drive your car into a lake or want to save a dog from a hot parked car. Really, it’s ideal for car windows. We recommend exercising legal restraint with the glass-breaking.
Write whatever you want, though, because it’s also a pen. It uses all-weather ink cartridges from the aforementioned Rite in the Rain folks, and the body is machined from steel and coated in Cerakote—a ceramic coating that makes it resistant to wear and tear. They put it on guns, too.
The Impromptu is also marketed as a self-defense implement, given its tough construction and contours for keeping it in hand. We haven’t tested that, but it looks like it’d probably work better than a fistful of car keys.