Issue 14 A Tactical Pen Buyer’s Guide Patrick Vuong Join the Conversation Weaponized Writing A tactical pen might not be as effective as a firearm or as intimidating as a knife, but it can certainly be the most ninja of your everyday carry (EDC) options. If you've read the story in the preceding pages, you know a weaponized writing instrument can do damage to a bad guy yet still be carried in most settings without anyone batting an eyelash. But not all models are created equal. Here are some attributes to consider when shopping for a tactical pen: Grip: The pen has to feel natural in hand. If it's uncomfortable when you're handwriting, imagine how it'll feel when striking a mugger. Clip: A strong pocket clip that won't bend (let alone snap off) is vital to secure carry and quick draws when the feces start to hit the fan. Design: Capped or clicky? The former requires you to pull or twist a cap while the latter uses a pushbutton to activate the retractable pen. Each one has its pros and cons. Materials: The plastic in your Bic won't cut it. Look for a pen made of strong, durable, lightweight components (think aluminum, titanium, etc.). Aesthetics: It's more than just selecting the coolest-looking model. An innocuous-looking pen won't draw unwanted attention or get confiscated at the airport. Ink: Don't forget this tool's original mission: writing. If you can't sign a credit card receipt without the ink skipping, leaking, or running dry, your pen is nothing more than a tactical pocket stick. Also look for a model that lets you easily replace the ink cartridge. With these factors in mind, we've assembled some of the latest tactical pens available on the market. They run the gamut, from reasonably priced models that you can thrash to superbly engineered tools that bring peace of mind. 1. Make: Benchmade Knife Company Model: 1101-1 Length: 5.38 inches Material: Aluminum body, stainless-steel clip MSRP: $135 URL: www.benchmade.com Pros: The U.S.-made 1101-1 is tough as nails and features knurling patterns and a flat top that makes it ideal for a reverse grip. The carbide tip can break glass. Plus, the Fisher ink cartridge provides smooth writing even in the harshest conditions, from freezing to zero gravity. Cons: The cap doesn't sit still once closed; it can rotate while connected to the body, which allows for too much “play” in your grip. This is analogous to an ill-fitting AR pistol grip that rattles. Also, it's pricey and looks like a striking tool. 2. Make: Boker USA Model: CID Cal .45 Titanium Length: 4.94 inches Material: CNC-machined titanium MSRP: $120 URL: www.boker.de/us Pros: The titanium body can take — and give — a serious beating while the flat head allows for a secure thumb rest when used with an ice-pick grip. CID stands for “Clip Integrated Design,” innovative engineering that ensures the pocket clip won't snap off. Cons: It costs a pretty penny. Also, the bolt-action-style mechanism of the retractable ballpoint — while cool and fun to play with — is more novelty than functional. And this pen is short, limiting leverage for certain techniques. 3. Make: Browning Model: Black Label Tactical Pen Length: 5.62 inches Material: Aluminum body, plastic clip MSRP: $61 URL: www.browning.com Pros: Its girth actually provides a better grip, especially if you have meaty paws. This black model comes packaged with a 440C-stainless-steel letter opener that can double as a budget boot knife. A coyote tan pen can be purchased separately for $43. Cons: It has a weaponized look. Then there's the Hummer-sized pocket clip, which is made of…plastic. Moreover, the glass-breaker on the top end negates the use of both a reverse grip and an index-finger grip. 4. Make: CampCo Model: UZI Tactical Defender Pen #3 Length: 6.13 inches Material: Aluminum MSRP: $20 URL: www.uzi.com Pros: If your wallet's a bit thin, but you still want a backup tool, this model is surprisingly sturdy and provides a solid standard grip. It even comes with a built-in cuff key. Cons: It's not very discreet looking, especially thanks to the spikey crown known as the “DNA Catcher” — which not only negates a reverse or index-finger grip, but can scratch you as you reach into your pocket if you don't have (or lost) the rubber cover. 5. Make: CRKT Model: Tao Pen Length: 5.75 inches Material: Aluminum body, stainless-steel clip MSRP: $70 URL: www.crkt.com Pros: It's well built and comes with a quality case. When used with a standard grip, the Tao feels right at home. The body's grooves and the cap's girth offer a comfortable grip. The Fisher ink refill is outstanding. The Tao also comes in different colors. Cons: The crown on the cap is great for hammering, thrusting, and raking…but it also means you can't use the ice-pick or index-finger grips unless you want a mangled thumb or palm. The twist cap requires numerous, tedious rotations to open and close. 6. Make: Gerber Gear Model: Impromptu Tactical Pen Length: 5.59 inches Material: Cerakoted steel body, stainless-steel clip MSRP: $62 URL: www.gerbergear.com Pros: Made in the United States, the Impromptu has a pushbutton retractable pen design, which we prefer because it's convenient and allows for different grips. The ink cartridge by Rite in the Rain works in extreme conditions, from freezing to wet. Cons: Slim but surprisingly heavy. Plus, there's no mistaking it as a weaponized writing instrument. And we're not big fans of the glass breaker at the tip because it protrudes out too far from the end and can jab our thigh when sitting or crouched. 7. Make: SureFire Model: Pen III Length: 5.8 inches Material: Hard-anodized aluminum body; stainless-steel clip, nose cone, and button MSRP: $115 URL: www.surefire.com Pros: A superior model that fits discreetly in almost any scenario, whether it's a board meeting or a range session. It has an excellent click-pen design with strong components, a Mil-spec finish, and a comfortable frame. Cons: Oddly, for such a top-quality pen with a high-end MSRP, it comes with a standard-quality Schmidt ballpoint pen cartridge. Consider swapping it out for a pressurized cartridge from Fisher, Rite in the Rain, or similar brand. 8. Make: TOPS Knives Model: SOP Elite Length: 5.63 inches Material: G-10 MSRP: $90 URL: www.topsknives.com Pros: TOPS Knives scores points for an outside-the-box design that has no moving parts — the fewer moving parts, the less chance of failure. Despite its unusual shape, the SOP Elite feels natural in hand, which is no surprise to anyone who owns a knife with G-10 scales. Cons: Without a pocket clip, it must be carried either in hand (an inconvenience) or in the Kydex neck sheath (which doesn't work if you prefer the “gray man” approach). Plus, you need an uncommon micro hex set to replace the ink refill. 9. Make: Tuff-Writer Model: Precision Press Series Length: 6 inches Material: 6061-T6 aluminum body, cold-pressed spring steel clip MSRP: $96 URL: www.tuffwriter.com Pros: One of the best in this bunch, thanks to its low-profile aesthetics (a weapon hidden in plain sight), durable materials (dishes a pounding and takes 'em), and long, ergonomic body (easy to grasp regardless of grip style). It sits high in the pocket, allowing for quick draws. Also comes in black, green, pink, and raw — all of them with excellent Fisher ink cartridges. Made in the United States. Cons: Aside from the price tag, not much. 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