Why You Should Carry A Pen

Learn the benefits of carrying a pen and find your next EDC pen with recommendations from pen expert, Ed Jelley, in the first of this three-part series on analog writing.

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Editor’s Note: Ed Jelley is a long-time EDCer and authority in the pen and paper blogosphere. At his blog, edjelley.com, he’s published dozens of quality reviews of everything involving the finer points of writing, including pens, pencils, ink, paper, and other accessories. I’m excited to introduce him as the newest contributor to our editorial team. This post also marks the return of Carry Smarter, a series of informative, enlightening and empowering articles to help you improve your day-to-day by making the most of your EDC.

Why bother with analog writing?

In today’s world of smartphones, note taking apps, and the increasing use of technology in every day life, I strongly believe that there is still a place for analog writing tools. Not everyone carries a pen or pencil and paper, but it can be a valuable addition to your EDC that may have more utility than you had thought. There are plenty of reasons why you should revisit analog. To name a few…

  • It feels better: I think that putting pen to paper has a unique tactile feel, much better than that of tapping a note into a phone.
  • It’s physically permanent: I find it easier to go back and look over past written notes, especially when digital notes are easily deleted.
  • It’s a more gratifying experience: I personally carry a Field Notes pocket notebook with me every day and use it as a micro journal. It’s a great feeling to accumulate a stack of notebooks that have a few thoughts from each day and go back over them from time to time, much more so than scrolling through an electronic feed of files.
  • It helps you remember: Writing analog commits your thoughts to muscle memory and it’s been scientifically proven to help you remember what you write better.

Why should I carry a pen?

Have you ever had to borrow a pen? Not unlike the feeling when I first started carrying a knife, you may not know how much you will use one until you start carrying one. Whether it is signing a receipt, jotting down a phone number, or taking notes at work or school, there is no shortage of uses for a pen. Here’s just a few upsides to carrying a pen daily:

  • Longevity: You won’t have to worry about it running out of battery
  • Convenience: You won’t need someone’s email/number just to leave a note
  • Cleanliness: You’ll avoid picking up germs from shared pens in public places
  • Preparedness: You’ll always be prepared to write down emergency information (car accident, medical condition, etc.)

Which pen is right for me?

As for which pen to carry, there are thousands of options from dirt cheap ballpoints to $1,000 fountain pens and each one is unique. Different ink types have different properties such as water resistance, permanence, fade-resistance and even how smooth a pen writes depends on what kind of ink it has. For me, it’s been a fun journey to find that perfect pen. A quality pen or pencil can be a very personal item that can be worked into your EDC and be enjoyed for years to come. Here are just a few places to start, depending on if you want…

…an EDC pen that won’t break the bank:

Zebra F-301 Ballpoint Pen

Zebra F301 Ballpoint

It is hard to find as sturdy of a pen as the F-301 anywhere near the price. Coming in under $5, the Zebra is a click action ballpoint made of stainless steel with a checkered finger grip. Common amongst EDC enthusiasts due to its wide availability and affordable price, the F-301 is a great option for those who want to try out carrying a pen without breaking the bank. The pen also has refills available, cutting down on the waste associated with disposable pens.

BUY ($5)

…to be able to write anywhere, on anything, under any conditions:

Fisher Bullet Space Pen

Fisher Bullet Space Pen

Despite being the brunt of several jokes in a Seinfeld episode, few pens have the ability to go anywhere and write anywhere like the Fisher Space Pen. The bullet version is compact for pocket carry and the cap posts on the end of the barrel to make for a comfortable writing experience. What makes the Fisher Space Pen unique is its pressurized ballpoint cartridge that is capable of writing upside down, underwater, over grease, at extreme temperatures (-30ºF to 250ºF) and of course, in space. The pen refill cartridge has a shelf life of 100 years, so you can always count on the Fisher Space Pen to write when you need it most.

BUY ($18+)

…to carry a pen without crowding your pockets:

Move Bolt Action EDC Pen by Oliver Sha

Move Bolt Action EDC Keychain Pen by Oliver Sha

The Move Bolt Action EDC pen is a great option for those who may not want to dedicate pocket space to a pen, but still wish to carry one. The Move is an excellent keychain pen with an integrated key ring loop. The bolt action mechanism prevents accidental extension of the writing point and the aluminum construction has no problems staying in one piece while jingling around with your keys. The pen is quite small and takes up about the same room as a key, so don’t expect to write any novels. It is stylish, convenient and available in three finishes to suit your taste.

BUY ($52+)

…a more substantial alternative to your beloved Pilot G2:

Tactile Turn Mover/Shaker

The Mover / Shaker by Tactile Turn

The Mover and Shaker by Tactile Turn are some of my favorite pens out there. A sleek body design with a unique machined grip pattern at the tip make for an awesome EDC pen. The steel pocket clip is strong and resilient, having no problems grabbing onto a thicker jeans pocket. The pens take a ton of different refills, including the common Parker Style (Shaker) and G2 Gel Ink (Mover). Between the two models, the Tactile Turn pens can write however you want them to, whether it be gel, rollerball, or ballpoint. Available in several anodized colors and different metals (including brass, titanium, bronze and copper) there is sure to be a colorway to coordinate with your EDC.

BUY ($69+)

…a fountain pen robust enough for EDC:

KarasKustoms INK Fountain Pen

Karas Kustoms INK

Karas Kustoms has a killer lineup of pens, all machined from aluminum, brass or copper and made in the USA. Out of their pen offerings, the INK resonates with me the most. The all-aluminum pen can be configured as either a fountain pen or rollerball. For further customization you can order new grip sections made of different metals and you have a choice in several anodized colors. The INK is the first fountain pen I have come across that can take a real beating through every day use and continue to provide a great writing experience. It has one of the sturdiest clips I have seen and it is built like a tank.

BUY ($85+)

These options just barely scratch the surface of analog writing. There are thousands of options, each with their own unique look, feel, and writing experience. Check back for part two of the guide, as we explore pocket notebooks and their many uses in an EDC.

Editor’s Note: Do you prefer writing analog? If so, what’s your go-to EDC pen? Drop a comment below and let us know!

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Discussion (64 total)

I am a professor and I do a ton of grading. For that I use G2 roller balls in blue (I hate grading in red; students seem to relax more when they read comments in a friendly color). I probably go through about three a month. Gel pens are much easier to write with when you mark papers and write other things for 2-4 hours a day. However, I do own and use many vintage and new fountain pens, visit great pen shops, follow new rollouts, drool over stuff I'll never be able to afford, and in general enjoy using a great pen to journal and write drafts of short stories on great paper. I hate the cheap Bics -- as I am sure most of you do!
Not many people value what you do (with regards to avoiding red) but I can tell you firsthand that it makes a world of difference. All the teachers in my college use green and it makes you want to read the comment rather than oppose it. The world deserves more professors like you.
Not just what you write but how you write can differ on your mood or situation, something that doesn't carry over when you type out something on the computer, its the same font no matter how you feel.
Mike, this is true for me as well. I think the time required from your brain to the page helps you to really focus on your thoughts, especially when you're feeling confused or overwhelmed with something. Whether it be organizing a project, brainstorming ideas, or keeping a mood journal, the process of doing it analog helps me formulate ideas better. We'll touch upon this in part 3 of the series.
I always carry a Kaweco Lilliput. It's about the same size as a Fisher Bullet Space Pen, takes standard interrnational cartridges and is available in a variety of materials (aluminum, brass, steel and copper). Kind of surprised that it's not mentioned in the article, in my opinion it's the ultimate EDC fountain pen.
I carried the Liliput for a bit, but even with my small hands I found it to be a bit too light, smooth, and narrow to try to bring that fountain pen experience to my pocket. Smaller pens like that I prefer ballpoint/gel/rollerball just to scribble something as writing anything of length like I would with a fountain pen tends to get uncomfortable/fatiguing pretty quick. Still a solid product though.
I have a Liliput, and I'm kind of with Bernard on this one. It's a bit small for that fountain pen experience, but on the other hand it is a great writer. You can't beat the size and build quality. I opted to add the Karas Kustoms Ink to the list because of it's full size and durability.
Almost forgot...I am completely analog with my Leuchtturm; I use if for work and home life; I make no distinction and use the same book for everything, all day, from grocery lists to design ideas to woodworking notes to pinstriping sketches. I started about 5 years ago and I can't begin to list how many times its saved my butt or made me look like a serious boss. I LOVE my notebook, and always have it with me. I'm never afraid to write something down. Like the Field Notes tagline: I'm not writing it down to remember it later, I'm writing it down to remember it now.
Appreciate the great list and info, I tend to keep (at least) one pen on me all the time so this was quite an enjoyable read.
I LOVE the bullet pen. It writes so smoothly and looks great in meetings (I run a boutique agency so those little details make a difference) and in my purse at the bar. All good!
I have been carrying a Fisher Space for a couple years now. I just recently bought a Moleskine calendar with a Quiver 2 Pen holder to be able to carry my pen, and a mechanical pencil. I have a problem though, my pencil is a tad longer than the notebook (5.5") and I keep getting stabbed by the small metal pointy thing the lead comes out of. Im also worried that it will get caught up on pockets and / or bent. Does anyone know of a shorter pencil that is good to carry around?
You should check out the Rotring 800 - it's a high quality, metal drafting pencil that has a retractable lead guide pipe. This means to bending / stabbing you in the leg when pocketed.
See my comment below re: Pentel Kerry
Agree with Glen here- the Pentel Sharp Kerry is an awesome pencil, and has not yet failed me after a few years of carry (or should I say KERRY?)
Try a Alvin Draf/Tec RETRAC pencil. They are intended for technical drafting, but the metal point retracts into the pen. I love them for sketching or whatnot on the go because of the fact that I won't end up with a prison tat on my thigh at the end of the day.
During grad school, my EDC included a mechanical pencil, a black pen, a red pen, and a moleskine, all of which I'd use on a weekly basis to take notes in class, write corrections on my papers, grade my students' assignments, or jot down quick notes. Fast forward four years to today, and my EDC is down to just a keychain pen whose days are numbered.

Why the dramatic shift?

The biggest change is that I went from being a poor grad student to being a working stiff, and as a working stiff I'm surrounded by pens everywhere. Unless I'm out and about, a pen is always within arm's reach. Even so, I convinced myself that I still needed to keep an EDC pen to do all of those random things that we do with pens when we're away from our desks.

And then I broke my thumb.

I wasn't able to use a pen for over a month because of the broken thumb, but, strangely, I didn't miss using my EDC pen at all. That's when I realized something that I hadn't noticed earlier: over the past few years my phone had replaced my EDC pen for all of my everyday uses. Reminders for myself? I was already putting them in an app. Something neat worth remembering? I was already taking picture/video/audio and adding little notes. Trading contact info? I was already just adding it directly to my contacts app. Shopping lists, to do items, jotting quick notes, messages for others, messages for myself, or anything else that I could think of...all handled by my phone already. Losing the ability to use my EDC pen had no impact on me.

I still use pens on a daily basis at work, but I'm increasingly realizing that it doesn't make sense for me to carry one if I have them available everywhere that I need one. Is that true for everyone else? By no means! Others have perfectly valid reasons for keeping pens in their EDC. Somewhat ironically, however, this editorial is reminding me of all the everyday things I no longer use pens for and why it may be time for me to finally ditch my last one.
Very interesting take! While pens are pretty much everywhere, I still like having my own. I hope the transition to all-digital works out for you. Personally, I'm somewhere in the middle. Being that fountain pens are more of a hobby to me than a utility, I'll always have a few laying around inked up and ready to go.
I always carry the EDC Ink pen on me (on my keychain). It's very convenient to be able to carry around my keychain knowing that it has a pen (EDC Ink pen with D1 refill), multitool (Leatherman Style CS), and flashlight (Gerber Tempo) that will get me through most situations life could throw at me!
I bought a bullet pen a few years ago with the intention of carrying it in my pocket, everyday. I found that it got lost too easily in my pocket, and the ink was smudgy and kind of gross looking. I just recently decided to buy a $2 clip for it, and a fine point ink refill from Fisher. It now stays put and writes MUCH better - so I love it.

My advice if you're buying a Fisher Bullet Pen, get a fine point ink refill to replace the standard medium point. Also buy it with a clip - or get the clip extra, makes it more enjoyable overall.
Uniball jetstream's the best inexpensive pen I've used. You can get them for a couple or three bucks each. I love the feel of a Zebra 301, 402, and 701 in hand, but the Jetstream is far superior when it comes to writing. Anyone who thinks a G2 writes well has to try the uniball jetstream and if you have to have a gel pen use the uniball 207s. I think you'll be far better served by the uniball products.

I too edc a bullet pen - reliable and fun to carry, but not a great pen for long writing sessions - at least not in my big hands.

Favorite mechanical is the zebra 301, but I like the Kura Toga as well.

I should qualify this longish post by saying that I'm a grad student in a creative writing program. I teach and take classes - so I use up one or two ink cartridges every 3 months, plus several mechanical pencil led refills.

Now here's my question: does anyone know where I could pick up a nice metal barrel (preferably brass) pen that takes a uniball jetstream refill?
One thing about the Fisher space pen, the clip broke, and a replacement costs around 5$ including shipping from Amazon, which is a third the price of the pen itself. If you're curious, I kept the pen clipped to my wallet, which I keep in my front pocket. Not sure what broke the clip.
Who makes the black leather pen case in the photograph above?
I just purchased and received the Tactile Turn Mover in copper.
I'm very happy with the quality of the craftsmanship.
The weight of the pen feels good in my hand.
While writing, I really don't need to press down due to the weight.
Looking forward to the patina to come.
The pen case is by One Star Leather. It might be due to the photo, but the case is actually a very dark blue. All of my stuff from him is great quality and made from Horween leather!
I usually carry a Fisher Space Pen Bullet (in my wallet) and a Pentel 207 Mechanical Pencil. I recently upgraded the Pentel to the GraphGear 500s and find them to be a great addition to my EDC.
Great list! I also love the Fisher Space Pen because it writes so fast and smoothly. Plus, it looks sleek and beautiful.
Great article Thank you so much for all of this, especially the details about the Fisher Bullet (Space) Pen. I love that pen. It's my EDC for sure.
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