The Gentleman Stationer's Guide to Pocket Pens
Though I’m not an “everyday carry” obsessive, I always have a pen and a notebook on me, whether I’m carrying a bag or not. Since I’m also not a fountain pen purist, more often than not my “pocket pen” is a ballpoint. There’s an ever-growing assortment of pens on the market that are advertised as appropriate for “pocket carry,” so starting about year ago I decided I’d buy or borrow a bunch of them to test out, hoping to come up with a solid “rotation” of 3 or so pens that I could keep on my person regularly. As usually turns out to be the case, the pocket pen situation is a bit more complex than I originally anticipated.
What Makes a Great Pocket Pen
Before I get started, it’s worth discussing what makes a pen truly “pocketable.” Size is only part of the equation - the pen needs to be relatively small, but I also regularly carry larger pens that you wouldn’t necessarily think of as “pocket-sized.”
- Durability. For me, durability tops the list of attributes I look for in a pocket pen. By “durability,” I’m primarily referring to crack resistance and leak-proofing. Will the barrel break, or will the cap slip off and stain my clothes? If it’s a fountain pen, is the pen susceptible to “burping” ink as it warms from being carried in my pocket?
- Comfort. A pocket pen for me isn’t something that I’ll only want to write with for a few lines - I’ve found that I don’t really carry pens for that purpose. If I take the time to carry the pen with me, it needs to be something that I can deploy and use the same way as I would use a full-size pen. As you’ll see below, this keeps pens such as the Kaweco Liliput off of my Top 5 and Honorable Mention lists.
- Price. Most of the pocket pens near the top of my list are available for well under $100. Since I’m carrying a pocket pen out and about, there’s a greater chance that I’ll lose it, so I don’t want something so expensive that I’ll hate myself if it disappears one day and can’t easily (and relatively cheaply) be replaced.
- Paper Compatibility. Will the pen write well on pocket notebooks and cheap paper? Can I use it to write on a mailing label? This last requirement effectively eliminates all fountain pens from my “Top 5” list, which may shock some people, since you all know how much I love my fountain pens. However I spend a LOT of time mailing stuff at the post office (mainly to you readers) so it’s become non-negotiable.
My Top 5 Pocket Pens (Not in Order of Preference).
- Fisher Space Pen Bullet. What’s become the “quintessential pocket pen” for most people. Durable, reliable, and relatively inexpensive, the Fisher Space Pen writes anywhere, on any surface (including upside down and supposedly, even underwater, but I’ve never tested the latter). I have three or four of these, though I’ve swapped out the “medium” refill that comes with the pen in favor of the “fine.” (Purchase here)
- Pokka Pen Ballpoint. If you tend to misplace or lend out pens a lot, and find yourself constantly purchasing Fisher Space Pens, you owe it to yourself to test out a pack of Pokka Pens. A disposable alternative to the Fisher Space pen, these have earned a place in my daily carry. (Full disclosure - Pokka Pens is a sponsor of this website, but I’d be a fan of their products regardless.) (Purchase here)
- Steel & Flint Pen. A recent Kickstarter project that I had the privilege of reviewing early on. The Steel & Flint pen features a unique magnetic cap design that protects the pen (and your clothes) in your pocket, and accepts the excellent Schmidt Easyflow 9000 ballpoint refill. (Purchase/Pre-Order here)
- Lamy Pico. A great option from Lamy that's quickly become a favorite. The Pico forms a small "capsule" when closed, but it expands into a full-sized ballpoint when extended - one of my favorite pen mechanisms ever. (Purchase here)
- BIC Clic or Cristal. I have these stashed everywhere - in coat pockets, in the car, in desks around my house. The classic “Clic” (and even the newer Clic Stic) is definitely the most pocketable, but I enjoy the Cristal as well. Bic’s ballpoints are reliable and write extremely well. The only drawback to carrying a click pen in your pocket is that it might accidentally deploy and stain your clothes, but ballpoints are less risky than liquid ink/gel pens and fountain pens. (Purchase the Cristal here / the Bic Clic (or as close as you can still get) here)
Most of the pens listed here are pens that I carry a lot - including in my pocket - but straddle the line between “briefcase/desk pens” and true pocket pens. While they wouldn’t be my first choice if I wanted to grab a pen and a pocket notebook to head out into the field, all of them would serve you well.
- Lamy 2000 Ballpoint. The Lamy 2000 line of pens in general carries well in your pocket, but the ballpoint (and sometimes, the multi pen) is my preference for this type of writing. The Makrolon construction holds up well and the refill is a standard, write-anywhere ballpoint. (Purchase here)
- Ti Arto Universal Refill Pen. Another recent Kickstarter project that I backed. Made from indestructible titanium, the Ti Arto is designed to be compatible with more than 200 different refills. You can load this pen up with whatever refill you desire, and the high quality threaded cap is going to stay put. It also features an O-ring to ward off any leakage. (Purchase here)
- Baron Fig Squire. The twist deployment mechanism is harder to deploy accidentally in your pocket than a clicky knock. While this ships with a liquid-ink rollerball refill, I prefer the Schmidt Easyflow 9000 ballpoint. Note: another option for the same refills is the Retro 51 Tornado, which uses the same refills and has a similar size/profile. I personally prefer the aesthetics of the Baron Fig Squire. (Purchase here)
- Kaweco Sport. Finally, we come to the fountain pens. If I pocket carry a fountain pen (and occasionally, I do), the Kaweco Sport tops my list, with its combination of compact size, durability and remarkable resistance to leakage and/or burping. Kaweco’s nibs can be hit or miss, especially if you try to go narrower than a medium. (Purchase here)
- Franklin-Christoph Model 45. Franklin-Christoph makes a couple pens marketed as appropriate for pocket carry, but the Model 45 is the best. It’s short when capped, but expands to a comfortable length when posted, and has more girth than the Kaweco Lilliput. (Purchase here)
This doesn’t mean that I have reservations about carrying these pens in general - just that I have reservations about recommending that others carry them as “pocket pens” in the traditional sense (i.e., in a jeans pocket or side-pants pocket). Durability concerns, spill risks, or the absence of “write anywhere” capability can land a pen on this list, and it’s where most “pocket” fountain pens end up.
- TWSBI Diamond Mini and TWSBI Vac Mini. TWSBI’s “mini” pens make great shirt-pocket pens, but durability concerns with the barrels and TWSBI's history of cracking makes me reluctant to carry these as pocket pens out of fear that I'll end up with a big mess. I do really like these pens though. (Purchase Diamond Mini here / Purchase Vac Mini here)
- Franklin-Christoph Pocket 20. Another great compact fountain pen, but the fact that this pen has a slip cap makes it a touch hazardous for pocket carry, despite the name. Trust me, I've had a couple of close calls. It's still a great portable pen though, and makes for a nice shirt pocket companion. (Purchase here)
- Sailor Professional Gear. I carry my Sailor Pro Gears all the time in my pocket. I find them very durable, they have tightly threaded caps, and they're fairly large so they won't slip out of your pocket inadvertently. Their price still keeps them out of my "Top 5" recommendations, as many people won't feel comfortable carrying a pocket pen that's this expensive. (Purchase here)
- Pilot Myu/M90/Elite. If Pilot still made the Myu/M90, I'd recommend it for pocket carry in a heartbeat. It's not even that these pens would break or leak - they're built like tanks. Rather, these pens are small, relatively rare, and (at least currently) very expensive, and I'm more concerned that they might slip out of my pocket and get lost. Pilot still sells the Elite, which is a resin pen with an integrated nib. (Purchase here)
- Karas Kustoms EDK. A highly durable pen. Since it's a liquid-ink click-pen, I've learned the hard way that these aren't necessarily great for carrying in your pants pocket. Shirt pocket, maybe. (Purchase here)
Others That Come Highly Recommended Elsewhere
Everyone has their own preferences, and the EDC - “Pocket Carry” culture has become so popular that there are literally dozens of pens targeting this market. I simply can’t review them all. For example, the Schon DSGN and Pen-Type B are very popular, but somewhat pricey to purchase just for purposes of a review. Also, I can’t easily use extremely small pens such as the Kaweco Liliput, or the various “keychain” or “wallet” pens, so I’ve left them off my lists but will mention them here. Also absent are some of the fountain pens marketed as EDC-style pens, such as the Tactile Turn Gist and the Karas Kustoms Fountain K and Fountain K Mini. The Gist has turned out to be fragile and prone to cracking (at least the polycarbonate versions), and the style of the Karas pens just don’t do it for me, though many people enjoy them.
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