As a professional travel/food writer, I have to have reliable pens when I travel. On a trip to the Yukon where the temperature can drop as low as -20° or even -30° F., I realized not all of the pens I normally use would work. When the temperature drops to freezing, the ink in many pens simply refuses to flow.
After a bit of research, I decided to take three pens with me to the icy Yukon: the Fisher Non-reflective Military Matte Black Cap-O-Matic Space Pen (MB4 $12), the Trekker Space Pen (725B $30), and Uniball’s Power Tank RT ($1-2).
Fisher Space Pens come with a colorful history. This line of pens was originally developed in the 1950’s by Paul Fisher, the first man to invent a universal refill for ballpoint pens. Fisher’s real claim to fame came with his refill that uses thixotropic ink with a nitrogen pressurized cartridge that doesn’t rely on gravity to make the ink flow. His pens work in searing heat and in freezing temperatures (-30 to 250°F.), at any angle, and even underwater. Since the ink flows only when you want it to, it doesn’t leak or burst on airplanes (an all too common problem for travel writers).
Fisher pens also have become the official pens of astronauts. They went on the Apollo 7 mission and on the Russian space Station Mir. They’ve even been on the Everest North Face Ski Expedition.
The Military Matte Black Cap-O-Matic is a refillable, retractable (cap activated), medium ballpoint pen with a slim 5” inch metal barrel. It’s a tough pen that you’d likely have for many years to come.
The Trekker Space Pen has all the qualities of other Fisher Space Pens (pressurized cartridge, the thixotropic ink), but it’s designed especially outdoor enthusiasts. This small pen comes with a built-in keyring loop, a carabiner, and breakaway lanyard. It’s easily attachable to your backpack, belt loop, camera bag, or you can wear it around your neck.
Both Fisher pens worked fine in freezing Yukon temperatures. I liked the fact that the Trekker Pen attached to my camera bag, making it readily available to jot down image numbers, settings, and other details of shots.
While the metal barrels of the Fisher pens make them practically indestructible, I didn’t find either pen particularly comfortable for writing for long periods. Also, the metal barrels felt cold in my hands – not something you want in cold weather. However, the Fisher Pens are a great choice for people who want a really tough pen that performs in extreme conditions.
For me, the Uniball Power Tank RT was a more comfortable choice. Like the Fisher Pens, the Uniball Power Tank writes in extreme conditions – on wet surfaces, cold temperatures (to -4° F.), in zero gravity, and upside down. It also comes in red, black, and blue inks. The barrel of the Uniball Power Tank is plastic so isn’t likely to last as long as the metallic Fisher pens. However, the barrel is thicker, has a very comfortable textured rubber grip, and the ink flows quite smoothly. While this Uniball pen may not have the tough reputation of the Fisher, I found this pen enjoyable and comfortable to write with for long periods of time.