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Write On: Tough Pens for Tough Conditions

Trekker Space Pen in Original Packaging

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.

RealTest-logoAfter 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).

Cap-O-Matic Space Pen from Fisher

Fisher’s Cap-O-Matic Space Pen’s metal barrel makes it practically indestructable.

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.

Uncapped Fisher Trekker Space Pen

The Fisher Trekker Space Pen is designed for outdoor lovers and come with a handy carabiner and lanyard.

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.

Box of Uniball's Power Tank RT

Uniball’s Power Tank RT is an inexpensive, comfortable pen that can be used in extreme conditions travelers might face.

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.

Both Fisher and Uniball pens are available from office retailers or online. and — Real Tested by Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor

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Bobbie Hasselbring

RFT founder and the website's former editor-in-chief, Bobbie Hasselbring has been a travel junkie her entire life. She's been an award-winning writer and editor for more than 25 years and author of the regional food-travel bestsellers, The Chocolate Lover’s Guide to the Pacific Northwest and The Chocolate Lover’s Guide Cookbook.

2 thoughts on “Write On: Tough Pens for Tough Conditions

  1. Mike Stewart

    The Uniball pens doi work quite well when new but let them sit around for a year and pick one up and, like so many others, will either not write at all or will skip like crazy. I’ve never tried a Fisher Space Pen but a box of them is probably quite pricey.

    They all work good when new. It’s sometime later that you find out you have a pen that is worthless. I bought a box of the Uniball Power Tank pens a couple years ago and over time have thrown them all in the trash.


    1. Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT EditorBobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor Post author

      Hi Mike,
      Thanks for writing. I’ve not had the same experience with the Uniball Tank pens not working after a period of time. In fact, I just used my last ones and they’d been sitting for probably a year. I have had a similar “not working” experience with the Uniball Vision Elite, a pen that’s available at a good price at Costco. (I also stopped using this pen because I’d had leakage problems with it on airplanes.)

      I just ordered a new box of the Tank pen because these have become my favorites since I can depend on them not to spill ink all over me when I fly, which is often. My only problem with them is getting others in my household not to swipe them for everyday use since they’re a bit pricier than others. Please let us know if you find other pens you’d recommend for travelers. We’re always looking. Cheers! — Bobbie, RFT Editor

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