Tactical pens – what is the best tactical pen for you and what should it include?
When we talk about survival kits, backpacks, and skills we often mention multitools. We usually leave them without too much of an explanation because we assume most people understand what a multitool is. The first association people usually have is a Swiss army knife and that’s certainly one of the most popular multitools out there. Another good example is the tactical police-issue flashlight. These are small and compact flashlights with reinforced steel bodies which make them good for hitting in self-defense.
Tactical pens fall in the same category as tactical flashlights. They are small and practical multitools with various features and applications. In fact, it’s not uncommon for tactical pens to even have a flashlight built-in them.
What is a tactical pen?
Some people have mixed feelings about tactical pens. And it’s true that they can be a little “hit or miss” depending on the model. However, a good tactical pen can easily be viewed as the ideal multitool. Especially if you’ve chosen it well for the situations you’d want it in.
But what exactly is a tactical pen? This is any pen that has one or more additional survival-oriented features built into it. The two most common purposes of a tactical pen are 1) to aid you in hand-to-hand self-defense and 2) to help you break glass.
The idea of using a pen for self-defense is quite intuitive to most people who’ve watched Hollywood action movies. There, it’s very common for the macho protagonist to deal with multiple attackers using just a pen or a pencil.
And it’s true – even a normal plastic pen can take out somebody’s eye or carotid when used correctly. However, that is quite the feat and you’ll be far more likely to hurt yourself in the process. Not to mention that the purpose of most tactical pens is to only incapacitate your opponent or fight them off, not necessarily to kill them.
As for the glass-breaking tool most tactical pens have, that comes a surprise to most people. Its purpose isn’t to help you rob places, however, but to simply help you escape if need be. It’s not uncommon to get trapped in a car after an accident or to find someone trapped in such a situation. The glass-breaking tool on a tactical pen can be a real life-saver. Plus, it too can be used as a hitting tool in self-defense.
But a tactical pen is much more than just a pen with a glass-breaking or hitting tool attached to it.
What features can/should you look for in a tactical pen?
So, here’s a quick list of most of the common features, tools, and attachments on good tactical pens. Keep in mind that most pens won’t have all of these tools at the same time. It’s very difficult to fit all those tools on a single pen without compromising its structural stability, design, and functionality.
That’s why it’s also important to pick your future tactical pen in accordance to your needs. If you know what situations you’ll be gravitating towards or in risk of getting into – pick a pen suitable for them.
With that in mind, here’s a quick breakdown of most common tools and features of a tactical pen:
- A functioning and comfortable pen with an easily replaceable ink cartridge. First and foremost, a tactical pen should function as a pen. If you don’t want to use the pen component of a tactical pen there’s no point in getting it in the first place – just get a different multitool.
The purpose of the pen part in a tactical pen isn’t (just) to conceal its other functions or to “look cool”. Pens are useful tools, after all, both for survival and overall.
With that in mind, it’s smart to make sure that the pen is comfortable to use too. Regardless of whether you’ll be using it often or just from time to time, there’s no sense in getting an uncomfortable pen.
Another key aspect that should be emphasized is the replace-ability of the pen’s cartridge. The goal of a tactical pen is to be by your side for years and decades to come. With that in mind, it’s best if the tactical pen uses standard replaceable ink cartridges. Or, it can at least come with its own spares.
- A glass-breaking tool. We mentioned why the glass-breaking tool is important above. After all, there’s a reason why all buses have such tools in them. As for the tool itself, it’s smart to make sure it’s effective. Many tactical pens have glass-breaking tools that are made out of the same material as the rest of the pen. That’s usually stainless steel or aircraft-grade aluminum. These are nice and sturdy materials for a tactical pen but they’re not hard enough to easily break glass.
Instead, we’d recommend looking for a glass-breaking tool with a tungsten carbide point. Tungsten carbide is an incredibly hard and durable material and it’s very close to diamonds on the Mohs hardness scale – 9/10 while diamonds are 10/10.
- A hitting/striking self-defense tool. The glass-breaking tool can double as a striking tool as well and most tactical pens rely on that. However, many others also have additional hitting ends, usually on the other side of the glass-breaking tools. These can vary a lot in their design and intended purpose.
Some are meant to just cause blunt trauma or surface damage/cuts to your attacker, while others are pointy and sharp enough to outright hurt people. We gravitate toward the former. For us, the goal of this attachment is to be a self-defense tool, not an offensive one.
- A tactical flashlight. This is a less common but a very useful tool in a tactical pen. Tactical flashlights serve two main purposes. 1) to act as a normal flashlight in the dark which is a great survival tool. And 2) to help you blind your attacker before you get into striking range. That’s why most tactical flashlights have two modes – continuous light and a blinking light, as the latter is more useful for blinding opponents.
One drawback of having a flashlight in your tactical pen is that it can compromise the structural integrity of the pen. If the pen is well-made, however, that shouldn’t be an issue.
- A knife/cutting attachment. Cutting attachments are a great addition to any multitool. Most people usually think of it as a combat attachment and it can certainly be used that way. However, cutting attachments on tactical pens and other multitools usually have other practical uses. This makes them especially useful in survival situations when you need to cut something.
- A standard multitool attachment. Another cool feature in some tactical pens is having a typical multitool attachment. Such attachments usually include a can-opener, a bottle opener, and a screwdriver point. This is a great attachment to have if you want a tactical pen that can be used in the wilderness. It can also be useful in urban survival situations.
- A fire-starting rod. This is an even rarer attachment/feature that’s especially useful for hikers, campers, and wilderness enthusiasts. A good fire-starting rod attachment will usually be made out of ferrocerium. Tactical pens with such attachments usually don’t have them as a main component of the pen. Instead, they include them as a side-attachment that comes with the whole package.
- An emergency whistle. One of the least common attachments you can see on a tactical pen is a whistle. It is a unique tool to have, however, and it can be very useful for both urban and wilderness survival. We usually mention whistles in most of our lists and guides for survival kits.
The one problem whistles have, however, is that they are easy to lose track of. This is what makes this attachment such a good idea – when it’s a part of a multitool the whistle will be much harder to lose.
- A good, stable design that makes the pen not only comfortable to write with and carry around but comfortable to use as a hitting tool. We mention this last because it’s not an individual attachment but it’s still very important. In fact, the design of the tactical is arguably one of its most important features. A good tactical pen design should have all or most of the following characteristics:
– It’s comfortable to carry around, i.e. it’s not too heavy.
– It’s comfortable to use as a pen.
– It’s heavy enough to deliver effective hits. This doesn’t necessarily contradict the first point as there is a fine middle ground between the two.
– The surface of the pen offers enough surface tension so that it doesn’t slip from your hand in a fight. This should be true even when accounting for sweat or rain.
– The opposite end of the glass-breaking and/or hitting tool of the pen should be comfortable on your thumb. That’s because you want your thumb on the pen to deliver effective hits.
Are these pens safe to get through the T.S.A?
This is a common question people have for tactical pens and it is a good one. Should/can tactical pens be taken through a T.S.A. (Transport Security Administration) check-up? And the quick answer is – “No, that’s not a good idea.”
When you check the standard lists of prohibited items, tactical pens are rarely mentioned by name. However, most knives and other cutting or hitting items are. So, unless you want your pen to get confiscated or worse – for you to get fined – it’s best to put it in your check-in baggage.
If you really, really want to try and get your pen through airport security, here are a few tips:
- Make sure it’s not a particularly big, heavy, obvious, and dangerous tactical pen.
- Do NOT try to conceal it. Not only will that make it even more suspicious but it will likely get you fined. Instead, keep it in a standard place where you’d keep a normal pen. This way it’s more likely to be ignored by the T.S.A. agent and even if they notice it, you can just shrug it off. Just give it to them and make sure you’re not getting into any trouble.
- Do NOT try to lie to the T.S.A. agent. If they ask you what it is, tell them exactly what it is and why you carry it – for self-defense, as a survival tool, etc. This way, they’ll only confiscate it. If you try to lie, you’ll probably get a nasty fine as well.
- Just add it to your check-in and don’t try to get it through the T.S.A. at all. We’re repeating that as it’s just the smart thing to do. The chances that you’ll need your tactical pen on a plane are slimmer than those of winning the lottery so it’s just needless risk.
Our recommendation for a great tactical pen
Everyone’s preferences for a tactical pen will be different. Some like bigger and heavier pens, others prefer lighter and more comfortable ones. We all want different tools and features on our pens as well, depending on what we want to do with them.
For example, if you need your pen as a hiking multitool you’ll probably gravitate toward a fire-starting rod, a flashlight, and a cutting multitool. On the other hand, if you want it for an urban environment, protection against a hand-to-hand attacker will probably be your priority.
While there may not be a single tactical pen to satisfy everyone’s needs at the same time, if we had to recommend just one, we’d go with ApeSurvival’s tactical Strikepen.
This pen excels in most of the criteria we gave you above:
- It has a very strong and durable precision-milled alloy body.
- It has a tungsten steel striker that’s great for glass-breaking and self-defense.
- It has an excellent grip pattern that will prevent your grip from slipping.
- It comes with a bright LED tactical flashlight which is great for many different situations.
- The flashlight at the back end of the pen is stable and secure enough to support your thumb in combat situations.
- The overall design of the pen is discreet and unassuming.
- All components fit in their places safely and securely – there’s no wiggling or instability when using the pen in any way.
- The pen itself is comfortable for writing and comes with its own replacement ink.
- The whole package also includes batteries for the flashlight.
- The pen also comes with two additional interchangeable tools – a short, sharp knife, and a multitool. One of them can remain inside the pen at all times and the other can be carried separately and replaced when necessary.
- The pen also comes with its own stylish and lightweight box which comfortably holds all its attachments.
A couple of the more obscure tactical pen attachments such as a fire-starter and a whistle are missing in this pen. Aside from those, however, we’d say the ApeSurvival’s Strikepen has almost everything you’d want from a tactical pen.