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Gear talk: the Zebra F-701- is this the perfect EDC pen?

Original F-701, F-xMD and current incarnation of F-701
Original F-701, F-xMD and current incarnation of F-701

What is an Every Day Carry pen? Simple. It is the pen that you have with you every day. A pen that is reliable. A pen that you like. Something affordable. Possibly even a pen that fulfils some other purpose- double duty. For many, the Zebra F-701 is just about, almost, perfect.

Three Points of the Compass first wrote about an Every Day Carry (EDC) kit of ‘useful stuff’ back in 2016. One of those items included was a reasonably priced metal bodied pen. It is still there, occasionally used and still delivering faultlessly. The Zebra F-701 has been a favourite within many in the EDC community for a long time. However you may hear and read incorrect information about this pen- “all stainless steel construction” and “writes perfectly” for example. Many think the metal barrel is one piece, it isn’t. But that doesn’t mean that this couldn’t be the perfect EDC pen, for you. And another thing, recently, this pen has got better.

Zebra F-701 in the hand. Is this the best EDC pen?
Zebra trademark

“Find Zen in your Pen. The Path to Enlightened Writing”

Zebra

Making the move from just producing pen nibs to manufacturing a variety of writing implements, Japanese company Zebra was established in 1914 and have been producing ballpoint pens since 1959. Their wide range includes the F-301, or ‘The Original‘ and the M-301. Both of these have stainless steel barrels. The steel line of Zebra pens is comprised of numbered series in ascending levels of quality. The 3-series has stainless steel barrels and plastic grips. The 4-Series has the same stainless steel barrel and rubber grips. The top-of-the-range 7-series has stainless steel shaft with a metal knurled grip. It is made in Indonesia and packaged in Mexico.

The pen looked at here is from the premium 7 series. Each Zebra series can be purchased in different formats such as- ballpoint, gel, mechanical pencil, fountain pen, highlighter and rollerball. These are not one-time use products. All of the stainless steel line can be refilled as appropriate- with ink, pencil lead or erasers. They are widely available across the globe, with strongholds in the UK, US, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Korea and Singapore.

‘Indonesia’- the country of manufacture, is shown on the pens. On the plastic end collar on the original F-701 and on the side of the barrel on the latest version
Original F-701, F-xMD and current incarnation of F-701
Original F-701, F-xMD and current incarnation of F-701

This is a handsome metal pen with a knurled part of the barrel that improves grip immensely. Many metal pens have a smooth barrel and require gripping very firmly to stop the fingers sliding down. The design includes a stepped tip that keeps the pen body out of the way while writing, the user holds the pen on the knurled part of the barrel, further back. This pen is not suited to those who like to hold a pen near the tip. The click to actuate is quiet but not silent.

The flagship F-701 has been with us a long time and has gone through a small number of changes in that time. The barrel has remained unaltered throughout all the changes but internal fittings have changed to allow for changes in the ink cartridge fitted. The pens barrels are constructed from a really thick piece of stainless steel tube butted next to a coated knurled brass section that serves as the grip. These have a thin plastic core and plastic clicker mechanism buried inside. The metal pocket clip is smooth with no edges that will catch. The spring for the ink cartridge is steel. None of the plastic parts are easily removed which means that the pen just about meets the requirements of food manufacturers where items lost into the production line must be detectable. This despite packaging loudly and proudly proclaiming “All Metal“. It isn’t. But it is a robust and sturdy pen

First and second generations of the F-701. Plastic collar on the first (left), metal on the second (right). The inside of the button clicker is also plastic on the first while the latest incarnation is hollowed out coated brass

For a few years many users of the F-701 were modding it. While fans of the pen, many disliked the plastic collar surround to the metal covered plastic clicker button. This plastic extended to the plastic mechanism insert within the pen’s body. By purchasing the far cheaper Zebra F-402, the all-metal top component from that pen could be swapped out with the plastic parts on the F-701 to give an (almost) all metal construction. Even the pocket clip could be changed. Certainly it looked all metal from the outside. While these changes were for the improved ascetics, there was an issue that the plastic collar at the top of the barrel could break if the pen were dropped, disgorging the internal contents. By changing to a metal collar this improved the general robustness of the pen. It was the first generation of the F-701 that Three Points of the Compass first purchased however I never bothered modding it and simply used it as it was.

The one change I did make to my first generation F-701 pen was to upgrade the ink cartridge from the Zebra to a Fisher pressurised PR4, black ink, fine point refill. All that is required is to remove the little plastic cone insert from inside the Zebra pen tip, this pushes out easily. The Fisher refill then fits perfectly and provides a better ink flow and much longer write line of some 3500 metres.

Three Zebra pens, three different ink cartridges. Top pen is an original F-701 with replacement Fisher Space ink cartridge. Centre is the F-xMD with plastic Zebra ink cartridge, bottom is latest design of F-701 with metal Zebra ink cartridge. The internal clicker mechanism is also different on all three pens

Zebra took note of the popular modification being carried out on their F-701, just as well as there must have been a lot of unwanted pen parts being thrown away. They released the model F-xMD. This was initially sold in Canada before hitting Europe and was effectively the earlier F-701 with the F-402 components fitted as standard. This model had either a plastic refill or plastic refill wrapped with metal. The F-xMD with plastic ink cartridge is shown here. Yet another revamp of the F-701 pen was carried out and in 2018 Zebra provided us with the almost all-metal pen on sale today and also shown here. The internal clicker mechanism in the F-xMD has also been changed in the latest version of the F-701 to permit the metal ink cartridge to be fitted. It now has a soft and quiet though still effective click. While the F-701 originally had a solid piece of plastic with thin metal cover for the clicker button, both F-xMD and newer F-701 now have a hollowed out piece of coated brass for the clicker.

Plastic button on original F-701 has a thin metal cover
Plastic button on original F-701 has a thin metal cover
First generation F-701, with plastic collar. With ink cartridge removed, this weighs 19.7g
mid-generation F-xMD, with metal collar. With ink cartridge removed, this weighs 22.4g
Latest generation of F-701, with metal collar. With ink cartridge removed, this weighs 22.6g
Packaged F-701, "all metal from tip to clip", not!
Packaged F-701, “all metal from Tip to Clip“, not!

The pen is advertised as having a 10mm wide polished stainless steel barrel. That is not quite accurate. The stainless steel part of the barrel is a tad narrower at 9.75mm. The knurled grip part of the barrel, which is actually brass, is 10mm. Overall length of the pen is 133.5mm.

The pen can normally be purchased with blue or black ink with a 0.7mm ball diameter which gives a writing line width of approximately 0.24mm. As purchased, my F-xMD came with black ink, 1.0mm tip and my latest version of F-701 came with a metal ink cartridge with black ink and 0.7mm tip.

F-series Zebra refills can be bought in black (0.8mm, 0.7mm, 1.6mm), blue (0.7mm, 1.0mm) and red F-series. Zebra refills can be a bit hit or miss, especially the older plastic ones. Don’t feel constrained by this however as the latest version of the F-701 will take the ‘write-anywhere’ Fisher Space Pen PR pressurised refills without modification. Plenty of choice there and it is a worthwhile change. There are also plenty of people further modding these pens to fit Parker ballpoint or gel refills of various makes.

The F-701 isn’t a particularly pretty pen, but it is attractive. It looks quality, utilitarian, functional. This pen is ideally suited for being left on the desk at work, carried in the pocket, left around the house. This heavy duty pen has years of life in it. If you loan it out too much, you might find people forgetting to return it. If it is lost, it isn’t that expensive to replace. As I write this you can buy one off Amazon for less than six quid. Zebra guarantee the writing performance of these pens, though not abuse or physical damage. There is an interesting claim to be made!

Which brings us to one final point about this pen. It can also be used for self-defence. You are not going to get this pen confiscated if flying or entering premises where checks are made. It is very obviously a pen and does not look ‘tactical’, unlike the hopeless and far less useful X-701 pen that Zebra released in 2018.

The barrel on this pen has 2mm thick walls. Far thicker than the thin barrels of almost any other pen on the market. It is almost impossible to bend. You could impart some serious damage on an assailant with the F-701. It shouldn’t be purchased or carried with that in mind of course. It is just another EDC factor to consider.

To return to my original question. Is the Zebra F-701 the best EDC pen? Obviously the best pen is the one you have with you. The Zebra F-701 is affordable, well made and can be easily upgraded with a better ink cartridge if desired. Over to you…

The metal barrel of the F-701 is 2mm thick. The thin internal plastic sleeve inside this can just be seen
The metal barrel of the F-701 is 2mm thick. The thin internal plastic sleeve inside this can just be seen
Zebra F-701. Possibly the perfect EDC pen

5 replies »

  1. Damn, you know that line from Inception, that you cannot remove the thought once it is planted? I’ve read your post and now I have to have this pen 😀 Unbelievable. Thank you for interesting read and sharp eye for the details!

    Liked by 3 people

    • I do not know why they feel the need to dress up a perfectly good product as something it is not. It throws doubt on anything else claimed. Still a good pen though

      Liked by 2 people

      • I have 2 of the IM ball points and it was annoying to work out with the second one that there plastic bits so I agree.
        I lost one so was looking for a replacement and it hard to get an all metal pen and if you want it a little thicker it a really problem.
        The Zebra was the number one recommendation.
        The others all screamed tactical which has a little legal problem possibly.

        Liked by 1 person

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