- Buyer's Guide
I’m always on the never ending quest to perfect my EDC setup. Adding new items, removing some entirely, replacing and upgrading others. Based upon experimentation and testing, I’ve found that the perfect items for me to carry on a daily basis are a slim folding pocket knife, tiny and bright flashlight, smartphone, bandana, koozie, keys w/Mega Dangler, wallet, and a pen. All pretty reasonable. Everything has a purpose, everything gets used. But this is Carryology. We’re never satisfied with just any generic bit of kit. We’re always investigating better ways to carry. A bit manically. This endless pursuit led me down the rabbit hole of looking for the best of the best of each item in my everyday carry setup. So the search for the perfect EDC pen began.
I was looking for a slim pen that would disappear in my pocket which was still comfortable to write with, had a classy/classic/simple design aesthetic, a pocket clip (one that isn’t too flashy), would be strong/durable, that could accept a “space pen” ink cartridge refill, was lightweight, and ideally made from titanium (because Ti is amazing and I love it). Searching for a pen that met all of these qualifications already slimmed down the herd quite a bit. I found a few potential candidates, but there was always something missing. Didn’t have a pocket clip, which is how I intended to carry the pen. Looked really tactical and gaudy with lots of machining, not my style. Or just way way too expensive, like $200 and up (it is just a pen, after all).
Then I came across Big Idea Design’s Titanium XTS Pen + Stylus, which was recently launched via Kickstarter. Now that their KS campaign has been (very) successfully funded, you can purchase the pen directly from their website. Everything looked pretty much perfect with this pen, at least from the pixels I could view. I was also highly attracted to their standard-sized Solid Titanium Pen + Stylus and/or their Ti-Click RT. However, since they were full/regular pen size, I knew I wouldn’t carry them in my pocket on a daily basis, which was ultimately the point here. I loved the look and features of the XTS and it appeared to be exactly what I was looking for. So I reached out to Chadwick at Big Idea Design and he immediately got on board for an EDC Road Test. Thanks, Chadwick! Let’s get to it.
The XTS Titanium Pen arrived quickly, suiting a handsome and well-designed two-part box with dense foam to keep the pen and back-plug tip securely in place. Also included was a luxurious micro-fiber felt sleeve for carrying the pen as well as a $5 off coupon for your next order over $50. Impressive so far.
Upon picking up the pen and experiencing the first touch of the pen’s chilly titanium alloy body, you feel that it has a nice quality weight to it. Having experience with titanium, I was concerned that it might actually be too lightweight. Not that this pen is heavy by any means. It is well-weighted in the hand. Substantial mass, rather than the feel of a flimsy toy. But still that “wow” titanium light. A great balance. In fact, it’s kind of hard to put down. The tactile experience almost makes it a little too enjoyable to hold. It was difficult to put down just to photograph for this Road Test. I may have to start a 12-step program.
The soft matte silver finish is actually applied to the titanium, giving it a smart and subdued aesthetic. They do offer some of their other pen designs in the raw titanium finish that I’m such a fan of and I was a bit worried that this silver might have me longing for that darker battleship grey raw tone. But I’m really attracted to this silver finish straight out of the box and it continues to grow even more on me daily. Not too bright or flashy. The way it reflects light, showing a wide range of greys, is really quite sexy. Kind of similar to the finish of an Apple Air laptop, just a few minor shades cooler and darker. Though if Big Idea Design ever released a raw finish XTS, I would immediately pick one up (hint! hint!). But I absolutely would still continue to use this slick silver finish. If there is any finish out there that would be equal or better than raw Ti, it would be this one.
The XTS is also available in a durable matte black finish as well as a polished chrome plating. Both are really pretty (err…handsome?). If I personally had to choose a second favorite, I would swiftly choose the ninja black option. Though that high quality chrome does look pretty cool, like liquid metal.
The branding on the XTS is brilliant. Or I should say, the lack there of branding. A simple “Ti” in a square box is etched onto the pocket clip. For those who played hookie during high school chemistry class, it represents the titanium element on the periodic table. Clever. No other brand logos or model numbers, super clean and stark. It really allows the streamlined, neutral, elegant, balanced, unobtrusive, form-follow-function modernist/Bauhaus-eque design of the product to do all the talking. Less, but better. Dieter Rams would approve. Maybe even own one or two himself. A very nice example of successful Industrial Design aesthetic execution. Iconic, if you ask me.
How well does the XTS perform as an EDC pen? Well, it sits in my jeans pocket perfectly and I forget about it until I need it. That was what I had hoped for.
The clip isn’t a visual aggressor, acting as a nice detail. It’s strong and keeps the pen right where I place it, no pocket roaming. No fiddling. Some pocket clips on mini EDC gear are made from cheap steel that bends out of whack or even breaks after a few uses. Fortunately, they didn’t skimp out here. All 100% Ti. Everything. Doesn’t jab my hand when I reach into my pocket either. Even fits in my fifth pocket.
The cap threads off the top and then can be screwed onto the base/bottom, extending the XTS’s minimal 3.93″ (10.1 cm) closed length to a comfortable-to-write-with 5.4″(13.8 cm). At this longer length, it feels great, even if you have to do quite a bit of writing. Most keychain or miniature pocket pens are just downright uncomfortable to write anything more than a signature with, as you hold them daintily and carefully between your thumb and index finger like a nervous sweating surgeon.
The XTS feels normal to write with at full-length. Compare it to one of my favorite disposable plastic pens (that I keep one of in all my bags), the Pilot Hi-Tec-C, coming in at approximately 6.15″ (15.5 cm) with cap attached to the end and actually a bit shorter than the extended XTS if you write without its plastic cap on the back.
Or for better reference, the XTS extended is a few millimeters longer than a standard Sharpie marker with cap on (closed). So the XTS transforms from a miniature pocket form factor to full-sized pen format in just a couple of effortless twists.
One really impressive detail that may be overlooked by most is the two different thread lengths to screw the cap onto the top for the closed position and to the base for the extended writing position. The XTS requires one full 360-degree rotation to close the pen cap in place on the top. This is so it won’t come unscrewed while wearing it in your pocket, as many screw-on-cap pens so often annoyingly do. I’d like to stress that when it does happen (with other pens), it is so insanely annoying to reach into your pocket, get jabbed by an exposed ink tip and dig around at the bottom of your pocket for the unscrewed cap to put it all back together…just so it can happen all over again next time you go to reach for it. So far, this hasn’t happened to me yet with the XTS. The genius part is that it only requires a half circle turn (180-degrees) to attach it to the base, allowing you to swiftly attach it for taking down quick notes. A very minor detail, but I know for certain that they designed this as a feature that most will probably never even notice. The threads are a wee bit small and within a day of practice, you’ll never have trouble threading the cap onto the top or back.
Pro Tip: If you ever have trouble screwing anything together and are fearful of stripping the threads, place the two parts together so the threads are touching, and rotate as if you’re opening or twisting off (yes, even though you’re attempting to close/twist on). Only a quick backwards quarter turn, usually even less than that. This will “set” the threads into place and now allow you to thread the two parts together, perfectly, every time. This simple trick works with almost all things threaded, so keep it under your cap for the future.
The only single issue that I had with the XTS…it didn’t accept any pressurized “space” ink refill cartridges. Most are familiar with the term “space pen”, which generally refers to the inventor of the technology, Fisher Space Pen Co (shown above, you can see the top Fisher cartridge is too long to fit, compared to the included cartridge below it). However, there are several equal/better pressurized space ink refill manufacturers out there, offering up different length/diameter cartridges, various ink colors, and a range of point thicknesses. These cartridges are pressurized with a thixotropic ink which allows users to write on any angle (even upside down or in zero gravity), on wet surfaces without smudging (even underwater) and in extreme temperatures (from -30ºF to +250ºF). Another added bonus is the ink won’t dry out either. Alas…none of these cartridges fit the XTS and Big Idea Design makes that clear on their website. Yes, none. Don’t try to look. You will waste hours of your life. However, this pen wasn’t designed for that. It was designed (and comes with) the tried, trusty and true Pilot G2 Mini 0.5mm black gel ink cartridge already installed. This is an excellent and perfectly suited ink option for an EDC pen for anyone, even extreme users. For most, that should fulfill all your wildest writing dreams. The XTS can also accept many different compact ink cartridge refills, so choose your favorite out there…there are plenty.
But, like mentioned before, we’re Carryology and we get down to the details, never satisfied with “almost good enough”. Upon the first hour of research (OK, more like 2+ hours), based on my measurements and trying to source anything that would work, I realized that the rumors were true… this XTS would never be fitted with a space pen ink cartridge. The right cartridge just didn’t exist. What was out there was just a little too long or even a little too thin and short. I found one option, but it would require me to superglue an additional part onto the thin cartridge tube and it would provide about 50% less ink than traditional cartridges, so it would run out super fast. Not cool. I reluctantly admitted defeat. Then, almost by accident, I stumbled across a pen and cartridge refill maker out of Germany called Schmidt. They had a super odd-sized space pen cartridge available…the 76.5mm long Schmidt 4876M Megaline Pressurised Ballpoint Pen Refill.
Apparently they had to make these custom for one particular model of tactical pen out there that can only accept this one specific refill. Using eBay, I found a few ($5.85 each), placed an order, and waited about 7-10 days for them to arrive from Hong Kong. They’re available on a few other websites based in the US and Europe if you look really hard, but they’re double the price, so I didn’t mind the wait, as it was an experiment after all.
Sure enough, with a little fiddling (simply trim off 11 mm of the included black plastic adapter tube with an X-Acto knife), the 4876M cartridge dropped right into the XTS like they were meant for each other. Perfect fit.
And voilà, the first known XTS Titanium Pen with a space ink refill cartridge was born. Works like a charm…even upside down, while underwater.
Sometimes it makes sense to have a stylus available for your smartphone or tablet. But who carries one with them at all times? With the XTS, you can affix the conductive silicone tip at the bottom end and have a perfect EDC-able pen that also functions as a stylus. I tested this out on my iPhone 5 and it worked flawlessly. Though, I will admit, I don’t really have any specific apps or any particular use for a stylus in my day to day, so I keep mine stored neatly away in the box’s snug little spot for it. Then I attached the titanium coin-screw back plug (included for free, not an additional cost as you’d expect) to clean up the design, rather than just leaving an exposed threaded hole in the bottom. Nice thoughtful touch there.
The only time this thing leaves my jeans pocket is when I’m using it to jot down a note or to sign something…or when I’m admiring it as I can’t seem to put it down. I love this amazingly designed and executed XTS Titanium Pen + Stylus. After the space refill cartridge mod, I’m pretty certain there isn’t another titanium EDC pen in existence that fits all my specific criteria better than the XTS does. This pen hits all items on my wishlist with flying colors. I firmly believe this is a piece of highly functional Industrial Design art. Plus, come on…it’s titanium.
Think you love Big Idea Design’s Titanium XTS Pen + Stylus as much as we do?
You can purchase one here directly from Big Idea Design for only $55 (with FREE worldwide shipping, which is just insane).
…or, if you have a sharp eye, you may have noticed there were a total of four pens pictured in this Road Test. One silver for the review. Along with one additional silver model, one black, and one chrome for photographing/color comparison. What are we going to do with these three extra XTS pens? Paperweights? Stocking stuffers? Hoard them? No way. Since we love all you readers so much (and since Chadwick at Big Idea Design generously offered up the idea… thanks, man!), we’re going to be doing an XTS Titanium Pen Giveaway! Stay tuned for details.
Best paired with: Crispy Torskeboller with a caviar cream sauce, roasted wild fennel with heirloom tomatoes, and a chilled/shaken shot of Anisette.