I have long been a believer in small blunt objects such as 2-cell flashlights for self-defense. Small flashlights can be taken everywhere, even environments where no “weapons” are allowed, are useful on a regular basis for other tasks, and focus a defensive strike into a much smaller area, literally acting as a force multiplier. A few years ago, a wave of “tactical pens” hit the market, deliberately designing in features such as knurling for gripping in emergencies, penetrating tips, and crennelated bezels. I view many of these designs with skepticism. If an everyday tool becomes weaponized to the extent that it is recognizably a weapon, it will then no longer be allowed in “sterile” environments, and any advantage conferred by the additional tactical features has been lost. An additional problem with many of the tactical pen designs is cost. I have plenty of tactical toys. I absolutely am not going to pay as much for the Pen of Mass Destruction as I would for a nice knife.
My goals for this review are simple. Find an affordable pen that is inconspicuous enough to fit easily into any common environment. It must function well enough as a pen to see frequent, and perhaps daily use. It must inflict a reasonable amount of damage on a target, while not injuring the user. And, since many of us love sharing the gear we think works well, I also will pay attention to the presentation and packaging of the pens. Let’s get started.
Note: despite not being listed as a prohibited item on the “Prohibited Items” list- and even though falling under the “7 inch tool rule”- TSA also says, “The final decision rests with TSA on whether to allow any items on the plane”. This equates to “TSA can do anything they want, even if they contradict themselves”, and is just another reminder that this dangerous, out-of-control bureaucracy should be called to heel.
The Azan Defender was purchased from Amazon for $8.49. That has since dropped to $4.99 with included shipping. The Defender came in a brightly colored box. The box was reasonably attractive, but thin enough that it showed wear immediately after opening.
I chose the chrome colored Defender. The pen is large and feels solid, and the color contrasts nicely with the black clip. It has a penetrating/sharp tip on the far end with grooves underneath it, longitudinal lines on the barrel, and a rubber sleeve near the tip. This is a twist pen, and retracting the ball point requires loosening the barrel
The Azan Guardian was also purchased from Amazon for $8.49. Like the Defender, the Guardian’s price has now dropped to $4.99 with included shipping. The Guardian is about the length of the Defender minus the spike, but the grooves and lines on the barrel are different, as well.
The Guardian has a blunt bezel, but there are no protruding crennelations, as there are with many so-called “strike bezels”. While I do like the rubber sleeve on the Defender, my initial impression is preference for the Guardian. The Guardian differs from most standard twist ball-point pens only in being very sturdy. Retracting the ball point also requires loosening the barrel.
Master Cutlery’s Tom Anderson Twister Tactical pen was purchased off Amazon for $11.72. In a case of caveat emptor, Amazon’s title is “Tactical Pen Tatical Knife and Pen Set” (there is no “set”, just the pen). I chose the black version.
The Tom Anderson came in a box that reminded me of Blackhawk’s lame fake explosions advertising of a few years ago, but inside the box, the pen was attractively nestled in black foam. The Twister Tactical in person looks more interesting than menacing. It is a little shorter than the Azan Guardian, with longitudinal grooves and gripping ridges extending 3/4 up the length of the pen. Despite the Amazon blurb claiming “the pen top has a heavy, sharp and jagged crown”, the bezel teeth on the Twister are small, inoffensive looking, and not at all sharp. Only the most rabid TSA employee or customs inspector would have any issue with this pen.
The MTech Xtreme Tactical Pen was purchased off Amazon for $11.41. This has risen to $12.52 since my order. Black appears to be the only color choice for this pen.
The Xtreme came in a glossy black box. Like the Master Cutlery Twister Tactical, the Xtreme was attractively held by black foam. The Xtreme has grooves around the barrel about every 1/4″, and knurling underneath the crennelated bezel. While not especially conspicuous, the teeth on the bezel are definitely sharper than on the Master Cutlery offering. The Xtreme is longer than all of the pens except for the Azan Defender, though it is not as bulky as the Azan pens.
Consumers should read descriptions carefully when ordering anything they have not had a chance to handle. I ordered the Smith and Wesson Compact Penlight from Amazon for $15.12. It came in a plastic clam shell, and when I looked at it, I discovered it’s an actual “penlight” in the sense of the size. There is no pen- what looks like a ball point pen at the front is actually just a glass-breaker spike.
The Compact Penlight is black, with knurling on the middle third of the barrel, and grooves near the flashlight end. The Penlight is almost exactly the length of the Azan Guardian, but slimmer. Retracting the ball point on every one of the four pens I received requires loosening the lower third of the barrel, which could cause problems if the owner had to defend himself. Despite being disappointed the Penlight is not a pen as well, for defensive purposes, I was happy the Penlight would not need to be loosened to keep an owner from getting ink on a nice shirt or blouse- until I inserted the 2 AAA batteries, and found that I had to loosen the top third of the Penlight to turn the light off! My initial impression is that the Penlight has at least a minor advantage for defensive use, but since the front is an actual spike, it’s also the tool I would expect to be most likely to be confiscated if examined closely by TSA or other security.
Testing the pens provided a challenge. The human body reacts differently than fixed targets. Using a pen to defend yourself is always going to be reactive: if we had to choose a weapon to defend ourselves, a pen certainly wouldn’t be our first choice! So the pen will always be a weapon of opportunity, less than ideal, and the goal is to get away from an attack.
With these goals, and human anatomy in mind, I tried to find fair ways to test these pens. Every pen will always have a piercing tip, whether it’s a tactical pen or not. I needed to find a target that would demonstrate whether these pens could provide results if used defensively on a target that stands and reacts like the human body. The first target was a coffee can wrapped with a single layer of cardboard.
If attacked, the only likely targets for a defender are the arms, hands, neck, and face of an assailant. Human arms are frequently wrapped in clothes, so I put double layers of flannel over the can. To replicate the way people react when hit, I attached the can to a 4 foot rod inserted into a planter.
Every pen has a sharp point, and I wanted to test penetration first. I would usually always wear protective gloves when performing any cutting or stabbing test, but part of this test was whether using these pens defensively would injure the user as well as the attacker. I did wear Oakleys sunglasses, since explaining at my age how I put my eye out with a pen would be almost as bad as actually losing the eyeball.
I began with a Pilot Easy Touch as a control.
I struck the target with a medium-hard strike, about the impact I would think someone who was desperate and potentially off-balance might be able to muster. The can moved about a foot when struck, I was disappointed to find no holes in the flannel, but hoped l that the tactical pens would prove more effective.
I began with the Azans, and worked my way down in alphabetical order. With the Azan Defender, I was again disappointed to find no holes in the flannel. The Guardian was the same, as was the Master Cutlery and the MTech. I was hopeful that the spike on the S&W Penlight would be different, but again, I saw no holes.
When I pulled the flannel layers off the can, the results were more encouraging. The flannel actually had been penetrated each time, but the holes had not been visible while on the can. There were 6 holes in the cardboard.
Looking at the inside of the can showed 4 indentations of approximately equal size where the Azans, Master Cutlery, and MTech impacted. The S&W Penlight’s spike showed a much larger indention. The Pilot impact did not dent the can.
Every pen has a pointy side, but some of the tactical pens have blunt sides, too. My initial impression was that in real life, a blunt bezel will be just as effective in almost every situation as a spike, while being safer on a daily basis for the user, and less likely to cause any legal problems.
For this test, I used an identical coffee can with single cardboard layer and 1 thickness of flannel. I began with the ElZetta ZFL-M60 as my blunt impact control. Blunt force strikes can numb or damage a target without obvious penetration damage. The M60 strike moved the can vigorously, and showed an imprint on the cardboard. The Azan Defender showed the penetration I expected. Both the completely blunt-ended Guardian and Penlight showed definite imprints. The crennelations on the Master Cutlery and the MTech left “teeth” marks on the cardboard, with the sharp MTech leaving especially clear cut marks.
The inside of the can showed an indentation from every hit, with slightly more protrusion from the Defender spike. The ElZetta M60 showed the least defined hit, but that entire side of the can was crumpled in. No other part of the can showed similar damage. I only noticed any discomfort with the clip on the MTech during both bezel and point strikes, but it was not enough to cut flesh either time.
Okay, so these pens can be used to hit things with a good chance that the strike will not injure the user- but can they write? The Azan Defender feels surprisingly good for such a large and long pen, but is just a little too thick to be comfortable for writing much at a time. Even though the Guardian has the same diameter barrel, it tapers near the point, and definitely feels better when writing.
The Master Cutlery Tom Anderson TWister Tactical is pleasantly balanced and not too thick, heavy, or long. I rate it equal to the Azan Guardian because the ridges could become uncomfortable if used for longer periods of time.
The MTech Xtreme is not too thick, and is a good texture for extended writing. It would be even better for writing if it were not quite so long, but I still judge it the overall best feeling pen for writing of this group.
Every one of these pens features identical replaceable ink cartridges, they all work reasonably to very well as pens, and they all are inexpensively priced. I am disappointed that anyone with these pens will have to choose between loosening the barrels or leaking ink on their clothes. After testing, I do believe that crennelated bezels and penetrating tips give at least a slight cutting advantage, but I think that theoretical advantage must be weighed against the liabilities. I would never attempt to take the Azan Defender, with its spike tip, in carry-on airline luggage or into federal buildings, and I think that spike makes self-injury over time very likely. The S&W Tactical Penlight, with its solid spike and light, is the first of this lot I’d want if I was walking back to my car in a dark parking garage, but again, I’d be reluctant to try to bring it into a federal building (though it does look less weapon-like than the Defender). Both the Azan Guardian and the Master Cutlery Tom Anderson are comfortable pens that do not appear aggressive. The MTech Xtreme is my overall favorite of this group, but it’s a little larger and looks a bit more tactical than the Master Cutlery.
As always, sturdy 2-cell lights like MiniMags, SureFires, and my favorite ElZettas make very effective impact tools. If you choose a light without the so-called strike bezel, these lights can be taken anywhere, even places where tactical pens may not be allowed. Plan ahead, watch your surroundings, and if you find yourself in a bad situation use your brain and whatever other weapons are available to you.