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This $8 Space Pen alternative can write on virtually any surface

Don't want to spend $30 on a Space Pen? Check out this affordable alternative that's geared toward outdoor adventures.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor
The Tombow AirPress
Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

A pen is one of those everyday carry (EDC) items that folks who are big into their gadgets always talk about. My favorite for well over two decades has been the Fisher Space Pen. I loved the simplicity of the design, the reliability of the ink, and the whole idea that I was using a pen that was designed for the rigors of space.

But the Space Pen has its drawbacks.

First, the price. At around $30, they're not cheap. And while the lifetime warranty is certainly a plus point -- I've owned a dozen of these pens over the years and used the warranty a few times -- that safety net doesn't help you when you lose the pen.

Also: I spent $129 on a pen and it's spoiled every other writing utensil for me

And that brings me to the second issue: the design makes it easy to lose. The bullet shape is great if you have a pen pocket in your bag or clothes, but it's not so convenient if you keep it in a regular pocket. And the pen's clip isn't strong enough to stay put and falls off easily.

I still love you, Space Pen, but since I'm not going into space anytime soon, I need a pen that's better suited to my terrestrial activities. So meet the Tombow AirPress.

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A friend of mine recently introduced me to these pens that they were issued as part of their search and rescue duties. I expected them to be pricey, but they're just a shade over $8! 

The AirPress looks like any other pen, but it contains some really neat tricks.

First, it's tough. Really tough. I've tried to snap it in half, but as hard as I tried, I could only get a little bend into it. And as soon as I let off the pressure, it popped back into shape.

Also: This stylish electric screwdriver has some big functions for a small price

Speaking of pressure, the ink cartridge is pressurized. However, since it doesn't have to put up with the rigors of space like the Space Pen has to, it's the action of pressing down the clicky button on the top that pressurizes the ink, allowing the pen to write upside down and on a variety of surfaces that would otherwise defeat a pen.

I've tested the claims that the pen can work in temperatures down to -5°C/23°F, and it handles that with no problem. Below this temperature, you might need to warm it up a bit. But as most people keep pens in a trouser or inside a jacket pocket, it's unlikely to be a common issue.

Clicky! Clicky! Clicky! 

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Swapping out the ink cartridge is easy -- unscrew the bottom bit, pull the refill out, and push in a replacement (you can buy a three-pack of refill for under $6. That's compared to the Space Pen refills, which are about $7 each

The Tombow AirPress pen stripped down to replace the ink cartridge

Easy to take apart for maintenance

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

The clip is also robust and can expand and contract to accommodate whatever you want to clamp the pen onto, whether that's a piece of paper or a clipboard.

One of the best, strongest, most versatile clips I've seen on a pen

One of the best, strongest, most versatile clips I've seen on a pen

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

And to make the AirPress just that little bit harder to lose, they come in a variety of colors. Orange is my favorite because it stands out whether the pen is lost in a bag or fallen into a bush. There's also a loop for a lanyard if you're particularly prone to losing things.

Lanyard loop on a Tombow AirPress pen

The lanyard loop is a nice touch

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

For just a shade over $8 (different colors come at different prices), you can't find a better pen for the price. Really tough and well made, beautifully engineered, and not going to break the bank if you have to replace it because it gets lost or "borrowed," the Tombow AirPress is a great choice for any setting.

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