When you see a Zebra F-701 in the wild, you instantly recognize the stainless steel barrel and knurled grip section. It's been around quite a while, it's widely distributed and available in big-box stores, and it's very affordable. At around six bucks, some people might think it's a bit pricey, but they're comparing that to the number of Pilot G-2s they can purchase for the same price. If you've held a F-701, you know there's a big difference.
The F-701 has a special place in my heart because I used them in college for the majority of my classes. It was a reliable, durable, and classy-looking pen that I enjoyed using to take notes. The refill was never my favorite due to the typical ballpoint splotchiness, but it's a reliable refill despite the normal ballpoint downfalls.
In short, if you've never used a F-701, you should try one out. You can't come close in this price range, and it also has a nice trick up its sleeve to make it worth your while.
From the outside, the F-701 is all stainless steel except for the top section that houses the nock. If you're motivated enough, you can swap out that black piece for the stainless counterpart used in the F-402, but I haven't tried that modification yet. The grip has a pleasant knurling effect that makes it extremely easy to hold on to, but without being uncomfortable or stabby like more aggressive knurling patterns. Despite being metal, it's still light. The clip is strong, and you don't have to worry about this pen falling off your clothes or bags. The click mechanism is incredibly smooth and quiet. From an aesthetic point of view, this pen is sharp. You'll know immediately if you like it.
From a writing perspective, it performs along the same lines as other traditional ballpoints. The ink is a bit splotchy and light, and the 0.7mm size makes a very fine line. It never has issues starting or skipping, and I've never had any defective refills in my years of using this pen. Apart from the normal downsides of a ballpoint refill, this is a top notch example of a great performing refill.
But, what if you want something better? Well, you're in luck. The Fisher Space Pen refill fits this pen like a glove — it almost seems like Zebra had this in mind when making the pen. If you want my advice, throw a Fisher refill in the cart when you purchase the F-701 to cover your bases. The combination of this pen and the Fisher refill yield a cost-effective, durable, and attractive EDC writing instrument. If you're inclined, I'm sure other refills will fit this pen as well. The Schmidt EasyFlow seems like a good candidate if you can negotiate the plastic butt that extends the overall length.
The Zebra F-701 is a classic, and for good reason. It's a sturdy and affordable pen that most people recognize. Coming in at $6 means you can afford to take a chance, and you can probably find them at your local big-box retailer. If you haven't used one before, throw one in on your next order!
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