What is the best pen for drawing your route on a map?

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The discussion pages have been pretty quite since the Jukola/Venla, so we need a new question -- what is the best pen for drawing your route on a map?

This is exactly the sort of question that some OK discussion page reader should be able to research (JJ, Mook, others?). What are the criteria we should use to evaluate a pen? I'd think you need to consider, at the very least, price and ink.

-- Michael (meglin@juno.com), June 28, 2000


This is the sort of question that tends to keep me up nights! I think that one could spend a lot of time and a lot of money coming up with the perfect pen only to find out that once you've decided on a pen, it is no longer in production. I'll have to come back to this question and quote the brand of pen I use since I don't have one with me. I use a fine red felt-tipped pen that seems to be rather good.

More generally what sort of pen properties ought one seek out when shopping for a good route drawing pen? I will begin by listing things that I would prefer: (1) a visible color not to be confused with the colors used on o'maps (e.g., red is nice) (2) a sufficiently fine line so as not to obscure many important details on the map, (3) a pen that doesn't leak ink before it is put in contact with the paper (feather-tipped pens and inkwells might be classy, but can be messy), (4) an ink that doesn't bleed across the paper, (5) an ink that dries reasonably well and quickly, (6) a pen that doesn't require much pressure to apply the ink and won't dry up with use (I don't think Bic ball-point pens are that good for drawing routes) (7) ink that stays in the paper well is good because it may be difficult to keep the map dry in the years ahead and ink that is water-soluble can disappear or worse (8) the pen should be a good one to take orienteering, one that can be mushed into bags and stored in any orientation and will always work and won't break, good pens should have nice caps or other means of staying moist, (9) I think that price is something to at least ponder... It looks good to show off a nice pen at A-meets, but I don't think a pen of all things makes or breaks the orienteer. It would be cool to have club pens with OK logos and all, but that's not really essential for getting a job done. (10) a pen with a "big name" manufacturer is helpful - if you find one you like you are likely to be able to find more, (11) one should be able to draw routes well with the pen - the tip should be easily viewable by the user and not blocked in any way and the pen should be able to glide smoothly over the paper (but perhaps with some constant resistance, this is a personal issue of course, one must be used to whatever "feel" a particular pen has). (13) by all means, buy a pen from a reputable dealer and keep your proof of purchase. Don't be shy about returning a pen that just doesn't cut it!

I think there are many other things to consider when purchasing a pen - it isn't a decision to be taken lightly. A good pen can be with you for years (like a good friend). On the other hand, one shouldn't feel obligated to stick with an inferior pen just to satisfy some nostalgic feelings - pen technology is always advancing - in 6 months the pens you buy today will be quite antiquated and you might find much better performance by upgrading.

-- Mook (everett@psi.edu), June 28, 2000.

Pen? Dave Linthicum's routes were drawn in pencil. Light enough to still see the details on the map but still visible to read. But, I haven't had any luck finding the right density (lead strength) of pencil so I've redrawn in some kind of ink pen. . . and usually cover up too much of the map details.

-- mean gene (gmw@ukans.edu), June 28, 2000.

I use a thick black majic marker, having already been on the map along that line I know exactly what the map should look like.

-- Snorkel (danielmeenehan@aol.com), July 01, 2000.

I actually have a pretty strong opinion on this, that is, there is one pen that definitely prefer to use, enough so that I will delay drawing my route if I don't have one at hand. That pen is the Staedtler Lumocolor 316 (F point, non-permanent, orange).

My own preferences may not fit the needs of others. First, as someone with red/green colorblindness, I find the orange to be an excellent color, one that stands out better than red (which can get lost in the contour lines for me). The orange is visible against all map colors, and this pen will write on top of 100% ink coverage. There is also a permanent version, which some might prefer, but the permanent colors have a tendency to be a little more opaque. I've tried a number of pens, and this one does exactly what I want. It can be found at art supply stores, and the only ones I have here with price tags say $1.59 (don't know how long ago that was).

I'll point out as a side note that I've never gotten into the strange practice of drawing little arrowheads to show my route along a trail. All I can think is that this is a remnant from the days of drawing a route on a B&W map with a black pen, without obliterating the trail. I draw routes on trails with an orange line.

And as a second side note, the Cadillac of pens for drawing courses (for master maps, or for hand-drawn competition maps) is the Staedtler Lumocolor 311 (S point, non-permanent, purple), or the Staedtler Lumocolor 313 (S point, permanent, purple). I've had an IOF controller swearing that a course was offset-printed, when in fact it was hand-drawn by me with a 311.

-- J-J (jjcote@juno.com), July 02, 2000.

I am a bit curious about what it is like to have red/green colorblindness as an orienteer. Does the control blend in with green vegetation? Is the map somewhat hard to read? And when you seen either red or green, does it look red or green, or does it look like some other color?

-- Mook (everett@psi.edu), July 06, 2000.

Some of these questions are philosophical in nature. What does it mean to say that something "looks" red or green, except in the context of ones own perspective? My condition is known as "red/green deficiency, and as a genetic condition, as far as I know nobody has ever been on both sides of it to make a comparison.

From my point of view, red and green look different. Generally speaking, they're quite distinct and you couldn't confuse them. But then the anomalies creep in: a) near the edges, the differences diminish, that is, olive and rust aren't all that different, b) in low light conditions, the distinctions aren't all that great, and red and green can get a little ambiguous, c) green traffic lights look completely white to me, like streetlights (the new LED ones are much greener), d) I just can't understand the use of the word "bright" in relation to the color red (yellow is bright, red is not), and e) I wouldn't have bothered to give separate names to blue and purple, as I can rarely distinguish between them.

But that said, bear in mind that it was only about 2 1/2 years ago that I found out I was colorblind! Went to get new glasses, they included a colorblindness test, and I flunked completely. Kind of explained a lot of things.

So, how does it affect orienteering? Well, I think there are variations from person to person in terms of just what wavelengths get screwed up, and mine isn't so bad for orienteering. (The aforementioned traffic light issue is the crux of my problem.) I've seen a guy who, sitting at a table with a map under good illumination, could not see the red start triangle amid some busy green detail, even when it was pointed out to him. I typically have no trouble seeing courses, in red or purple, unless the lines are too fine (although one of my few DSQs was because I just didn't see a circle in a busy area - no change of direction at the control - and missed it completely). In the woods, maybe I don't see the orange of controls as easily as some other folks. The white part of the bag usually stands out a bit better (unless the mountain laurel is in bloom and there are white things everywhere!). I do know colorblind people who can see the blue tops of milk jugs at a water stop long before the control. And if all you hung out there was a bunch of red punches, I'd be in pretty rough shape. Red doesn't look like green, but neither does it jump out at me like blue or yellow can. It's probably on a par with black in terms of how much it grabs me.

-- J-J (jjcote@juno.com), July 07, 2000.

The KU Bookstore at the Kansas Union is a good local source for the Staedtler Lumocolor pens that JJ favors. The bookstore didn't have a huge selection of colors -- no purple and no orange. But, the price was right. The pens were $1.35 each. After you buy your pen, drop by Gene's office and (if there is time) have a cup of Starbucks "kaffe" at the Hawks Nest. When will the Union add "bullar"?

-- Michael (mike_eglinski@kcmo.org), July 19, 2000.

I remember reading this discussion about pens last year and have a similar question for a situation I've faced in Adventure Racing a couple of times.

Both times, the race organization has provided a laminated USGS 24k topo map. We usually have to mark the control points when given UTM coordinates. The typical pens (for paper) don't work and a ball- point pen eventually rubs off (but leaving an indentation in the lamination because you had to push so hard to get the ink to stick). I got a black sharpie pen (probably not the finest width available) to work and not wash off, but they obscure a lot of detail around the control site.

Any body have any ideas?

-- Eric S. (erics1999@email.msn.com), July 12, 2001.

Sharpies come in a variety of colors and widths. Red might be a good option, instead of black, with a finer point to avoid obscuring too much detail. Another option is to go to an art supply store and ask what they recommend.

-- Mary (maprunner@juno.com), July 12, 2001.

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