Apple’s latest iPhone is surprisingly robust given its light weight. It has been designed to only survive minor drops in a friendly environment. Serious falls, dirt and water aren’t a factor and that’s a problem if you’d like to use your iPhone while camping, hiking, playing sports or in other adverse weather conditions.
A durable, reliable case can be a life-saver in these situations, but tough cases are harder to find than those built to provide aesthetic value with some minimal protection. To save you time, we’ve rounded up five of the best.
Griffin Survivor + Catalyst ($79.99)
The Survivor + Catalyst isn’t closely related to Griffin’s Survivor case despite its similar name. The Catalyst is more attractive, thanks to its transparent materials and colorful frame. And, unlike the standard Survivor, it’s waterproof.
Griffin rates this case as being waterproof up to 9.8 meters, which is bested only by the Hitcase Pro. In addition, this case will help your iPhone survive drops of up to six feet and significant exposure to dirt. The performance of the Survivor + Catalyst isn’t best-in-class, but at $79.99, it’s affordable and you can find it for even less on Amazon.
Hitcase and Hitcase Pro ($89.99/$129.99)
All of the cases are this list are tough and waterproof, but the Hitcase takes durability to another level. It easily trumps the other cases by remaining watertight in up to 10 meters of water (three times better than the Griffon Survivor + Catalyst) while providing full protection from shock, vibrations and dirt. There’s nothing the Hitcase can’t handle.
Adventurers should check out the upgraded Hitcase Pro, which adds a wide-angle lens for the iPhone’s camera and a rail-mount system lets you use your phone as a miniature GoPro Hero. These features are available elsewhere, but not in conjunction with a rugged case.
These benefits aren’t cheap. The regular Hitcase sells for $89.99, which doesn’t sound bad – but unlike competitors, Hitcase doesn’t slash prices below the MSRP. Going Pro increases the price to $129.99, which is double the price of most of the cases on this list.
Incipio Atlas ($89.99)
Incipio has built its reputation on cases that are sleek and attractive yet also functional. The Atlas, Incipio’s entry into the tough case market, is no exception. Its design adds minimal bulk and, in my opinion, is by far the most attractive on this list.
Yet the Atlas still means business. It is waterproof at up to two meters for one hour and meets military protection standards against water and dust. A shock-absorbent silicon layer inside the case absorbs shocks and jolts while the rigid polycarbonate outer shell protects from scratches and impacts that might otherwise destroy your phone. This isn’t the case for you if maximum durability is the goal, but it provides better protection than most without turning your iPhone into a brick.
The official MSRP for the Atlas is $89.99, which seems a bit high. However, online retailers will sometimes shift this case for as little as $50 and I think anything below $75 is a reasonable price.
Like Hitcase, Lifeproof is a company that exists only to make tough cases. The company’s case was among the first waterproof designs for the iPhone and has earned a following over the years because of its “four proofs” advertising, which promises protection against water, dirt, snow and shock. Lifeproof will even replace any iPhone or iPad that is destroyed because its case failed.
The case itself is not the most attractive on the market but is relatively slim and adds little bulk to the iPhone’s frame. Water protection is promised for 30 minutes at up to two meters and the case meets various standards for dust, dirt and shock. Overall, the Lifeproof compares closely to the Incipio Atlas – it’s no Ironman, but can survive most situations.
The Lifeproof has an MSRP of $79.99. Shopping around online will save some money, but not much, so you can expect to pay at least $70 after shipping. Again, this is in par with the Incipio, so choosing between them will be a matter of personal preference.
Otterbox Armor ($99.95)
There’s no case company with a stronger brand than Otterbox. At outlets like Best Buy and even the Apple Store you’re likely to see Otterbox in stock. The company became popular because of its commitment to building tough (if bulky) cases, and the Armor is no exception.
This case can withstand water for up to 30 minutes at a depth of two meters, protect your iPhone from a ten-foot drop and withstand two tons of crushing force. The latter two metrics are the most interesting because competing claims about shock and crush resistance are generally far less. Otterbox claims the Armor to be the world’s toughest case and, water resistance excluded, that claim seems valid.
Bulk is the only flaw. Donning the Armor adds four ounces of weight and a nearly a half-inch of thickness to your iPhone for the $99.95 MSRP the manufacturers are quoting. After shopping around you’ll probably have to pay at least $80 for this case, which isn’t terrible, but puts it close to the more attractive and slimmer Hitcase.
There are two classes of case here; tough cases and really tough cases. The Griffin, Incipio and Lifeproof offerings fill the “tough” category, while the Hitcase and Otterbox Armor take durability to another level.
But that doesn’t mean the toughest iPhone cases are the best for you. Price aside, they’re less practical because the bulk that protects your phone also makes it more difficult to use. I only recommend an ultra-rugged case if you’re actually a mountain climber, back-packer, kayaker or otherwise inclined to take your iPhone into challenging situations. Other, lighter cases will still protect your phone from snow, dust an dirt without consuming your pocket.
Have you used a rugged iPhone case? Is $80+ too much for a case? Do you have any recommendations? Let us know what you think in the comments below.