Phones are becoming more useful in the outdoors for tracking routes, documenting rare finds, and predicting dicey weather. Of course, around our campsite, simply using one to natter into is still highly verboten. But who can forgo a slim gadget that bridges a camera, GPS, compass, and heart rate monitor?
If you carry a phone in your pack, protect it with a case that’s rugged or waterproof. According to a study by insurance company Squaretrade, 30 percent of phones break after a fall from the hand, and 18 percent meet their death when immersed in water.
In picking our favorite tough cases for the top three new phones, we deliberately chose those that were over-engineered (don’t try to stuff them in a jeans pocket or you will definitely draw attention). But for backpacking or kayaking when your phone is apt to be perched over sharp rocks or water, these cases will have you covered.
Urban Armor Gear for Samsung Galaxy S4
Eco-Fused White Waterproof Case Cover
Innovez Eco Friendly Interchangeable iPhone 5 Case
OtterBox Armor Series Waterproof Case for iPhone 5
Ballistic SG Maxx Series for HTC One
DryCase for HTC One
The Best Smartphone Cases: Urban Armor Gear for Samsung Galaxy S4
Although the Galaxy S4 came out just this week, case designers are already selling protective covers for the Android phone with the monster 5-inch screen. Our favorite cover, from Urban Armor Gear, has a stellar reputation for making adamantine shells for older Android phones and iPhones. The Outland uses a composite plastic outer shell, rubber bumpers on each corner, and a squishy inner layer to absorb shocks. The shape lends rigidity to the envelope. (Outland is simply the company’s model name for the orange version; there are also models in blue, white, and black.)
The Best Smartphone Cases: Eco-Fused White Waterproof Case Cover
The S4 is so new, we haven’t found a tailor-made waterproof case for it yet. One of the best go-to dry bags for large phones is the Eco-Fused which bears an IPX8 rating (meaning it can be continuously submerged beyond 1 meter.) It closes by folding the top and pushing in the two sliders, and you can still operate the touch screen and take photos through the bag making it great for underwater shots.
The Best Smartphone Cases: Innovez Eco Friendly Interchangeable iPhone 5 Case
Sure there are more bulletproof cases for the iPhone 5, but do they biodegrade at the end of their lifespan? The Innovez iPhone 5 Case is made from a high-impact outer shell that breaks down in a microbial environment. The secret ingredient is an additive in the plastic called EcoPure that allows it to absorb moisture and accelerates the breakage of the polymer chain. Unfortunately, the screen is not protected, but the raised edge keeps it safe during falls on flat surfaces. Cases are also available for Samsung Galaxy S4.
The Best Smartphone Cases: OtterBox Armor Series Waterproof Case for iPhone 5
OtterBox’s most badass cell phone case is the iPhone 5’s best defense against bumps and water. The Armor Series survives 10-foot drops on concrete, immersion to 6.6 feet for 30 minutes, or your kid’s mistaken notion that it’s a speed bump for his bike. At almost 4 ounces, however, the box adds considerable heft to your phone, and users note that the headphone ports and buttons can be hard to use. But, then again, a broken phone is a pain miles from home.
The Best Smartphone Cases: Ballistic SG Maxx Series for HTC One
The HTC One, which came out in March, has a strong aluminum case, but that’s no match for drops on hard ground. The SG Maxx Series swaddles the latest HCT phone/tablet like an onion—with a hard, transparent screen protector outside, a polycarbonate shell in the middle, and a soft silicon inner layer that absorbs impacts. It all hooks to a holster with a swivel clip, and you can get it in any color you want as long as it’s black.
The Best Smartphone Cases: DryCase for HTC One
Like the Samsung, the HTC One hasn’t been on the market long enough for a dedicated waterproof case. But DryCase’s bag allows your phone to go deeper underwater than any protective shell would. It’s been tested to 100 feet for one hour, and you can still operate the touchscreen, take photos, and listen to music through headphones. What makes the DryCase so effective is a one-way valve on the side that you use to pump out all the air. (It comes with its own hand pump and arm band.)