Travel is hard on electronics. Bumpy bus rides, extreme climates, exposure to the elements and more, the list of gadget-killers out there seems endless… and that’s not even counting the biggest danger of all: our own clumsiness.
Smartphones usually get the worst of it. Between drops, splashes and scratches, there are many threats to protect your phone from – especially if you shelled out for something expensive like an iPhone.
Here are our picks for the best rugged cases for iPhones in 2016. The prices and links provided are for the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus, but all of these cases are also available for iPhone 5 and 5s.
Best Overall Rugged iPhone Case: Lifeproof Fre
The Lifeproof honors its name by being the toughest, driest phone case out there. With an IP-68 rating, it can be submerged in water up to six feet (2 meters) deep for an hour and live to tell the tale.
The reverse situation is also guaranteed: your phone will survive a two meter fall, meeting military drop test standards.
With complete wraparound coverage, your iPhone is fully protected against the elements. If you are planning an adventure trip with jet-skiing and mountain hiking on the schedule, or are a self-confessed klutz who has been known to go swimming with your iPhone in your pocket, this is the case for you.
Best Budget Rugged Case: Anker Ultra Protective Case
Protective cases can be expensive, yes – but not all of them. Anker’s version, which retails for a mere $10, passes the clumsy test. Dropped six times from three feet, both case and phone came out the other side beaming.
There is no shortage of protection, as the case uses a screen protector to fully enclose the phone, and has a reinforced frame and corners. The case has good grip, as well as built-in port and button covers.
Sure, it’s not waterproof, nor as fancy as some of the competition, but it’s also a fraction of the price. If you’re after decent protection on a budget, this is the case to go for.
Best Case for the Beach: ZVE Waterproof Case
The ZVE was created for both beach bums and underwater explorers alike. It will keep your iPhone protected even when submerged up to six feet (two meters) below the surface. That’s not enough for scuba diving, but you’ll be fine with snorkeling on the surface.
The wraparound design also stops sand, dust and sunscreen from getting in, should you decide to stay on dry-ish land.
Despite its toughness, the start button, touch screen and fingerprint sensor will all still work while the phone is encased. The microphone and speaker are covered by non-permeable membranes, making sure no water gets in, but sound quality remains decent.
Best Indestructible Case: Ballistic Hardcore
With four layers of protection and a spring system to help absorb any impact, the Ballistic is not just tough, it’s almost unbreakable. It can survive a drop from 12 feet (3.5 meters), and is fully protected against dust and splashes.
Keep in mind that it’s not fully waterproof, though, and shouldn’t be submerged.
Made from aluminum and stainless steel, the frame is heavily padded and includes a built-in screen protector. It’s some of the best iPhone protection you can find for under fifty bucks.
Best Case for Butterfingers: Kenu Highline
While not primarily a protective case, the Kenu merits a mention on this list anyway. It does a phenomenal job not protecting from drops, but preventing them from happening in the first place.
The Kenu looks like a bungee cord for your phone, which attaches to your backpack or pocket. Your phone stays safely by your side at all times. The Kevlar leash attaches to the phone via the Lightning port, creating a secure attachment. Bonus: Kenu also provides a solid safeguard against pickpockets.
We reviewed an earlier standalone version of the Kenu here. Later models require use of the included polycarbonate case.
Best Case for Screen Protection: Speck MightyShell & Faceplate Case
Smashed screens are arguably the most common way to damage an iPhone. Even though they’re not necessarily fatal, they can make using the phone a lot more difficult.
Speck kept that in mind when designing the MightyShell: its Faceplate protects the screen just as thoroughly as the case protects the rest of the phone. It’s even capable of absorbing direct impacts, while not compromising the functionality of the start button.
The rest of the case doesn’t lag behind: compliant with military drop test standards, its radial design shields the phone from impact shock.
All images via manufacturers. Main image via Lifeproof.