Digital Gear (3): Turn your phone into a survivor

smartphone protection

Worried your pricy new smartphone won’t survive a wilderness trek? I don’t blame you. There’s a good chance that delicate device will end up buried in mud, smacked against rocks or smothered in camp fire-cooked mac and cheese.

But there are ways to reduce the chances your phone will perish on the trail. The market is flooded with beefed-up cases so heavily armoured you’d think that was a rubber brick in your backpack. Plus, simply paying attention to the climate may help you keep that phone alive.

So if your heart is set on using all those cool hiking apps you’ve just downloaded, check out these ways to help turn your urbane smartphone into a trail-worthy tool.

Heavy duty phone protection

More case-making companies are targeting hikers and other “extreme sports” enthusiatists with armour shells that look like they could survive a fall from CN Tower.

Case-Mate’s Tank smartphone case has attracted plenty of attention.  Its ads boast of “military grade” protection with a soft interior and hard exterior. The Tank also features a retractable screen cover. But while the Tank will provide added resistance to rain, it is not submersible.

Otterbox is another case company that caters to outdoor fanatics. It even targets hunters with their Defender Series with Realtree Camo. I wonder how easy it is to find if you drop it in the bush.

Overall, the Defender series offers a three-layer design that will boost your phone’s durability. The company also offers its Pursuit Series dry boxes, which provide protection for any other breakables you might take on your trek. But the bulky size of the boxes might make them impractical to take on longer treks.

Both the Tank and Defender series cases cost about $60. Not cheap. You can search for other coverings that maximize phone protection at


Keeping your smartphone dry

Wrapping your device in a plastic Ziploc bag works reasonably well and it costs next to nothing. But durability can become a factor. If a hole in the bag goes unnoticed or it’s not sealed properly, your pricey device could end up swimming in a pool of rain water or condensation.

For those who often find themselves soaked, Sealine offers an array of submersible cases that still allow you to use the touch screen, button and voice functions. The company markets to kayakers primarily, but these cases are useful if you’re trekking in the rain and mud.

The UK-based Aquapac also offers a number of popular submersible bags to cover your phone in that are quite popular.


Tough climates can wear down your phone

There’s some debate surrounding how well smartphones perform in “extreme” conditions. Apple recommends that you don’t expose iPhones to temperatures much below freezing or above 35C (95 fahrenheit).  Meanwhile Samsung says its phones will function in between -20C (-4 fahrenheit) and 50C (122 fahrenheit).

Temperature drops can affect how resilient your device is, which mean even slight bumps can cause more damage than expected. Also, extreme cold can cause temporary loss of the screen display.

PC World tested the temperature endurance of some of the most popular phones last year. It found that they all hit the breaking point at -40.

It’s unlikely you’ll do a lot of trekking in -40 weather. However, evaluating the weather before determining what kind of phone protection you need just makes sense.

Sometimes a simple case and a Ziploc bag will cut it; other times, you’ll need much more protection. Just make sure that you’re not stressing about your smartphone’s safety during your trip.

In the backcountry, you have much more important things to think about.

Part three in the three-part series ‘Digital Gear,’ which focuses on the use of smartphones in the backcountry.


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About the author

Dustin Walker

Dustin Walker is a journalist, travel copywriter and editor/owner of Slick and Twisted Trails. Follow him on Twitter @dustinjaywalker


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