Tough equipment for tough jobs

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I’ve been a fan of Pelican/Storm cases for decades. My first one—back when they only came in grey—carried my camera equipment on the decks of my sea kayaks for years, exposed to frequent splashing and the odd full slam from a wave. A later, larger case with a LowePro insert did photographic duty in Africa, including one trip when a careless fellow journalist knocked it (fortunately closed) out of the back of a moving Land Rover, while I gasped and then watched it tumble until it came to rest in a large pile of elephant dung. Contents secure.

Pelican cases have their downsides: They’re heavy for their volume, and not cheap. But when you absolutely must trust that your equipment will survive in working order, nothing surpasses the peace of mind afforded when you snap those latches closed.

Consider this one. Wally Stoss of P3 Solar showed it to me the other day when I was picking up one of his Dynamo AC600 power packs, which we use along with a 200-watt PV panel to power the headquarters at the Overland Expo. Wally builds similar, DC-only units for BLM fire crews, so they can charge batteries and radios in the field. Recently a crew manager called and asked if he could drop off a Pelican Storm case, because, “The charge controller and battery came loose inside.” Further questioning revealed that the unit in question had been parachuted to a ground crew—except the parachute had failed to open.

The case was still in perfect working order, as was Wally’s charging system. A credit to Pelican and P3 Solar’s products.


Pelican's brilliant Air cases

On the off chance you haven’t noticed, except perhaps for the fantastically wealthy among us airline travel is no longer this:

Or this:


I could go on. These days we’re more likely to feel kinship with passengers on the ships that sailed to Van Diemen’s Land in the 19th century.

The latest erosion of our humanity concerns our luggage. Airlines have realized that we’ve been being massively selfish to want to bring along spurious stuff like, say, clothing, on our vacations. Some have gone so far as to grant us the enormous favor of “First Bag Free!” offers, that we might grovel with gratitude. 

Then there are the carry-on items. (Brief interlude here: A vulture is getting on an airplane with a dead, stinking rabbit under his wing. The stewardess makes a face and says, “Uh, sir, may I check that for you?” And the vulture says, “No thanks, this is carrion.”)

Where was I? Right: I actually have no problem with reasonable carry-on restrictions. Way too much experience cringing in a aisle seat while someone tries to heave an overstuffed carry-on bag into the compartment directly over my head—endangering my skull and cervical vertebrae if he drops it—while viciously shoving aside my own smaller bag. Many of these bags clearly would not have fit in the little trial cage at the counter if anyone had challenged them.

Several years ago Roseann and I solved one problem by employing a pair of Pelican 1510 cases as our own carry-on bags. Completely crush-proof, we could store cameras and laptops inside with zero fear of damage from fellow passengers. They had rollers when needed, and served as decent seats in airports such as Nairobi International, where chairs are virtually non-existent. The capacity was reasonable but the case was significantly smaller than the overstuffed cheap bags, leaving our consciences untroubled. (Bonus: A Pelican case makes a fine impromptu safe in a vehicle when padlocked shut and cabled to a seat track.)

However, that protection had a cost. The 1510 weighs 13.6 pounds packed with nothing but atmosphere. Filled with Canon DSLR equipment mine was upwards of 33. And now many airlines are cracking down on carry-on weight, especially for intercontinental flights. We ran into it the first time last year when a desk agent insisted on weighing ours, expressed polite incredulity at mine, and forced us to stuff lenses and binoculars into our checked duffels. Not happy. 

Some international airlines now list a maximum carry-on weight of 22 pounds—but on others and for certain destinations it’s as low as 15 pounds. That’s a Pelican 1510 and a paperback War and Peace. We had to find new luggage. 

But how to do so without giving up the protection? I looked at the legendary Zero Halliburton aluminum cases; they weighed scarcely less than the Pelican, and were four times as expensive. No polycarbonate cases looked a tenth as stout as the Pelican; several I tried oil-canned at a bare touch. It began to look as though we’d have to go with soft cases and violently interdict anyone abusing them.

Then Pelican solved our problem for us, with the introduction of the Air line of cases. The new 1535 Air looks just like our 1510s, still has wheels, is virtually identical in volume—but weighs just 8.7 pounds, nearly a 40-percent reduction. And we’re still trying to figure out exactly where they lost the weight. It’s clear the material is somewhat lighter—pushing down on the middle of the lid results in a bit more flex than on the 1510—but the case retains virtually all its fragile-contents protection. And four pounds equals my Leica 10x40 binoculars plus a Lumix GX8 and 14-140mm lens, with a few ounces left over. Bravo Pelican.