Byron’s Blog: Luggage That Won’t Break

photo hardshell cases
Timing-wise, after an unusual run of three luggage pieces failing (my luck was up, I guess), Homeland Security banned large electronics—laptops, cameras, tablets—from 10 specific airports with departures to the U.S. And, that means, if you happened to be traveling, say, on Emirates back from Dubai when this order went in place, then your camera, laptop and tablet were getting checked. Unexpected checking can cause all sorts of issues, not limited to a photojournalist missing a deadline, but also damaged gear—and a laptop bouncing around in a cargo hold, barely protected by a softshell.

I’ve traveled with a plastic hardshell for years (including one of the three that just broke) with my gear, so if I got unexpectedly put on a puddle-jumper and couldn’t carry my camera and laptop onboard, as usual, they were better protected. My travel protection protocol addresses the Homeland Security order, and I just reinforced it with the purchase of two pieces from Pelican. I did so after the first hardshell failed, and then the second, and third. I decided it was time to stop messing around.

For travelers and photographers in the know, Pelican was an obvious choice, but I wanted to do my own research, and it was exhaustive. I now have a Pelican case for a quick two-day shoot and a fancier carry-on for a longer stay. The Pelican is paired with the Thule Covert bag I’ve traveled with for a couple years. The Pelican goes in the overhead and the Thule is stashed under the seat.

photo hardshell case

The first is the Pelican Laptop overnight case, and it’s been a favorite of photographers for years. I think if you were also caught in a flood on your trip, it could double as a flotation device, except it would stop shrapnel, too.

photo hardshell case

The second is the Weekender, for the longer trips. It’s an updated version of the laptop case, designed toward travel instead of protection only. Both are suitable for the traveler who insists on packing light with minimalism as a goal. See my article for road warriors in the DPP archives for more on that topic.

If, like me, packing light is an ongoing goal for you, note that the nearly indestructible polypropylene the Pelicans are made with adds weight. Check with your carrier for carry-on limits. I’ve never hit the limit on Delta, but on every trip I make, I try to take less with me.

I ordered the Weekender with the Enhanced Travel System. That’s a lid organizer, Dopp-style toiletry kit, zippered shoe sack, laundry bag and garment bag. Pelican also offers a laptop protector in a design-your-own foam version, including TrekPak divider system. Note for a vacation: When maybe you just want to toss out your packing rules and toss in flip flops, board shorts, a snorkel, flippers and a mask, the inserts are removable.

Fancy Pelican Specs

  • Includes Enhanced Travel System: lid organizer, Dopp-style toiletry kit, zippered shoe sack, laundry bag and garment bag
  • Lightweight design
  • Recessed press-and-pull latches
  • Handle location maximizes interior space
  • Recessed TSA-approved combination lock
  • Recessed carry handles (top, bottom and one side)
  • Recessed retractable handle
  • Custom-designed ball-bearing wheels with solid hubs
  • Watertight O-ring seal
  • Automatic pressure-equalization valve
  • Fabric interior spot-cleans easily
  • Limited Lifetime Guarantee of Excellence
  • Double-wall polypropylene construction can withstand extreme loads up to 1,500 pounds
  • Passed submergence test for 30 minutes at a depth of one meter
  • Meets airline checked baggage regulations (less than 62 inches; check with your airline for exact measurement requirements)
  • Weight: 19 pounds
  • Model EL27 with Enhanced Travel System, $450 MSRP (found for much less online)

Regular Pelican Specs

  • 2-in-1 protection: detachable computer sleeve and accessories pouch
  • Maximum airline carry-on size
  • Strong polyurethane wheels with stainless-steel bearings
  • Watertight, crushproof and dustproof
  • Automatic pressure-equalization valve; balances interior pressure, keeps water out
  • Comfortable rubber over-molded top and side handles
  • Easy open double-throw latches
  • Lifetime Guarantee of Excellence
  • O-ring seal
  • Open-cell core with solid wall design; strong and light weight
  • Retractable extension handle
  • Fits notebook computers up to 14.4 x 11.1 x 1.7 inches (36.58 x 28.19 x 4.32 cm)
  • Weight: 18.18 pounds
  • Model 1510 LOC, $250 MSRP (found for much less online)

The Pelican cases I now travel with protect my gear in nearly every possible scenario, including unexpected carry-on policy changes. My friend Roy Choi just traveled on Emirates via Dubai and this is what his laptop ended up in. I wouldn’t trust that at all.

If you’re interested in this type of protection, but with value pricing and from a lesser-known brands, Monoprice offers a similar waterproof hard case for $134.99.

You can follow DL Byron on Twitter @bikehugger

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