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Water water everywhere – Three ways to keep your phone dry.

Those of us who live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest have many names for the embarrassing wetness that envelopes us for half the year. My personal favorite is Liquid Sunshine. Even when it snows here on the left coast, it’s not the dry fluffy powder of our more easterly cousins, but a thick wet heavy blanket resembling freshly poured concrete.
Living in the PNW, waterproofing your gear and your self becomes second nature. We proudly talk about the technology behind the breathable membranes we are wearing this season, or how many minks were wrung dry just to oil our boots. What we often fail to waterproof is our phone. We trust to the “weatherproof” pocket on our jacket or our pack to do the job. If we are paranoid, we sometimes put the phone into a ziplock sandwich bag before it goes into the jacket pocket.
Why don’t we all have waterproof phone cases? Because in an urban environment, we have been conditioned to worry about dropping our phones and breaking them, so our cases are mostly shockproof, but rarely waterproof. Watching one of my fellow climbers on Mt Baker this year open his pack to find his phone swimming inside a little phone-sized jacuzzi (apparently the “weatherproof” pocket was better at retaining water than repelling it) I decided to see what other options were available to us.
I looked at three very different approaches to the problem:
The first, by Loksak looks just like a phone-sized ziplock bag, but made of a slightly heavier plastic. They are cheap to buy ($8.99 for a three-pack) and small enough that you can toss one into your bag for the occasional use. You still retain full functionality of your phone (except for plugging cords into it). The touch-screen works, the speakers and mic still work, and the camera will still take a photo, although the photo is a little fuzzy. (If you want to take a pic to remember which rock you stashed your car keys under, it’s fine. If you want a scenic shot of the mountains, you will want to remove it from the case.) The downside of the Loksak is that any sharp object, including the car keys in my pocket, fairly quickly ended its waterproof claims. www.loksak.com
The second option I tried was at the opposite end of the spectrum. The Otterbox Preserver series is a solid plastic box with a clear front, rubber seals, heavy-duty clasps, a proper hard-window for the camera, and o-ring-sealed ports for cords and cables. It’s waterproof, shockproof, dustproof, scratchproof, skiproof, knifeproof, and one that I wasn’t expecting, soundproof. Yes you heard that right (or maybe you didn’t if you are using the Otterbox), once your phone is in the Otterbox, you can no longer use it as a phone, without opening the case, or using a bluetooth headset. I didn’t mind this so much when I was deep in the backcountry, because my phone didn’t have any cell service anyways, but when I was closer to the city, having to pull the phone out of the case anytime it rang was definitely a problem. www.otterbox.com
The third option is positioned neatly between the first two. The E-Case from Cascade Designs is what you’d expect from a Seattle-based company that makes serious outdoor adventure gear. The E-Case feels tough, with a mix of clear poly and a ruggedized polyester soft-case, it gives good protection, and yet you can still take calls while it is sealed in the case. The SealLock zipper technology takes advantage of Cascade’s many years of producing their excellent SealLine dry bags. The other thing I like about the E-Case is the addition of a carabiner-compatible slot at each end of the case. This greatly increases the ability to secure your phone when you are in the back-country. Clipping it to your chest, your kayak, your bike, etc means that when you want to take a snap or get a quick clip of video, you are not stopping to dig the phone from your pack.
The only downside of the E-Case is that the design makes the phone too long to fit into the dedicated “phone-pockets” on some new jackets and pants. www.cascadedesigns.com
The three cases I’ve looked at are just the tip of the iceberg. There are dozens of brands and designs available, but most fall into one of these three basic categories: A super-lightweight softcase, a super-rugged hardcase, or something in the middle. Whichever you choose remember that winter – with its abundance of Liquid Sunshine – is coming, so make sure you are ready.