It took me several weeks of careful research before settling on the Pelican Air 1535 as the right protective hard case for my needs. There are plenty of excellent hard cases out there, but I kept coming back to the Pelican 1535 AIR because it had a number of unique advantages over the competition.
The Pelican Air 1535 isn’t the cheapest but it is the lightest carry-on legal professional hard case on the market. It is also the most versatile in terms of configuration options. Pricing starts around $237(see latest price) It is waterproof( down to 2 meters), shock-proof, and guaranteed for life even if you damage it.
I put this in-depth Pelican Air 1535 review together to help folks like me decide if it is right for them too. For some, this case may be more than they need. If so, I’ve also included some Pelican Air 1535 alternatives worth considering at the end of this article.
Pelican Air 1535 Specs
- Capacity: 27L
- Empty Weight: 8.69 lbs (3.9 kg)
- Lockable (Additional TSA locks with TRVL option)
- Extendable trolly handle
- Maximum airline carry on size
- 7 Possible configurations (depending on accessories)
- Proprietary extra-light HPX²™ Polymer
- Quiet Stainless-Steel Bearing Wheels
- Tamperproof Business card holder
- Automatic Purge Valve – Keeps water and dust out while balancing air pressure during air flight
- Class-leading quality
- Lifetime Guarantee Against Breakage
- Extremely versatile- Pelican offers tons of accessories
- Lightest hard case Carryon the market
- Available in many colors
- Extendable handle is a little short for taller folks.
- Costs more than its competitors
Pelican Air 1535 Review Video
Intro To The Pelican Air 1535
The Pelican Air 1535 has become the industry benchmark for professional hard cases. Film-makers and scientists routinely use it to carry sensitive equipment like lidar and drones to insane locations by strapping them to donkeys and Land Cruisers or what-have-you.
While the Pelican Air 1535 is more expensive than its competitors, it’s also a whopping 40% lighter.
Beyond its lightness, the single most compelling reason I bought this case was that its versatility. The Pelican 1535 Air offers far more organizational options than other carryon hard cases.
This case is ideal for folks who change up their gear regularly.
I purchased my Pelican Air 1535 in the TRVL configuration then added the Trek-Pak divider kit, as well as some custom foam. I use it for my camera gear when shooting outdoors for WellRigged.com’s youtube channel.
Trek-Pak Divider System
The Trek Pak divider system is the single biggest reason I chose a Pelican case over the competitors. The dividers are made from rigid corrugated plastic panels sandwiched between two outer foam sidewalls.
This unique system that Pelican’s has developed is, by far, the most practical and versatile divider system out there for several reasons:
- It is a far more efficient use of space than foam. The more gear you fit in your carry-on the less you have to check.
- It can be reconfigured for new gear easily.
- It is far more durable vs Pick & Pluck foam cubes which fall apart over time.
- The padded panels have a rigid core which adds extra crush protection.
- It allows you to make snug custom-sized slots vs. Velcro-based padded divider systems with fixed-length pieces.
How Does the TrekPak System Work?
The Trekpak divider system is a cut-to-size system. The foam perimeter, base, and eggshell lid come pre-cut. You just need to decide how you want to organize your gear and what length to cut the dividers panels too.
The dividers are then cut with the supplied self-guiding cutting tool which simply follows the corrugation channel in the panel to make a straight cut every time. Just measure twice and cut once. I had a whole panel left-over for my configuration and Pelican sells extra panels if you need more.
The panels are all held in place by supplied steel U-pins which you can easily remove if you want to reconfigure your gear.
Lid Organizer(TRVL Version Only)
The lid organizer adds a ton more usable space to the Pelican Air 1535. It’s the main reason I chose the TRVL version as my base to build from.
Lid organizer features:
- 3 mesh pockets for chargers, cables hard drives etc
- A large flat pocket suitable for documents and portfolios.
- A large rear zip-down panel allowing access behind the lid organizer- a great spot for my laptop and Biolite solar charger.
The body of Pelican Air 1535 is constructed from a single seamless molded piece of HPX²™ Polymer. It’s a proprietary compound that is 40% lighter while still maintaining extreme rigidity. Some of Pelican’s standard Polyproplene models( like the 1510) are a bit stiffer they are heavier.
The Pelican Air 1535 is available in a nice variety of colors like hi-vis orange, grey, bright yellow, to black, oxblood red, indigo blue etc.
If you ever break this case, Pelican will fix or replace it for life. They mean it too. It is no overstatement to say that Pelican cases are among the most rugged products on earth.
While the Pelican Air 1535 is tough, I still wouldn’t use it as cribbing to change the tire on my Land Cruiser as this dude did with his heavier duty 1510 version.
The Air 1535 is still plenty tough enough to use as a bench, table or step stool even with your gear still inside.
The lid on the Pelican Air 1535 is quite nice. It is smooth and well finished with no ugly scars, burrs or flow marks which are common among polymer molded hardcases.
The lid is further reinforced with a couple pairs of ribs that run across the top and bottom. There is some flex in the lid (2-3mm) if I press down hard on the center of the lid.
Pelican case owners have an unspoken tradition of adorning them stickers like steamer trunks of old. I am no exception. I emblazon mine with all my favorite tough brands that I recommend here on WellRigged.com.
The first sticker I put on my Pelican was, of course, the Toyota Land Cruiser logo. More on my love of Land Cruisers here.
Every Pelican case comes with a large soft o-ring pressed into a channel on the lid. When the lid is closed this channel meets and straddles a perfectly-aligned perimeter ridge on the body thereby creating a perfect watertight seal.
How waterproof are pelican cases? Pelican cases have been discovered floating at sea months after tsunamis with perfectly dry camera gear inside.
A guy in New Zealand once lost his pelican case at sea. A month or so later, an honest soul found it on the shore of a cove and returned it to him. All the camera gear was intact and bone dry. You can read the full story and others like it here.
Latches and Security
The hardware on the Pelican Air 1535 is very robust. The latches are well aligned and are open by press a button and lifting. The latches lock securely shut with a reassuring snap.
The TRVL version adds dual TSA compliant locks to the latch mechanism and a couple of keys.
Reinforced Dual Padlock Holes
Adjacent to each latch is a steel shrouded padlock hole to lock down your valuables. I’m not sure how usefule padlocks would be becaus a thief would likely just grab the case and worry about opening it later. I’d be much more inclined to tether the case down to something immovable using a solid cable lock that runs through the padlock holes.
Tamper-Proof Business Card Holder
The case comes with a tamper-proof plastic business card holder that locks into a channeled slot and can only be removed when the lid is opened. The business card holder has two possible mounting positions: under the main side handle or under the smaller top handle.
Automatic Purge Valve
All Pelican cases incorporate air pressure equalizer valves. That’s because Pelican cases are so well sealed that if they didn’t have this valve, one of two things would happen whenever the air pressure or temperature between the outside and inside of the case varied significantly.
- You couldn’t open it if the ambient air pressure was lower when you closed it than when you tried to open it(ie… if you just came down a tall mountain).
- The lid could blow open violently if you unlatched it. This would happen if the ambient air pressure was higher when you closed it than when you opened it (ie..leaving it in the sun or opening it after takeoff on an airplane)
My point is, thank God for that equalizer valve!
The equalizer valve is designed so that it allows air through but keeps water out. Don’t ask me how that works..but it does work.
The Pelican Air 1535’s wheels feature quiet stainless steel bearings. A treadless soft rubber also gives a clean, smooth ride for delicate equipment.
The wheels themselves are partially inset into a wheel well which protects them from side-impacts. The inset wheels are a practical feature when packing. Suitcases with big protruding wheels tend to waste valuable space when tightly packing a vehicle.
A slight downside to this design is that it uses a small amount of interior space but not enough to be troublesome. I could still fit two lenses and a mirrorless camera above the wheel well humps without any problem.
Beefy -that’s how I’d describe the main side handle. The grip is a comfy knurled soft rubber which is nice and easy on the hands.
The hinges on the handle are super-rugged and remind me of how GoPro mounts are constructed.
My only complaint with the handle is that it’s a bit too snug when opening it from the stowed position. Also, it stows with a rather aggressive snapping sound.
Retractable Trolly Handle
The Pelican Air 1535’s trolly handle is caveman simple.
It’s basically a rigid plank of thick plastic about the length of the carryon itself. There are no buttons, no springs, or any telescoping aluminum tubes that are prone to failure. You simply pull back an integrated flexible stay and the handle slides out and locks in place.
I like it because it’s almost mechanically fail-proof. Even if it did fail, it is still field-serviceable with a simple Phillips screwdriver.
Downsides? I’m 5’10 but taller folks may find the handle is a bit short. The handle isn’t that nice to look at either but I don’t care about looks that much.
One of the chief gripes I’ve heard from a Pelican Air 1535 review I read before I purchasing mine was that it did not come with a top carry handle.
That has now changed.
Pelican recently added a much needed top handle to the Pelican Air 1535 design.
The new top handle is smaller and narrower than the main side handle. It also stows flat against the case.
Since it is so narrow, I found it a bit hard on the hands, but it is still good enough for short shuffles down airplane aisles. I wouldn’t use the top handle to carry the case for long distances though.
Buyer Beware: As of publishing this article, most Amazon sellers appeared to still be selling the older 1535 without the top handle.
Hopefully, that will change soon, but for now, I’d order it directly from Pelican to guarantee the latest version. Shipping is free and the price is pretty much the same anyway.
The Pelican Air 1535 has far more organization options than its competitors (it has 7 configurations).
In my opinion, the Trek Pak divider system is, by far, the best option. It allows for way more space for more gear than foam, it is simple to modify for new gear, it flat packs when not in use and it will last much longer than foam.
The 1535 would make an excellent dry-box for things like canoe trips, roof racks or emergency supplies on sailboats.
Trek Pack Divider
For my needs, this is the best gear organization solution of all. The TrekPak system maximizes your use of space, is durable, easily reconfigured and allows integration of other forms of organization like packing cubes, foam and lid organizers.
Trek Pack/Foam Hybrid
This is the best of both worlds! A permanent protected home for your staple equipment along with customizable organization space for accessories and new gear.
Travel Version (Packing Cubes & Lid Organizer)
This converts the Pelican air 1535 into on of the most durable travel carry-ons in the world.
The TRVL version also adds dual TSA Locks and 2 exclusive colors options: Oxblood and Indigo
Pelican offers a super cool online tool to make custom-fitted foam for your specific gear. You can upload photos of your equipment, define their dimensions, and use them to make customized foam cutouts for your needs. Very Cool! Check it out here.
Pick N Pluck Foam
This is the classic solution for most hard cases and a very good option for providing maximum padding.
The foam comes prescored into smaller cubes which you can pluck out into the shape of whatever gear you want to protect.
Note: With time and use the cubes tend to begin falling out.
An affordable option for allowing for quick customization, but you are basically limited to dividing the case into thirds.
Pelican Air 1535 TRVL Option
I am using TRVL option for this Pelican Air Review. It is basically the premium travel version of the standard Pelican Air 1535. It is geared more for travelers who want a rugged waterproof carry-on but that aren’t necessarily carrying sensitive equipment.
This is an ideal solution for sailing, 4×4 overlanding, expeditions, rafting, canoeing and the like.
- It’s the only version with TSA locks
- The only version with a lid organizer
- Includes Packing Cubes
- Comes in two exclusive colors: Oxblood and Indigo
In my opinion, TRVL offers the best baseline to build the most customized Pelican air 1535 possible.
The lid organizer, in particular, is a massive plus that none of the regular versions have.
So, even though my TRVL version only omes with packing cubes I knew I could always buy a foam or divider kit from Pelican whenever I wanted if I wanted to change things up. In fact, that’s what I did. I bought a Trek Pak set and created a hybrid setup which includes Trekpak dividers, Foam and a packing Cube and lid organizer layout.
Pelican Air 1535 Alternatives
I think it’s worth pausing for a moment in this Pelican Air 1535 review to recommend a few worthy alternatives.
For some folks, versatility and lightness isn’t a high priority. If that’s you your best alternatives to the Pelican Air 1535 is the Nanuk 935 or the Pelican 1510. The SKB 2011-7 is a bit of an outlier for me but very affordable and extremely rugged.
Here’s a quick comparison:
|Pelican Air 1535||Nanuk 935||Pelican 1510||SKB 2011-7|
|Empty Weight||8.69 lbs (3.9 kg)||11.6lbs / 5.2kg||11.99 lbs (5.4 kg)||?|
|Price (with foam)||$$$|
Price Check It
Price Check It (Amazon)
Price Check it
Price Check It (Amazon)
|Volume||0.95 ft³ (26.8 L)||1.00 ft³ (28.3 L)||0.96 ft³ (27.2 L)||1.01 ft³ (28.6 L)|
|Organization Options||7 options||3 Options||6 options||2|
TSA Locks(TRVL option)
|Dual Padlock||Dual Padlock||Dual Padlock|
Why I Picked The Pelican Air 1535
I’m headed from Canada to Africa for a longterm assignment there. Since I’ll be doing a fair bit of media work, one of the no-brainer items on my load-out list was a bombproof hard case for my camera equipment.
My Hardcase Criteria
My criteria for a hard case were as follows in order of importance:
- Rugged: Over-engineered for unreasonable levels of impacts, extreme temps and abrasions (ie.. falling off a motorcycle on bush tracks etc..)
- Multi-mission capable– for use as a conventional carryon, flexing with changing camera gear, or for use as a simple roof rack dry-box.
- Carry-on legal– with multiple-carry options
- Weatherproof– from driving rain and dust storms to mud puddles and blistering sun
- Tough Roller wheels– large enough to handle gravel and dirt. Serviceable if possible.
- Lid organizer– for maximum storage options
- Lockable– security is a frequent concern in Africa
Basically I wanted a case that could handle dirt, mud puddles, dusty corrugated roads, blistering heat, bangs, drops. It wanted a bombproof case that could be strapped to the roof rack of a land cruiser in driving rain.
Initially, I had toyed with the idea of getting a Nanuk 935 on Amazon. It is very tough, a lot cheaper and comes with a decent amount of accessory options.
However, the Nanuk 935 is much heavier, the hardware seems flimsier and most of all, it has no equivalent to the Pelican’s TrekPak divider system.
Ultimately, it was worth to me to spend extra on the Pelican for a lighter case and the extra versatility that the TrekPak system offers.
In my opinion, the Pelican Air 1535 is the most versatile, light and easily organized hard case carry-on available on the market today. The journey is still young but I don’t regret the investment one bit.
I anticipate I’ll be repurposing this thing many times over the years as a camera case, dry box for the roof rack, a lockbox, a carry-on, and a bench to rest my butt on while I’m out in the bush.
I am quite certain it is an investment that will pay for itself many times over.
I hope you found this Pelican Air 1535 review helpful. I kinda wished someone had written something like this when I was looking for a hard case carry-on.