Best Hard Case Carry On? A Pelican Air 1535 Review

My chief aim for this Pelican Air 1535 review is to give you the most detailed walkaround as possible so that you can make a well-educated decision as to whether it is the right case for you or not.

If not, I’ve also included some solid alternatives that I seriously considered before I decided that Pelican Air 1535 was the right one for my needs.

The truth is, I’ve been itching to do this Pelican Air 1535 review for a long time. At WellRigged.com, the whole theme is about durable products and, as such, I think this blog would be incomplete without talking about Pelican cases.

My Youtube Pelican Air 1535 Review

Intro To The Pelican Air 1535

Pelican Air 1535 Review

It is no understatement to say that the Pelican Air 1535 is widely regarded as an industry benchmark. This case has been well-proven by pro photographers and film-makers alike who trust it to safely carry high-end gear into the most extreme locations and climates on earth.

So, If you’re in the market for a rugged carry-on legal hard case to safely carry your gear around the globe, then I’d recommend taking a good, hard look at this case.

A good hard look; that’s why I put this Pelican Air 1535 review together.

When I was researching to buy my own case, I found that I couldn’t find an adequate full-detail review of the Pelican Air 1535. So, hopefully I can answer most of your questions here.

As a brand, Pelican has built an enviable reputation by consistently manufacturing the most rugged expedition-worthy hard cases on the planet.

While the Pelican Air 1535 is more expensive than its competitors, it’s a whopping 40% lighter and is far more customizable than any other hard case I’ve found.

Plus, it’s a Pelican…so basically it’s bombproof. Pelican guarantees that if it ever breaks in your lifetime, they will fix or replace it.

Pelican Air 1535 Specs

  • Extendable trolly handle
  • Empty Weight: 8.69 lbs (3.9 kg)
  • Lockable (Additional TSA locks with TRVL option)
  • Maximum airline carry on size
  • Waterproof
  • 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

Pros

  • Unparalleled durability
  • Lifetime Guarantee Against Breakage
  • Most versatile option with plenty of possible accessories.
  • Lightest hard case Carryon the market

Cons

  • Extendable handle is a little short for tall folks.
  • Costs more than its competitors

Body

The main thing to note about the body is that it is super durable, waterproof and UV stable. You can get the 1535 in several colors like hi-vis orange, grey, bright yellow, to black, oxblood red, indigo blue etc.

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 extremely rigidity. While some of Pelican’s standard Polyproplene models are a bit stiffer they are much thicker and heavier.

Credit: Pelican Survival Stories

So, I wouldn’t use the Pelican Air 1535 as cribbing when changing the tire on your Land Cruiser like this dude with the heavier 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.

Lid

The lid on the Pelican Air 1535 is very good quality. It is smooth and well finished with no ugly scars, burrs or flow marks which are common blemishes on polymer molded products.

The lid itself has 2 pairs of reinforcement ribs running across the top and bottom. There is a little flex(2-3mm) if I press down hard on the center of the lid.

Pelican cases are the modern version of steamer trunks and a great place to catalog your journeys with stickers as many people do.

And the first sticker on my Pelican case will be….drumroll please…

The Toyota Landcruiser logo! It’s no secret that I regard Landcruisers as the most durable vehicles on earth.

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 opted for the TRVL version.

Lid organizer features:

  1. 3 mesh pockets for chargers, cables hard drives etc
  2. A large flat pocket suitable for documents and portfolios.
  3. A large rear zip-down panel allowing access behind the the lid organizer- a great spot for my laptop and Biolite solar charger.

WaterProofing

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

Latches

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

1535 jAir 1535 latch

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 an air pressure equalizer valve. 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.

  1. 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).
  2. 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.

Wheels

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.

Handles

Main Handle

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 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 love it. Why? Because it’s almost mechanically fail-proof and even if it did fail, it is completely field-serviceable with a simple Phillips screwdriver.

Downsides? The handle is a bit short for taller folks and isn’t exactly attractive. Heck! You could even call it downright ugly.

The handle appears to be designed with some play in it to prevent it from sticking in certain temperature conditions. Polymers often need room for temperature expansion and contraction or they will bind.

Top Handle

One of the chief gripes I heard from one 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 newer Pelican Air 1535 comes with a top handle

Buyer Beware: As of publishing this article, most Amazon sellers appear 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 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.

Available Options

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.

No Foam

The 1535 would make an excellent dry-box for things like canoe trips, roof racks or emergency supplies on sailboats.

Trek Pack Divider

The Trek Pak is the best all-round hard case organization solution.

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.

You can get TrekPack kit for the 1535 here as well as additional dividers if needed.

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 the most durable traveler carry on planet. I have no doubt about that.

The TRVL version also adds dual TSA Locks and 2 exclusive colors options: Oxblood and Indigo

Custom Foam

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.

Padded Divider

An affordable option for allowing for quick customization, but you are basically limited to dividing the case into thirds.

Pelican Air 1535 TRVL Option

Pelican Air 1535 TRVL review

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.

Why I Picked The Pelican Air 1535

Pelican Air 1535 Review

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 Requirements

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.

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.

All my obsessive research led me down to three viable alternatives to the Pelican Air 1535: its heavier cousin the Pelican 1510 , the Nanuk 935(see it on Amazon), or the SKB 2011-7(see it on Amazon).

Pelican 1510 Protector: Same size, but tougher and heavier, many optional accessories
Nanuk 935(On Amazon): Less expensive, but heavier and with fewer options
SKB 2011-7(on Amazon): Less Expensive, heaviest option and least options

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 1535Nanuk 935Pelican 1510SKB 2011-7
Empty Weight8.69 lbs (3.9 kg)11.6lbs / 5.2kg11.99 lbs (5.4 kg)?
Price (with foam)$$$
Price Check It
$
Price Check It (Amazon)
$$
Price Check it
$
Price Check It (Amazon)
Volume0.95 ft³ (26.8 L)1.00 ft³ (28.3 L)0.96 ft³ (27.2 L)1.01 ft³ (28.6 L)
Hardware Quality4.5/53/54.5/53/5
Handles3333
Organization Options7 options3 Options6 options2
SecurityDual Padlock,
TSA Locks(TRVL option)
Dual PadlockDual Padlock
Dual Padlock
Serviceable PartsYesYesYesYes
Lifetime WarrantyYesYesYesYes

Conclusion

Pelican Air 1535 Review

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 carryon.

Even though it isn’t the cheapest option. In my opinion, the Pelican Air 1535 is the most versatile, light and easily organized hard case carryon available on the market today. The journey is still young but I don’t regret the investment one bit.

The way I see it buying a Pelican case is like entering a longterm relationship. My Pelican Air 1535 is gonna last for a long, long time. I anticipate that I will repurpose it many times in the years ahead.

This thing will serve as a camera case, a dry box on my 4×4, a lockbox, a carryon, and even a seat 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.

As I mentioned earlier, If you do decide to invest in a Pelicaan Air 1535, it is probably wisest to buy it directly from Pelican for the time being until Amazon dealers stop shipping the older version that comes without a top handle.