Pelican Cases: Are They Worth It? What Are The Best Alternatives?


For over 45 years Pelican has earned a near bullet-proof reputation for making the toughest protective hard cases on earth. However, they aren’t the only show in town. There are a number of worthy competitors such as SKB, Nanuk, and Sea Horse which are worth getting acquainted with. Some are cheaper too.

I own both Pelican and competitor cases. So, I hope I can help you make the right decision based on some of my experiences. I’ll give you my top Pelican case alternatives and compare them to Pelican by raw strength, price, usage, accessories, organization.

While Pelican is easily the most recognized brand of hard cases, they are actually priced very competitively with other premium-level hard cases such as SKB and Nanuk. In my opinion, Pelican cases are worth it when you need the maximum protection possible for your high-value equipment, especially in rugged field conditions. Pelicans are a no-brainer purchase for expeditions, mineral exploration, or rugged filming locations. Toughness aside, Pelican’s strongest suit is the fact that they offer a far wider array of protective padding and organization solutions than any other competitor.

Cost: Pelican Vs. Alternatives

It may surprise some,(it certainly surprised me) to discover that Pelican cases are actually very competitively priced against other higher-quality case brands like SKB and Nanuk. However, if all you need is a simple medium-duty case, you can save a bundle by going with a SeaHorse or Monoprice case.

In the table below, I compared the popular carry-on category of professional hard cases (equipped with foam). The price spread was based on a list price of 237.95 for the Pelican Air 1535 at the time of publishing this article.

Carry-On Hard CasesPrice Difference
Sea Horse SE830
Sea Horse SE830 (see on Amazon)
~40% Less than Pelican

Monoprice Rolling Hardcase (see on Amazon)
~30% Less than Pelican

SKB iSeries 3i-2011-7 (see on Amazon)
~5% Less than Pelican

Nanuk 935 (see on Amazon)
~8% More than Pelican

Protection: Pelican Vs. Alternatives

pelican survival
Pelican case survives terrorist attack: Islamabad, Pakistan

There is no way for me to definitively claim that Pelican cases are tougher than all of their competitors unless I wasted a ton of money on destruction tests. I’ll try to be as objective as possible here, but forgive me if this section is a little more anecdotal than it is scientific.

I feel rather confident saying that Pelican is only rivaled by SKB in terms of raw durability. However, Pelican cases have overwhelmingly more anecdotal evidence than all of their competitors combined.

Talk is cheap and when it comes to protecting high-value equipment a proven track record is the best predictor of future performance. Of all the protective hard case manufacturers, Pelican and SKB cases have the longest track record (40+ years).

While Pelican does have more insane survival stories, I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that Pelican has better PR. Also, Pelican cases tend to be used in higher-risk operations. SKB tends to be more focused on servicing the music and IT industries. They just don’t have the cult following that Pelican does and therefore we hear less SKB survival stories.

For a little ‘social proof” you can check out Pelican’s brag page where customers tell their epic survival stories. It’s filled with tales of plane crashes, IED bombs, fires, cases lost at sea for months, and certainly makes for some very entertaining reading.

Organization: Pelican vs. Alternatives

The vast majority of protective hard cases only offer pick’n pluck foam or a velcro padded divider option. Pick’n pluck foam is great for protection, but it doesn’t last as long and once you’ve chosen your layout, you are committed. Changing up your gear is not really an option after that.

Pelican has an undisputed advantage when it comes to customizations and organization options. For consistency, I’ll use the Pelican Air 1535 again for comparison. I left out the Monoprice case because it only comes with foam)

ORGANIZATION
OPTIONS

Pelican Air 1535

Nanuk 935

Sea Horse SE830

SKB iSeries 3i-2011-7 
Pick ‘n
Pluck
XXXX
Padded DividerXXXX
Lid OrganizerXXXX
TrekPak Panel
Divider
X
TrekPak/Foam
Combo
X
Mesh Packing
Cubes
X
EZ-Click Molle
Lid Panel
X
Customized FoamXXX

Product Range: Pelican Vs. Alternatives

What you plan to do with your hard case will have the most influence on which brand you ultimately go with.

Case brands tend to focus on certain industries. For example, Pelican’s specialty is in the outdoors, medical and military fields, but SKB focuses more on the music industry, military, and custom industrial cases. On the other hand, If all you need is simply medium-duty case with foam then grab a Sea Horse ore Monoprice case.

I audited the product lines of the top 4 hard case manufacturers and compiled the chart below to give you an idea of where each brand specializes.

Pelican and SKB offer the widest range of application solutions.

IndustryPELICAN SKBNANUKSEA HORSEMonoPrice

Photo/Film
XXXXX

Fire Arms
XXXXX

Music/Stage
XX

Military
HeavyLift
XX

Medical
XX

Compact
Dry Boxes
XXX

Roof Rack
Carriers
X

Rack Mount Cases
XX

Pelican Cases: Still My Top Pick

Pros

  • Huge Selection of Models
  • Superior Organization Options
  • Serviceable
  • Custom Foam Design Tool
  • Customized Locking Fire-arm cases
  • Lifetime Warranty covers damage
  • Watertight & Airtight(submersible)
  • Made in the USA

Cons

  • Generally heavier than competitors
  • Premium tier pricing

Pelican, in my opinion, is still the benchmark by which all other professional protective cases are measured. They are comparably priced to SKB and Nanuk but come with way more customization options, good looks, a killer lifetime warranty, and an unmatched track record for saving the gear inside them from the most insane accidents.

While I do use other case brands, I only entrust my camera gear to my Pelican Air 1535 for my rugged travels in West Africa.

These things are tough and if they save your gear just one time, they’ve more than paid for price any difference.

If you plan on shipping or carrying expensive or very sensitive equipment then, I’m begging you, don’t cheap out! spend the extra and get the Pelican case or at least an SKB!

TIP: Pelican’s toughest line of cases is the Protector Case series

Top 4 Alternatives to Pelican Cases

1. SKB Cases

Pros of SKB Case

  • Comparable protection level to Pelican
  • Specialized cases for Music/Entertainment industry
  • Slightly cheaper than Pelican
  • Better Warranty than Pelican on select cases

Cons of SKB Cases

  • Butt-ugly cases (Yup, you heard me)
  • Website is a nightmare
  • No direct sales

To be frank, I much prefer Nanuk cases over SKB cases(more on that later.) Still, I feel it would be intellectually dishonest to recommend Nanuk over SKB as the primary alternative to Pelican cases.

SKB and Pelican are undeniably the big boys on the block when it comes to top-tier professional protective cases. Both brands are made in the USA, are over 40 years old, and offer a huge lineup of models catering to massive clients such as the US Military, IT, Music, Medical, and Movie Industries.

SKB’s main forté is the music industry. They make all kinds of cases from band instruments to guitar cases and sound equipment cases.

Like Pelican, SKB offers an unconditional lifetime warranty that covers damage to the case. However, SKB also offers an additional $1500 coverage for damaged equipment/contents on some of their ATA-rated sports cases. SKB cases are also slightly cheaper than Pelican.

For the most part, I find SKB’s general-use cases to be incredibly boring, utilitarian, and drab. Furthermore, searching their 90’s style website is nigh-on to digital purgatory. Finding the right case involves scanning endless lists of mundanely-named model numbers such as the “iSeries 3i-2011-7.” Since they don’t offer direct sales, you then must memorize the model number and then go and find it with an external dealer or pray you can find it on Amazon.

What a headache!

SKB cases are definitely up there with Pelican in terms of function, durability, and quality, but, in my opinion, SKB’s are boring, ugly, and the annoying process of selecting and buying an SKB case makes me wonder if they even want my money at all. I can’t help but get the distinct feeling that they prefer to deal with large enterprise customers rather than bother with “commoners” like us.

2. Nanuk Cases

Pros of Nanuk Cases

  • Cleaner, nicer looks
  • High-quality fit/finish
  • Standard push button latches
  • Plenty of colors options
  • Very tough
  • Good assortment of accessories

Cons of Nanuk Cases

  • Costs about the same or slightly more than Pelican
  • Lifetime Warranty does not cover accidental damage to case
  • Hardware not as tough as Pelican

I own several Nanuk cases and I personally prefer them over SKB cases but is mostly due to what I use my Nanuk cases for.

I use my Nanuk 935 carry-on case for my video periphreal equipment and I also own two Nanuk First Aid cases for vehicle-borne and base operations for my West African non-profit work. By contrast, SKB offers no high-vis first aid cases, and their carry-on hard case doesn’t hold a candle to the Nanuk 935.

Another minor, yet notable perk is that Nanuk cases have a much cleaner look and convenient push-lock latches. The overall fit and finish of Nanuks are at or above Pelican and certainly much better looking than SKB’s drabness.

Nanuk offers a fairly solid model lineup, albeit, nothing close to Pelican or SKB’s comprehensive lineup of model options. Still, Nanuk offers plenty of color choices, as well as good organization and padding options.

Nanuk cases are made in Canada and run around the same price as Pelicans. Nanuks are very, very tough, but Pelicans are still more crushproof. Also, Nanuk’s lifetime warranty is not as good as Pelican’s and does not cover accidental damage. While the push-latches are convenient, I doubt they would endure the abuse that Pelican’s more simple clip closures would.

3. Sea Horse Cases

Pros of SeaHorse Cases

  • Money Saver
  • Good medium duty case
  • Multiple colors
  • Optional upgrades(latches, foam etc)

Cons of SeaHorse Cases

  • lighter duty
  • limited models

Sea Horse Cases are definitely my top “economy pick” in the protective hard case industry. A SeaHorse case can save you around 40% compared to a similar style Pelican case. Don’t expect the same level of quality or protection, but if all you need is a tough, waterproof case then Sea Horse could be your ticket.

Sea Horse cases are made in the USA and are guaranteed for life against defects, albeit, not against damage. Sea Horse’s model line is more geared for hand-carry cases, and carry-on sized cases. They don’t offer large cases in their standard lineup.

While SeaHorses are economy cases, you can still get their cases in multiple colors, specify foam or padded dividers or upgrade the closures to locking latches. Of course, these customizations will cost you more but not too much.

Monoprice Pure Outdoor Cases

Pros of Monoprice Cases

  • Super budget-friendly
  • Adequately rugged
  • Watertight

Cons of Monoprice Cases

  • Foam only- no other options
  • Small size available -limited models
  • Unclear warranty
  • Manual air pressure equalizer
  • Ugly(in my opinion)

Monoprice, as a brand, has its hands in a lot of “cookie jars.” They sell a lot of imported budget electronics as well. I assume their hard cases are imported also because they don’t actually volunteer the info. Monoprice cases are about as utilitarian-looking as SKBs but cost 30% less than Pelicans.

What are the tradeoffs? An unclear warranty, rather ugly finish, a limited model lineup, and a cheap-looking manual pressure equalization valve.

In my opinion, these cases make better dry-boxes rather than a seriously protective case. I definitely wouldn’t use them to protect high-value equipment, especially in rugged environments.

Conclusion

When it comes to selecting the right professional hard case, so much of the decision pivots on what you plan on carrying, and where you’ll be going with it. So, here’s are my general recommendations:

If you are headed to war, sea or some insane adventure on Mars…Take a Pelican Protector case

If you are singing at a gig...Take an SKB

If you are traveling by air...take a Pelican Air or a Nanuk

If you are going to the gun range… a Pelican will give you ‘street cred”..but pretty much any case will do

If you’re on a tight budget …get a Seahorse or Monoprice (but not for expensive gear)

I hope all this has helped. You can check out my Pelican Air 1535 review here and I hope to review my Nanuk cases for you soon.

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Don Longworth

Don was born and raised in sub-saharan Africa. Now based in Canada, his extensive experience in non-profit work has served him well over multiple deployments in Africa. Don's experiences have made him a practical "to-the-point" type person. He is a no-frills, low-key guy who appreciates quality and simplicity.

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