Electronics Protection in the Outdoors

20 reviews with an average rating of 4.0 out of 5 stars
A lush forest with an azure blue river running through it

Phones, GPS, satellite messengers and radios serve as a lifeline for many outdoor enthusiasts, while music players, cameras and tablets add to the fun.

To stay connected, how can you ensure your devices survive the hard knocks of human error and the whims of Mother Nature? REI staff and friends offer the following tips and product options.


E-Protection Options

Protective accessories range from simple to deluxe:

Zip-seal food bags: For the cost of a few pennies, a sealable food bag creates an affordable, disposable layer of protection from light rain and splashes. You can usually use a touchscreen through the plastic. Since they’re less-than-crystal-clear, though, they tend to blur photos and add glare.

Soft cases: Sized to fit many devices, these offer a more durable form of submergible protection. Clear panels allow reliable touchscreen and camera use. Some models feature waterproof headphone jacks, built-in flotation and tie-down points. Shop REI’s selection of soft cases. (Note: Soft cases are categorized alongside hard-sided cases.)

Smartphone cases: These formfitting, device-specific cases deliver low-profile protection from drops, shock and scratches while preserving full access to touchscreens, buttons and ports. Some models add crush resistance and waterproof protection.

Hard-sided cases: The Fort Knox of protection options, these watertight containers can resist just about anything. Many come with customizable linings to cradle delicate items. They are ideal for storage and transport, but don’t offer the quick access and functionality of other options. Shop REI’s selection of waterproof cases.

According to Casey Sherman, REI’s buyer for outdoor electronics, damage is mostly caused by impact, water, and dust. “Your phone is probably the most critical device to protect,” Sherman says. For protection against these hazards, he recommends using a device-specific case such as one from LifeProof. It helps protect your phone from water, drops, grit and snow, all while preserving full access and functionality.


Tips From the Field

Even small amounts of moisture can wreak havoc. Outdoor photographer Dan Silverberg advises, “Make sure you thoroughly dry all your gear when you get home.” He also warns to avoid using devices during sudden temperature and humidity increases that create condensation and fogging, such as coming into a ski lodge from the slopes or going out into tropical heat from an air-conditioned room.

Use soft cases. REI’s product copywriter for watersports, Joel Oerter, recommends keeping a waterproof soft case handy. “If there's even a chance of the phone getting wet, it goes into the case. This is nice because you can still use your phone and even make a phone call with the soft case on.” However, he notes, “taking photos may not work as well if the plastic isn't totally clear.”

Consider weatherproof gear. Oerter also recommends buying rugged, weatherized gadgets for most outdoor uses. “I bought a waterproof POV action cam. Although it was a little extra, it makes underwater shots pretty cool.”

Keep your phone in a zippered pocket. REI’s Pardis Ghorbani, an avid boater and fisherman, takes a no-nonsense approach to protecting his phone from going overboard or suffering saltwater damage. “I highly recommend a zippered clothing pocket for phone storage around water. I've seen a couple phones take a dip by simply falling out of pockets.” He adds, “I use my headphones for most of my calls. That way the phone stays protected in my zippered pocket and I have my hands free to hook and net a fish!”


Quick Tips

  • On hot, sunny days, keep your gadgets in the shade. Many electronic gadgets can be damaged by prolonged heat.
  • When in camp, keep all your portable electronics organized and secure in one protected place, such as a clean, dry cooler.
  • If your device gets wet, don’t try to turn it on until it’s completely dry. Placing it in a container of dry rice or silica gel can help absorb lingering moisture. (If you do succeed in reviving your phone, be sure to back up your information right away. Corrosion may still develop later on.)
  • If it’s been exposed to dry sand or dust, a few blasts from a can of compressed air can help clean it out.