Thursday, March 05, 2015

Gear Closet: Pelican Vault Case for iPad Mini

One of the few symptoms that I suffer from being at high altitude is an inability to sleep. This can lead to some long nights in a tent as you wait for morning to arrive. With this in mind, on my recent trip to Kilimanjaro I decided to take my iPad Mini along to keep me entertained with books, magazines, music, movies, and games. This strategy proved to be a winning one, as often when I woke up in the night, if I read for a bit, I would find myself growing tired once again, and I'd manage to eke out a little more sleep. The problem is, taking a fragile and expensive tablet to a place like Kilimanjaro can be a recipe for disaster. Keeping your precious technology devices safe in that kind of environment can be a real challenge. Fortunately, I wrapped my iPad in a Vault case from Pelican prior to departure, giving it an almost impenetrable suit of armor for the journey.

The Vault case includes everything you would expect to keep your tablet safe in just about any environment. It features a rubber edge seal designed to prevent dust and sand from getting to the iPad's internal circuitry, which is most vulnerable to those kinds of elements. It also keeps water out as well, although the case is not waterproof and does not provide protection from full immersion.

The tough outer shell that the Vault provides is strong enough to absorb just about any impact, and is rated to withstand drops of up to 1.2 meters (4-feet) in length. That should cover most accidental slips, and will keep the tablet safe from getting jarred too heavily in transit or being squeezed inside a backpack or duffel bag as well. On Kilimanjaro I kept the tablet with me almost the entire time, but had to relinquish it to save weight on Summit Day. I felt confident that it was safe in the hands of the porters however thanks to the durability of Pelican's case.


The lid of the Vault not only provides ample protection for the iPad's screen, but it can also serve to prop up the device on a table for viewing. In this easel-mode, the iPad gets a stable platform to stand, allowing hands-free operation as people gather around to watch videos, listen to music, or share photos.

In order to gain the benefits of the Vault case the user must first install their device prior to departure. In the case of the iPad Mini version of the Vault that means removing six tiny screws and the outer seal, and then inserting the tablet inside the case. This is not something that is easy to do in the field, which means once the iPad is in the Vault, it isn't coming out until you come home. Fortunately the case doesn't add a ton of weight or bulk, which make it easy to accept while on an adventure. At home, you'll probably want to return the iPad to its original svelte condition however, which means removing the case once again. It should be noted that the Vault case for the full size iPad actually has more than 20 screws to add and remove, making the process even more tedious.

To say I was impressed with the Pelican's case would be an understatement. Not once on my journey did I ever fear for my iPad, as it always felt safe and secure at every stage of the climb. When using the iPad in my tent, the case also felt solid in my hands, giving me a better grip on Apple's slippery device. This provided an extra sense of security as well, as it meant that I was unlikely to accidentally drop it at any time.

That isn't to say that there aren't a few issues to be had with the Vault. For instance, the thick outer casing made it difficult for my to insert my earbuds into the headphone port as the plug was just a bit too short. I'd recommend testing your headphones ahead of time to make sure they'll work, or you could find yourself in a remote area without working earbuds.

Each of the other iPad ports and switches are also accessible via various access points on the other shell of the case as well, including the volume controls, lighting charing port, and power switch. Most of that could be easily accessed, although the rubberized port covers were sometimes challenging to get firmly back into place. That is an important thing to get right however if you want to continue to keep dust, dirt, and water from the interior of the device.

The power switch button was also very difficult to activate at time. Typically I'll hit this switch on my iPad to put it into hibernation mode, but with the Vault case in place I often had a hard time getting it to register a click. Sometimes I'd simply close the case at let the device go to sleep on its own rather than trying to continually press a button that wasn't responding.

In terms of the lid itself, Pelican could have taken a cue from Apple's own Smart Covers and incorporated magnets that would detect when the lid was open or closed, automatically waking the device, or putting it to sleep, as needed. That is something I truly enjoy about Apple's own screen protector, although they don't offer anywhere close to the same level of protection that the Vault does.

These few nitpicks aside, the Vault case is an excellent choice for adventure travelers venturing out into remote areas with an iPad. It provides all of the protection you could ask for, while providing an excellent sense of security that your device will survive the trip in one piece. Pelican even backs the case with a full lifetime warranty, which is an indication of how much faith they have in this product. If you're like me, and have a hard time leaving your favorite tech gadgets at home when you hit the road, than give the Vault case a look. I think you'll find that it provides excellent piece of mind no matter where your adventures take you. (MSRP: $74.95)

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