Phones are more adventure-ready than ever before, with IP ratings as far as the eye can see. There are even new cameras that are better equipped to capture the world around you. However, many phones are still fragile glass sandwiches. They look incredible, but you’ll need a tough case if you want to keep your device in pristine condition. Luckily for you, there are plenty of great rugged phone cases to help you do just that. We’re here to help guide you along the way.
Why buy a rugged phone case?
There’s one main reason to invest in rugged phone cases — you’re worried about the long-term health of your device. Whether you’re clumsy or work in a dangerous environment, these tough cases are ready if an accident happens. They may not be as thin or as comfortable in your pocket, but at least you know your phone should survive a tumble or two.
Protection is the key to good rugged phone cases, but there are plenty of bonus features, too. The thicker construction makes it easier for manufacturers to add things like kickstands so you can stream your favorite shows. You might also be eyeing a durable phone case as a way to ease your paranoia. After all, a new smartphone is an expensive investment, so it’s best to keep it in tip-top shape as long as possible.
What to look for?
You could technically hop on Amazon and grab the first rugged phone case you see, but that’s not always the best move. While you shop, you should consider a few things, including the design, extra features, and a MIL-STD certification. Here are our best tips:
- One-piece vs. two pieces — Some of the best cases on the market rely on two pieces to lock your phone in place instead of one. They may come with an outer shell and a lip for the front or a soft inner shell surrounded by a polycarbonate layer. You’ll want to think about how often you plan to change cases and how much weight you want to tack on.
- A built-in screen protector — A few rugged cases pack TPU films into the front for some extra screen protection. Unfortunately, this added feature has gone the way of the dodo in recent years, but you can still find them here and there. As OEMs move to curved displays, getting a proper fit from a built-in screen protector has become tougher.
- Belt clips and holsters — If you’re worried about how much space your new case will take up, maybe the answer is to skip your pocket. Options from Otterbox, Supcase, and more tend to come with some form of belt clip or holster to make life a little easier. If you’re lucky, the clip may double as a kickstand.
- The MIL-STD certification — This should be a standard feature on rugged cases, but you should double-check. The MIL-STD certification indicates that your case has survived a certain number of durability tests. Some manufacturers go beyond the requirements, which is even better.
The best rugged phone cases and case brands
Now that we’ve lined you up with what to look for, it’s time to get down to business. Keep in mind the various designs and features while you browse our top picks. We’ve tried to stick to five brands and a few cases from each; otherwise, we would be here all day. Let’s get down to our rugged phone case business.
It’s pretty tough to top Otterbox for rugged phone cases because that’s all they do. You won’t really find a light or thin option from Otterbox, and in most cases, use a two-piece construction. Otterbox cases used to come primarily in black, but the company has since branched out to a few blue, green, and purple shades as well. If you’re lucky, you can even find a clear case.
Otterbox is one of the brands that stuck with built-in screen protectors for as long as possible. You might still find them here and there, but only for phones with flat displays. No matter which way you go, you’re pretty much safe knowing that your Otterbox is one rugged beast of a case.
Best overall: Otterbox Defender
The Otterbox Defender uses a synthetic rubber slipcover and a polycarbonate shell to keep the phone safe from accidental bumps and drops. The buttons are covered, and you also get port covers to keep dust, lint, and dirt away. A thick, raised bezel around the front keeps the display safe. Depending on the phone, you might get a built-in screen protector as well. The Defender is also one of the options that come with a belt clip holster. It’s thick and bulky, but if all-around protection is what you’re after, this is the Otterbox case to get.
Get the Otterbox Defender for:
The Otterbox Defender Pro somehow manages to be even more protective than the Defender series. The two are quite similar, but the Pro tacks a little more thickness and bulk to help your phone survive even harsher falls. It also comes with a more textured finish on the back that adds to the grip. The anti-microbial layer and a belt clip holster are both available with the Defender Pro, too.
Get the Otterbox Defender Pro for:
- Pixel 5: Otterbox
The Otterbox Defender and Defender Pro are excellent cases, but they are overkill for most people. If you want the safety features that Otterbox is known for, Symmetry is the case to consider. The polycarbonate case is one of the thinnest you can get from Otterbox. It doesn’t have the extra thickness and bulk.
This is the only Otterbox case you can get that lets you show off the phone’s design. The Symmetry also supports many phones, including the latest flagships from Motorola, OnePlus, and more.
Get the Otterbox Symmetry for:
- Galaxy S21 Ultra: Otterbox | Amazon
- Galaxy S21 Plus: Otterbox | Amazon
- Galaxy S21: Otterbox | Amazon
- Galaxy S20 FE: Otterbox | Amazon
- Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Otterbox | Amazon
- Galaxy Note 20: Otterbox | Amazon
- Galaxy S20 Ultra: Otterbox | Amazon
- Galaxy S20 Plus: Otterbox | Amazon
- Galaxy S20: Otterbox | Amazon
- Galaxy A71 5G: Otterbox | Amazon
If you want a slightly thinner but still tough, rugged case, you may want to look at UAG. It’s one of the newer case manufacturers, but the team seems to have figured out what works. You’ll often find a thicker bumper at the top and bottom of your UAG case, and every model in the lineup packs a MIL-STD certification.
UAG’s cases are great for the variety they offer. No matter your phone, there’s probably at least one option for you to check out. There aren’t really bright colors to choose from, but the muted tones are good for everyday life. You can also check out some transparent cases, and they don’t sacrifice toughness.
Best overall: UAG Monarch
The UAG Monarch cranks the protection up to 11. At first glance, the Monarch looks similar to the Plasma mentioned below, but it’s made with five layers of material rather than three. It makes for a slightly denser case, and the transparent back panel is gone in favor of a matte black version. The textured finish should help you to keep a solid grip on your phone. The UAG Monarch is one of the most widely available options from the case maker.
Get the UAG Monarch for:
The Plasma is one of the few models that seem to be available across the board, and it packs the best UAG has to offer. Thick TPU bumpers on the top and bottom offer superior protection if your phone takes a tumble. UAG also added a transparent three-layer polycarbonate back panel for protection against scrapes and scratches. Thick bezels protect the display and camera housing, and you can see the reinforced honeycomb pattern thanks to the clear finish.
While the Plasma line doesn’t come with a built-in screen protector, it does keep adventure in mind. You probably won’t even need a belt holster, thanks to the small overall footprint.
Get the UAG Plasma for:
Although the Plasma features a transparent back panel, the UAG Plyo is the only way to go if you want to show off your entire device. It’s completely clear from the camera housing to the charging ports. However, it provides the same MIL-STD 810G protection you expect from UAG. Air Soft cushioned corners also offer solid security against drops. The Plyo is tested for medical environments, which is an important factor for the current pandemic.
Get the UAG Plyo for:
Poetic is all about 360-degree protection, and it still offers built-in screen protectors on some models. Its two-piece design philosophy can be a pain to apply, but at least you know that your phone won’t fall out. There aren’t many colors to choose from, but some of Poetic’s best rugged phone cases offer built-in kickstands, which more than makes up for the black finish.
See also: Poetic cases: A buyer’s guide
As you might have guessed, with a thick two-piece case, Poetic is happy to provide a belt holster with your purchase. If you still want to fit your phone into a pocket, it may be time to find some new pants instead.
Best overall: Poetic Revolution
The Poetic Revolution case is a highly rugged product for protecting your smartphone. The case has MIL-STD 810G-516.6 certifications for protection against falls and spills. The two-layer case includes one for the front display, with raised lips and corners for additional protection. Some, but not all, Revolution cases come with their own screen protector for the front case.
On the other hand, the rear is made of a combined PC and TPU material for extra shock absorption. Finally, the Revolution has its own built-in kickstand for viewing media hands-free. The cases often come in a variety of color choices.
Get the Poetic Revolution for:
The Poetic Guardian is tough like the Revolution, but it skips the matte back panel to favor a see-through option. It’s a little bit lighter as well, making it a great option if you’re worried about pocket space. You can usually choose from a few different bumper colors to add some personality to your case, and the Guardian even comes with a built-in screen protector. The two-piece design is back for more, so be ready to lock your phone up tight.
Get the Poetic Guardian for:
The Poetic Spartan case is almost identical to the Revolution model. It’s a two-layer case, with the front including raised lips for protecting the display and a polycarbonate back with a built-in kickstand. Some also come with a built-in screen protector. The main difference is that the Spartan case has a premium leather texture cover on its back, which gives it an eye-catching look. Spartan also has MIL-STD 810G – 516.6 certifications for protection. Be aware the Spartan case is not as available for non-flagship phones.
Get the Poetic Spartan for:
You might notice some similarities between Supcase and Poetic. They’re both heavily invested in all-around protection, and that means more built-in screen protectors. All of Supcase’s options are fairly rugged, and they’re even more fond of the color black than the competition.
You’ll probably want a belt holster here as well, so you’re in luck. Each case comes with one, and each case is tested beyond military standards, so you can feel pretty comfortable if you drop your phone from a decent height. The two-piece design can take some effort to get on, but it’s not going anywhere once you attach it.
Best overall: Supcase UB Pro
Supcase’s UB Pro is the clear flagship of the bunch, and it’s by far the most available option. It’s a full-body beast. It relies on a multi-piece hybrid design to lock your phone in place. The thick TPU bumper around the edges keeps drops and shocks at bay while the polycarbonate shell brushes scratch away harmlessly. Some models include built-in screen protectors, but only if you have a flatscreen device.
As far as universal features go, each UB Pro case includes a rotating belt holster so that you can keep all of that bulk from filling up your pocket. You can also use the built-in kickstand to stream your favorite shows hands-free from any of three different angles. The UB Pro is the most colorful case in the lineup, and you can pick from up to a dozen colors.
Get the UB Pro for:
How can you make a list of the best cases without showing Spigen some love? Well, you can’t. The company simply offers too many cases across all spheres. However, it doesn’t have too many truly rugged cases to choose from. The one option that it does have only comes in black and gunmetal finishes, too, so you may want to look elsewhere for colorful cases.
See also: Spigen cases: A buyer’s guide
Best overall: Spigen Tough Armor
The Spigen Tough Armor case is among the most rugged phone cases ever made for a smartphone. Not only is it made of two layers (a flexible TPU interior and a hard PC outer shell), but it also includes extra foam inserts. They are placed inside the TPU interior for an extra degree of shock absorption when the phone falls on the ground.
The result is that the case meets the high MIL-STD 810G-516.6 certification for fall protection. On top of that, the back includes a built-in kickstand so you can set your phone on a flat surface and watch media without having to hold it. If you want as much protection as possible from your Spigen case, the Tough Armor is the one to get.
Get the Spigen Tough Armor for:
Frequently asked rugged phone case questions
Q: Are rugged phone cases waterproof?
A: Some rugged phone cases are waterproof, but others are not. You’ll have to check out the details of your individual case to make sure. We have waterproof case guides for some phones, but it depends on your select model.
Q: Will a rugged case keep my phone completely safe?
A: For the most part, yes, it will. Rugged phone cases are thicker with extra reinforcement in the corners, which should be good news in case of drops. They also tend to have more layers for impact absorption, and the MIL-STD 810G 516.6 rating is just the icing on top.
Q: My rugged phone case is too bulky, are there any thin options?
A: Yes, in fact, there are plenty of thin options. You might want to look at UAG’s Plasma or the Spigen Tough Armor we mentioned above. Even the Otterbox Symmetry is on the thinner side, though it’s thicker than the other two.