Gear Review: Waterproof Phone Cases

One of my favorite gear items for kayaking, canoeing and paddleboarding is a waterproof phone case.

SUP paddle with two waterproof phone case brands

I’ve owned three different cases from three different brands, and I definitely have some feedback for you!

(I’m also interested to hear YOUR feedback on other models/brands you have experience with:

Why Use a Waterproof Phone Case

First, why use one of these?

If you want to take your phone with you paddling and keep it completely protected from the water while still being able to use it, these cases are very cheap “insurance.”

Insurance from dropping it in the water…or getting paddle splash all over it.

I love these because the good ones are made of high-quality plastic that allows you to use the touch screen and take photos while your phone stays safely inside the case.

woman paddleboarding on a local lake
This was taken with my phone inside my Aquapac phone case last summer—nice and clear!

I usually can’t tell the difference in quality—except when shooting into the sun. That does cast a definite filmy look that you wouldn’t get with your phone outside the case.

But then again, as long as you keep the lanyard around your neck or wrapped around your wrist, there’s no chance of your $800 iPhone falling in the lake!

My Experience with 3 Different Cases

I’m on my third waterproof phone case in four years. Here are the ones I’ve used and why (when applicable) I’m not using one anymore:

Aquapac Waterproof Phone Case

The first case I purchased was an Aquapac. This was my favorite because of its lightweight and slim profile. The photo qualities were almost perfect, except, as I mentioned above, sometimes when I was shooting into too much sunlight.

aquapac waterproof phone case
I used this Aquapac case for almost three whole summers

And—important for me—I could handle it and take photos easily with one hand. These others that are bulkier around the edges require me to use both hands, which is rarely convenient. If you have bigger hands, that probably wouldn’t be an issue for you.

However…my Aquapac case developed a tear along the lower seam sometime during my third summer using it. I only noticed it when I had it around my neck while paddle boarding and forgot to take it off when I got in the water for a swim!

By the time I realized it was still on, my phone was pretty wet from being submerged for a few minutes. It still hasn’t fully recovered, although, thankfully, I was able to dry it out enough to keep using it.

tear in the phone case seam
Because it was along the bottom seam, I didn’t notice this tear the last time I used it

I always stored the case indoors when not in use, and I don’t remember an incident that would’ve caused that tear. So…maybe old age? I don’t know. I was disappointed though, for sure. (I haven’t emailed the company to see if this was a typical lifespan, but I should.)

PRO TIP: Always check the seams before heading out!

Wise Owl Waterproof Phone Case

I’ve gotten several products from Wise Owl, a family business based in Tennessee, and had good experiences with most of them…except this phone case!

It came as a bonus along with a dry bag purchase. Because I was still using my Aquapac—which had an easier locking mechanism and was less bulky—I never even had it out on the water.

When my Aquapac died last summer, I pulled out the Wise Owl case but the plastic locking mechanism literally fell apart. I think the glue they used dried out.

Wise Owl waterproof phone case
Unfortunately, this one fell apart before I had a chance to use it

I see they still offer it as a bonus/package deal with the purchase of other products and assume they’ve dealt with that problem by now.

(I also see Wise Owl doesn’t sell to consumers from their website anymore. You can find their products on Amazon. FYI, their dry bags are some of the best value you’ll see anywhere—much cheaper than some of the big brands, and I haven’t had any issues with them.)

Pelican Waterproof Phone Case

When I went on a kayak tour with Paddle Bridge last September, I asked for their recommendation. They use Pelican‘s waterproof cases, so I bought one of those this spring to try it out. I used it several times during a recent up-north trip with my husband.

It’s quite a bit bulkier than the Aquapac was, which makes it hard for me to take photos with one hand. But the locking mechanism seems firm and is easy to use. It’s a floating case, hence the extra bulk.

Pelican waterproof phone case
This is my current phone case, from Pelican

The lanyard that came with mine was a half-inch thick nylon strap, so I switched it out with the lower-profile lanyard from my old Aquapac. I don’t want a wide strap around my neck when it’s hot outside!

PRO TIP: If one-handed phone use and a low-profile lanyard are important to you, pay attention to them when shopping!

Other Environments to Use These Phone Cases

Besides using these phone cases on the water, I’ve also used them on bike rides. That way I can take photos or video while riding and not have to worry about dropping it.

I even used my Aquapac for a week at a guest ranch in Colorado a couple of years ago! I wrapped the lanyard around the saddle horn or my wrist while we were out riding so I could get photos of the gorgeous country we were riding through without fear of dropping my phone.

[Maybe it was the dry, dusty Colorado air that caused that crack in the seam, now that I think about it! Hmmm.]

man fishing from a canoe
I took this one through my Pelican case—the lighting seems a little distorted…but my phone stayed dry!

The Final Word

If you’re a paddler and you love to be able to have your phone along and use it (for calls, texts, photos, etc.) you need a waterproof phone case.

It’s a great tool to keep your phone secure—as long as it’s still leak-proof 🙂

Paddling guide cover

Twin Cities Paddling Guide

Published in 2020, our 52-page digital Paddling Guide is the easiest way to find local lakes and river trails in all seven counties of the Twin Cities metro area.

Click here for the details…

You’ll like these too…

Sharon Brodin
Latest posts by Sharon Brodin (see all)