Pelican 1615 Air review: Heavy protection in a light case
The Pelican 1615 Air travel case is rugged and durable, yet it is surprisingly light.
Pelican cases have long been the standard for protecting expensive and important gear in rugged environments. But all that protection came at a cost, or in this case, weight. So it was a welcome change when Pelican released the Pelican Air series in 2016. The Air cases are up to 40% lighter than the original models, which makes a big difference when lugging around gear.
Air cases come in seven sizes. The Pelican Air 1485 is the smallest, measuring 19.17 x 12.80 x 6.89 inches, which is enough space to hold a few camera bodies, a large telephoto, and some compact prime lenses. The line tops out with the Pelican Air 1615, which measures 32.58 x 18.40 x 11.02 inches and can accommodate multiple camera bodies, a few larger zoom lenses, some prime lenses, and still have room for hard drives, batteries, and other small accessories. Most come in four colors, with an additional color for two cases. I had the opportunity to use the black 1615 for my move from Hawaii to Florida, putting it to the test as checked baggage on multiple flights.
The Air camera cases have slightly different features based on their size, but overall they utilize the same design across the board. Most significantly, they all utilize Pelican’s proprietary HPX² Polymer for their hardened shells. It’s considerably lighter than other hard-shell materials but still promises similar levels of protection and durability.
It truly is impressive how light they are. My 17.60-pound 1615 is larger than my biggest camera backpack–and offers more protection–but only weighs a bit more when empty. Even when I had it packed full of all of my gear for the move, it was easily manageable for me to lift the case on my own.
Luckily, the largest case in the line comes equipped with wheels and a trolley handle for easy transport. The wheels roll very smoothly and quietly across just about any surface, from coarse roads to ugly airport carpets. I didn’t have any issues with them, even when going over uneven terrain.
The trolley handle has a simple albeit unremarkable design. You need to push out a sheet of plastic that forms the bottom of the case to release the handle to extend or stow it. Extending it with one hand is easy, but you’ll need two to push it back down. It’s functional, but it doesn’t slide all that smoothly and doesn’t feel as sturdy as other parts of the case. I have to do some wiggling to get it back into place. It is a bit annoying, especially during rushed airport times.
All sizes of the Air offer stainless steel padlock protectors, allowing you to lock them, keeping your gear secure. I used TSA-approved locks for my move, which made me feel a lot better having my gear out of sight. Pelican’s Press and Pull latches securely click into place when closed, so you know they are actually latched. They release with a press of a button, which you have to push purposefully. You can trust they won’t pop open on their own. They feel sturdy and reliable and have survived my opening and closing them multiple times daily as I essentially lived out of the case for months.
The Air cases employ waterproof O-ring seals to earn an IP67 rating. Those numbers indicate that the case can survive total submersion in up to one meter of water for up to 30 minutes. The seals and hard sides also keep out dust and resist crushing under heavy weights. While I haven’t fully submerged the case, it was on the back of a pickup in the rain for nearly two hours. The contents were perfectly dry despite that journey. It was also in the checked baggage compartment for both of my flights and survived that without hardly a scratch.
You can buy the Air cases completely empty, but Pelican offers three types of organization and protection: Pick N Pluck foam, padded dividers, or the TrekPak divider system.
I used the TrekPack system, which comes with a few sheets of the dividers, a pack of connectors, a cutting tool, and foam for the top and bottom. I was worried they wouldn’t offer as much protection as the padded dividers, but that is not the case. Granted, I had extra clothes and other items shoved in the case with my camera equipment since I was moving. There wasn’t any extra space as a result, but even still, everything was held securely and safely for our entire journey.
It does require more setup, as they come in long sheets that you’ll need to cut down. But I found it easier than fussing with getting the velcro strips in just the right place. And the cutting tool ensures you’ll get straight, even cuts, which I appreciated. Of course, once you cut them, you are stuck with those lengths (unless you go shorter). That limits how much you can rearrange down the line. But, if you don’t need to change divider lengths, it is very easy to pop out the connectors and rearrange them.
You can buy extra dividers in case you end up needing more or need to drastically change the layout. And you can buy a replacement cutting tool and pins if you need those as well. Or, if you already have a Pelican case and want to switch to the TrekPak system, you can purchase kits for just about any case model and size.
Final thoughts on the Pelican 1615 Air
Pelican cases have long been impressive, but with the massive weight reduction in its Air series, they are even better. You get ultimate protection without ultimate weight. If you travel a lot, the weight savings makes these very attractive.
They are pricey, so they will be an investment to buy for most people. But they come with a limited lifetime warranty and protect your likely very expensive gear exceptionally well, even in harsh circumstances, making them a worthwhile purchase.