In the Field: Pelican Vault Cases

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As photographers, we’re always on the lookout for better ways to store, protect, and transport our gear. For this reason, I welcomed the opportunity to play with Pelican’s new line of Vault Cases. These cases do an excellent job of filling the need for basic equipment protection, without the bells and whistles of Pelican’s premium line of lightweight Air Cases.

Unless one is traveling by plane, or hand-carrying a case for an extended amount of time, there’s little need for a case optimized for low weight. For instance, a photographer traveling with lights, drones, and assorted studio supplies might appreciate having the option to store these items in the minimalist, yet robust Vault cases. This is especially true when traveling with a crew and several cases.

Instead of movable dividers, or pick-n-pluck foam, Vault cases feature five layers of 1.3 lb polyurethane foam—a lid layer, lid pad, two base layers, and a base pad. This arrangement provides superb shock and impact protection, but without the versatility of future reconfiguring. So as the expression goes, measure twice, cut once. A box cutter, X-Acto knife, single-edge razor blade, or my favorite—a common serrated kitchen knife—are useful foam-cutting tools.

Prior to cutting the foam, I placed my gear on the top base layer of foam and carefully traced the outline of each item with a thin black marker. For lenses that would be stored upright, I used lens hoods, drink coasters, and other round objects as templates. For larger and more complicated silhouettes such as cameras with mounted lenses, one can fabricate cardboard stencils to make the chore easier. It’s also important to account for the depth of your items, and to make sure the foam pads on the base and lid remain fully intact. Otherwise your gear might not be properly protected. Sometimes you may have to remove some material from the lid foam layer to accommodate taller items. After removing foam, it’s a good idea to use tape to remove leftover foam particles and debris – lest they get inside your gear. How neat and precise you choose to be is up to you.

From smallest to largest, the Vault case lineup consists of the following: V100, V200, V300, V550, and V600. Each case is crushproof, dustproof, weather resistant, and constructed from high-impact polymer. In hand, one cannot fail to notice and be impressed by the thick, sturdy, outer shell. For easy opening, the ABS latches have simple yet confidence-inspiring push-button latches. V100-300 models have two front latches, and the V550-V600 have an added two latches—one on the left and right sides. Adjacent to the front latches are two stainless-steel lock hasps for user-supplied padlocks.

A large, oversized, ergonomic top handle is designed for both comfort and hard use under adverse conditions. Complementing the latches and handles are stainless-steel pins, a polyethylene body, and a polymer O-ring for improved dust protection and water resistance. The purge vent is made from 3-micron hydrophobic non-woven material. People traveling to areas with temperature extremes will welcome the cases’ ability to withstand 0°F to 140°F. While the cases can withstand these temperatures, it’s vital to make sure your gear can, too.

In addition to holding photography gear such as cameras, lenses, flashes, and related accessories, the versatile Vault cases are also a good choice for electronics, computers, drones, and just about anything that requires sturdy protection. However, it’s important to note that although quite weather-resistant, the Vault cases are not waterproof. They also don’t have full-length hinges like Pelican’s top-of-the-line models. Understandably, the Vault case limited warranty period is one year, versus lifetime for the Pelican premium cases.

To test the cases for dirt, dust, and water protection, I brought the V100 and V600 to New York’s Long Island Sound. There I exposed the cases to wind, sand, dirt, moderate water splashes, and other abuse. I’m happy to report, that while not a scientific test by any means, the cases survived without any visible damage, sand or water intrusion. And in terms of exterior measurements, the V100 is 12.28 x 12.03 x 5.16", and the V600 is 24.55 x 20.59 x 10.16". The weights, with foam, are respectively 3.47 to 15.27 lb. Of course, after you remove foam for your items, the weight will be moderately reduced.

When it came time to customize the foam inserts, I chose the smallest case from the Vault lineup—the V100. I laid out my Nikon D800 DSLR body with a camouflage easyCover Silicone Protection Cover, a Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens with a matching camouflage easyCover 67mm Lens Rim, and a Nikon AF-S Micro NIKKOR 60mm f/2.8G ED Lens. On the Nikon D800 I mounted a Nikon AF NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8D Lens. By the way, I had the Nikon D800 sensor converted to standard infrared. It was nice having sturdy Vault case to protect my infrared outfit.

One thing I really like about the cases, especially the large Vault V600, is that they serve double duty as a sturdy seat. In crowded train stations and other areas, this is a huge advantage over less sturdy cases. And the textured strips make stacking the cases a bit more secure. But because the cases don’t have specialized indentation for stacking, it’s not really recommended.

The Vault line of cases, with the orange line above the handle, textured strips on top, embossed Vault logo, and sturdy looks, drew admiring comments from kayakers at the beach, and a memorable line from a fellow train commuter who opined, “I bet people get out of your way when they see you coming with those cases.” Which in New York parlance is high praise, indeed. So, wherever your travels take you, whether it’s across the world or around your hometown, Vault cases will help keep your gear safe.

Please share some of your favorite travel destinations, and the gear you plan on transporting in the Pelican Vault cases in the Comment box, below.

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