Adventure travel for your phone: Tech 21 case review

Gone are the days when leaving your phone on the charging dock, at the ski lodge, in your backpack, or in the car is an option. I’m a big fan of outdoor adventure travel, but also a big fan of having my phone with me when I’m on vacation. It’s often my camera, my communication device, my note taker, and my navigator. But I hate it when I feel limited because I’m worried about my phone.

tech 21

My phone ‘wears’ different cases for different activities, which protects it nicely from drops, spills, and any other silliness I may put it through. But when I travel outdoors, my phone brings along a second ‘outfit’. It’s essential that my phone owns a second skin that’s waterproof, dustproof, and generally adventure travel-proof.

Tech 21 Evo Aqua case review:

Enter the Tech21 Evo Aqua. Currently, we’re trying out the Aqua on my teen son’s iPhone 7+, but it also comes in the iPhone 7. Why test the Aqua on my son’s phone? Frankly, because it’s the phone that goes through the most ‘adventure’. Our first test came on a winter weekend at Mt. Bachelor, Oregon, a ski resort known for creating its own weather system due it its large, volcanic peak. When we stepped out of the car, the temperature was 14 degrees F, with the wind blowing.

My son’s phone likes to ‘die’ nearly immediately in very cold weather (it must have been fated for a life in Hawaii, not the Pacific Northwest), but right away, we noticed that the Aqua case protected the ports and speaker from the bracing cold, which I believe aided to a long day of battery life. (This is not a proven fact; just something we noticed.)

We then tested the Aqua in the snow, retrieving it from the protection of a ski jacket pocket often to take photos, take video while skiing, and take a few tumbles. We even dropped it from the ski chair, though I’ll admit that was an accident.

What’s comparable to other waterproof cases:

The Tech21 Aqua is waterproof to over 6.5 feet submersion, which, in my experience, is similar to a few other waterproof cases. It has FlexShock drop protection, comparable with others, and it retails for $89, which is a bit less, but fairly similar, to other waterproof cases I’ve tried. The Aqua also allows for full access to all your ports and buttons, which I’ve found to be true of other cases. It’s a bit harder to hear from the speaker, because it’s more securely closed off, but on the flip side, it’s easily to access my charging port on the Aqua than on other cases. All in all, it’s a pretty compatible experience.

Tech 21 Evo Aqua

What’s unique about Tech 21 Aqua:

When I first enclosed my iPhone in the Tech 21 Aqua, I did a double take. Why? The front of my phone was still unprotected! Then I looked more closely: while the front glass face of my phone was indeed ‘naked’, the waterproofing seal wrapped all the way around it. This is such a great benefit to the Aqua, because unlike other waterproof cases, this one doesn’t require me to practically beat my phone with my fists to get it to respond to touch. There’s no bulky plastic casing over my screen. Yes, it’s hard to trust this design at first, but once you do, you’ll love it.

The textured finish on the Aqua makes the case a little bit ‘grippy’, which is nice when your phone is wet. Combined with the open front face, I never felt like my phone was a slippery, plastic torpedo about to leave my grasp. We also tested the Aqua in the Narrows of Zion National Park, and I was grateful for its ‘grippiness’ there, too. Yes, it’s waterproof, but no, I don’t want to test that thoroughly (more on this below).

What to watch out for:

For this review, we didn’t submerge the Aqua all the way in water, but the phone certainly got wet, icy, and clammy, with no issues. We DID test it in water as instructed in the Tech21 instruction manual, which gets me to an important point: definitely, absolutely, no-joke, FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS when putting the Aqua case on your phone, especially for the first time. It seems self-explanatory, but it’s imperative that you know how to put the case on correctly the first time, so you can see how it feels and looks to be on the right way.

Basically, you place your phone in the front of the case and then attach the backing of the case by making sure each section securely snaps and seals, working your way around the phone as you go, but if it’s not securely sealed, water WILL get in. The instruction book recommends installing a plastic ‘dummy’ phone (provided) into the case first, then submerging it underwater for 30 minutes to make sure you put it on properly. I highly recommend this as well. This process really made us confident when we put the Aqua on the real phone.

Note: I personally do not submerge my phone completely in water in ANY case. I’ve just seen things go sideways too many times. Instead, I use an underwater or waterproof point-and-shoot camera for underwater photos.

 Tech 21 cases for ‘low impact’ travel:

As noted above, you’re not going to use the Aqua for everything, or every day travel. On travel days, I use my earbud port and speaker more than usual, and I certainly don’t want to mess with a clunky case when my phone needs to be tucked away in my carry-on. I also use up a lot of battery on travel days, since I store my boarding passes and hotel reservations on my phone. For travel days, I tried the Tech 21 Endurance, which is a battery case that’s still streamlined and sleek. Not only is the Endurance a battery case, but it still provides protection from drops and spills. And unlike any other battery case I’ve tried, there’s no heat emission. That’s huge to me.

tech 21 gem

Don’t need extra battery power? For ‘low impact’ travel days (i.e., days I’m not hiking through rivers, skiing, or facing a thunderstorm or sand storm), I like the Tech 21 Evo Gem. It’s ultra-thin and lightweight, but still provides cushioning for drop protection. It’s the perfect level of case when you don’t need mega protection.

About the author

Pit Stops for Kids AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly at a number of travel publications, and contributes to OutdoorsNW magazine as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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