Review: Pelican’s impressive Elite Luggage is built like a tank, but is it worth the price tag?

Pelican BA22-Review-18

Pelican has spent decades providing the military and emergency services with its protective cases and more. The company is known for making tough and durable gear. So when I came across some of its luggage products looking for a new suitcase, the personally appealing design and pedigree of the company had me interested. Pelican recently sent over its BA22 Carry-On model from the Elite Luggage line so we could take a closer look and it was certainly a joy to use. But does its lifetime guarantee and high end features match its healthy price tag?

While the BA22 may be the more compact model in the Elite Luggage line, it boasts many of the same feature highlights as the successively larger Weekender and Vacationer models, albeit with less bells and whistles on the inside. Firstly, it has all the usuals like a retractable handle, lay-flat stainless steel carry handles with soft rubber grips (top, bottom and side) and a pair of bottom mounted wheels. All of which felt very secure and durable. The retractable carry-handle and the wheels felt both very smooth and especially rugged while pulling the case through the airport and on the street/side-walk, among other places.

The Elite line of cases are “watertight, crushproof and lightweight”. Along with the “limited lifetime guarantee”, you can also expect a watertight O-Ring seal allowing the case to be submerged for up to 30-minutes at a depth of one-meter. The “double wall polypropylene construction” exterior can handle a load of up to 1,500 pounds, according to Pelican. Other extras include a self-regulating vent and very smooth stainless-steel hinge pins for the lid.

Pelican has made sure to meet FAA-approved air-line regulations in terms of carry-on sizes and includes a built-in TSA approved combination lock which I found to be particularly convenient and very easy to use.

The inside of the case is laid out in a simple fashion in order to provide about as much space as a case with that much protection could give. The bottom compartment is a large open space, lined with a soft material. There is a detachable lid organizer with a pair of zipper pockets along with the included toiletry kit and zippered shoe sack.

I recently had a chance to take the Pelican on a few real world exercises including a few local trips and a week long vacation with a pair of flights to go along with it. First thing is packing. Let’s just say that there is a little bit less interior space here than a typical case of this size would provide, but it wasn’t as thick as I had imagined before actually opening it up. The actual injection molded HPX “high performance” resin body of the case itself is 3-inches at its thickest and 1-inch at its thinnest. Not bad. Another thing to be noted here is that due to how rigid the exterior body is, there is little to no give when you’re stuffing it full of clothes, shoes and MacBooks. And if you’re one of those people that wants to cram this thing to oblivion, and then sit on it while your friend and your uncle tag-team the zipper to get it closed, it’s not going to happen.

But that’s also because there are no zippers, and it’s glorious. Pelican has opted for some of its military design-inspired latches to keep the Elite luggage closed. Just like the body, handles and wheels, they feel very durable. I certainly felt confident that my belongings were in good hands.

As for actually carrying it on a flight, everything went very smooth, kinda. Small enough to lug down the aisle and light enough to get up the compartment overhead, but big enough to get a decent amount of stuff in there. At only 10 pounds (before you put anything in it), it was no problem for me to maneuver this thing through a typical boarding etc. But I also decided to see how its rugged build quality would fair through the rigors of checking the bag in for a flight.

As you may have expected, everything inside was completely fine, absolutely no damage or even much displacement. However, the BA22 didn’t come out quite as pretty on the other side this time. While my belongings remained entirely secure, there was a noticeable amount of scratches left along the broad sides and bottom of the case. Now for me personally, it just adds to to the overall appeal of the case’s aesthetic design that caught my eye in the first place. But for some this might be annoying. Having said that, outside of soft cases that come with their own set of all broken-everything problems, other cases I have used in the past experience the same fate on many occasions.

For me, the look of the case (scratches or not), and how solid it feels (it’s a tank!) along with the limited lifetime guarantee, certainly justify the price tag. Sure the military-grade specs may seem a bit overkill for some, but it’s nice to know your things are safe and that a little bit of bad weather and other not-so baggage friendly travel conditions are like a walk in the park for this thing.

For some, its rigged design may be bothersome when it comes to actually packing, but that is probably more likely to happen with the larger models, and even then it seems like a minor gripe considering the trade-off. I can also see the scratches on the first check-on flight being a little disappointing for some, but again I think that is a bit of a necessary evil with all hard cases. When it comes down to it, the only circumstances I can see the Elite cases not being an intelligent purchase would be if the investment-level price didn’t work for you or if the overall look of the case just didn’t suit your taste.

This model comes in a selection of different colors and generally starts at around $427 shipped right now. The other models start at $475 up to $585 or so at places like B&H and Adorama. But be sure to take a quick look on Amazon before making any decisions as some models/color combinations are listed for the same or less including the BA22 Carry-On model.

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