A Case Match: Comparing the Nanuk™️ 909 to the Pelican™️ 1200

At the 2018 Toronto Sportsman Show, W was fortunate enough to speak with the team at Nanuk. I remember vividly, him telling me that following his conversation we had suddenly found ourselves in possession of a brand spanking new Nanuk 909.

I will be the first to tell you that I take bias very seriously here at Gunslinger Research. 100% of our endeavors are self-funded, we rarely accept sponsorships, we often bicker over the cost of some items that we wish to review, dodge spouses, sleep on couches, the list goes on. We do this so that our readers, can be assured that we are recommending equipment that you can trust.

Shortly after the Sportsman Show, W phoned me to discuss our approach to the review you are hopefully about to read.

“How are we going to do this?”I pondered his question for about five minutes. “Well, I only see one option.”

“Which is?” W’s tone portrayed his dismay. A tone that usually means he isn’t going to particularly like what I’m about to say.

“We have to break them…overstress, overreach, push them to the limit.”

I am sure if you listened really closely you could tell the moment when W’s heart ripped in half at the idea of destroying not only a brand-new Pelican 1200 but a new Nanuk 909. So that is what we did. We want to thank Nanuk for supplying the 909 for this test and for sponsoring this article. You can check them out at http://www.nanuk.com and purchase them directly from www.hardcases.ca.

“What case should I buy?” That is the question.

If you ask the people we work with, the answer is consistently Pelican. Pelican cases are common in law enforcement, military, and contractor circles. They are known to be durable, cost-effective, and come in a range of sizes for everything from rifles to cameras and beyond. From military to law enforcement, contractors to photographers, the Pelican is regarded as the standard. In fact, the name has been adopted into daily vernacular for any hard case.

A few years ago, we became aware of a small Canadian company, that wanted to compete with the Pelican name. We watched them with interest, heard that they meet the same standards as the Pelican cases, and advertised very appealing price points. We were intrigued, but not about to leave the proverbial bandwagon.

However, when life gives you lemons you make lemonade (or is it buy tequila?) With Nanuk willing to throw down against Pelican, we began to ponder how to truly torture the challenger. The normal way that most people test cases seem, pretty standard and well…it did not suit our purposes. Most reviews wish to keep the case afterward, the case is not tested fully. It is not pushed to failure. Park a truck on top of them, toss them in the air, drop them, these are the basic tests. We limited the test to just Pelican and Nanuk. The other brands of cases we looked at either did not meet those specs, or they were not tested to see if they did.


Before we tested the cases to failure, we spent some time just looking at the cases, and opening and closing them. The Pelican case seemed to be slightly more robust (we couldn’t find an exact match of case sizes in the small cases) with a more rigid material than the Nanuk. Now rigidity does not necessarily equate to durability, as a rigid material is more likely to transfer more force to the contents. Continuing our examination of the cases, we turned our attention to the latches. The Pelican case has a very effective latch system, but it can be tough to use. The Nanuk has a release tab in the latch, that allows for a much easier opening and closing of the case. Finally, the “pluck” foam in the Pelican was much easier to pluck than the Nanuk foam, which means a higher potential of ripping out additional sections over time.

Before we tested the cases, we went out to the local dollar store and bought some cheap shot glasses and incandescent light bulbs meant for night lights. We went as cheap as possible, as we wanted them to be extremely breakable. We tested a Pelican 1200 vs a Nanuk 909. The Pelican 1200 was a little smaller than the Nanuk 909 but had a little more depth. This actually gave the Pelican a slight advantage, as there was more foam area to help cushion the impact.

The first test was pretty basic: we tied both cases to the hitch of a truck and drove 60km/h down a rough gravel/rock/dirt farmer path for about 150m (video above.) After the trip, we took a good close look at the exterior of the cases and then opened them. The Pelican suffered some surface scratches, and the latches held. It appeared that the majority of the impacts were on the corners and edges, which we expected. The Nanuk had deeper scratches and minor gouges, which is most likely due to the more flexible resin it’s made of. The Nanuk took a direct hit to one of the latches, which did pop open. When we opened the Pelican case, everything was intact. Due to the latch popping open, the shot glass in the Nanuk case bounced out of the foam and smashed the light bulb. With the smaller depth of the case, the shot glass was not embedded as far in the foam, which may or may not be a factor.

The second test involved putting the cases on the ground and having the biggest guy available (6’6, 250lbs) hit them on the top of the case with a 10-pound sledgehammer. We did consider tracking down a hydraulic press for this test, however, consider the following: in the early days of seating bearings in the automotive industry bearings that would not budge with a 50-ton hydraulic press could be relatively easily removed with an 8lb sledgehammer and appropriate punch. In short, not only did we know the cases would break; we wanted them to break! To no one’s surprise, both cases failed catastrophically.

We looked at the Pelican 1200 first. The impact was pretty close to the center of the lid, and a large crack developed around the impact area, a few inches from the impact, in a roughly 270-degree arc. The crack allowed a portion of the lid to bend inwards and smash our shot glass. The light bulb survived the strike unscathed.

When we looked closely at the Nanuk 909, we found that the impact was pretty much dead center. The surprising part to us was the way the case cracked. The Nanuk failed along the center of the back of the lid and worked its way across the case to near one of the latches, rather than cracking in a circle. When we opened the case, both the light bulb and shot glass were intact, despite the case having less depth than the Pelican.

Despite the catastrophic damage to the cases, the performance of the latches during the drag test made further testing necessary. We put the cases on end and hit the latches with the sledgehammer. The sledgehammer penetrated the case itself. The edges are the weak area, and this was to be expected. The latch on the Pelican broke outright. However, the Nanuk latch pin bent, which sent the latch flying, however upon recovering the latch we found that it was still functional. Since our extreme test wasn’t very scientific (no, we aren’t going to try to use the lifetime warranty on these…) we have to make the assumption that these results would happen every time. Based on the way the cases broke, and the difference in the material the cases are made of, it’s not an unreasonable assumption. The slight flexibility of the Nanuk case helps it absorb impact much better than the extreme rigidity of the Pelican case. If you transport your cased valuables in locations where they would be subjected to lots of abrasions, (and we can’t think of any unless you routinely leave your case on a running belt sander) the Pelican wins hands down. If you transport your cased valuables in locations where they are potentially subjected to significant impact forces (airline checked baggage, back of a pickup truck traveling down rough roads, etc), the Nanuk is a clear winner. To add the proverbial cherry on top, the Nanuk is lighter, cheaper, Canadian, and actively involved in the community. The bottom line is you will not be disappointed if you choose to hop off the Pelican wagon and give a Nanuk a try.

Categories: Reviews & Releases

1 reply

  1. This is not the way we certify our Nanuk to be eligible to provide the police and army units which is much more rigorous as a test, on sealing, frost, shock absorption etc. … But it’s still interesting.

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