The best rugged smartphones offer durability, long battery life, protective ratings, and a wealth of features specific to outdoor use cases.
Buying the right smartphone can be a huge investment – especially if you’re using it in harsh environments and extreme conditions, So, the very best rugged phones need to be dust-proof, shock-proof, and water-proof (or at least water-resistant). They’ll come equipped with cases and shells that are tough enough to withstand drops on hard surfaces, surviving any impact, bump or drop without bearing a scratch.
To help you find the right device, we’ve put the best rugged smartphones to the test. We’ve gone hands-on with these phones, comparing IP ratings. We’ve also assessed additional features such as infrared cameras, sound level meters, and volatile organic compound (VOC) detectors. Some of our picks have even undergone stringent tests to ensure they meet military standards. These smartphones are capable of performing even under extreme temperatures, shocks, and more, making them ideal for use outdoors or in dangerous environments.
Paired with the best rugged laptops and best rugged tablets, you can be confident that your devices work whatever environment you find yourself in.
Best rugged smartphone overall
The Nokia XR20 is the first rugged smartphone to launch under the Nokia banner with the help of HMD Global which now owns the brand. Unlike other rugged smartphones that stand out due to their designs, the Nokia XR20 is meant to blend in with its slim profile and sleek look.
In terms of durability, the XR20 is IP68 certified, MIL-STD-810 rated, and is the first rugged smartphone to feature Corning Gorilla Glass Victus. The device also features a red emergency button along with a dedicated, non-customizable Google Assistant button.
However, what really sets the XR20 apart from the pack is the fact that HMD Global has guaranteed that the device will receive four years of security updates with three years of OS updates. The company also includes free one-year screen replacement.
Read the full Nokia XR20 5G rugged smartphone review
Best rugged smartphone for thermal imaging
The Blackview BV9900 Pro used to have the title of our favorite rugged smartphone, and while it’s been beaten to the post, it’s still a worthy buy.
The Blackview BV9900 Pro has a FLIR thermal imaging camera, a rarity on rugged smartphones despite its usefulness. This joins an array of ‘standard’ cameras led by a 48MP one which is helpful for a range of photography needs.
The phone performs well with its MediaTek Helio G90 chipset, which is paired with 8GB RAM and easily takes on many tasks. It’s also pretty well protected for a rugged phone.
Sure, the phone is a bit behind in a few ways – its battery could be better, and we would have liked to see 5G connectivity, but it’s still the best-rugged smartphone you can get right now.
Read our full Blackview BV9900 Pro rugged smartphone review
Best rugged smartphone for everyday use
In our experience, the AGM H6 budget rugged phone combines a robust design with all the essential smartphone features you need whether you’re working out in the field or just browsing and scrolling from the comfort of home.
We found it simple and user-friendly during tests, boasting excellent signal strength and smooth and fluid performance using the installed Google apps. In fact, for everyday use, we can’t fault the H6. However, we did notice some slowdown when we used Adobe Lightroom and video editing apps like Quik. Not enough to break the user-experience – they otherwise work fine – but noticeably less smooth compared to higher-end smartphones.
In our benchmark tests, we largely saw the same results, with middle to lower scores across the board. But then, the AGM H6 isn’t designed to be the super-tough equivalent of an iPhone or Google Pixel phone. With its user-friendly design and robust durability (it features IP68/IP69K and MIL-STD-810H certifications), it’s a phone that doesn’t try to be more than it is, and that’s its biggest strength. This is built for anyone who needs a simple but tough smartphone for making calls, reading emails, and updating documents outside and in.
Read our full AGM H6 rugged phone review
Best rugged smartphone for coverage
CAT-branded phones aren’t anything new, but new releases are few and far between.
The new S75 is a rebranded Motorola Defy 2, and it comes with an interesting specification that includes a high level of impact and water resistance. It uses a Dimensity 930 processor that is marginally faster at processing than the previous 900 design but sports a less desirable GPU. It comes with a 50MP primary camera that uses pixel binning to produce good-quality results. The build-in storage is a fair 128GB, but you can expand this up to 2TB with MicroSDXC.
The weaknesses of this design are that the battery is only 5000mAh, a small capacity for a rugged phone, it has only 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, and it can only capture 1080p video.
But it has a party trick that only the Defy 2 can match for mainstream phones, and that’s the ability to send a message when not within cell tower service range.
The satellite messaging service is by a UK operation called Bullitt, and it’s already been rolled out across Europe, and it will be available across USA and Canada shortly. Coverage is expected for South America, Africa, Oceania, Australia, New Zealand and Japan soon. It won’t be supporting Asia, Russia and the Middle East, from what we understand.
The ability to send and receive messages without cell service could be a deal-maker for many working or holidaying off the beaten track, and the cost of sending messages isn’t high.
Read our full CAT S75 review
Best rugged smartphone for measuring
Another rugged design with IP68/69 weatherproofing and a powerful processor for under $400, but this one has a laser rangefinder.
The BV9300 comes in two variants; a Lighting version with an extra bright LED and the Measuring model that we reviewed with an inbuilt laser rangefinder.
While the rangefinder works, it isn’t exceptionally accurate, and we consider it a gimmick. What aren’t distractions are the excellent Helio G99 platform that this phone was built around, an excellent Samsung ISOCELL JN1 50MP main camera sensor and 15080mAh battery capacity.
According to Blackview that the 33W charging on this device allows the battery to be fully charged in three hours, but it lacks wireless charging options. The downside to all that technology is that at 520g (1.1464 lbs), this is a heavy device to carry around and too large to fit in a jacket pocket easily.
The other downsides to the BV9300 are that it only supports 4G comms, not 5G, and WiFi 5 isn’t the WiFi 6E we see elsewhere. If you live in a region without 5G and don’t mind a heavy phone, the BV9300 is a solid rugged phone design that can handle extreme environments and inherent clumsiness with equal aplomb.
Read our full Blackview BV9300 Measuring edition review
Best rugged smartphone for speed
Why a company would take one of its best-selling phones and revamp it within six months is a mystery, but Doogee did that with the V30.
The V30T is mostly the same phone, but it had the Dimensity 900 replaced with the even more capable Dimensity 1080 SoC by MediaTek. That change also increases the amount of RAM from 8GB to 12GB and boosts the graphical capabilities.
If this was the only change, and the price remained roughly the same, then all would be good. However, Doogee took out the one headline feature of the V30, the ability to have up to six eSIM numbers. This change also means that if you want to use both physical Nano SIM slots in the V30T, there is no room for a MicroSD card, whereas, with the V30, you could use one Nano SIM and have a second phone number via eSIM and still have space for the MicroSD card.
Overall, for the money, the specification and performance of the V30T are excellent, although if you want two phone numbers or more, then the V30 can still be bought and isn’t significantly slower. But why Doogee removed the V30’s best feature to revamp it makes little sense to us.
Read our full Doogee V30T review
Best rugged smartphone with physical keyboard
Before Apple and Google sliced and diced the phone world with their respective products, BlackBerry was a highly successful phone maker.
The Unihertz Titan slim tries to tap into that specific nostalgia with the Titan series, phones that include a BlackBerry-style keyboard but use the Android operating system, and a rugged chassis that’s resistant to drops, but not much else.
As the name suggests, the Titan slim is a small yet fully featured mobile phone with a massive 256GB of internal storage, 6GB of RAM, a 48MP rear camera, and is powered by a MediaTek Helios P70 SoC.
Where this design is slightly less desirable is in a small 4.2-inch screen with just slightly bigger than 720p resolution, a comms package that doesn’t include 5G, and a GPU that isn’t suited to gaming or streaming services.
The keyboard might attract those with a rose-tinted view of Symbian phones, but in the current market, the Unihertz Titan slim seems underpowered and overpriced.
Read our full Unihertz Titan Slim rugged smartphone review
Best rugged phone with 4K capture
The Doogee S96 GT is a rugged phone designed for those that don’t want the typical chunky and excessively-heavy go-anywhere device.
The designers made this lighter, though no-less durable, mounted an excellent SoC and cameras, but traded the long battery life that alternatives like the S89 Pro offer.
The counterpoint to the smaller battery is an excellent MediaTek Helio G95 SoC, 8GB of DDR4, and 256GB of storage. This platform delivers excellent performance on a largely vanilla Android 12 implementation.
And, all this performance and specs for around $250 is a design that is remarkably hard to criticize. While 5G would have been excellent and maybe a less odd screen resolution, these aren’t show-stopping issues to many customers.
Overall, this rugged phone effortlessly demonstrates what hardware Chinese phone makers can put in their designs without busting the budget.
Read our full Doogee S96GT rugged smartphone review
Best rugged smartphone on a budget
A cheap, rugged design that manages to offer IP68/69 weatherproofing and lots of interesting features for well under $200.
To achieve that price, Ulefone gave this design a relatively low-power CPU and GPU combination, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, and a 16MP main camera. The optics on the rear camera make the most of this relatively small sensor, and it has an accompanying 2MP depth effect sensor.
But the headline feature is a rear speaker capable of generating an ear-drum damaging 122 dbA of sound. Be careful with that, as exposure to sound at that level can cause permanent damage.
What they didn’t skimp on the battery, with 9600 mAh of capacity, and it also has some unique accessories, such as an endoscope that connects to an accessory port. The underwhelming processor and GPU don’t make this an obvious choice for gamers, and the lack of Widevine L1 security also excludes HD streaming video.
However, if you are heading into the wilderness and don’t want to take your premium phone that might get wet or lost, then the Ulefone Power Armor 16 Pro might be an affordable option. There are better rugged phones available, but not any at this price.
Read our full Ulefone Power Armor 16 Pro rugged smartphone review
Best rugged smartphone for hikers
Like buses, you wait months for a MediaTek Helio G99-powered phone, and they all come within minutes of each other. The Fossibot F102 is a chunky, ruggedized design using that SoC and comes with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.
The features of this design include a super-bright rear camping LED that can illuminate half of the wilderness, a 104MP Samsung camera sensor and a colourful 6.58-inch display that will work well even with gloved hands. And, with a 16,500 mAh battery, this is the perfect companion if you need to leave the trail and aren’t likely to find a clearing with a power socket.
The weaknesses of this model are that at 495g, it’s a heavy item to add to an overloaded backpack, and it doesn’t support 5G comms. Also, while the cameras might be above average, the camera app doesn’t offer 4K recording or frame rate controls, even if the sensors are capable of those things.
But the standout aspect isn’t a particular hardware option. It’s a meagre asking price for a phone of this specification. At a little more than $200, the F102 would make a solid choice for anyone heading outdoors who doesn’t want to take their premium phone on a hike.
Read our full Fossibot F102 review
Best back-up rugged smartphone
Some rugged phones are too heavy to be practical for everyday use, but Oukitel navigates that minefield with a fully ruggedized design sporting an 11,000 mAh battery that is only 414g. The WP30 Pro is a full-featured design built around the latest MediaTek Dimensity 8050 SoC and comes with 12GB of RAM and a whopping 512GB of storage. Incidentally, there is one SKU of this phone. It comes in black and with the quoted specification only.
And what a spec, with a 108MP Samsung main camera sensor, 32MP selfie sensor and extra sensors for night vision and macro photography. Video can be captured in 4K, and the quality of the still image capture is high. As you might expect, with a big battery, longevity is excellent, and using the 120W charger that accompanies it, the battery can be recharged remarkably quickly.
And did we mention that it is 5G? All this for around $400 is an incredible deal that makes some branded phones look expensive. The weaknesses are that this is still a large phone that isn’t suitable for those with small hands or pockets, it can get warm in use, and the video encryption is only Widevine L3, making streamed shows from some services lower resolution than the 120Hz 6.78-inch IPS panel can do justice to.
Those points aside, the WP30 Pro is a great choice for a second phone for use outdoors, and for those who work there, it will work as an everyday phone.
Read our full Oukitel WP30 Pro Rugged Phone review
Best lightweight rugged phone
Many rugged phone makers have cumbersome devices that are challenging to pocket and carry. The Ulefone Armor 22 is a significantly more elegant design that weighs only slightly more than a typical smartphone with a 6.5-inch screen.
This phone is a MediaTek Helio-powered device, but instead of the G99, it uses the slightly less powerful G96 option. This design is surprisingly feature-rich at around $240 for the 256GB Armor 22 and twenty dollars less for the 128GB model. It has a large and bright screen, dual 64MP rear cameras, dual SIMs, a user-customizable button, 33W fast charge and even a dedicated 2.5mm audio jack.
What’s missing here is 5G comms and wireless charging, but those omissions can largely be forgiven considering the low cost of ownership. Ulefone invested the effort in this design in making it robust and waterproof, although to achieve the latter, you must remember to firmly reinsert the rubber plugs that protect the USB-C port and audio jack. For those wanting to make it even more secure, Ulefone makes a protective case to fit it that comes with a belt carabiner.
The only significant limitation of this design is the battery, wherein rugged phone specifications, a capacity of 6600mAh doesn’t seem huge. But that’s the trade-off for making it so easy to carry.
Read our full Ulefone Armor 22 Rugged Phone review
Best rugged smartphones: FAQs
What is a rugged smartphone?
A rugged smartphone is a device that is specifically designed to withstand harsh conditions and rough use. These types of smartphones typically have reinforced casings, water and dust resistance, and are built to military standards.
What’s the difference between rugged phones and other smartphones?
First off, rugged phones and standard phones are really similar in a lot of ways. Internally, they’re functionally identical to regular smartphones. Most typically run the Android operating system (at least until Apple releases its own line of iOS rugged smartphone), they have good front and rear cameras. They run on classic mobile CPUs, too, from the likes of MediaTek and Qualcomm. You’ll also often see both rugged and regular phones protect screens with Gorilla Glass or similar.
The difference between a rugged phone and a regular phone is the outer-build. The very best rugged smartphones have reinforced casings and strength and IP ratings, which can ensure a device is protected from shocks, drops, falls, water, and dust. You may also see a phone labelled as being tested against MIL-STD 810 standards, which is a set of tests under extreme conditions, as used by the US military. It definitely doesn’t mean the tablet is fit for combat, though – just everyday rugged smartphone use.
These devices are specifically built to withstand harsh conditions, hostile environments, and rough use when out in the field. For this reasons, they also tend to have a longer battery life and are more durable than regular phones – even one with a strong protective case.
Are rugged smartphones expensive?
The price of rugged smartphones can vary, with some models being more expensive than others. Generally, they tend to be more expensive than regular smartphones due to their enhanced durability and resistance to harsh conditions.