Photo: Suzie Dundas

This Cheap Phone Case Has Withstood My Outdoor Travel Lifestyle for 3 Years

Technology + Gear Budget Travel
by Suzie Dundas Apr 8, 2024

I’ve had a cell phone since I was about 14 years old, and it seems like in that entire time, I’ve been trying to find the ideal phone case. Since I have pretty outdoorsy hobbies, and tend to be on the clumsy side, I know I’m hard on phones. But it used to be that in order to fully protect my phone, I had to have a big, bulky cell phone case.

But a few years ago, I tried a slim, light, and definitely inexpensive iPhone case: the Wāke case from Lifeproof (owned by Otterbox). It’s sleek, subtle, and has managed to withstand a hell of a lot more impact than I’d expect for the price.

If you’re in need of a cheap phone case that works like a champ, here’s why you may want to give the Wāke a try.

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It’s surprisingly durable

lifeproof wake cheap phone case

Yes, my phone is super-dirty — but it’s not scratched or broken. Photo: Suzie Dundas

I’m an outdoor writer and I live in the mountains, so my hobbies have the potential to break a phone (or my body, I suppose). Snowboarding, mountain biking, hiking, and rock climbing can be hard on a phone. But somehow, this cheap phone case has managed to withstand it all.

Even on a day with no crashes or spills on the trails or slopes, I’m still tossing my phone on the ground or leaving it bouncing around in a plastic bin of bike gear. But that’s on a good day. Here’s a brief list of what I’ve put my phone through multiple times:

  • Having it fly out of my pocket while speedy downhill mountain biking (multiple times this year alone)
  • Dropping it in the snow while snowshoeing (and potentially having it get run over by cross-county skiers)
  • Dropped it on the floor of safari vehicles, seaplanes, and scuba diving boats
  • Having it drop out of my pocket while climbing (certainly from higher than the six feet it says it can withstand)
  • Dropped it on dirt, rocks, and boulders while camping and hiking

…and somehow, it’s spared my phone every time. Sure, it’s probably dumb luck to some degree, and the outcomes could have been different if the phone landed face-down instead of face-up. But I had this case on my phone for three years, and my screen didn’t have a scratch. For someone who mountain bikes almost every day in the summer, that’s pretty damn impressive. It says it’s only rated to protect phones for drops up to six feet/two meters, but it’s protected my phone for larger drops than that.

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It’s slim and fits in pockets

cheap phone case - wake lifeproof side

The cheap phone case is super-slim and doesn’t add any bulk to my phone. Photo: Suzie Dundas

I’ve used bulkier cell phone cases, some of which had multiple pieces, separate screen protectors, and plugs and flaps to cover the various ports. And they’re a huge, huge pain. Bulky, rubbery cases make it difficult to slid your phone into your pocket with one hand while snowboarding or climbing — and the extra bulk means it may not even fit in your pocket. I also don’t like the extra friction caused by bigger and grippier cases, as I find it makes my phone get caught more in pockets and bags.

But the Wāke cases are very slim. They add almost nothing to the width or size of my phone, and even with the case on, I can fit it in shorts or backpack pockets that are just barely big enough. The wave pattern on the back of the case certainly makes it much less slick than the glass phone alone, so it doesn’t slide off sheets when I toss it onto my bed or fall out if my open purse tips over. But it doesn’t have that rubbery, grippy finish that makes other cases get caught on every surface they touch.

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They’re made from ocean plastic

Cheap phone case - Wake and ocean rope

Despite being a relatively cheap phone case, items in the Wāke line are made from ocean plastics (mostly fishing waste). Photo: Otterbox

Phone sizes and shapes seem to change every time a new model comes out, which means you’ll probably need a new phone case every time you upgrade. Landfill plastics are an enormous program, to the point where merely stating that seems like it’s minimizing the issue. Some estimates suggest that humans throw away 1.8 billion cell phone cases per year, which could be true, when you consider that about 5 billion people around the world have cell phones.

While the Wāke cases aren’t themselves recyclable, they are made with recycled products, rather than new materials. Roughly 85 percent of each case is made from salvaged fishing gear (ocean trash, basically), and the all-cardboard packaging is fully recyclable. As a brand, about the half the material Otterbox uses comes from recycled plastic, rather than new materials.

wake case lifeproof phone

I replaced my first Wāke case (this purple one) after three years — and bought the same one in green for my new phone. Photo: Suzie Dundas

Is it a perfect, long-term solution? No. But it’s a step in the right direction.

By the way, if you noticed the PopSocket on my phone: PopSocket runs a phone case recycling program. You can send them any old case you have (plus old PopSockets) and they’ll recycle them for you. If you’re someone who drops your phone a lot (say, while taking photos off the side of a boat or safari vehicle), I would very strongly suggest buying a PopSocket. Mine has stayed put on the back of the Wāke, even with the case’s raised wave pattern. And it makes holding my phone one-handed feel a heck of a lot more secure. It’s well worth the $10 or so they cost.

It’s not expensive

I have an iPhone 12 Pro, which I thought was pretty current, but apparently, I’m several models behind. But that’s great for me, because the Wāke case for an iPhone 12 Pro is between $7.75 and $9.99, depending on your color preference. Depending on what model you have, that number may go up a little, but it’s still a pretty cheap phone case, regardless.

The downsides

 lifeproof wake in the dirt

Sure, some of the protection is probably due to dumb luck of falling the right away, but I’ve put this cheap case through the

The two primary cons I can think of for the Wāke case are that it’s not as durable as other cases, and the limited availability.

Personally, I’ve found the Wāke to be more than durable enough for my lifestyle, which is pretty darn active. But there’s no denying that it won’t protect your phone if it gets run over by a car or dropped from a five-story rooftop. For that, you probably need something bulkier and thicker, like the Defender XT, which comes in models for the iPhone 13 and 14, iPhone 14 Pro, the iPhone 15, the iPhone 15 Pro Max, the iPhone 15 Pro, as well as other phones like the Pixel 8 and the Galaxy S24. It includes a screen protector (which the Wāke doesn’t have), but is also more expensive, at around $40-$65, depending on your phone model.

The second downside is that it seems the Wāke cases may be discontinued, since they only seem to be available for the iPhone 13 and earlier. So if you’re interested, you may want to snag one before they’re no longer available.

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