Calling anything the “best” is a great way to start an argument in the shooting sports community, where hardened opinions and strong brand loyalty are the norm. In compiling this list of top hard cases for rifles, I have excluded some inexpensive and flimsy plastic ones. Those may suffice for trips to your local shooting range, but they’re not in the same league as the products listed here, which are designed to take the worst that Mother Nature – and airline baggage handlers – can dish out. I have also excluded aluminum cases because many tend to get dented and dinged up and have less protective foam than many of today’s tough injection-molded cases.
This list focuses on cases that, with a couple of special-purpose exceptions, meet most of the following criteria: They are relatively lightweight yet virtually indestructible, completely sealed against wet weather, TSA/airline-approved, and have durable wheels for moving through airports along with strong anti-theft features such as tough hinges and reinforced locking points for padlocks. A good case should, ideally, secure expensive firearms and optics so that the traveling shooter or hunter arrives at a destination with a rifle that hasn’t lost its zero.
Here are eight selections that made the grade. Some will handle just about any rifle, or multiple rifles, while others are more specialized. Most aren’t exactly inexpensive, but they’re cheap compared to the cost of replacing a rifle and optic.
Pelican 1750 Protector
Pelican long ago set the gold standard for top-quality hard cases for rifles, as evidenced with one of Pelican’s most popular cases, the crushproof, dustproof and waterproof 1750 Protector. In the 20 or so years that I’ve used one, the case has racked up some serious air mileage and seen some serious abuse. I once sat on an airplane and watched baggage handlers literally throw my case from the aircraft onto the tarmac. The case and the two rifles in it were none the worse for wear. In fact, in all the years I have used this case, I have never arrived at a destination to find that I had lost zero on a rifle. The 1750 case is sized (50.5 x 13.5 x 5.3 inches) to hold one or two bolt-action rifles with scopes attached. It comes with a three-piece foam set that you can easily customize for a snug fit. Simply trace the outline of one (or two) rifles on the middle piece of foam and cut out the outlined forms with a sharp blade (I then secure the middle piece of foam to the bottom piece with a spray adhesive). Just be sure to leave at least one inch of foam border at all points between the rifle and the case. If the foam ever wears out, you can order a replacement set. The case has a watertight silicone O-ring lid, an automatic purge valve to equalize air pressure, and easy-open, double-throw latches. This tough-as-nails case has fold-down, over-molded rubber handles and polyurethane wheels with stainless steel bearings. It is available in black, desert tan, and OD green. Hardware is stainless steel. Two of four padlock attachment points are reinforced with stainless padlock protectors, and they work. I once landed after a flight and found evidence someone had tried to get into the case. They failed. Pelican’s injection molded cases come with a lifetime guarantee against breakage or defects in workmanship. Weight: 25.57 pounds. www.pelican.com
SKB manufactures a considerable variety of sturdy and well-regarded hard-sided cases for rifles. One of my favorites is the iSeries 5014 DB, which will secure two rifles, and is ideally designed to hold both a bow and a rifle in a bunk bed arrangement, with three pieces of thick, convoluted foam that, when compressed, hold items solidly in place. You can stow a gun or bow on top of the middle layer and a gun or bow atop the bottom layer. I tested it with two bolt-action rifles and neither budged an inch, but it did take a bit of force to close the lid and compress the foam. Made of a high-strength polypropylene copolymer resin, the case walls are slightly thinner than those on some cases, but the case still meets military standards while shaving just a little weight, which is an important consideration given airline weight limitations. Measuring 50 x 13.5 x 6 inches, the case has in-line skate-style wheels, four hinges with stainless steel pins, six trigger latches, and six stainless steel-reinforced padlock locations. A waterproof gasket guards against water or dust intrusion, and the case has an automatic air pressure equalization valve. The case is available in black, desert tan, and OD green. Notably, SKB ATA-rated cases have a lifetime warranty against defects in materials and craftsmanship, and SKB will cover up to $1,500 to repair or replace equipment damaged by a commercial airline carrier while secured in a SKB ATA-rated case. Weight: 24.3 pounds. www.skbcases.com
Pelican 1745 Air Long Case
Pelican’s 1745 Air Long Case is one of the newest additions to Pelican’s rifle case lineup, and it differs from other models in several important respects. For starters, Pelican calls it the “world’s toughest and lightest case” because it’s made of a proprietary HPX² polymer and is 40 percent lighter than other polymer cases. It’s also designed for maximum flexibility. Because it’s Pelican’s deepest long case (nearly 8 inches) you can stack a gun on top of one layer of foam and another gun on the layer beneath it. You can get the case with two custom foam layers – meaning layers that you can cut to fit guns as you wish – or with Pelican’s standard pick and pluck foam, which has pre-scored cubes in the foam that you simply scoop out after tracing an outline of the gear you want to stow. Measuring 44 x 16.8 x 7.9 inches, the case is a bit shorter and slightly wider than the Pelican 1750. This case will easily fit both an AR-15 plus a bolt action rifle with an overall length of about 42 inches or less. The 1745 is the first Pelican Air case to utilize pressure- and impact-tested press-and-pull latches, designed to stand up to abuse but open easily. Like other Pelican cases, the 1745 has a watertight O-ring gasket, wheels with stainless steel bearings, fold-down handles, and an automatic purge valve to equalize air pressure while keeping dust and water out. It also has four stainless steel-reinforced locking points for padlocks. The case is currently available only in black. Weight: 21.06 pounds. www.pelican.com
SKB’s second entry on our list is one specifically designed for AR rifles. With interior dimensions of 36.5 x 14.5 x 6 inches, the case will accommodate ARs with overall lengths of up to 35 inches, making it a great choice for shorter, carbine-length rifles. Instead of soft open-cell foam, the case used layered, closed-cell foam with six pre-cut cavities and pull-out foam plugs that let you customize the interior to your liking and securely stow a rifle along with numerous magazines, boxes of ammo, and accessories such as bipods. Like most of the cases on this list, this Mil-Spec injection-molded model is made of a high-strength polypropylene copolymer resin and is waterproofed with a gasket to seal out water and dust. It has an automatic air pressure equalization valve. There are four patented “trigger release” latches that can be retrofitted with TSA-accepted key locking latches, along with four padlock holes reinforced with stainless steel padlock protectors. You’ll find snap-down, over-molded cushion grip handles on three sides, and in-line skate-style wheels make this case, which is the shortest on our list, easy to transport. The case is currently available only in black. Weight: 17.58 pounds. www.skbcases.com
A newer company that’s making a name for itself in building a variety of tough hard cases for rifles is the Canadian firm of Nanuk, which takes its name from the Inuit word for polar bear. It’s an apt moniker, for Nanuk cases are built to survive the harshest conditions, and I’ve been highly impressed with the model I’ve been testing, the Nanuk 990. This case, measuring 44 x 14 x 6 inches internally, is designed exclusively for AR rifles and comes with closed-cell foam with pre-cut sections that you remove to secure your rifle and gear. It’s a clever layout that can, depending on how you configure it, hold one AR rifle with up to eight 30-round magazines, plus a duty-sized pistol with four magazines, hearing protection, and ammo. There are even a couple of pockets to hold desiccant containers, sold separately. This Mil-Spec case is made with a light-but-tough NK-7 resin shell and has stainless steel hardware, spring-loaded soft-grip ergonomic handles, an air pressure equalization valve, and wheels with stainless steel bearings. An O-ring gasket seals out the elements. Innovative features include four PowerClaw latches, which are designed to stay shut until you depress a small built-in latch within the latch to open it. Two are lockable TSA latches bearing the Travel Sentry Red Diamond logo, which allows security personnel to open the case if needed using a special coded key. Should you have less-than-optimal faith in the security agencies and baggage handlers, simply use the four metal-reinforced padlock attachment points on the case. When you open the lid of this case, an automatic hold-open mechanism prevents it from dropping back down until you close it. The case is available in black, olive, and tan colors. Weight: 17.8 pounds. https://nanuk.com
Pelican iM3200 Storm
Pelican’s third entry on our list, the iM3200 Storm, is optimally sized for a single AR rifle and quite a few accessories. Measuring 44 x 14 x 6 inches, it will accommodate most AR-15 and AR-10 rifles with collapsible stocks as well as those with fixed stocks so long as the guns don’t have an overall length of more than 42 inches or so. It also makes a great case for transporting compact bolt-action rifles that meet the 42-inch cutoff length. In testing, I found that several bolt guns with 22- or 22 1/2-inch barrels, such as Thompson Center Venture Predator and a Tikka T3 Lite Stainless, will fit in the case. Made of strong, lightweight HPX resin, the case has the legendary toughness of other Pelican cases, with strong hinges and stainless steel hardware, but weighs a bit less. It features soft-grip handles and six press-and-pull latches, which lock down automatically when closed but open with a soft touch. It is O-ring sealed against dust and water and is equipped with a Vortex valve to equalize air pressure. Sturdy wheels make it easy to navigate within airports. The case comes with cut-to-fit custom foam to snugly secure your rifle, magazines, and accessories. The case is available in black or OD green. Weight: 21.1 pounds. www.pelican.com
Uniquely designed, Tuffpak cases have long been popular with traveling hunters, especially those going to Africa because the circular design of the case allows it to accommodate multiple rifles. The model 1050 will hold up to three scoped rifles or five shotguns up to 50 inches in overall length. You simply place your firearms in soft cases and slide them into the Tuffpak. Some hunters also like to pack clothing and other gear around the guns to further cushion them. This may not make TSA inspectors happy when it’s time to unpack, inspect and repack everything at the airport, but the job can be made easier by putting everything into a form-fitted, zippered Tuff Sack, sold separately, that slides in and out of the pack. The rotational molding process used in manufacturing the case makes it exceptionally tough but lightweight, and it looks like it’s designed to hold things other than guns, such as golf clubs. The case has a couple of molded-in handles on the side as well as a cushioned top handle and tough wheels that make it easy to transport. The removable lid is secured to the case with a strong strap and a lock. Some Tuffpak versions are available with a tumbler lock, but I prefer this 1050 version that comes with a single combination padlock. This case also checks the box for durability. I know one elder statesman of the outdoor writer fraternity who has used one for 20 years, and it’s still going strong. The case has an unconditional lifetime warranty. Weight: 18 pounds. https://nalpak.com/tuffpak
Kolpin Stronghold Gun Boot XL – Impact
The Kolpin Stronghold Gun Boot meets TSA guidelines for air travel, with a single padlock attachment point, but that’s not what it’s really designed for. This gun boot is primarily intended to transport long guns with the case attached to an all-terrain vehicle using a variety of mounts, sold separately. In this role it excels, especially with Kolpin Auto-Latch mounts. Unlike other boots that use a slide-off rear cover, the Stronghold uses a hinged cover with an integral rubber closure strap that allows one-handed access to a rifle. To open it, you simply pull on the strap and swing the cover open. Inside, you’ll find a padded soft case that, with a rifle inside, fits snugly into the case. It will accommodate rifles with scopes having objective lenses up to 50mm in size. Combined with a 52-inch overall length, the case will handle most hunting rifles and protect them from the elements while riding on an ATV. The boot comes in a large and extra-large size, which provides the most interior of all Kolpin gun boots. Weight: 10 pounds. www.kolpin.com