If you are planning to take a PDA or digital camera while camping, hiking, or climbing this fall, you will need a protective, yet accessible case that will withstand bumps, dirt, and a level of water resistance appropriate to the activity. Grinder Gear (www.grindergear.com) offers three rugged cases for PDAs and other small electronics.
I was sent the Basecamp Sport Utility Bag ($39.95) and found it to be a well-made, functional belt clip case, with some nice extras, including a built-in wallet and zippered change pocket, an outside mesh pocket, and a mini-bungee cord that can secure a cell phone. The bag is water-resistant, but not waterproof.
The first thing I noticed about this case was its tough, Cordura exterior, zipper pulls, and nice finishing touches that give the bag a quality look. The Basecamp comes in blue, black, forest, or camouflage. The pack (exterior dimensions: 4.3″ W x 6.3″ H x 2″ D) should fit most PDA models. A chart on the company website indicates whether specific PDAs fit normally, loose, or tight.
The Basecamp swallowed my Palm Tungsten T in the collapsed position. It looked so puny and lonesome that I put the TT back in its hard case, where I keep extra SD cards, and then put the whole thing in the Basecamp. It fit loosely, but was not inconvenient to pull out. I found it useful to have the option of having the hard case with me. Amazingly, with the Basecamp attached to my belt, I still was able to feel the PDA vibrate to alert me for an appointment! Carrying a case within a case might be overkill for everyday use, but it offers a high level of protection if you end up throwing the Basecamp in the bottom of a larger pack or duffel bag. Even though the Basecamp is well-padded, it s still a soft case, and therefore not crush-proof.
The Basecamp is a roomy case for a PDA. Some minimalists might find it too large for everyday use. Even my old Handspring Visor Deluxe, in its Vaja leather case, fit easily into the Basecamp, with plenty of room to close the cover. However, my daughter s TI-83 graphing calculator was too tall for the Basecamp.
The main pocket of the Basecamp is accessed by a flip-up lid, held fast by a patch of hook-and-loop material. The lid makes the PDA easily accessible, but has some drawbacks. One is the loud rrriiiip sound of hook-and-loop every time the case is opened. Also, I didn t get a very secure feeling when I closed the case. I worried that brushing against rocks or tree branches, or one s own arm or equipment, could cause the case to open accidentally. I personally would prefer a zipper closure, but I had no problem with the case opening suddenly. In fact, one day while the case was attached to my belt, I noticed it had been turned upside down on the swivel clip. The lid remained tightly closed.
The swivel clip is made of a sturdy plastic and is removable. The case also has belt loops for attaching to a belt or a pack, as well as a short carrying handle.
On the outside of the main case is a smaller zip-around pocket about the size of a large wallet that flips down like a shelf when opened. Inside are four card holders and a small internal zip pocket for loose change or batteries. The pocket could substitute as a wallet, or a place to stash small accessories. On top of that pocket is a see-through mesh pocket. Over the mesh pocket is a mini-bungee cord, which could be used to secure a cell phone or even a small windbreaker to the pack.
I don t normally carry my PDA while hiking, but I do carry my digital camera, a Minolta Dimage F100. The camera fit in the main pocket, with room to spare. The rest of the case I stuffed with my usual hiking kit: extra camera batteries, bug repellant, money, energy bar (next to the camera in the main pocket), and Band-Aids. My Nextel cell phone fit in the mesh pocket, with the bungee holding it in. Everything I needed fit in this compact package, perfect for a day hike. A full belt clip case can feel like a big lump when you aren t used to it. I found it felt best positioned in back, out of the way of my arms, or in front, if I was taking photos.
The Basecamp could be used in a downpour or in cold weather if your jacket fits loosely over your hips, or has a split zipper that can zip up from the bottom.
For use around town, I wanted to attach a shoulder strap to the carry handle make this case look more like a small purse and less like a belt clip case. I attached a shoulder strap, but found the case wasn t large enough for everything I usually carry. The Basecamp is Grinder s mid-sized case. The larger Expedition model would hold a PDA plus a PDA keyboard or notepad. A smaller Scout case holds a PDA and just a few cards, coins, or batteries.
Sturdy, well-made, good-looking case.
Web belt loops and removable belt clip.
Room for PDA/camera and accessories.
Zip-around pocket can serve as a wallet.
Hook-and-loop closure on lid rather than zipper.
Some people like belt cases, others don t. On the trail, I liked the Basecamp, and it has become my permanent digital camera case for hiking or sightseeing. I would highly recommend it as an outdoors case for a PDA or other small electronics.