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Best rugged smartphones 2021: 8 of the most durable phones for festivals, gigs and active lifestyles

A number of fans hold up their smartphones during a concert
(Image credit: Getty/Jena Ardell)

The best rugged smartphones could be the difference between enjoying your gadget carefree and constantly worrying about keeping it safe. While modern phones might look great with all that metal and glass, that doesn't mean they're strong enough to withstand daily life. Sure, you could get a tough case, but go for a tough smartphone right away and you know it's safe, regardless.

A tip-top tough smartphone need not be a bulky eyesore these days though, oh no. There are plenty of models that offer the extra body built grunt, without making you sacrifice quality and features like a great camera, decent speakers and a superb screen. Yet they can still be shockproof and waterproof to IP68 standards, making them super tough. In fact many have massive batteries and go a lot longer than other phones.

If you’re looking for sound over durability, check out our guide to the best phones for music.

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Best rugged smartphones: The Louder Choice

The stand out top pick of the best tough smartphones is the Blackview BL6000 Pro which does it all in a very good looking package. You get a high resolution screen, a powerful triple lens rear camera and high-speed 5G connectivity for future-proofing. All that's within a super tough SP68/IP69K and MIL-STD-810G build meaning it can take anything you throw at it.

Coming in a close second place, as the next best rugged smartphone, is the Ulefone Armor 9 which might not have 5G but it has the same level of toughness rating as the Blackview, sports a high-res screen and is backed by a mammoth battery plus this phone offers a FLIR infrared heat camera and works with an endoscope attachment, making it ideal for work situations.

Best rugged smartphones: Product guide

Best rugged smartphones: Blackview BL6000 Pro

(Image credit: Blackview)

1. Blackview BL6000 Pro

The best rugged smartphone overall

OS: Android 10 | Screen size: 6.3-inch | Resolution: 2340 x 1080 pixels | CPU: MediaTek Dimensity 800 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 256GB | Battery: 5,280mAh | Rear camera: 48MP + 10MP + 0.3MP | Front camera: 16MP

5G speeds
Huge battery
Impressive cameras
No microSD card slot

Top of the list is a rugged smartphone that manages to look great with that punch hole design 6.3-inch high-res screen, yet still offers the toughest IP68/IP69K and MILK-STD-810G standards of certification. So hardcore is this phone, it'll even keep working in minus thirty degrees cold. 

But it's the triple lens camera we love with great night shots, wide angle and portrait modes as well as 4K video recording. And yes, it will still be working after all that photography skill is tested to the limits thanks to its huge 5,280mAh battery and efficient yet powerful MediaTek Dimensity 800 5G capable CPU.

The only downside is a lack of microSD expansion, but with 256GB onboard storage as standard, this isn't too much of a problem.

Best rugged smartphones: Ulefone Armor 9

(Image credit: Ulefone)

2. Ulefone Armor 9

Best for ultimate protection and heat vision

OS: Android 10 | Screen size: 6.3-inch | Resolution: 2340 x 1080 pixels | CPU: Helio P90 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 128GB | Battery: 6,600mAh | Rear camera: 64MP + 5MP + 2MP | Front camera: 8MP

FLIR camera and endoscope
Decent price
Massive battery
No 5G

The Ulefone range has always been one of the best but the Armor 9 FLIR takes that to a new level. You get the usual high ratings for toughness like IP68/IP69K and MIL-STD-810G certifications. But this also adds in unique features like a FLIR camera for thermal imaging plus an endoscope attachment, for seeing in tight spaces, bundled in. There's also an absolutely massive 6,600mAh battery that means this will keep going beyond all day.

This phone doesn't make sacrifices with a 3.5mm audio connector, microSD storage expansion and USB-C for fast charging. You also get a 6.3-inch FullHD display, triple rear camera with 64MP+5MP+2MP setup, Android 10 OS, 128GB storage, Helio P90 CPU and a zippy 8GB of RAM. All of that means there's no sacrifice on features or quality to have this super tough handset.

Best rugged smartphones: Doogee S96 Pro

(Image credit: Doogee)

3. Doogee S96 Pro

Best cameras on a tough phone

OS: Android 10 | Screen size: 6.2-inch | Resolution: 720 x 1520 pixels | CPU: Helio G90 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 128GB | Battery: 6,350mAh | Rear camera: 48MP + 8MP + 2MP + 20MP | Front camera: 16MP

Night vision camera
Massive battery
Google Pay
Wireless charging
No 5G connectivity
Lower res screen

Doogee, the toughphone specialist, has the S96 Pro as its flagship model. That means it's not only IP68/IP69K and MIL-STD-810G tough but also comes with a 48MP AI quad camera capable of infrared night vision photography. The 16MP front facing camera is smart enough to offer face unlocking. There's a massive 6,350mAh battery that's good for two days of use easily and charges wirelessly.

While this might not have the latest 5G connectivity it does offer NFC for contactless payment using Google Pay and features a waterdrop 6.2-inch all-screen display, although this is limited compared to some, at 720x1520 resolution. The Helio G90 CPU backed by 8GB of RAM makes this a zippy phone and, on top of all that, it actually looks great with lots of metal in the build too.

Best rugged smartphones: Ulefone Armor 11 5G

(Image credit: Ulefone)

4. Ulefone Armor 11 5G

Best for night vision camera shots

OS: Android 10 | Screen size: 6.1-inch | Resolution: 720 x 1560 pixels | CPU: MediaTek Dimensity 800 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 256GB | Battery: 5,200mAh | Rear camera: 48MP + 13MP + 20MP + 2MP + 2MP | Front camera: 16MP

FLIR camera and endoscope
Decent price
Massive battery
Relatively low res display

Another entry from Ulefone as this also comes with the tough IP68/IP69K and MIL-STD-810G ratings as the other phones in this list but also packs in 5G and a mind-blowing night vision camera. 

The screen is lower resolution than some of the other phones here but you make up for that in features. The AI 48 penta camera is superb, and capable of 4K video plus it's all backed by a large 5,200mAh battery which can be wirelessly charged for more than all day use.

Best rugged smartphones: Blackview BV9900 Pro

(Image credit: Blackview)

5. Blackview BV9900 Pro

Best for heat vision and performance for less

OS: Android 10 | Screen size: 5.84-inch | Resolution: 2280 x 1080 pixels | CPU: Helio P90 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 128GB | Battery: 4,380mAh | Rear camera: 48MP + 16MP + 2MP | Front camera: 16MP

FLIR camera
Great price
Good performance
No 5G

The Blackview BV9900 Pro is still one of the best phones the rugged phone specialist does, yet it's now more affordable in price. For your money you get that super tough build with all the IP68/IP69K and MIL-STD-810G standards, but also with a FLIR heat vision camera as part of the triple lens setup. 

The 8GB of RAM coupled with that Helio P90 CPU make this a zippy handset to use and it'll keep going, even with that high-res 5.84-inch screen, all day thanks to the 4,380mAh battery. With Android 10 onboard and contactless payment, plus a fingerprint reading one-touch button, this does it all. 

Best rugged smartphones: Cat S62 Pro

(Image credit: Cat)

6. Cat S62 Pro

Best Cat model with thermal vision

OS: Android 10 | Screen size: 5.6-inch | Resolution: 2160 x 1080 pixels | CPU: Snapdragon 660 | RAM: 6GB | Storage: 128GB | Battery: 4,000mAh | Rear camera: 12MP | Front camera: 8MP

FLIR camera
Built to last
Android 10
Single lens rear camera
Older processor

Cat rugged phones are all built to the highest standards as they're made for use on work sites, so they need to last. This flagship model is a standout example of that, also packing in a FLIR camera sensor for thermal vision. 

That said the 12MP single lens camera isn't the best when compared to some multi-lens options but it does the job. As does that Snapdragon 660 CPU which isn't the newest but, paired with the 6GB of RAM, keeps everything running smoothly. A decent price on this makes it a really appealing option that gets you that Cat name for peace of mind.

Best rugged smartphones: Unihertz Atom XL

(Image credit: Unihertz)

7. Unihertz Atom XL

Best compact and budget tough phone

OS: Android 10 | Screen size: 4-inch | Resolution: 1136 x 640 pixels | CPU: Helio P60 | RAM: 6GB | Storage: 128GB | Battery: 4,300mAh | Rear camera: 48MP | Front camera: 8MP

DMR walkie talkie
Decent 48MP camera
Oleophobic screen
Smaller screen than many
Older processor

If you want a compact tough phone that's also priced low then this is the one for you. Sure the CPU isn't the newest and that camera is a single lens. But it runs smoothly and the camera is a 48MP unit, so the end result is very impressive. 

The screen is small at 4-inches but that's the point if you want compact and since it's plenty high-res it does the job well. The screen is also oleophobic making it great for use in the rain or underwater. This even has DMR walkie talkie functionality which is great at this price. Plus it's MIL-STD-810G and IP68 certified.

Best rugged smartphones: Land Rover Explore R

(Image credit: Land Rover)

8. Land Rover Explore R

Best for a design elegance

OS: Android 9/10 | Screen size: : 5.7-inch | Resolution: 1080 x 1920 pixels | CPU: Mediatek Helio P35 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64GB | Battery: 3,100mAh | Rear camera: 12MP | Front camera: 8MP

Onboard Radio 
Great display
Affordable
Older processor
Android 10 upgrade still incoming
Battery could be bigger

The Land Rover Explore R is the car company's way of taking its off-road adventure spirit over to the smartphone world. It does this well with a very clear high-resolution 5.7-inch display and highly capable 12MP rear camera. 

Plus, of course, it's tough with MIL-STD-810H and IP68 ratings plus Gorilla glass 6 for screen use even with gloves on or when in the wet. The 3,100 mAh battery isn't the biggest on this list but it is good for well over a day and a half of use. The only real complaint is that this still runs Android 9 and promises an upgrade to 10 in the future. But at this low price it's tough to complain.

Best rugged smartphones: Buying advice

Smartphone getting dropped into water

(Image credit: Getty/Yanin Phavawattananusorn/EyeEm)

You may or may not have already decided to get one of the best rugged smartphones. So it's worth thinking about if it's worth you investing. And that's the key here, you'll be paying a premium for how tough these phones are which can mean sacrificing in other areas. So if you really want the best camera or ultimate display then you might want to put all your money into that. Otherwise there are a few tough signposts to look out for.

Primarily you'll want to think about how tough the phone is. It can never be too tough. From surviving a soaking wet and muddy festival to being dropped out of the car onto the hard ground regularly, these handsets are made to survive. That means a rating or either IP or MIL, the first being how much muck the phone keeps out, the second being a military testing standard for toughness. 

If you have IP68/IP69K that means water submersion up to five metres for half an hour won't damage the phone. MIL-STD-810G means it's been military tested for the likes of pressure, radiation, fungus, explosive atmospheres, vibration, acids, shocks and more. In short, you - or a surging mosh pit - will struggle to break this.