10 rugged gadgets for surviving dirty, dangerous jobs

Extreme gear for extreme business

Not all work takes place in a cushy, climate-controlled office. A lot of business occurs in less-than-ideal conditions. In the wind and rain. At high altitudes. In extreme temperatures. Sound familiar? You need rugged tech—gear that can tough it out in a construction zone or survive the demands of a research vessel off the shores of Antarctica.

Read on to discover gear that is, for the most part, tested to military-grade standards. These cameras, laptops, tablets, and hard drives are tough enough to withstand everything from minor drops and spills to temperatures that make a Nor'easter seem balmy.

LaCie XtremKey USB 3.0

LaCie XtremKey USB 3.0

It’s important to keep your data safe from both hackers and the elements. LaCie’s XtremKey USB 3.0 is a secure, encrypted, and extremely rugged USB 3.0 key. It features AES 256-bit encryption, and is heat-, cold-, shock-, fire-, water-, drop-, and pressure-resistant. LaCie claims that this key can withstand the pressure from being run over by a 10-ton vehicle, exposure to fire for 30 seconds, and drops of up to 33 feet. It comes with a three-year warranty and starts at $85 for the 32GB version ($140 for 64GB).

Panasonic Toughpad FZ-A1

Panasonic Toughpad FZ-A1

Tablets aren’t exactly known for durability. Indeed, dropping an iPad onto a carpeted surface from a couple of feet can quickly kill it. Luckily, Panasonic has your back with its Toughpad FZ-A1, a rugged, water-resistant Android tablet with a 10.1-inch screen.

The Toughpad FZ-A1 starts at $1299, and can withstand extreme temperatures, humidity, dust, sand, rain, high altitudes, and drops of up to 4 feet. As for specs, the FZ-A1 has a 1.2GHz dual-core processor, 16GB of built-in storage (along with a MicroSD card slot for an additional 32GB), and 1GB of RAM. It runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, which isn't the latest OS, but at least it's ready for use, misuse, and abuse.

Dell Latitude E6420 XFR

Dell Latitude E6420 XFR

Dell’s E6420 XFR is one of the toughest laptops out there. You can customize this $3770, 14-inch notebook with a Core i5 or Core i7 Intel processor, up to 8GB of RAM, and up to 256GB of SSD space. The system can withstand drops of up to 3 feet, and can resist rain, dust, sand, vibration, humidity, salt fog, and solar radiation.

The machine can operate in temperatures ranging from minus 20 degrees to 145 degrees Fahrenheit, and it can survive in temperatures from minus 60 degrees to 160 degrees Fahrenheit when turned off. It also comes with an optional single-point resistive touchscreen, which is particularly useful if you happen to be wearing heavy work gloves.

Panasonic Toughbook F9

Panasonic Toughbook F9

Panasonic’s Toughbook F9 is for business-rugged—not ultrarugged—conditions. This 14-inch laptop sports an Intel Core i5-560M vPro processor, 4GB of RAM, and a shock-mounted 320GB hard drive. It’s fairly light at 3.6 pounds, and is drop-proof and spill-resistant—to a point. The laptop can survive drops from heights of up to 30 inches while open, and its keyboard should withstand a coffee-cup spill. It also offers optional Gobi mobile broadband. The Toughbook F9 costs $2900.

Olympus TG-820 iHS

Olympus TG-820 iHS

Photographers working in extreme conditions will appreciate Olympus’s 12-megapixel TG-820 iHS point-and-shoot camera. This camera provides a 5X optical zoom and high-speed sequential shooting, and it captures video in full HD (1080p). But that’s not what makes it special. It stands out for its toughness: The hardware is waterproof up to 33 feet, shockproof up to 6.6 feet, crushproof up to 220 pounds, freezeproof to 14 degrees Fahrenheit, and dustproof. The TG-820 iHS costs $250, but if you’re looking for a different price (or different specs), keep in mind that Olympus has an entire line of rugged cameras.

IoSafe Rugged Portable drive

IoSafe Rugged Portable drive

You can’t write a tough-gadget roundup without including IoSafe gear. The $250 IoSafe Rugged Portable external hard drive will house the data you can’t fit onto your 64GB LaCie XtremKey. The Rugged Portable comes in 500GB and 1TB flavors (the latter costs $319), and is built to survive crushes (up to 5000 pounds), drops (up to 20 feet), and immersion (up to 30 feet for three days in either fresh or salt water). IoSafe says it should also survive 12 feet of immersion in diesel fuel, oils, hydraulic fluids, and aircraft fuels for an hour. Extreme temperatures and altitudes? No problem. The Rugged Portable also comes in an SSD version, which starts at $499 for 120GB and goes up to $2250 for 600GB.

Liquipel waterproofing

Liquipel waterproofing

If water damage is your only concern, you may want to stick with a conventional gadget—and then waterproof the heck out of it. Liquipel, which specializes in waterproofing nanotechnology, offers waterproofing for a variety of devices, including the iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy S III, and Motorola Razr Maxx. Liquipel covers the inside and outside of each device with a nanotech coating that causes water to ball up and roll harmlessly off (or out of) the hardware. You’ll need to send your device to Liquipel for a couple of days for the one-time application of the protective coating, which starts at $59 per phone and $89 per tablet.

BlueAnt T1 Rugged Bluetooth Headset

BlueAnt T1 Rugged Bluetooth Headset

For some people, a Bluetooth headset is practically part of the work uniform, even for those toiling in less cushy conditions. BlueAnt says it designed its T1 rugged Bluetooth headset to deliver high-quality audio in “the most challenging conditions.” What does that mean, exactly? Well, the T1's "wind armour technology" reportedly offers noise cancellation that can handle gusts up to 22 miles per hour. The $40 T1 is also dust- and moisture-resistant, and able to connect up to two phones at a time. It offers up to 6 hours of talk time and 120 hours of standby time.

NCS Technologies Bunker XRV-5241 Server

NCS Technologies Bunker XRV-5241 Server

NCS Technologies’ 35-pound Bunker XRV-5241 1U rack server is perhaps a little too extreme for the everyday office: This machine is designed for war zones. According to the marketing director at NCST, the server will “likely be parachuted into service in tactical deployments” (in a transit case, of course). The Bunker XRV-5241 can withstand extreme temperatures (between 32 degrees and 122 degrees Fahrenheit when running, and between minus 40 degrees and 158 degrees Fahrenheit when off), and extreme altitudes (10,000 feet when running; 25,000 feet when off). It's also vibration- and shockproof. Such toughness doesn’t come cheap, of course—the Bunker XRV-5241 starts at around $3700.

AquaPac Waterproof Case for iPad

AquaPac Waterproof Case for iPad

If you’d rather not send off your iPad to be coated in a proprietary nanotech material, you can always pick up a case. The AquaPac Waterproof Case for iPad is a durable, waterproof enclosure that lets you use your tablet in less-than-ideal conditions. The apparatus is pretty simple. A specially designed “Aquaclip” seal opens with the twist of three levers, and your iPad fits snugly inside. The window is made of thermoplastic polyurethane, which allows for normal touchscreen use. This case costs $60; a smartphone-size version costs $30. AquaPac also makes cases for cameras, camcorders, MP3 players, Kindles, and GPS devices.