Guns may be tough tools, but they are still susceptible to damage. A scratch or two may not affect performance, but a drop onto concrete may cause damage to the sights—or worse.
A rigid, hard-sided AR-15 case will protect your AR-15 with its shock-absorbing foam and impact-resistant polymer shell. A good hard case can tumble off a mountain without harming the firearms inside!
We bought and tested multiple leading hard gun cases for this review.
The Case Club AR15 Rifle Case (Gen-2) is the best AR-15 hard case for the money. It is extremely tough, but not too bulky. We like the pre-cut foam insert and wheels, and the mid-range price. The Nanuk 985 is our favorite premium option and the Plano AW2 offers the best quality on a tight budget.
Read on to learn more about our top picks as well as some that didn’t make the shortlist. We’ll also give tips on how to choose the best hard gun case for you.
If you are not yet certain that you want a hard rifle case, you might want to check our general AR-15 case review article instead. It reviews and compares both hard and soft cases for AR-15 rifles.
The links in the article below are affiliate links which means we may earn a small commission if you buy something later. This doesn’t cost you any extra, but it helps support us in doing these gear reviews.
[This article was updated based on hands-on use of the products reviewed in May, 2022 by Chase Fly.]
The 5 Top AR-15 Hard Cases of 2022: Outdoor Empire Reviews
These are our top recommendations for hard rifle cases of 2022 based on hands-on experience:
- Best for the Money: Case Club AR15 Rifle Case (Gen-2)
- Upgrade Pick: NANUK 985 Case
- Budget Pick: Plano AW2 Rifle/Shotgun Case
- Most Discrete: Savior Equipment Ultimate Guitar Case
- Best of the Rest: Pelican 1700 Series Rifle Case
*Looking for a specific feature? Check out our quick-reference chart below:
|Best for the Money||Upgrade Pick||Budget Pick||Most Discrete||Best of the Rest|
Case Club AR15 Rifle Case (Gen-2)
NANUK 985 AR 15 Case
Plano AW2 Rifle/Shotgun Case
Savior Equipment Ultimate Guitar Case
Pelican 1700 Series Rifle Case
|Outdoor Empire Score||4.8||5.0||3.6||4.0||4.2|
|Weight||19.0 lbs||17.7 lbs||14.0 lbs||12.1 lbs||17.0 lbs|
|Benefits||- Custom pre-cut foam|
- As tough as NANUK or Pelican for less money
|- Sleek and durable|
- Smooth latches, handles, and wheels
|- Lots of features for low price|
- Roomy and versatile
|- Sneaky cool look while still functional|
- Fits lots of gear
|- Super tough and waterproof
- Secure and time-tested
|Drawbacks||- Size limitation on gun compatibility||- Bulkier than others||- Not as rugged or easy to maneuver as others||- Thinner, weaker plastic and hinges||- Tips easily and handle gets in the way|
|Price||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price|
1. Best AR-15 Hard Case for the Money: Case Club AR15 Rifle Case (Gen-2)
- Outdoor Empire Score: 4.8
- Bottom Line: As tough and versatile as they come for a reasonable price
The second generation Case Club AR15 Rifle Case made some nice upgrades to the earlier version like removing that pesky latch under the handle and better hinges that don’t let it close on you randomly. This case is super tough, perhaps the thickest and most rigid plastic of all we tested.
What We Like
We have been really impressed by the pre-cut foam of the Case Club. There are the main cutouts, like for a standard AR-15 carbine with a maximum length, stock collapsed, of 35.5″. But there are also secondary cutouts that accommodate things like a sub-compact pistol vs a standard size handgun.
If you have an optic or accessories installed, then you can use the perforated foam to customize the case. You can also re-insert those foam pieces later in case you change up your kit.
They really make it a great unboxing experience when you open it up the first time, even putting a QR code right in front of you when you open it up that leads to an instructional video.
Multiple accessories are included, such as a silica gel desiccant to keep your rifle in good condition and a waterproof accessory case for all the tiny bits and bobs which are easy to lose. Case Club even throws in a knife so you can custom cut the foam with ease!
It has solid latches, tough lock holes, smooth wheels, two handles, and it can stand up on end vertically as well as horizontally. And it has a water-sealing gasket and a pressure valve. These little details are not found on all the cases we purchased.
- Size limitation with this case that may not work for everyone. It’s too small for our PSA AR-10, for example. And if you don’t have a collapsible stock on your AR-15, it might be too tight as well. Measure first.
- No lock and key included. Not a big deal, but our other favorites, the Nanuk and the Plano, have that built-in.
It’s a great choice for someone who wants to buy a great hard case without spending crazy money or having to mess around with cutting foam and leaving uneven edges like you often find in other cases.
The Case Club AR15 Rifle Case (Gen-2) is an excellent waterproof rifle case for smaller carbine that fits. We recommend it because the mid-range price gets you the best bang for your buck.
2. Upgrade Pick: NANUK 985 Waterproof Case
- Outdoor Empire Score: 5.0
- Bottom Line: Premium features in a rugged case with ruggedly good looks
When we pulled the NANUK 985 case out of the box and set it next to the other AR15 hard cases we bought, this one looked fancy. It has a much smoother and sleeker look to it and when you start to mess around with it, it’s very clear that it’s the nicest case of them all!
What We Like
The overall quality is simply better than the others, including the Pelican. Not only is the shell tough and rugged, but the foam inside feels more durable and less abrasive so you don’t need to worry about the finish on your rifle getting scuffed.
The standard version of the case (like what we got) comes with two layers of foam on the bottom so you can cut out and customize it. But they also have an AR-15 version that has pre-cut compartments in high-density foam like the Case Club.
It has a thick rubber gasket around the lid that definitely keeps the water out. We suspect this case even floats.
The NANUK 985 has the best latches of all of the cases we have. They work really smoothly. Instead of being super tight and hard to close like the Pelican and others, you simply go through three quick motions: push a button, lift the latch up, then pull it back. My arthritic grandma could even open this case.
It also has good quality built-in locks and it comes with two keys. Plus there are four additional lock holes that are reinforced with metal. This makes this case very secure while traveling, leaving your rifle in the car, or even at home with kids.
The big rollerblade wheels on the NANUK are the best and smoothest of all the cases we tested. And unlike the Pelican 1700, the wheels don’t prevent the case from standing up vertically nice and easy for storage or whatever.
The handles are spring-loaded so they snap back nice and flush.
It’s made in Canada and the customer service is very responsive and friendly.
- Gotta pay extra for the cool pre-cut compartments like the Case Club, but you can save money and customize it yourself.
- One of the bulkiest cases we tried. So if you are looking for something really compact, the Boyt or the Case Club might be better options.
Not only is it suitable for an AR-15, but it would also work well for an AR-10. We only paid $20 more for the NANUK 985 than we did for the Pelican 1700 and we find it to be a superior product with better support. That’s why it’s our upgrade pick.
3. Budget Pick: Plano AW2 Rifle/Shotgun Case
- Outdoor Empire Score: 3.6
- Bottom Line: Durable and functional at a low price
The AW2 is a new and improved version of Plano’s popular All Weather Tactical Gun Case that has been around for years. It does not have the build quality of more expensive choices on this list, but it does have more features than you would expect for the price.
What We Like
Plano calls it the All Weather case because of a waterproof and airtight seal all the way around the case. This can lead to a difference in pressures between the inside and outside of the case, so there is a pressure relief valve.
This new version has a better, more rigid shell that provides better protection from shock and the elements as well as more versatile foam inserts and two of the four sturdy latches are lockable (keys included). This is a bonus feature that is absent on all other cases on this list except for the high-end Nanuk.
The inside has egg carton foam on the top and the bottom with a medium-quality foam piece in the middle. That middle piece has perforations so you can easily pluck out pieces of foam to achieve a cutout specific to your needs.
If you have an AR-15 with a 20″ barrel, a fixed stock, or an AR-10, the 42″ version may be a better choice. That’s what we have and what you see in our photos. We find that size to be highly versatile, it’s good for some hunting rifles too. It’s super roomy so you can get a ton of stuff in there.
The AW2 is also available in a 36″ version and a 52″ case with wheels that is good for all sorts of rifles and shotguns.
- Not as waterproof as it seems according to some reports.
- Shell is neither as thick nor are the hinges and latches as robust as the highger-end cases like the Case Club or Nanuk.
- Padlock holes could be cut through pretty easily if someone really wanted to break into it.
- Only a one-year warranty compared to lifetime on most others on our list.
- No wheels or second handle on the short end.
We bought this case for only about $20 more than the Flambeau Tactical and it is a world better. We would not hesitate to check this on an airplane or toss it in the back of the truck on a rough road. And it is less than half as much as a Pelican or a Nanuk. That’s why it’s our budget pick.
4. Most Discrete: Savior Equipment Ultimate Guitar Case
- Outdoor Empire Score: 4.0
- Bottom Line: Cool protection for your AR-15 that makes a good impression
The Savior Equipment Ultimate Guitar Case is cool looking and well made. While it is not as tough as some others on this list, it’ll protect your gear just fine and you no one will give you dirty looks walking through the airport. At a reasonable price and with great customer service, this unique AR15 hard case is a solid choice.
What We Like
The lifesize guitar shape is cool and they managed to make the case not look cheap with thoughtful details like the textured pop-out on the front.
The side handle allows a great balance while carrying and the handle on the top and back makes it easy to roll around on it’s smooth wheels. It even stands upright easily without tipping.
The shape allows you to fit a lot of stuff inside. However, we had to take off the front grip of our AR-15 and we couldn’t fit our AR-10 with its long-range scope inside.
Being deeper than any other gun cases we tried, you can put more gear inside vertically. Three layers of good quality foam inserts make it east to customize for different items at different depths.
Six well-placed latches and a few metal-reinforced padlock holes provide decent security. It does have a rubber gasket around the rim to keep water out as well.
- Thinner plastic than other cases we tested, could be crushed more easily.
- Hinges and latches are weaker than others, but they function well.
You can’t really go wrong with the Savior Ultimate Guitar case for your rifle, especially at a reasonable price that is right in the middle of all the cases we tested. If you want to look cool
5. Best of the Rest: Pelican Protector 1700 Series Rifle Case
- Outdoor Empire Score: 4.2
- Bottom Line: A safe choice that’s rugged and reliable
The Pelican Protector 1700 series is perhaps the oldest classic hard plastic gun case around. The design hasn’t changed in years, but it does a great job at protecting your rifle.
Compare prices at: Brownells
What We Like
The Pelican Protector 1700 Rifle Case is extremely durable and well designed. The plastic shell has a foam-core design that improves durability and reduces weight.
The waterproof gasket is so effective there is an automatic pressure relief valve. It equalizes the air inside and outside the case for easy opening, without letting in moisture. The latches are a double-throw style that’s easy to use.
Three pieces of dense, high-quality foam keep your gun and any accessories safe. However, there are no perforations to assist you in cutting out the foam. It’s recommended that you outline the potential cutouts in chalk before you start cutting, so you don’t make a mistake.
Two handles, wheels, and steel-reinforced padlock holes make this case versatile, secure, and easy to move around.
The 1700 is the slimmest and shortest of a series of cases. They have longer and deeper sizes that can accommodate different, or multiple, firearms.
If you like personalization, Pelican offers engraved nameplates.
- Can’t stand up on end, and it’s tricky to lean against the wall since the wheels make it slide out from under itself.
- No lock and key included like the Nanuk.
- Fixed side handle juts out which is annoying when you load it in and out of a rig.
- Poor customer service. They never responded to our inquiry.
Besides the Nanuk, the Pelican 1700 Rifle Case is the most expensive case on this list and we expected a bit more for the price. Side by side with the less expensive Case Club, the Pelican is a little underwhelming. However, it’s still worthwhile and it may even outlive you! Which is why we ranked it the best of the rest.
- Outdoor Empire Score: 3.6
- Bottom Line: Well-priced and compact
The H36ST by Boyt is a carbine-focused hard case that is extra durable without being extra expensive. It is slim and compact and it barely missed the cut to be one of our top picks this year, but it’s definitely worth the price!
Compare prices at: Optics Planet
What We Like
The outer shell is 120D polypropylene which didn’t even wince when I rode over it with my heavy self and ebike. The powder-coated steel latches can be replaced if ever you need to. The handle lightly locks in both the up and down position.
In a bizarre snafu, the case we received was missing the handle. It just hadn’t been installed!
But it wasn’t a big deal in the end. I sent a picture to their customer service who responded the same day and by the next day they had a handle in the mail to me. Great customer service!
A gasket runs all of the way around the edge of the case, which keeps out moisture and dust but is not as effective as the waterproofing on some other cases.
The foam inside is egg-carton open-cell foam, which does a good job, but isn’t really customizable. Some people report that the lid can bulge when you have a thicker gun inside.
This case is nice and compact, but if you need a slightly larger version, check out the Boyt H41XD.
- Doesn’t stand on end.
- No frills basic hard case, but solid construction.
- Lacks volume and customization capabilities of other cases.
- Water seal is weak sauce.
The Boyt H36SG is great at protecting your AR-15 carbine from physical harm but is not as good at protecting it from a deluge of water. Worth the price as it has some of the rigidity and benefits of the higher end hard cases, but at a much cheaper price. We paid half what we did for the Nanuk. It just doesn’t really stand out in any particular way, which is why it didn’t make our top 5 list.
- Outdoor Empire Score: 2.8
- Bottom Line: Bare minimum, no-frills AR-15 hard case
The Flambeau AR Tactical gun case is super popular due because it is the cheapest hard case available. But in our testing, we found it to barely qualify as a hard case due to the flimsy, flexible plastic shell. It would do just fine for transportation between your house and the gun range, but we would hesitate to check it on a plane or let it bounce around in the truck bed.
What We Like
The Flambeau Outdoors AR Tactical Gun Case is surprisingly customizable for a case that uses egg crate foam.
The foam has a number of pre-cut slits. They are not there for you to remove the foam; instead, the Velcro straps and plastic dividers go through the foam and attach to the plastic outer shell.
The foam is thick enough that even a box of ammo will not slide around with the case closed. The lid will likely bulge open a bit from the bulk, however.
The hard shell is thick enough to protect against minor impacts but is not as thick as some hard cases. When I rode my heavy bike over top of these gun cases, the Flambeau was the only one to bust open under pressure. So it’s pretty limited in the amount of weight you can put on it without crushing what’s inside.
The case is very lightweight, though, and it is plenty big for an AR-15 and some gear.
- Not waterproof, no gasket.
- Not airplane worthy, though it does have padlock holes to meet the bare minimum TSA requirements.
- Thin, highly flexible plastic provides less protection for what’s inside compared to others.
- Single layer foam falls out of top lid when you open it, sort of annoying.
- The latches are flimsy molded plastic and are a potential failure point.
For basic protection, the Flambeau Tactical case will do the job. However, I’d almost opt for a quality soft case over this one for the price. For only $20 more we got the Plano case, our budget pick on this list, and it is heaps better when you handle them side by side.
Why Trust Outdoor Empire
In order to provide honest reviews of the best hard cases for AR-15 rifles, we went and bought the seven cases we talk about in this reviews. Before that, we researched a couple dozen.
The fact that we actually bought, handled, and used every one of these products can give you some added confidence about our recommendations.
This is the same advice we would give to our family and friends now that we know what we know.
How We Rated the Best AR-15 Hard Cases
Once we had all the cases in hand, we tried them out ourselves. We compared them against each other based on the following five criteria:
- Durability (of the case itself, including build quality)
- Protection (of the gun from drops, water, scratch, etc.)
- Features (e.g. storage, lockability, latches, wheels)
- Support (warranty and customer service)
- Luxury (look and feel)
We gave each case a score (out of five) for each of the five criteria, then we took the average to calculate the composite Outdoor Empire score. We then take into account the price in order to position each product in our recommendations.
This scoring process helps us be more objective in our rankings and be sure we are comparing apples to apples.
Here is some additional insight on why we ranked the cases as we did.
We looked at how durable the cases were based on the build quality, materials, and how they stand up to the elements.
The Nanuk, Peilican, and Case Club were definitely the toughest, while the Flambeau was the weakest of the ones we tested. The Plano surprised us being the price was barely more than the Flambeau.
Ultimately, we wanted to know how well these hard cases would protect your rifle inside. So we looked at how well they protect from water, shock, drops, being tossed in a pickup, scratches, etc. This mainly meant looking at the shell structure and the foam inside.
The Nanuk 985, the Pelican 1700, and the Case Club all scored 5 out of 5. The Flambeau got a 3 and the rest got 4s.
Features are a bit subjective since some people care about a certain jobber and others don’t give a lick. So comparing side by side and looking at the number of features and functions of each case relative to the others helped put this in persepective.
The NANUK and the Case Club stood out the most because they had everything the others had, plus something interesting. The most basic cases are the Flambeau and the Boyt.
When it came to support we looked at two things: warranty and customer service.
Only two of these cases do not have a lifetime warranty, the Plano AW2 and the Flambeau Tactical. These each offer only a one-year warranty, though they did both have great customer service responses.
In order to test the customer service, we sent the same inquiry to each company either by email or their contact form on their websites. We tracked the time it took for them to respond as well as the helpfulness of their response.
Case Club, Boyt, and Flambeau all responded positively within 30 minutes. NANUK and Savior had great responses the same day while Plano got back to us within 24 hours. Unfortunately, Pelican still has not responded at all, even several days later.
Kudos to Boyt for resolving our missing handle issue right away without issue.
This factor appeals to the more vain among us who like things to look good and feel good.
The quality of the NANUK was visibly superior. It’s sleek case and more velvety foam gave it a more luxurious feel and it is the only one we gave five points to on this. The Savior guitar case is the next sleekest.
The more utilitarian Pelican and Case Club fared well also, but the Flambeau looks and feels the least appealing.
The Benefits of Hard Cases Compared to Soft Cases
Why use a hard case instead of a soft case?
While it’s true that soft cases do offer some advantages over hard cases, such as a lighter weight and smaller footprint, hard cases have just as many advantages.
Approved for air travel: One big advantage is that if you want to fly with your AR-15, you need a hard case. The TSA does not allow firearms to be checked aboard a plane in a soft case.
Hard to steal: Hard cases are also harder to steal than a soft case. They tend to have padlock holes spaced equally around the perimeter of the case. They are also impervious against knives so a thief cannot cut open the case to get the guns inside, except for more flimsy and cheaper models like the Flambeau Tactical 6500AR case.
Protection from the elements: Hard cases are also better at protecting your guns from environmental hazards. Soft cases can, at most, be resistant to brief exposure to rain. A high-quality hard case can be so waterproof that it is airtight!
Long-lasting: Soft cases can wear out, especially the sewn parts, whereas a hard gun case has much more longevity.
Shock protection: Finally, and perhaps most crucially, hard cases are much better at protecting your guns from knocks, scrapes, drops, and other physical abuse. The plastic shell may get dinged up but the gun inside will be perfectly safe.
Soft cases can allow force to be transmitted to the gun inside, so a drop onto concrete can damage your AR-15 or its optics.
If you want to best protect your AR-15, a hard case is the best choice.
How to Choose an AR-15 Hard Case?
There are a lot of different hard cases out there. A hard rifle case is an investment to protect an investment, so even the cheapest one is still not that cheap. And the most expensive hard cases can be as expensive as some guns!
So, how are you supposed to choose which case to buy?
The following advice will help you decide what you need in a hard case. You may not care about every criterion, so feel free to ignore the advice you do not need.
Heavy or Light Duty?
First of all, where are you going to be using the gun case?
If you are only ever going to be taking it to a friendly gun range, then you do not need to fork out the cash for a thick, durable shell. A lightweight hard case will be good enough to handle an accidental drop in the parking lot.
However, if you are going to be traveling with your case through dangerous terrain, then a thicker shell will be worth the expense.
And if you are going on a boat, make sure to pay for a waterproof model. Then when you get the case, be sure to test the waterproofing in your bathtub at home.
You don’t want to get into the field only to find out that something went awry when the case was made and your case is not actually waterproof!
Another thing to keep in mind is what you want to keep in the case along with your gun. Do you want to bring a sidearm? A couple of magazines? A lot of magazines?
Hard cases, unlike soft cases with their external pockets, do not have much internal storage capacity.
Case accessories such as dividers can make it easier to bring gun accessories along for the trip. Easily-removed foam can also help maximize what you can carry in a hard case.
Something else that is extremely important is to pay attention to the size of the case. The ends of the case cut off around two inches of space from the interior, so make sure that you do not order a gun case that is too small for your rifle.
Most of the cases are designed to hold an AR-15 in its shortest configuration, with the stock collapsed. So if you have a pinned stock or a fixed stock, you may need to buy a larger size.
The same goes for long barrel lengths or if you have an AR-10 instead of an AR-15.
A good idea to ensure that you are buying the properly-sized case is to measure your rifle from buttstock to the end of the muzzle or muzzle device, then add two inches.
If that is close to the measurement of the case, size up. It is better to have a too-large case than a too-small case. Think of it as extra room for accessories, anyway.
Most hard cases have sections around the outside for padlocks.
However, some of the cheaper cases only have a couple of lockable areas. If the locks are not spaced around properly, then a thief can get into the case even when it is locked.
Plastic can bend, so if the locks are spaced too far apart, a thief might be able to pry the case apart enough to grab a slim object inside and pull it out. Such as, say, an AR-15.
To keep your gun safe, make sure there are plenty of places for padlocks to keep this from happening. Two lock holes do not cut it.
Velcro straps inside can help foil a thievery attempt as well, as the thief may be unable to undo the Velcro.
Part of the appeal of the AR-15 platform is how easy it is to modify your gun and make it uniquely yours.
Your choice of gun case can reflect this as well.
While no hard case will ever be quite as customizable as an AR-15, some are more easily modified than others.
A case with cutouts already in place for an AR-15 may be easy, but then you have to use the configuration someone at the factory envisioned.
That may be good enough for some people, but others may have unique needs when it comes to how the gear in their case is laid out.
Perhaps you prefer 20 round magazines instead of the standard 30, or your rifle has a unique optic setup that does not fit into pre-made cutouts. Or maybe you have a minimalist stock and the normal cutout will leave too much open space.
Whatever the case, you may prefer a hard case with a third piece of foam in the middle. That way you can cut out precisely the foam you want.
Pelican and other cases do this well, even if they are not the easiest. Cheaper cases tend to have less rigid or egg-crate foam.
Here’s a trick to upgrade a cheaper case with cheaper foam:
After you cut out the foam in the shape you want, spray the foam with Plasti Dip. The Plasti Dip will cover the foam and make a soft yet firm surface, while still allowing the foam to absorb impacts and cushion your rifle!
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