Even if your office is a river bank or a construction site and your desk is most often the bed of your truck, in this day and age chances are you’ll still need a computer. There are countless advantages to having a laptop handy in an outdoor job, whether you’re a researcher entering your data right there in the field, or you need to double-check some specifications for a construction build.

Of course, that means you need a laptop that can stand up to the same conditions you can. There is a range of “rugged” notebooks and tablets available, but in harsh conditions, there’s not much room for error. How can you be sure your work is getting the protection it needs from the elements? 

Also See: Go The Extra Mile With Your Laptop Battery with These 15 Pro-Tips

How Much Protection Do You Need?

The first step in shopping for any computer is deciding what you need: How much memory? Processing power? Battery life? Graphics drivers? When you’re shopping for a rugged laptop, you can add another category: how much protection do you need?

Some jobs will require all the protection you can buy: long hours in rainy research sites, backpack trips, or dusty construction sites. However, for less extreme conditions you may be just fine with a less rugged, more streamlined variant, as one of Panasonic’s semi-rugged or business-rugged notebooks.

You’ll still have dust and water resistance and drop protection, in a lighter, sleeker package. Business-rugged notebooks have reinforced cases and splash-resistant keyboards, great for light field work, or just riding your bike to the office. They’re also a good option for a parent working from home who needs a computer with a little toddler resistance.

Shop-By-Numbers: Rugged Laptop Certifications

Nothing speeds up comparison shopping like a nice standardized rating system. Fortunately, for rugged laptops and electronics, there are two of them: Military Standard and the International Protection Rating.

Since the earliest tough laptops were developed by and for the military, their toughness tests became the standard for measuring a laptop’s shock resistance. The military standard test (you’ll usually see it abbreviated to MIL-STD) runs laptops through a battery of tests that measure their resistance to drops, shocks, and vibrations.

Most commercially available laptops will meet either the MIL 810 or MIL 461 standard: if you can’t find one of those labels, that product may be one to avoid.

International Protection Rating, or IP, measures a laptop’s resistance to water and dust. Every IP rating has two numbers. The first measures dust resistance: six is completely dust-proof, five is a strong resistance, down to zero with no dust resistance at all. The second number measures water resistance.

A zero has no protection, a four is safe from splashes, and a six could stand up to a blast from a garden hose. (There’s no such thing as complete protection against being submerged: if your laptop is spending time on a boat, invest in a waterproof case or storage box!) A laptop’s IP rating is the best measure of how much rain and dust the device can stand.

Features to Look For

Military Standard and IP rating cover the three big things you think of when buying an outdoor laptop: water, dirt, and drops. If you’ve got especially tough conditions ahead, however, there are a few more features you’ll want to keep in mind.

  • Temperature sensitivity. Laptops are temperature sensitive, with all those components packed together. Even if you’re not planning on taking your computer into the field, a hot car is more than capable of barbecuing an average laptop. Look for a laptop like the Panasonic Toughbook business range that’s rated for extreme heat and cold if you have winter work or hot conditions in your future.
  • Sunlight visibility. If you’ve ever tried to read an iPad sitting next to a sunny window, you’ve run across the aggravation that is screen glare. Nothing kills a battery faster than cranking up the brightness to see through the glare. High-visibility screens are a common and useful add-on for outdoor laptops. You can also find coatings and screen protectors to reduce the glare outdoors.
  • Internal protection. Dented cases and cracked screens are the most common victims of a dropped computer…but what about the internal hardware? It’s easy to reinforce a case to resist denting, but protecting a hard drive from jolts and falls is more complicated. Check any laptop’s stats for reinforced hard drives and internal protection and support.

Wrapping Up

The variety of outdoor laptops for people on the market can be intimidating, especially if you’re trying to avoid the low-quality options out there. As long as you know what you’re looking for, you’ll have no problem finding a rugged laptop that does exactly what you need it to do: handle whatever conditions your work throws at it!