This case turned my Apple Watch into an Apple Watch Ultra

a Nomad Rugged Case and band on a wooden table
Bryan M. Wolfe / Digital Trends

Whenever a new Apple Watch is released, I buy the less expensive aluminum model, even though it increases the risk of scratching or breaking the wearable device. Aluminum, unfortunately, is not nearly as forgiving as the titanium found on the Apple Watch Ultra or the stainless steel on more expensive Apple Watch Series 8 models.

Don’t believe me? Last year, my teenage daughter inherited my Apple Watch Series 6, but it didn’t last long after a minor bike accident on dirt and asphalt. Over time, even with regular use, you should expect some nicks and scratches on the aluminum Apple Watch models.

Knowing that damaging an Apple Watch is possible, especially on less expensive models, I was eager to check out the new Nomad Rugged Case and band combination, which promises to provide unparalleled protection from the elements (and great looks, too).

The Nomad Rugged Case is more expensive than most of the best Apple Watch cases on the market. However, it’s made from a much stronger material. Perhaps best of all, this protection doesn’t add much weight to the wrist.

Lots of protection for your Apple Watch

A Nomad Rugged Case in dirty
Nomad Goods

One of the reasons the Apple Watch Ultra quickly became popular is because of its advanced durability. Though there were previous titanium Apple Watches, the Apple Watch Ultra pushed things slightly further thanks to its flat sapphire front crystal with display edge protection, plus other extras like 100-meters of water resistance.

To be clear, the Nomad Rugged does not turn your regular Apple Watch 45mm/44mm into an Apple Watch Ultra. However, it does add similar protection and incorporates design elements inspired by the Apple Watch Ultra.

The Nomad Rugged Case is made from super tough 316L stainless steel that’s coated with 1000 HV DLC. This steel can handle all kinds of temperatures and doesn’t rust. The TPU interior protects the Watch during installation, removal, and use. Additionally, there is an anodized steel button that not only offers protection, but also elevates its cool factor.

Nomad Rugged Case on an arm showing the orange botton on the right side
Bryan M. Wolfe / Digital Trends

The case also features a protective edge that surrounds the Watch screen, reducing the risk of damage from accidental bumps or drops. It provides easy access to the Digital Crown and has interchangeable black or orange buttons. My review unit came with the orange button installed.

The Nomad Rugged Case features a super-comfy band made of FKM fluoroelastomer and a solid stainless steel buckle. And the best part? It fits most wrist sizes, from 150mm to 210mm. The buckle side is 77mm long, and the adjustment side is 120mm.

Easy installation and care

A Nomad Rugged Case in the box on a table cloth
Bryan M. Wolfe / Digital Trends

Because of its design, the Nomad Rugged Case was almost certainly not designed to be taken on and off often, but it’s possible and fine to do so. Installing the Nomad Rugged Case on your Apple Watch is easy, but achieving a snug fit takes a little effort. Holding one side of the case while pushing on the Apple Watch is important to ensure a secure fit.

Removing the case can also require some effort, but with a bit of patience, you can pull it off without any issues. And remember, the case has a soft interior lining, which adds extra protection during installation and removal.

The case and band can be easily cleaned with water and any noncorrosive cleaning agent like Dawn dish detergent. After mowing the lawn, my Apple Watch was sweaty, so I removed it and rinsed both sides with water. Simple.

Nomad Rugged Case face
Bryan M. Wolfe / Digital Trends

While testing the Nomad Rugged Case, I wanted to ensure the protective edge could withstand regular wear and tear. So I ran the case facedown over a wooden table and then over concrete and hit a door frame in a way that could have caused damage to the display. The Apple Watch held up remarkably well every time. The casing had no visible scratches or marks, and the screen remained intact and functional.

This is a testament to the durability of the case and the quality of its construction. The Nomad Rugged Case worked well and protected my Watch from the elements. However, remember that the case doesn’t offer the same protection as an Apple Watch screen protector would.

It’s great — but is it worth $120?

A Nomad Rugged Case right out of the box on a table
Bryan M. Wolfe / Digital Trends

When it comes to the Nomad Rugged Case, there are a few other important details that you should keep in mind before making your purchase. While it is an excellent option for anyone looking for a durable and reliable case for their Apple Watch, there are a couple of downsides to consider.

For instance, the case isn’t adjustable for left-handers like myself. In other words, there’s no way to adjust the case and band, so the buttons are placed on the left side. Additionally, while the case and band are waterproof and can withstand some exposure to water, it is worth noting that the case itself does not provide any extra water protection for your Apple Watch. There’s also no way to separate the case and band, so you can’t use the case with another band.

There’s also the question of price, as $120 is a lot of money for an accessory like this. If that’s a concern for you, it might be worth waiting for third-party retailers to offer discounts on the Rugged Case. There are also cheaper Apple Watch Ultra-like cases out there that essentially do the same thing, even if they’re not as well-constructed.

Apple Watch SE 2 with protective case and generic Alpine Loop-style strap.
Apple Watch SE in a $10 rugged case Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Overall, I’m really enjoying Nomad’s newest product. The company has long been known for its growing collection of Apple Watch bands and other products, such as iPhone cases. One of my favorites, the Rugged Band, supports the Apple Watch Ultra and other models (of any size), so it makes sense for the company to release an all-in-one solution now. It’s a shame there isn’t a 40mm/41mm size for the Rugged Case, but perhaps that omission is only temporary. The Nomad Rugged Case is also only available in one color, black, which is unfortunate, but makes sense.

If you like the band, Nomad offers a separate Rugged Band. There are a lot of other rugged bands on the market. The company also offers sports and active leather bands for those who want more protection for their Watch.

So, is it worth buying the somewhat expensive new Nomad Rugged Case for the Apple Watch? I’d say definitely for anyone looking for added protection for their 44mm/45mm Apple Series 8 or older. Not being able to swap in other bands is annoying, but if you value reliable protection and have the cash to spend, this is about as good as it gets.

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