You may have seen IP ratings when shopping for outdoor electronic gear like GPS units, headlamps, cameras and solar power devices. This very useful but sometimes mysterious rating system simply describes the ruggedness of your electronics. Wondering how much dirt or water your device can handle? An IP rating will tell you.
IP means ‘International Protection’ although it’s often interpreted as ‘Ingress Protection’. In simple terms, it’s a standard way of measuring the ability of a device to resist damage from solid particles (for most of us, that’s dirt and dust) and liquids (again, most folks are worried about water).
When a manufacturer says a device is ‘waterproof’, does that mean (a) it’s protected from light rain or (b) you can go swimming with it? Likewise, does ‘dustproof’ mean a device is equally at home on Idaho backroads and in Saudi Arabian dust storms?
Groups of engineers and other detail-minded people like the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) are unsatisfied with vague terms like ‘waterproof’ or ‘dustproof’.
Collectively, this community devised standardized, rigorous testing procedures to determine how well a device is sealed against liquids and solids (including certain insects – see IP4 in Table 1).
An IP Rating label usually looks like this:
The first digit reveals a device’s ability to keep out solid particles, like dust and dirt. Consulting Table 1 below, we see that this device is completely sealed against tiny dust particles.
The second digit indicates how well the device is protected against liquids. Consulting Table 2 below, we see that this device will still function after being submerged in water at a depth of up to 3 feet for 30 minutes.
In conclusion, this example rating indicates a very respectable ability to shrug off dust and water.
IP ratings come from the complex worlds of engineering design and rigorous laboratory testing, both of which are beyond the experience of most cell phone and headlamp users. But don’t worry – all you need to remember is that IP Ratings are a very useful way to judge just how tough your electronic gear actually is. Armed with this insider knowledge, you can go out and enjoy worry-free use of your backcountry gadgets.
Questions? Talk to a gear specialist.