How to Lock a Backpack for Maximum Protection and Security 

 September 30, 2023

By  Keith Terrell

Imagine walking through the bustling, vibrant streets of Rome, your senses filled with the aroma of authentic Italian pizza and fascinating stories of local street performers. Now imagine that this serene moment is shattered by the realization that your backpack is open and your wallet—now likely in the hands of a wily pickpocket—is gone. 

One way is to use a double-sided cable lock that attaches to the zipper pulls of your bag and to a stationary object. Another option is to use a combination lock and cable to secure several bags together. Cable locks should run through handles or zipper pulls, not straps that can be easily unbuckled. Packing light and keeping valuables close at hand can also reduce the risk of theft or loss.

To ensure this heartbreaking situation remains a fiction and does not become a harsh reality, it is important that you lock your backpack for maximum protection and safety. In an era where travel is flourishing, let's look at how to secure your backpack like armor and turn it into a fortress that no one can breach!

Importance of a Secure Backpack

As someone who loves to travel and explore new places, I cannot stress enough the importance of having a secure backpack. When you are backpacking, your bag is your only source of comfort and security because it contains everything you need for your trip. From clothes to passport, gadgets to medicines, losing an item from your backpack can be a nightmare.

Furthermore, securing your backpack also ensures that you can enjoy your trip in peace. You do not have to worry about constantly looking over your shoulder or keeping an eye on your belongings when you are in public places. Instead, you can relax and enjoy the new experiences that traveling has to offer.

To put things in perspective, let me tell you the story of a friend who went on a backpacking trip across Europe. One day, he decided to stroll around the city while carrying his backpack where he had kept all his valuables. He was busy taking pictures when suddenly he suddenly realized that his backpack was missing, having been stolen out of sight. Inside was his passport, cash and all his electronic devices. He then reported the theft to the local police station and ended up needing extra money to complete his trip.

Some people might argue that securing their backpacks is unnecessary or time-consuming. They might say that they have traveled before without any problems and are confident that they do not need any additional security measures. However, the truth is that travel always involves risk, and securing your backpacks can prevent an unfortunate situation from occurring in the first place.

Securing our backpacks is comparable to insuring our lives or our cars. We may not expect anything bad to happen, but we invest in insurance just in case something goes wrong. Therefore, investing in a lock for our belongings should be a no-brainer.

Risks of an Unlocked Backpack

An unlocked backpack is a goldmine for thieves and pickpockets because it provides easy access to all your valuable belongings. It takes them less than a second to snatch and run away with your smartphone, camera, wallet or any other item they can sell or use.

Your backpack can also be a victim of luggage theft at the airport, especially if you tend to check it in. TSA locks are not enough as they can be easily broken open, exposing everything in your bag. In most cases, baggage handlers are responsible for such incidents. They abuse their authority and steal from passengers' bags with impunity.

In addition, unsecured bags can be tampered with by the authorities when crossing border checkpoints or during immigration control at airports.

Critics may object that a lock on your backpack is not the ultimate solution to protect against theft as thieves can pick any lock given enough time and tools. However, a simple lock ensures that at least no one can casually reach into your backpack and is more likely to walk away.

Overall, an unlocked backpack poses a serious security risk when traveling. Even if the chances of becoming a victim of theft or loss while traveling are only one in ten, it is always wise to protect yourself.

Choosing the Ideal Backpack Lock

The ideal backpack lock should offer protection, durability, and convenience. It should also be easy to use, compact and lightweight. With the many different types of backpack locks available on the market today, choosing the right one can be a difficult task for any traveler. Here are some factors to consider when choosing the best backpack lock for your needs:

Anecdotal evidence suggests that some travelers prefer combination locks to cable locks because they don't have to worry about losing a key or carrying it around. In addition, a combination lock is less likely to jam compared to traditional key locks.

However, cable locks are still popular with frequent travelers for several reasons. First, they offer better security as they can secure more than one compartment at a time, such as a backpack and a laptop bag. Second, cable locks are much more durable and reliable than combination locks as they're made of strong, braided steel cables that can withstand being cut with a metal tool.

Some people argue that key locks are the most secure because only you have access to the key, making it harder for thieves to pick your backpack. However, this argument ignores what happens if you lose your key while traveling. Then you have a big problem because you cannot simply unlock your backpack.

Choosing the ideal backpack lock is like choosing a life partner – you want someone who will stick by you through thick and thin, no matter what. You also want someone who is trustworthy, reliable, and dependable as your life depends on them.

Exploring Different Locking Mechanisms

There are three main types of locking mechanisms for backpacks: key locks, combination locks, and cable locks. Each of these mechanisms has its own strengths and weaknesses depending on how you want to use it.

Key locks are ideal, for example, if you are traveling to a country where there is a high risk of theft or robbery. They offer excellent protection against forced entry and only you have access to the key, making it almost impossible for thieves to steal your things. But they are not very practical because you have to carry the key with you at all times.

Combination locks are an excellent option for those who want more convenience and flexibility. You don't need to carry a key around as you can open the lock simply by entering the correct combination of numbers or letters. They’re also cheaper than key locks and more widely available.

One disadvantage of combination locks, however, is that they can easily jam if not properly maintained. Also, someone watching you enter the combination can easily memorize it and unlock your backpack whenever they want.

Choosing the best locking mechanism for your backpack is like choosing a cuisine for dinner – each has its own taste and texture, but you need to pick one that suits your taste preferences while keeping nutritional value in mind.

Effective Locking Methods for Backpacks

One of the most common ways to lock a backpack is to use a combination lock. But not every combination lock is suitable. Consider investing in a high-quality lock with steel cables. These locks offer extra protection against theft because they are harder to pick than standard locks. These locks are not only robust, but also versatile and easy to use.

Another method of locking backpacks is with a padlock. Padlocks come in different sizes and shapes, making them ideal for securing different types of bags. Before buying a padlock, make sure that the diameter of the shackle will fit through the zipper pulls or latch mechanism of your bag. You don't want to buy a padlock that doesn’t fit your backpack.

If you're looking for a quick and easy solution, purchase a TSA-approved luggage strap. These straps have a built-in combination lock and can be adjusted to fit different sizes of bags. They are particularly useful if you fly frequently as they allow airport security staff to open your bag without cutting the lock if they need to inspect your luggage.

I had been traveling in South America for six months when I was confronted with theft for the first time. My backpack was unzipped, and my wallet was gone when I returned to my hostel after spending the afternoon exploring Buenos Aires. Since then, every time I leave for a new adventure, I use combination locks with sturdy steel cables to secure the zippers of my bag.

Regardless of what type of lock you use, it's important that you never leave your bag unattended. Even with a secured lock, someone can cut the straps and take off with your backpack if you're not paying attention. Therefore, make sure that you always keep an eye on your belongings.

Some backpackers believe that locks are unnecessary because valuable items like credit cards, passports, or smartphones are better kept in a separate hidden pouch. While it's true that carrying these items makes them less accessible to thieves, securing your backpack is still essential to prevent tampering and protect less important items in your bag.

Key Takeaway

To prevent theft and tampering with your backpack while traveling, use effective locking methods such as high-quality combination locks with steel cables, padlocks, or TSA-approved luggage straps. It's also important to never leave your backpack unattended and to keep an eye on your belongings. While it is a good idea to have valuable items with you, securing your backpack will also protect other important items in your bag.

Lock Placement and Double-sided Cable Locks

The right type of lock is important to properly lock a backpack, but where you place it is equally important. For maximum security, it's not enough to run the lock through the top zippers if you don't position it correctly. Here are some tips on how to use double-sided cable locks effectively.

When using a double-sided cable lock such as the Lewis N. Clark Lockdown Triple Security Double-Sided Cable Lock, loop one end around the stationary object or handle of your backpack and pass the other end through both zipper pulls on your backpack. Ensure that the cable is tight enough to prevent anyone from tampering with the lock.

If you don't have anything stationary nearby to attach your cable lock to, consider purchasing a "wiresafe." This is essentially a thin mesh of steel wires that you can wrap around fixed objects such as railings and then attach to your lock.

During my last trip to Europe, I found myself in a hostel without lockers. To secure my belongings, I wrapped one end of my double-sided cable lock around an old radiator next to my bed and ran the other end through the two zipper pulls on my backpack before finally locking it tight. This technique worked during my stay, and I wasn't too afraid to leave my backpack unattended.

The placement of the lock is as important as the lock you use. Thieves can quickly spot poorly secured backpacks and easily tamper with them. Securing the backpack by the handles and looping the cable twice around the backpack makes it less easy to grab and provides extra protection against theft.

Think of a double-sided cable lock as seat belts for your backpack. Just like in a car, they provide an extra layer of security during your travel adventure. An absent-minded driver who forgets to buckle up risks fatal injury in the event of an accident. Failing to secure your backpack can cost you all your belongings.

Now let's turn to more tips on how to keep your belongings safe when traveling with a backpack.

Additional Backpack Security Tips

When it comes to securing your backpack, here are a few tips and tricks that can further enhance your safety while traveling:

  • Dress appropriately: One of the most common mistakes travelers make is to stand out too much, either through the style of dress or accessories. To minimize the risk of theft or being noticed by pickpockets, try to blend in with the locals as much as possible. This means that you should be aware of the fashion trends in the region and dress appropriately.
  • Use cashless payments: Large amounts of cash in a wallet are a favorite target for thieves. Instead, consider cashless payment methods such as credit cards or mobile payments. Not only will this reduce the risk of theft but also make it easier for you to keep track of your spending more easily.
  • Avoid using back pockets: While back pockets are an easily accessible storage option, they are also an easy target for pickpockets. Instead, keep your valuables in zipped pockets if possible, or use a money belt or a neck pouch worn under your clothes.
  • Minimize your load: The more belongings you carry around, the harder it is to secure everything. Packing light not only makes moving easier but  also means you can take better care of everything you have with you. Additionally, leave unnecessary items at home rather than taking them with you.
  • Keep copies of important documents: It's important to have copies of important documents such as passports, visas, and travel insurance policies in case they are lost or stolen. Keep digital copies on your phone or in cloud storage and keep the physical copies in a different place from the originals.

Blending in and Keeping Belongings Safe

Before traveling to a new destination, find out about possible dangers and safety concerns. Familiarize yourself with local customs and laws and the safest areas of the city.

  • Avoid flashy items: Possessing and displaying valuable electronics, jewelry, or other expensive items can attract unwanted attention while traveling. It's best to keep these items hidden whenever possible. For example, keep your phone in your pocket instead of using it in public.
  • Split up valuables: It's important that you do not keep all your valuables in one place. If a bag or pocket is stolen, your other belongings will still be intact. Remember to keep some money or credit cards in your luggage and other valuables with you at all times.
  • Stay vigilant: Although it may be tempting to be careless when traveling, staying vigilant is crucial for ensuring safety. Pay attention to the people around you, especially in crowded areas such as tourist attractions.
  • Keep your backpack close: When you're in public places such as train stations or airports, always keep your backpack close by. Try not to leave it unattended even for a short time. Additionally, avoid putting your backpack on the floor where it's more visible and accessible to thieves.
  • Use discreet locks: For maximum protection and security, use discreet locks that blend in with the design of your backpack. Avoid flashy padlocks that scream "valuable items inside." Instead, use cable locks with numerical codes and secure the bags together if possible.

By taking these additional safety tips to heart and adapting with local customs, you can ensure the safety of yourself and your belongings while backpacking.

About the author

Keith is a one bag traveler and the owner of Backpacks Global. His go to backpack is the Osprey FarPoint 40.

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