Backpack Security - Choosing a Backpack
Choosing the Right Backpack
There are many consideration you should keep in mind when selecting a backpack. Security and cost are only part of the decision making process as you will need a pack which truly fits your needs and feels comfortable on your back.
Most packs can be modified to allow for lockable zippers (see our Zipper Security Page) but some packs are extra difficult to secure. Because of this, it is generally easier to secure a pack with zippers than a top loading ruck. But if you want a bombproof pack, a top loading pack can be modified with a very robust locking closure and can more easily be made "slash-proof". Modifying a top loader pack will of course take a good amount of effort if you want a very secure pack.
Pack with lockable zippers
If you have no desire to modify/Jerry-rig a pack for security, worry not as there are many companies that design and sell packs designed for travel with security in mind. For most looking for a security pack, the number one security feature travelers look for is the inclusion of lockable zipper sliders. Drawstring packs are more difficult to secure and trying to do so will create too much fuss for most concerned with security. As with most things, well known travel pack brands are generally better built than surprise brands and will often ride better on your back and survive more check-ins due to design, use of durable fabric and better stitching.
A note on lockable zippers: Purpose made lockable zippers are recommended over zippers with regular zipper sliders for any pack which is going to travel through the airport or through crowds. Many travel sites and blogs recommend against purchasing a pack without lockable zippers. But truth be told, just about any zipper can be mad lockable with a cable lock, zip tie or metal cable. And although a purpose made lockable zipper slider is easier to use and "more secure", a zipper really isn't all the secure to begin with since a good hard tug on a locked zipper should rip something open and allow entry into a bag. The goal when locking a zipper is to deter opportunistic thieves.
Osprey wheeled travel pack with security point at bottom of pack
Besides lockable zippers, it's nice to have an anchor point for a cable lock which can't be simply cut with a pocket knife or ripped out with a good hard tug. Some travel luggage have these and most don't.
Travel packs are often designed to meet maximum airline carry on or maximum airline check in sizes. Because of this, many are boring and rectangular in size. The common accepted measurements are around 9inch x 14inch x 22inch or 23cm x 36cm x 56cm.
Check-In Baggage Restrictions (aka Hand Baggage and Cabin Baggage)
|NZ||Air New Zealand||45||115||15||7|
|NH||All Nippon Airways||45||115||22||10|
|DL||Delta Air Lines||9x14x22||23x36x56||40||18|
|SV||Saudi Arabian Airlines||45||115||20||9|
|SY||Sun Country Airlines||24x16x11||60x40x28||35||16|
Popular Travel Packs:
Tom Bihn - no lockable zippers, but otherwise ideally designed travel bags
Tortuga - designed as a true travel bag made for air travel with hip belt and locking zippers
Minaal - beautiful Kickstarter travel pack
Osprey - nicely made packs and luggage with great straps and belts. On the Farpoint and Porter, the zippers are lockable and hidden behind a protective strap. This increases security while making frequent access more challenging. These are great "left in your room" bags.
Caribee - nice looking backpack with real shoulder straps and hip belt
Eagle Creek - great made for airport travel packs and rollers
REI - known for hiking style packs - so often more comfortable than other travel packs
Patagonia - Travel style pack without true locking zippers or hip belt
Goruck - no lockable zippers
MEI - Real padlock zippers
Rick Steves - cute travel packs designed by someone who travels more than most. He doesn't use locks for zippers and sympathizes with poor thieves. He also likely has lot of street smarts to make up for any shortage of paranoia.
Sandpiper Of California - great looking packs...if you like that SWAT team look
also see our Travel Pack Page for more on Travel Packs.
Fancy cameras and their related gear is expensive and great targets for thieves. Because of this, there is a real market for high quality backpacks with security features.
Lowepro S&F Transport Duffle Backpack
Rear opening panel under shoulder straps. Prevents access into bag when worn on back.
Beyond having quality zipper with lockable zipper sliders, some camera bags incorporate features, such as hidden/protected compartments. One trick is to place a large access panel on the back of the backpack under the shoulder straps so that when the pack is worn on your back, a thief isn't able to sneak up behind you and unzip your pack.
Camera Bag Companies:
US Patent 7422131
Security Packs and Cases
Intasafe Z-28 for the truly paranoid
Bag is covered in steel wire mesh and the top closes tight with steel cable which can be secured to an immovable object
If you are excessively paranoid or traveling in a place known for slash and grab, you still have a few commercial backpack options. Pacsafe, Travelon and other companies make reasonable backpacks marketed for just for you. You can buy one off the shelf with slash protection and locking zippers, but you might find that they are too heavy or feel terrible on your back. The extra weight of these security bags may be a drawback, but may also imply heavy duty construction and extra security features which you would be happy with. But do keep in mind that no matter how many bells and whistles a bag may have, if a pack is too uncomfortable to wear - it's not the bag for you.
Pacsafe TravelSafe 20L
Travelon Lock-Down Pouch
Safe Direction Operator Ballistic Case
For those how love their less than secure backpack, you can pack a security bag or pouch to lock down your more prized possessions when you sleep at night or just have to leave your pack somewhere.
Popular Security Bag Companies:
VaultPro at Magellans
Gun Toten Mamas slash resistant straps and built in holsters
Döttling Guardian - luggage safe
Safe Direction - Ballistic containment bags with 7 pin locks, cut resistant fabric and are even bullet proof.
Chinese Patent CN202552602U
Hard Case Packs
If you are carrying something that actually needs to be protected, like expensive optics, then a hard case provides unequivocal security compared to a fabric pack. Most soft luggage can be cut open or free from cables with a pocket knife or scissors. Most hard cases should be more or less "slash-proof" and allows for improved security with a cable lock than most fabric bags.
B&W Type 50 with Backpack
Rucpac and Peli case
EO2 SnapPak and Pelican 1510
Hard case packs are not as common as other packs and you are limited in available choices. But with the availability of backpack harnesses for the more popular high quality hard cases, you can easily put together your own ultimate hard case pack. And with a little ingenuity, you can make your own hard case pack or hard case pack harness which suits your needs.
Joe Banks' Premier Steamer Trunks
Many of the higher quality hard cases available today are designed to protect your gear from dust, creatures from being crushed and from water. This has its own obvious benefits over soft luggage, especially if you are transporting or storing sensitive gear. Some hard cases are waterproof enough that they can even be towed behind a kayak if desired or strung together to form a raft if you get shot out of a volcano in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
If your plan to stay or leave gear in a room, camp, safehouse or other static location for any extended period, a good hard case is so nice to have. Not only they they provide unequalled protection against the elements and thieves, larger ones can be used as tables and chairs. An appropriate sized hard box is great to live out of.
Hard shell cases are easy to lock
Some hard boxes have built in wheels making them easy to move around in hotels and airports, while other are simply just big bulky boxes - making transport a little more challenging. If your travels are well supported with dedicated transportation and hired help, it doesn't matter. Otherwise, you may wish to stay away from wheel-less boxes or get a collapsible trolley.
For valuable security, there are a number of lock boxes which allow you to lock up some of your smaller gear, such as extra money, cards, documents, laptops, electronics, medications, weapons, etc. When shopping for boxes, also query, gun boxes, gun vaults, car vaults, car safes and the like as there are many, potentially reasonably small lock boxes which may suit your needs.
The shortcoming of hard cases for backpacking are real. Quality boxes are heavy, non-compressible and generally expensive. They can easily add an extra 10 pounds to your back, which is a lot if you need to carry/haul your pack around day in and day out. They may not fit into tight places such as in small lockers since they don't compress like fabric packs. And not only do they have a high price tag at the time of purchase, you may need to pay extra fees for their weight and size at commercial airports. But if you are trucking it or flying by other means, or just needs something scissor-proof, then a hard box may be the ideal "pack" for you.
Stickers are a security concern but fun
Hard cases also allow you to place stickers on your luggage or even paint it. This practice has its own related security concerns associated with it, but stickers and paint can be a lot of fun and are a lot easier to apply than patches to fabric. There is also a considerable amount of variety in the sticker world.
Hard Cases and Hard Case Packs:
Pelican - High quality waterproof cases used by adventures, motorcyclists and the military
HPRC - HPRC 3500E; carrybag
Portabrace - PB-3500 Hard Shell Backpack
Rubbermaid - Toughboxes are very popular and not so expensive
Contico bins - acceptable for truck and charter plane travel.
NRS paragon-pack - used to carry hard cases or drybags - design suitable for light loads and for very tall people.
ULA Epic - expensive but comes in different sizes
Zero Halliburton - nice metal briefcases if you don't mind drawing a lot of attention to your gear and looking rich
US Patent 4066195
Hard Case Modifications and Accessories:
blog.jameseilers.com/post/21550629664 MOLLE mod for lid of Pelican case
itstactical.com/intellicom/diy/diy-pelican-case-velcro-organizer DIY Pelican Case Velcro Organizer
ar15.com 385571 MOLLE softcase in Pelican case
pel-pak.com/ Removable outer storage
industrialwebbing.com/Veltex Velcro source
everymilesamemory.com/pelican_1650_review discussion on double sided tape for organizer
Enhanced Safety Backpacks
These are a few backpacks with very specialized safety features which may be appropriate for your specific needs.
Alarm backpacks are not a bad idea for vulnerable travelers concerned with violent crime. With a pull of a panic cord, a built in alarm emits what sounds like a car alarm while LED lights strobe to attract attention to you. This is probably a more reliable tool than a whistle and the idea of worth considering for many. Unfortunately, most of these these seem to be marketed as an anti-bully safety device for kids so most of the packs are designed for school kids.
It is also pretty easy to install a small simple pull alarm on a shoulder strap of your favorite backpack to and get the same effect.
US Patent 8441352
Kevlar board in backpack
Marketing of bulletproof backpacks seems to mainly target paranoid parents concerned about survival of their children in the event of a school shooting. These backpacks are fitted with various bullet stopping fabrics, ceramics and plastics. There unfortunately is a real world application for ballistic backpacks and bags, but unlikely for those in the majority in the target market.
If you are concerned enough about gunfire to consider a bulletproof backpack, then you should be aware that you can purchase the bulletproof inserts or ballistic fabric and install them in the pack of your choice. You can also have one of the bulletproof backpack distributers install one for you.
Some of the ballistic boards available can be used as game boards and dry erase boards. Of course, a non bulletproof whiteboard would be far lighter and less expensive.
High Visibility Backpacks
High visibility backpack
There is a place for Hi Viz packs, such as at construction site, on rescue missions, vast unstable snowfields, to increase conspicuity on a motorcycle or bicycle, etc..
High visibility pack covers
If you don't like the high visibility backpack available to you, you can sew on reflective tape and spray paint your pack with florescent colors or use a hi viz pack cover.
Airbags and beacons. Got those too.
US Patent 20110031294
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