Zen Backpack Security - Locking it Up






Locking Up Your Backpack


Preventing Unwanted Entry Into Your Backpack

Zipper Security

Buckle Security

Strap Security

Perforated Strap Security

Hook and Loop Security

Drawstring/Cord Security

Top Loading Pack Security

Also See:

Backpack Security

Locking Up Your Backpack

Slash Attacks

Choosing the Right Backpack

Personal Security


Preventing Unwanted Entry Into Your Backpack

If you are leaving your pack all by itself in a room or are checking it in for transport, you need to secure all openings with a lock.  Packs vary greatly in their ability to be secured, but ANY backpack can be secured.  It just a matter for how much effort you want to put into securing your backpack and how much you are willing to modify your backpack.  In the end, you may find that it is easier to simply find a replacement backpack, but ANY backpack can be secured.





Any pack can be protected from the outside by a number or methods:


Encasing a backpack is sometimes the best way to protect a pack which is going to be left somewhere for an extended period or left in the hands of baggage personnel.  A duffle bag or cardboard box will also protect all the straps and suspension from damage by conveyor belts, other luggage and abusive luggage handlers.




Zipper Security

The weakest part of most backpacks from a security standpoint are its zippers.  And even with your pack on your back, a skilled thief can open up a zipper and steal you blind.



Most zippers can be secured in a number of ways and many of these methods provide an easy and simple means to deter curious fingers.  Read more about this on our Zipper Page and Zipper Security Page.


Beyond just being able to open an unlocked zipper slider, zippers themselves are vulnerable from a security point.  Coil type zippers can be easily opened with a ball point pen and the zipper can be closed by sliding the zipper slider over the opened are to zipper.  This means that anyone alone with your luggage and open up most luggage with zippers and either remove contents, or add contents without you knowing until later.  The only thing worse than arriving at your destination to discover that your prized contents are missing, is arriving at your destination with customs dogs and custom agents showing particular interest in your zipped up luggage.


Coil zippers are unfortunately easy to open with a pen



Coil Zipper

Molded Plastic Zipper

Coil Zipper

Molded Plastic Tooth Zipper (aka plastic chain)


Coil zippers with padlocked zipper sliders are extremely easy to open up by a thief, whereas plastic molded zippers and metal zippers are much harder to undo and much more difficult to repair.  Unfortunately, molded plastic zippers aren't as flexible or as forgiving as coil zippers and are less suitable for bends and curves compared to coil zippers.  Metal zippers tend to fail over time and are generally not used in quality backpacks or luggage.  This makes plastic molded zippers preferred over coil zippers from a security standpoint in applications where the zipper is used in straight line or with gentle bends.




Buckle Security (Nexus, Fastex, National Molding, etc.)

If your backpack depends on buckles for security and are traveling in places where security is a concern, then you may want to consider a different backpack altogether.  But if you love your pack, there are a few things you can due to improve your pack's security.  A cable lock with a retractable cable which can be locked in position can be threaded through the loops in your strap as well as webbing on your pack to close things tight.  If you don't have webbing or loops where you want them, you can sew on some "D" rings to create anchor points for your cable lock. 





Quick release buckles (aka side release buckles) are difficult to secure and even after being secured leave the pack venerable to a simple cut to the pack strap.  Sakloc is one of the few commercial products out there that makes locking a quick release buckle easier.  The Sakloc can of course be copied at home with a piece of flat aluminum (or stainless steel if you like), vise, drill, grinder and hammer. 


Pacsafe Bucklesafe 100


Pacsafe has its own device for securing buckles and worth looking into if your pack depends on buckles for closing.


Lockable luggage strap


You may be able to use a luggage strap with built in lock around your pack to help hold it closed.  If you only need to lock you pack on a rare occasion, you may need to add some straps to your pack so the luggage strap stays in place.  If you need the ability to lock up your pack more often, you can more robustly attach it to your pack so that it doesn't interfere with wearing of your pack.  You can even sew it permanently to your pack so that it acts as an additional of even as a replacement strap.


Locking Luggage Strap US Patents:



3875771 Luggage strap lock











Triple locking buckles (aka Cop Locks, Cop-Loc, TriLoc and Child Safe Adjustable Buckles) are more difficult to unhook than regular side release buckles

Combination locks are also available for hipbelt buckles.


Some buckles come with a third lock or even a combination or key lock built in to make removal more difficult.  These are often used by law enforcement, who don't want people just pulling off their utility belts.  Others are used with child restrains or as low security locks.  These can be used to secure closures on bags and boxes or as fasteners for waist belts.


GooglePatents  US8418327


Locking Side Release Buckle

Locking Side Release Buckle


There are locking side release buckles out there made for spas and hot tubs.  These are not designed for soft backpack use, but is an option for those looking a a unique security device.




Strap Security

Straps are used on many backpacks and can be secured in a number of ways.


Jam levers and cam buckles are easy to modify for a lock


You may be able to use an oversized cam buckle (or fold your strap out of the way) and drill out a hole for a padlock over to one side of the cam buckle.  Depress the lever down and lock your strap in place and then add padlock to prevent the lever from opening.



US Patent 8234758 - lockable end fastener

Reducing loops and D rings buckles

A simple piece of hardware at the end of a strap can be padlocked to a "D" ring or other piece of hardware on you pack


One options to securing a strap is to add a lock to the end of the strap.  This can be done with a fancy padlock clasp, or just by using a padlock to join two "D" rings together.


Various padlockable binders can be used to prevent straps from moving - US Patent 1285981


Strap Lock US Patents:

6510717 Strap lock


7121122 strap lock


6430974 Strap Lock

4118833 ratchet strap with provision for padlock

6199412 ratchet strap








Perforated Strap Security (aka Punched Belts, Tongue Buckle Strap)

Straps with bare holes punched in them or with grommets have long been used for securing luggage and for shoulder straps.  These are not as common as they once were, but can be easily retrofitted on a pack.


This perforated strap by Rigid Lifelines is strong enough to be use in a safety harness


Depending on your belt and lock combination, you may be able to just lock the belt by passing a padlock shackle through one of your perforations.  If you don't have a properly sized perforation and plan to lock your strap in the same spot ever time, you can enlarge an existing hole or add a new one.  You can also add a grommet if you like for added durability.


Cinch Sack Lockout Sack


The Master Lock Cinch Sack uses webbing with grommets to create a belt lock.  This type of locking mechanism can be used to cinch up a top closure or be used to lock down a top flap to a pack.




You can find padlock hardware for perforated straps at dedicated luggage shops and specialty leather shops.  Padlock posts and padlock staples mounted as shown above allow you to secure the free end of your strap.  If you are not able to use large enough holes on your strap for a post, you can attach a metal cable loop to your anchor strap, buckle or pack and pass the loop through one of your perforations and run a padlock through this.


Lock Tongue Buckle - Tandy Leather


A buckle with a padlock tongue allows you to lock the strap right at the buckle.  These aren't as secure as many of the locking posts available, but these tend to be more simple to add.


pmwf.com   How to make nice additional holes into Nylon straps - make your own holes


Perforated Strap US Patents:

1196623 Belt buckle lock - allows you to lock belt in place

2314246 Buckle lock

665204 Strap-lock






20100282381 grommet locking strap

6247588 grommet locking strap




1010901 Look at later



Hook and Loop Security - Velcro

Velcro can be used as a second line of "security" for zippers and other closures.  A layer of Velcro can be used to close a flap or even "hide" an opening.  And when anyone tries to separate the opening, they will meet some resistance and cause an audible sound as the Velcro separates.  


Velcro is great for covering the zipper ends where you lock your zipper sliders.  This not only hides them, it makes an audible noise when someone tries to access them and protects them from getting caught and being damaged during transport.


Velcro straps can also be used to cinch down flaps and other openings and can even be further secured with a padlock.  A padlock can be locked through a hole with or without a grommet or secured to a D ring or loop at the end of a strap.


The downside of Velcro is that it does make an annoying noise every time you get in your bag and that Velcro does wear out over time with repeated use.  The hooks also tend to grab clothing each time it is placed in your bag or removed.



Drawstring/Cord Security

Finding a way to lock up cords has long been a challenge to backpackers who love their top loader backpacks, rucksacks and knapsacks.  Luckily for travelers who love these style of packs, there are a number for ways to lock things up.


First off, a drawstring can be upgraded with cut resistant cord and you can replace the core with metal cable.  This will make it much more durable than regular cord and more cut resistant.


One method to locking up a drawstring is by covering up the cord lock with a small lockbox.  A purpose made lock box can be made from a small candy tin with a hole for a padlock.  Depending on your setup, you may need to tie a simple knot a the end of the cord lock or use more than one cord lock to prevent the cord from sliding.


With the right combination of cord lock, cord and padlock, you can cinch up a top loading pack and lock it.  If you can't find the perfect cord/cord lock/padlock combination, you can custom construct your own cordlock out of metal tubing, inner rod and a spring. 


Locking Cord Lock

Locking Cord Lock


You can also drill a padlock hole in the middle of a wheel type cord lock to lock the wheel in place.  To increase longevity of a modified wheel cord lock, you may wish to epoxy a piece of aluminum to the flat back of the cord lock.


Wheel type cord lock modified for padlock


If you are really crafty, you can build a hinged clamp which grabs the cord and holds it in place once a padlock is added.  You might also be able to place a rubber spacer in the shackle of a lock so that you can string your cord through the lock and clamp it altogether when you engage the lock.




Jam levers and cam buckles are easy to modify for a padlock


A jam lever is easy to modify for a padlock and is a simple way to lock up a draw cord.


Mail bag rope lock


A mail bag rope buckle (aka Metal Rope Clamp, US Mail Bag Lock, mail bag rope lock) is a great way to secure a draw cord.  Add a padlock and everything is locked up in place.  For added security, add a steel cable to the inside of your draw string.  This makes it cutproof with a knife, but beware - once someone pulls out a knife to cut cord and find that they can't, they may just as well cut open your pack.  It's easier to replace a cut cord than repair your pack.


Mail Bag Cord Lock Links:

ohiotravelbag.com  page190

myvaultllc.com  Cloth Transport Bags

network54.com  132116380

netbankstore.com  3550909l


US Patent 1201972


Mail Bag Cord Lock US Patents:

2798370 Lock for mailbag rope

2783634 Lock for mailbag rope

1988358 Mail bag lock

351063 Mail bag lock

866965 Mail-bag lock

2543217 Sealed mailbag securing device

1311040 Cord-fastener lock

2940290 Drawrope handle lock

* 1176510 Locking-fastener for tie-cords

697710 Bag-fastener

715495 Mail-bag fastener

1526606 Lock for mail sacks

1333375 Rope and cord fastener

1055002 Lock for mail-sacks



1800004 Mail-bag fastener and label holder

421032 Combined cord-fastener case and label-holder

424419 Mail-bag fastener

2953010 Lock for bag ropes


1148924 - interesting way to secure bag with drawstring



20130048691 Cinch sac


Side-Lok rope clamp

There are various rope and cord locks used by mountaineers, high angle construction workers and the mariners which can be adapted to use a padlock.


Retractasafe Retractable Cable Lock

Pacsafe Retractasafe 100

Pacsafe Retractasafe 200

Some adjustable cable locks that can be tightened and locked


A retractable cable lock may work as a drawstring replacement if the cable can be tightened up and locked in place.  If your cable doesn't fit through the grommets or cord sleeve on your pack, you can sew on several loops or a add a separate sleeve for your cable.  After threading your cable through your pack, you may wish to add a cordlock, tape or other stop to the end of your cable so that you don't pull our your cable out every time you unlock it.  Note that some retractable cable locks seem to secure their cables in place once locked, but firmly pressing the cable release will often allow you to loosen or tighten the cable when the lock is secured.  This is true for the Pacsafe Retractasafe 200 shown above but not for its smaller sister the Retractasafe 100.  The Pacsafe Retractasafe 100 is able to lock its retractable cable so that it can't be extended and is sized more appropriately for locking the top of a backpack.



Cam lock allows you to pull a cord loop tight and lock it in place


Cable cam locks which allow you to cinch up a cable are great for securing your pack to larger furniture and closing drawstring closures.  The challenge is finding one which isn't too big and heavy for your application.  You can try your local bicycle or ski shop to see have they have available.


me-go.net  packing - use of basic non-retractable cable and lock


Pacsafe TravelSafe 20L

Pacsafe Wrapsafe security cable


Pacsafe has a few drawstring closure products which use a unique metal cord with locking beads on them.  These beads allow you to lock the cable in place and are bullet shaped so that they can more easily pass through grommets or drawstring sleeves without catching. 


A choker chain like this can replace some draw cords and many chains are made for a lock


Metal chain can be used as a drawstring as well as used to secure bag to a fixed object


A drawstring can be used to replace a drawcord.  Once tight, padlock it in place.  A ring placed the end of the chain will allow you to run the opposite end through it and be drawn tight, like a lasso.  This same chain can be used to secure your pack to a fixed object.  Chains can also be made from webbing and cord via sewing, knot tying or braiding.


Weaved cord allows you to pass a lock through the weave


And beyond replacing your drawstring with a metal chain, there are other alternatives which also allow you to lock up your draw closure.  You can use webbing with grommets or holes for padlocks, webbing or cord sewn into daisy chains, double cord with knots set at and interval to create a cord chain, braided parachute cord, weaved belts and leather belts with holes punched in it.  You can also tie a loop on one end of an extra drawstring and another loop just where it will protrude out of the other end when the closure if fully closed.


You can take a padlock and form epoxy around the shackle so that it is just the right size trap a cord.  If you can't get the tolerances just right, you can add knots to your drawstring to prevent them from pulling through your modified lock.




Top Loading Pack Security

Most traveler feels that a top loading pack just can not be secured and that you are better off with a pack with zippers.  Truth be told, a top loading pack can actually be made more secure than most packs with zippers, since a zipper really isn't all that secure to begin with.  So if you just love your top opening pack and want so form of security, you actually have more options than you probably think.  Some require considerable modification to your pack, while others can be bought off the shelf.


As shown above, there are a number of techniques you can use to lock a drawstring or lock up exposed buckles.  These make for easy fixes and there even more options which you may wish to consider.


Pacsafe TravelSafe 20L

Good for lining a pack

Travelon Anti-Theft Lockdown Bag

Great for securing cameras and gadgets

Travelon Lock-Down Pouch

Great for laptop


US Patent 6427499 B1

Pelican Hard Case

Great for optics, weapons, etc


One of the easiest ways to add true security for your favorite items in a top loading pack is to use a security bag or box to hold and lock up your valuables.  When the pack is on your back, the security bag/box adds a layers of protection against pickpockets, especially if you lock the security bag/box to your pack. When your bag is stationary, you can use a cable to lock the security bag/box to your bed or other large or immovable object while leaving the security bag/box hidden in your pack if you like. 



If you get just the right sized padlock, you and wrap it around the top of your pack just under where the drawcord closes it.  The bulk of the drawcord and cinched up top should prevent the lock from sliding off.  If not, get a smaller lock and/or sew something to open top to give it a little more bulk.  You can also add a few loops for your padlock so that it doesn't slip.


Long shackle padlocks and some cable locks allow you to lock several grommeted ends together




On packs that use grommets at the top opening, you may be able to padlock two or more grommets together.  If you don't have grommets or drawstring loops, you can easily add these to your pack.  This method of securing a pack may not prevent diligent little sticky fingers from getting small items from the top of your pack, but this trick will make it more difficult to get into your bag (for you and others) and may slow down intruders enough to make it not worth the effort.


US Patent 656398 A


Dufflebag Lock aka Seabag Lock


You can also find or make a duffle bag/seabag/mailbag lock like the one shown above.  These have been used by the military and seaman for years and is tried to true offering reasonable bag closure, a sturdy grab handle and the ability to lock the bag to narrower poles or metal bed frames.  A simpler and lighter weight version can be made from a bent rod or flat metal with a hole drilled in it.  If you don't have grommets in the top of your pack, you can add grommets or sew on special loops (with or without metal reinforcement).


Travelon Anti-Theft Lockdown Bag

Military duffle bag

The strap uses a clasp to close the bag and can be wrapped around a fixed object for added security

To padlock the strap to top, run metal loop on bag through base of clasp and then padlock the loop


Military duffle bags and the lockdown anti-theft bags made by Travelon use a folding top with metal grommets and a locking loop which lines up and secures the grommets together.  Something similar can be grafted onto just about any top opening.



Engineered Garments Duffle Backpack

Whipping+Post Military Leather Duffle Bag

Van Helsing's weapons bags

A shortened military dufflbag makes for a no thrills but very lockable backpack or shoulder bag

Extra pockets can be added to the inside help organize gear


A surplus military duffle bag can be grafted onto the suspension part of a donor backpack or can be used to create a shortened backpack from all its own materials.  This allows you to create a very lockable top loading pack that is unlikely to look too flashy.  Unloading is more difficult than with a zippered panel pack, but loading is simple and it's hard to beat the security of the lockable top.


swisslink.com  italian_navy_gear_bag_w_chain_black-16-2333



auctiva.com  623052272

A daisy chain of loops and grommets allows you to close large or long openings


A daisy chain of grommets and loops will allow you to secure a long or large opening.  This method is used on Italian kit bags and inside Italian San Marco troop backpacks.  This can be used to close a bag top, or even be used to secure a wrap around protective cover for a bag.



bfayer.blogspot  xl-pannier-bags



Padlocking the pack top to the pack is another option, but may take a bit of creativity.  You can run a cable lock through a loop on the bottom of your pack and through the loops that hold your side release buckles on your lid.  Or, you can add one or more grommet(s) or loop(s) (metal or fabric) to your pack's lid and lock this/these to a daisy chain or loop(s) on the body of your pack.



Padlocked closure in fancy handbag

Courier Bag

Travelon Lock-Down Pouch


A padlock hasp can offer a great security point for a padlock when installed on stiff fabric.  If your pack is not made from fabric rigid enough for a hasp, you can simply sew on a piece firm enough to do the job.



maidenjane.blogspot  how-to-add-zipper-to-finished-tote-bag


Sometimes a simple sew job with a zipper can turn the least secure bag into one which can be locked or at least isn't just open to the world.  You can also replace a drawstring top with a zipper closure but you will need to make sure that the end of the zipper closure has firm sides so that you can't just pull the zipper open by pulling on the sides of it. 


maidenjane.blogspot  how-to-add-zipper-to-finished-tote-bag

thereshesews.blogspot  professional-tote-zipper-panel



Italian duffle bag with zippered top - colemans

A 3 sided zippered top can be added to an otherwise poorly enclosed open top


If you really want to be creative and aren't afraid to sew, you can also sew on a zippered top cover with a lockable circumferential or horseshoe zipper.  You can also sew on a top covering which splits open with a zipper.  Or, you can make a backpack cover which covers the entire back and attaches with a big zipper.



Regulation security mail bag use a belt and loop system to secure them - ebay


A lot of energy has been invested in developing various padlock locking security mail bag closures over the year and man are quite formidable.  One such system uses a belt through loop system for securing the tops.  In the past, these generally used leather at the top of the bag with the body being made of either canvas or leather, but some were made entirely of canvas, including the belt.  Some newer versions of of these bags use vinyl belts and plastic bases instead of leather.  You can make your own custom closure with thick webbing or just find an old belt.  For loops, you can use metal loops, dedicated strap loops, webbing, cord, cable, bent metal rod (stainless rod is better than a coat hanger), belt loops made from leather, plastic or fabric or cabinet/drawer hardware.  The top can be left as is, covered with a pocketed flap or turned into a roll down top.


Examples of Padlock Locking Security Mail Bag (aka security regulation mail mag, mailbags, postal service bags, railroad mail bag, courier bag, messenger bag, stage couch mail bag, dispatch bag):

amazon  B00DP05Q56 Security Regulation Mail Bag 1350 Denier Ballistic Weave Nylon Gold

66supa.blogspot  santa-fe

etsy.com/listing/180599038/vintage-1960s-italian-army-canvas-linen uses metal chain

ebay  Antique-Leather-19th-Century-Mail-Pouch-Vintage-Mail-Bag-w-brass-copper-OLD

ebay  Antique-Circa-1920s-U-S-Postal-Service-Mail-Dispatch-Bag-Leather-Canvas

etsy  reserved-for-john-do-not-buy-vintage-us

pinterest  347621664958065610

postalmuseumblog  after-years-of-lugging-mail-by-train-by-automobile-and-over-the-shoulders-of-postal-workers

postalmuseum.si.edu  sr_07l

postalmuseum.si.edu  1d_BagPrototypel

icollector  Santa-Fe-Railroad-Leather-Mail-Bag-Galveston-Texas_i11758940

lighthouselens.com  106 Signal Corps Mail Bag

dyersauction.com  IP155 Stage Coach and Railroad Mail Bag

ebay  181320194304 Antique Dispatch Leather Mail Bag

flpublicarchaeology  archaeology-context-and-the-pinellas-post-office

US Patent 909726 - soap security bag


US Patent 147763


This security bag design uses multiple layers which fold over on top of themselves to prevent even nimble fingers from accessing the bag without removing the lock.


Mail Bag US Patent Links:

147763 Improvement in mail-bags

586720  MAIL BAG

662953 Mail bag or pouch

497257 Mail pouch

329155 Mail-bag

179288 Improvement in mail-bags


582850 Bag-lock

693251 Bag-lock

685179 Mail-bag fastener

2399952 Mailbag lock

574064 MAIL BAG

380986 Mail-bag lock

651256 Fastener for mail bags or pouches

2468897 Mailbag

431335 Mail-bag

235356 Seal-lock

176354 Improvement in mail-bags

363130 Mail-bag fastener

4766683 Mail bag tag

318676 Mail-bag


348965 MAIL BAG

295439 Mail-bag




152946 Improvement in mail-bags

89447 Improved mail-bag- fastening

407853 Mail-bag fastener

1388735 Fastener for mail-bags and the like

515229 Mail-bag

530683 MAIL BAG

393360 MAIL BAG

323194 Mail- bag

375805 MAIL BAG

470169 MAIL BAG


309231 Mail-bag fastener


188403 Improvement in mail-bags

282152 Mail-bag

147439 Improvement in bag-locks

546763 MAIL BAG

210994 Improvement in mail-bags

645799 MAIL BAG

269560 Mail-bag

297789 Mail-bag


795560 Mail-bag closure

904707 Buckle



684656 Mail-bag fastener

535001 Mail-bag

187862 Improvement in mail-bags

313050 MAIL BAG

1228652 Mail-bag closure

677081 Mail-bag fastener

738440 Mail-bag fastener

779747 Mail-bag fastening

297245 Mail-bag fastening

121646 Improvement in fastenings for mail-bags

1191392 Bag or package tie

490232 MAIL-BAG

* 1540273 Mail-sack tag holder - use image for laptop case

210899 Improvement in mail-bags

738439 Mail-bag closure

556629 LOCK


459631 Mail-bag

928106 Mail-bag

354546 Mail-bag

310411 Mail-bag


95817 Improvement in mail-bags

256539 Mail-bag fastening







Look at later:

1903798 - strap closes top when worn

Chinese Patent  202456844U - top of pack can be pulled through tongue buckle or ring buckle is locked in place with lockable pin or tongue.




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