One of the problems with backpacking in urban places and other places where there are people is crime. A backpack to a potential thief is like a picnic basket to a bear - a beautiful container full of treats. And if a thief really wants your your bag or a bear really wants your basket, they will get it. But there are many things you can do to make it more difficult for them to get at your stuff and less worth their while.
A few interesting ideas are visited at In the Bag and Off the Wall.
You should never leave your bag unattended to sitting freely on anything (floor, seat and lap included). It only takes a moment for someone to target your bag, grab it and disappear into a crowd or down an unfamiliar street.
If you take your pack off, you should lock it to a bed frame, seat or even just run a strap through your belt. When waiting around with multiple bags, you should run a cable through each bag so that they are secured to each other and preferably also to a fixed object.
Pickpockets can be pretty crafty and only need a small window of opportunity to remove contents from your pack. When items of value are carried, they should be placed in your pack close to your back and not in the outermost pockets. This makes it more difficult for pickpockets and bag slashers to get to these items. Small pockets for electronics or papers can be sewn to the inside or your pack to help with organization and protection of smaller items of value. When in crowds (train stations and night bazaars), you can also choose to wear your pack in front of you to make it more risky for a thief to get into.
Make your bag appear less desirable
A brand new colorful name brand bag with international baggage claim stickers on it may seem more appealing than a worn out soiled pack without any well know labels on it. You can take even a new bag and make it look like something old and worthless at a quick glance. Name brand labels should removed or covered with repair patches. Then use spray paint, sandpaper, markers, dirt and whatever you can think of to get that broken in or artsy look.
Packs can also be stored in a plain duffle bag when in transport, such as at airports or when truck transported. This also protects the bag's many straps from getting caught in conveyor belts, on other luggage and the on many of the sharp objects your bag will come in contact with during its journey.
Slash and Snatch
One type of mugging technique includes the slash and grab. The assailant will slash a critical strap or belt and run away with your bag. You can decrease the incidence of this happening by using a backpack instead of a single strapped bag or fanny pack. A shouldered purse is a tempting target in itself and a hand carried one is an invitation for theft.
The more straps you have on (shoulder and hip straps), the more difficult it is to remove a pack/bag from your body. Single shoulder strapped bags are less secure than those with 2 or 3 straps and single strapped bags should be worn with the shoulder strap diagonally across the body and not just vertically over one shoulder. When a fanny pack or single strapped bag is used, it is a good idea to add a metal cable to the strap or at least replacing the strap with a thick heavy duty one. This is pretty easy to do and although this type of theft is uncommon in most parts of the world, a "slash-proof" strap might give you a little more piece of mind and perhaps an interesting DIY project. Companies such as Pacsafe make bags with steel cable already built into their straps. Their packs designs may not not match up with your idea of a perfect pack, but their fanny packs and accessory straps are worth looking into.
Quick release snaps on fanny packs can either be concealed/protected with a cover and/or augmented with a lock/locking carabineer to make it a bit more difficult to unfasten. The strap on fanny packs (with or without a steel cable) can also be looped through belt loops and/or around your belt to make it more difficult for someone to unsnap or cut them and run. This technique can also make going to the bathroom a bit more difficult - especially in an emergent situation.
Coiled lanyard designed for pistol security
One end of a lanyard (aka "dummy cord") can be attached to your pack and the other end to your pants belt so that if anyone grabs your pack from you, they'll have to pull you along with your pack. This can be a bit annoying at first, but protects your bag from grab and runners whenever you take you pack off (such as to when you need to get something from it or when taking it off to sit down).
Slash and Open
Another way to get into your stuff is by making a new opening with a razor or utility knife. This is often done in crowds at train stations or in busy night markets. It is difficult to defend against this sort of attack. Even commercially produced "slash-proof" packs have weak points - such as at the zippers. There are a few luggage type bags built with thick enough material to defend against most slash attempts, but they tend to be heavy and bulky and better suited for luggage carousels than backpacking.
Again, valuables should be placed deep in you pack and packs can be worn in front of your body in areas of concern.
Slashproofing a pack is another option but difficult to do. The goal is to either use thick enough material to slow slashing, or to use cut resistant material to to stop/slow cutting.
Salomon Experience Pack
Many luggage type packs have semirigid backs and/or sides that incorporate a foam or plastic layer under a heavy duty nylon layer. Made to protect pack contents from the rigors of airport baggage handlers, they are often thick enough to resist a quick slash and open. Unfortunately, these packs tend to be overbuilt and too heavy for comfortable and extended backpacking use. On the other hand, DIYers can sew on thick nylon webbing in a mesh pattern or add foam or thin plastic to the inside of their packs to slow slashing. A rolled up foam pad or thin plastic sheet can add a bit of impact and slash protection to the contents of a top loading pack.
Cut resistant materials such as Spectra will quickly dull knives and scissors and if thick enough, will sufficiently stop a hasty slash attempt. "White Widow" nylon with Spectra ripstop cords will not stop a fresh utility blade from making a nice long cut. On the other hand, 100% Spectra webbing sewn onto a pack in a mesh pattern will stop most successful slash and open attempts. This can be pricy, will add some weight to your pack and is very labor intensive.
Kevlar is pretty cut resistant but can be difficult to work with. If used, it is often better to sandwich in between two layers of fabric than using it as an outer or inner layer of a pack.
McHale Dyneema. UnLtd +1 with 2 layer Summit Pack
Dyneema is another very cut resistant and expensive material. It is used in sails, fencing suits and McHale Packs in Seattle Washington can make a custom alpine pack with this and other materials. Likewise, a DIYer with a lot of time an funds can make a very durable and cut resistant pack out of Dyeema.
30L Daypack with 50feet of 1/32" stainless steel 7x7 cable sewn to outside of pack
Flexible stainless steel cable sewn onto a pack will stop cutting with a razor or utility knife and either slow or stop cutting with scissors. This is really difficult to custom modify a pack in this manner - but is doable if you have the time and energy to do so. Fine jewelers flex cable can be interwoven into the fabric itself, while larger diameter cable (1/32") can be either tacked down to the pack or covered in narrow webbing or tape. Again, Pacsafe makes a couple of products with steel mesh in them.
If you are shopping for flexible cable, make sure that it is 100% stainless steel or titanium for strength, durability, and weather resistance. Cables made with many fibers (7 strands of 7 strands - aka 7x7 or more) are generally more flexible than those made with fewer fibers (3). Appropriate cable and wire can be found at hardware, steel specialty , bead and fishing shops/stores. Brake/shifter cables for bicycles can also be used.
Stainless steel mesh (chicken wire) can be used to line the inside of purses or satchel bags. Because if the stiffness of this material, it isn't ideal for backpack use. It can also be difficult to work with due to the potential of having a great many sharp ends, but these can be covered up with duct tape, ballistic nylon or other means.
Pacsafe makes a wire mesh made of 1/16" stainless cable designed to wrap around a pack. This offer some protection and may deter some thieves, but may also get their attention. These are not light and do take up some space in your pack when not in use. When is use, it also makes it difficult to access your gear. In most places, these are not very practical but an option for the paranoid who don't have the time to customize their pack.
Most zippers can be locked and this is an easy way to deter curious fingers. Read more about this in our zipper section.
Buckle Security (Nexus, Fastex, National Molding, etc.)
Quick release buckles (aka side release buckles) are difficult to secure and after being secured leave the pack venerable to cutting of a 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, vise, drill, grinder and hammer.
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.
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 tubbing, inner rod and a spring.
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.
Top Loading Pack Security
Other than using a Pacsafe net, locking your pack in a duffle bag or locking the buckles or cords, one is limited in ways to secure top loading packs.
On packs that use grommets at the top opening, you may be able to padlock two or more grommets together. This probably won't prevent diligent sticky fingers from getting in 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 while.
Cable Lock that can be tightened and locked
A cable lock may work 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 separate sleeve for your cable. 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.
Padlocking the pack top to the pack is another option, but may take a bit of creativity (such as running a cable lock through a loop on the bottom of your pack and through the loops that hold your side release buckles or padlocking loops on the top to daisy chain loops on your pack). If you really want to be creative, you can also sew on a removable top cover with a lockable circumferential zipper.
There are several things that you can do to make yourself less of a target.
Having a big bulky wallet in your back pocket is a go way of getting robbed. Only small amounts of cash should be readily available and bank cards, documents and other items of value should be put away.
There is a debate whether extra cash should be kept in a room safe, locked pack or on your person. If it is carried on your person, it should be concealed in a hidden waist bag, money belt, secret pocket, etc.
The first rule to footwear selection is the ability to run or fight. If you are wearing flip-flops, high heals, other similar footwear you are less likely able to chase and catch or put up a good fight, especially if pushed to the ground. Whether you are going to chase down an assailant or put up a good fight is another story - but you don't want to look defenseless in the eyes of a predator.
Try to blend in as best as you can. Flashy outfits and jewelry will draw just about everyone's attention. Avoid bright colors and clothing not used by locals. Shorts, tank tops and convertible pants may seem appropriate for the weather in the country you are visiting, but may make you stand out like a tourist - and possibly one with a considerable amount of valuables (cash, jewelry, electronics, passport, etc).
Room doors should be closed and locked at all times, whether you are awake or not. Some rooms used abroad can be locked with a padlock, so it's a good idea to pack one full size padlock for this purpose.
Door Stopper/Wedge with Alarm
Uses adhesive tape or Velcro on undersurface
If you are very concerned about intruders while you sleep, you can use a wedge under your door. If tight enough, it should slow or stop and intruder from entering. A good solid rubber wedge is generally more than sufficient, but there are also door stoppers with built in alarms. Some floor surfaces may necessitate the use of double sided adhesive tape or Velcro on the undersurface of the wedge.
When rooms are not occupied, or when occupants are asleep, bags and packs should be locked up and secured to a bed frame or pipe under sink. All valuables should be secured in a room safe or portable safe in your pack (also locked to immovable object).
Windows should be closed and/or secured.
There is some debate on use of personal defense weapons and you will hear different theories and preferences from the travelers you meet. Just having items such as mace, pepper-spray, stun guns, batons, knives and firearms can get you a enormous amounts of trouble in many countries. Some feel it is better to be robbed than deal with assault or contraband charges, while others feel it is better to deal with these issues than be robbed, killed or feel defenseless.
In a few parts of the world - an armed escort is required as a deterrent and for true personal security. Areas like these should not be visited by novice travelers on their own and should be avoided by most others.
Trust your instincts. If you get a bad feeling about a place or someone, you should listen to yourself and take precautions.
You will undoubtedly meet interesting folks on your travels and probably make some great friends along the way. Most people are good natured, but you unfortunately can't trust anyone. Remember that you are often just as likely (if not more) to get robbed by other travelers as by locals.
Professional con artists have to be believable if they want to make a living at it. Remember that anything that involves money or credit cards should be suspect. Even when purchasing items from "reputable" shops, one should be cautious.
Giving up collateral such as passports or credit cards as a security deposit can get you tangled up in all kinds of problems.
Illegal activities in the country you are visiting, such as drug use, prostitution and purchasing black marketed items can get you really tangled up in blackmail, extortion and problems with the local authorities. If you must, proceed with caution.
Please feel free to link to this site so that others can find it. It's easy to link to this site - simply copy the text below onto your web page.
Copyright © 2000-2005