How to Protect Your Backpack from Thieves

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When carrying so many valuables items in one bag (i.e. your backpack), it’s important that you protect that bag in the right way. Losing your backpack while traveling is one of the worst things that can happen to you, as you’ll feel like you’ve had your whole life taken from you (especially if you lose a camera with pictures from your trip on it).

Your bag will inevitably be a target for opportunistic thieves – there is no way around this. In order to protect it, you have to stop thieves from gaining access to its contents (by making sure they can’t undo any of the zips or create an opening) and make sure they don’t steal the bag itself.

Protecting your BackpackSo how do we do this? To stop the bag being opened, you can fasten the zips together by using small padlocks or cable ties (which you’ll then have to cut off). Small, combination padlocks are my preference, as you don’t have to worry about losing the key(s).

This should protect the pockets and stop thieves from opening them, but what if a thief comes up behind you with a knife while you’re wearing your backpack in the street and slashes your bag – causing the contents to spill out onto the floor (before grabbing some and running away)?

You should start by placing the most valuable items (such as your camera) at deep into your bag – meaning it won’t be the first item to fall out if your bag is slashed.

The only real way to protect from slashing, however, is to ‘slash-proof’ your backpack by adding some kind of mesh (such as chicken wire) to the inside. This can be difficult and fiddly, and can often cause as many problems then it solves. Fortunately, there are several backpacks out there now that come with a protective mesh (not chicken wire, but something equally effective) woven into the fabric.

PacSafePacsafe (a company that specializes in backpack security) sells a useful product that does a similar job (see the picture). It’s a 1/16″ stainless wire that you wrap around your backpack. In theory it’s a great product that will protect your bag, but it will draw a lot of extra attention from thieves and it does make accessing your things (from your bag) slightly difficult, so it’s really only recommended for the ultra-paranoid traveler.

Protecting your bag from being stolen altogether is usually just a case of keeping an eye on it at all times (when it’s not on your back). Unfortunately, this is not always possible, as you may need to rest or sleep on a long bus journey or at an airport (especially when traveling solo).

When sleeping in airports (as you inevitably will the more you travel), it’s a good idea to tie your bag around your wrist by using some kind of parachute cord. Keep the zips tied together with padlocks or cable ties as well, and your bag is now thief proof while you sleep!

When traveling on a bus or a train, instead of tying your bag to yourself it’s far more comfortable to tie it to something that can’t be moved (such as the bottom of the seat or a handrail). If you’re worried about leaving your bag in your room (when you’re not there or when you’re sleeping), attach it to the frame of your bed.

The best way to make sure your backpack isn’t stolen is to not bring it at all. Obviously you’ll need to bring a backpack with you when traveling, but on days out (when you’re exploring the city, for instance), it’s best to take a smaller, more manageable day pack containing only the essentials that you need.

Finally, it’s worth noting that although you might be traveling in foreign countries, most thieves will still recognize brand names and associate them with value. For example, if you’re carrying a small case with ‘IBM’ written on the side, they’ll know you’ve got a laptop, or if you’re carrying a bag with ‘Canon’ written on it they’ll know you’ve got a camera. You should do your best to avoid carrying such obviously branded items, or if necessary you should cover up the logo somehow (either by sewing a patch or by sticking duct tape over the top of it).

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