This is a question that pops up in my inbox frequently and one that backpackers often have during the mid-to-latter part of the travel planning process. A Pacsafe is certainly something to consider while you’re choosing the right backpack but let’s focus on whether you need one to keep your electronics and other valuables safe.


What Is A Pacsafe?

I should clarify that Pacsafe is a brand name referring to the company that makes several travel security products; but also the common name for that company’s most popular product – a stainless steel wire mesh that covers the exterior of a backpack. That mesh which can be locked to some fixture in a hostel, hotel, or guesthouse. Pacsafe aren’t specific to backpacks technically (though they tend to shaped for them) and can be fit around other handbags as well as some smaller bags and suitcases. There are also some competing products out there, though for the sake of simplicity I’ll stick with calling all backpack-protecting steel meshes Pacsafe for the rest of this post.

yellow lockHow Does A Pacsafe Protect Your Stuff?

Exterior-fitting Pacsafe work by making your backpack mostly slash-proof, protecting it against someone who might slice through the fabric to steal your things when you’re out, say, sightseeing. Pacsafe are also designed to be locked on to things like radiators and the like that are bolted down so someone can’t bolt with your entire bag. It’s worth noting that the company Pacsafe and others make some form of internal steel mesh that can protect some of your things while you’re actually traveling but for the most part a Pacsafe goes into action when you’re not around.

Sounds Good In Theory: The Drawbacks Of A Pacsafe

Much like our waistlines, backpacks tend to gain weight over time if they go unchecked and a Pacsafe will add 600 grams (~1.3 pounds) to your luggage. That’s not an insignificant amount of weight, especially when considering most airlines’ upper limit before fees is around 20 kilograms (~47lbs).

  • You can of course put your backpack on a diet to compensate for the added gravitational down force if you’re willing to take it on.
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In addition to the added weight, a remember the physical space inside of your bag a Pacsafe will take – 16 x 10 x 5 cm (or 6 x 4 x 2 inches) – under ideal conditions. Ideal conditions meaning that you’ve been able to wrap up the Pacsafe how it came first packaged; which for many (including myself) requires summoning the powers of magic helper elves or drinking enough vodka not to notice. Pacsafe also tend to be quite cumbersome to take on and off, requiring some practice to get the technique down on a consistent basis.

quito ecuador parkYet There Are Advantages, Even If You Don’t Have Magic Elves

I may have made Pacsafe seem like a nightmare not worth its weight in security but they can be very useful in particular travel situations. Guesthouses, in particular, are a good example as they typically don’t have safes and realtively little security from the outside. (Camp sites are another good example.) They can also give you added protection against cleaning staff and others who may have access to your room legitimately while you’re not around. Those of you carrying specialized equipment (e.g. video and sound) in one bag may also think about a Pacsafe depending on where you may be traveling and staying.

Pacsafe also not only protect you from bag-slashers, but also from those who know how to undo a zipper whether it’s locked or not.

the incredible hulk in valenciaHow To Get (Close To) Pacsafe Security Without A Pacsafe

Pacsafe tend to run around $75-100, a cost you can save on with some preparation and alternative tools. You won’t be able to get the exact kind of security a Pacsafe provides (it’s hard to beat a backpack covered in steel mesh bolted to a pipe in a hotel bathroom) but you can get pretty darn close while remaining a bit more conspicuous.

  • Start With Planning – Most hotels and hostels will list whether or not they have lockers on booking sites (I recommend you always travel with a least 1 large padlock) and it’s something you should look for.
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Before we go on, remember to focus your protection on the things that need protecting most – electronics, jewelry, and other valuables. I once had socks stolen from me, I can’t say I was too broken up about it and you too should compartmentalize what counts most.

  • Lock Your Zippers – Two locked zippers are often enough to deter most opportunistic thieves who generally don’t have much time to waste. Airport baggage handlers (or the TSA), hotel staff, and shifty dorm-mates go for the easiest targets and simple locks can put you ahead a step. For added protection you can even use a laptop lock to loop through the zipper locks to secure to something bolted down.

You may be able to get away without a Pacsafe but can still use Pacsafe – the company’s products, that is. Pacsafe make many smaller bags with the steel mesh built-in, which protects you against bag slashing and is inconspicuous at the same time. They also make smaller, lockable travel packs for passports, wallets, and other, smaller, essential travel items.

So, Do You Need A Pacsafe?

For most people, the answer to this question is going to be no. I travel with more electronics than the average traveler – having traveled with and without a Pacsafe I’ve come to the conclusion many of its benefits can be had with things you’re likely already traveling with. That’s not to say a Pacsafe shouldn’t be a part of your backpack security system – just that it’s not an essential component or the end all to theft on the road.

Typically common sense and adding time to a potential theft is enough to protect your belongings, rather than using a more visible, brawny solution.

[photos by: Sheep”R”Us (Pacsafe), The Prudent Cyclist (yellow lock)]