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Q&A

Keeping a backpack from being stolen whilst sleeping in a tent

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In the past, I have always slept with my backpack wedged uncomfortably beside me due to limited room in a fully manned tent, since I'm concerned about bag theft when miles away from civilization.

However, I've heard from people recently who stash their backpack and boots in the tent's porch section as they sleep. While I don't know of anyone on earth that would want to be within 10 meters of my stinky boots after walking, I am a bit more apprehensive about leaving the rest of my gear in the porch outside of the main compartment.

I'm looking for advice and reassurance. Where do you folks store your bags while sleeping, and how has it worked for you? I understand that you should not pack anything you can't afford to lose, but arguably most contents of a pack are essential.

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10 answers

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Two ground anchors

The ones which look like large corkscrews, frequently used for securing dogs. If you screw two in next to each other and then attach a padlock between them, neither can be turned to extract them. Removing the ground anchors requires about a foot of soil to be removed. Lock the rucksack to them, and job done.

Of course that doesn't prevent people cutting straps. That can be solved with something like a Pac-safe, which is a strong metal mesh cover that locks over your rucksack.

And of course all this isn't perfect against a determined thief. It should deter casual thieves though.

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Storing the backpack inside instead of next to you won't provide a whole lot more security, in some crowded places where theft is more common it might be justified.

Normally, if I am worried about people my common practice is to keep a low profile and try to camp out of sight. If on the other hand, I know that there aren't any humans for several miles then I really don't worry about it.

When I leave my big backpack behind and take a daypack to climb a mountain for example, then what I do is shove everything (possible exception of food) inside my camo bivy sack. It doesn't make it invisible, but another human would have to be a lot closer to see it especially compared to a big tent.

If I have to leave my backpack in a spot where there are other people and there is no way of hiding it, then I make sure my valuables such as wallet and camera are on me.

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We hardly ever stay in a campground. We usually camp far from a trailhead, and far from the trail, in places where there are no official campsites. We have done this for decades, and nothing has ever been stolen by two-legged critters.

When we are leaving our remote camps to take a hike, we put the packs inside the tent and zip up the tent. We always carry valuables (e.g., money, driver's licenses) in our day hikers.

The only time people have stolen anything was from our car, parked at a trailhead in Yosemite. The further you are from the trailhead and the further you are off-trail, the safer you and your possessions are from theft or interference from people. I infer that criminals are lazy.

We've stayed in campgrounds a few times, and may have been just lucky. In those cases, we put our packs in the trunk of our car and cover them up, but given time and determination anyone can break into your car. Your best defense is to be near people who just sit around and don't hike, but whose presence will deter theft.

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I assume based on the [backpacking] tag and the phrases "miles away from civilization" and "most contents of a pack are essential" that you are specifically talking about back country camping and not car camping. The reason I am clarifying is my opinions on security are very different for the two and many of the answers presented here are only practical for car camping.

When I am in the back country I am generally not too concerned about having my gear stolen. Most people who 1) have hiked out that far and 2) would be willing to haul my stolen gear back are probably reasonably familiar with backpacking. They know the hardship and possible danger that stealing your gear would put you through and very few people in this world are mean enough to do that to someone just for some stolen gear. Even in relatively highly trafficked parks, I am generally more concerned about four legged critters going through my stuff than two legged ones.

If you are still worried about what might happen if your stuff gets stolen think of this; there are way more people in the backcountry who will share/lend you gear if you are in a pinch than will steal your gear from you. If you are around enough people that you found one of the bad ones, there are probably at least a dozen good Samaritans around that would help you out.

As for what I do: I keep my pack and gear under my vestibule (I believe what you refer to as a porch?) at night, but that is mostly to make sure it stays dry from any mist/rain. As an added benefit it does mean I'd be pretty likely to wake up and hear if someone was going through my packs (I caught a raccoon doing it once). I don't do a ton of day hikes while on trail, but if I take a spur trail to checkout an overlook or something, I will frequently drop my pack at the trail head and just take valuables, water, and a first aid kit. I've never had anyone mess with my stuff either at camp or at a trailhead. Maybe I'm just lucky, but I think it is more likely that backpackers and hikers are just good to eachother.

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I’m having trouble finding a link, but I’ve read several praises for a net bag made out of cable. Put the bag in it and lock it closed. When ready to hit the trail again, it collapses into a little ball and goes into the pack.

The hard part for OP’s situation is finding something to secure it to. The testimonials I read were from people staying in hostels, who had bunk frames they could loop around.

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I like to use my backpack as a pillow, which is the safest place, next to all my senses and reach of my hands. :-)

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There are many variables, with weight and budget. But given this sentence in your question

slept with my backpack wedged uncomfortably beside me due to limited room in a fully manned tent

I assume you are in either a one or two person tent, with the rated number of users.

Consider upgrading to a tent with extra space. 2 people in a 3 person tent, or 1 in a 2 person tent, leaves lots of extra room for packs and getting dressed.

If you have a really strong budget you can choose from several 2 person tents with poles for under 2 pounds

You are probably spending 8 out of 24 hours in the tent, and if the weather is ugly, even longer.

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A thin (2 or 3mm) steel wire, plastic coated, with a loop at each end works well. Anything between one and two metres will do, depending on tent situation. One end looped round the straps of the bag - or locked with a small padlock to the zip ends, and the other end wherever you prefer. That could be attached to the tent, a tentpole, your sleeping bag zipper, or yourself. Movement would be felt, and the bag itself would remain secure. Wet boots similarly would be attached through the loop that they often have.

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You can buy a folding/camping bed:

image of a folding bed

Then stash the backpack below the bed. Since the bed is low, and assuming the backpack is full and rather big, any attempt to take it out will result in the whole bed moving, waking you up to catch the thief before they have a chance to run away with your backpack.

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General comments (1 comment)
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I'd consider two theft risks:

  1. Whole bag being stolen.
  2. Bag contents being stolen.

Solutions:

  1. To avoid the bag being stolen, I'd anchor it somewhere, prefferably close to you. Easiest (and IMO safest) thing to do would be to wrap the bag straps around your body (arms, legs, etc) so that to take it they have to lift a part of your body.
  2. It's trickier to avoid the contents being stolen. You could maybe put locks for the bag's zips, but you don't want them cutting your bag with a knife to get the contents. I think the best thing you can do to avoid this is adding a noise trap, so that an alarm sounds if they tinker with your bag.

Examples:

  • Magnetic switch: sew this on the inside of the pocket so that if the two parts are separated the alarm sounds.
  • Personal alarm/sound grenade: you can tie this to the bag itself and put the bag so that they can't access its pockets (ie: pockets touching the ground) so that if they flip the bag over to reach the pockets they pull the alarm string and the alarm will sound.
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