It is fairly common practice to drive to a trailhead, park your vehicle and then go backpacking for a while. It would be a real bummer to come back from a trip and find that your vehicle has been broken into.

Are there any tips to reduce the likelihood of this happening?

  • 25
    Don't leave anything of value in the vehicle?
    – jamesqf
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 2:08
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 18:04
  • 14
    Several large snakes, writhing around inside.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 2:15
  • 3
    @HotLicks Is that bear food? Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 19:21

13 Answers 13


One of the deciding factors for thieves with cars is whether they can see something they consider of value. If they have it fixed in their minds to breaking into your vehicle, they will do it.

Here is a few things I do to avoid such misfortunes:

  • Park your vehicle in the best open and visual spot possible so that thieves would be deterred from being spotted while in a commission of a crime.
  • If you think there are some things that may be more interesting to thieves, cover them with some sort of junk looking objects.
  • I have a friend who never takes new tools in his pick up and he puts pink paint on them as an additional measures against thieves.
  • I made a center console covering out of vinyl, in order that people looking into my vehicle can not see what I have between the front seats. The vinyl covering is of the same color as the rest of the interior of my vehicle.
  • On some trailheads there are signs to remind people to keep their cars locked when absent from their vehicle. Snatch and grab is the biggest and easiest way for thieves to take what they want.
  • Another way to stop "snatch and grab" is to anchor some of your belonging with a cable to something solid in the vehicle.
  • Do not leave valuables in your vehicles. If possible leave them at home or keep them on your person.
  • 24
    This is a great list but I disagree with point two. Rather than covering up something valuable with junk you should keep your car extremely clean so the thief can see there is nothing of value in the car.
    – user12250
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 19:45
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    I agree with @DanK here regarding half covering items as my step mum once had her car broken into - they stole a bag that was tucked under the front seat. Full of nappies, creams, wipes... not what the thief thought it would be! Which is why I always stick stuff in the boot if it has to be in the car.
    – Aravona
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 8:59
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    The pink paint is pretty useful when you spill your toolbag into the long grass, too. Commented Feb 16, 2018 at 15:02

It sounds counter intuitive but leave everything inside the car open, i.e. the boot cover glove box, etc. Make it obvious that there is nothing worth stealing inside (and obviously don't leave anything worth stealing).

Don't worry about them stealing your car, this is practically impossible with modern security devices (the only way to steal a car these days is by stealing the key due to immobilisers, etc).

Still doesn't protect you from random acts of senseless vandalism but, well nothing can do this really.


The existing answers by Ken and Liam offer good advice. But unfortunately there is nothing you can do to prevent break ins. Thieves can be surprisingly stupid.

True story...

A friend of mine drove her jeep wrangler with a soft top to the trail head and parked it before going on a hike. The roof is canvas and the back side window unzips FROM THE OUTSIDE. She left the doors unlocked, so if someone felt a strong urge to rifle through her jeep they would not be inconvenienced and feel the need to damage the canvas top.

The thief did not even try the door, nor did they unzip the side window. They used a knife to slice through the back side window (plastic). Opened the (already unlocked) door from inside and rifled through the jeep finding nothing worthy of stealing.

No there is nothing you can do, to prevent breakins, even leaving the doors unlocked will not prevent a break in.

Image link of similar vehicle: Jeep Wrangler.

enter image description here

  • 3
    In good weather you could leave the windows open.
    – Random832
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 18:19
  • 1
    @Random832 - That's the only reliable answer to the question; remove the thing that they have to break.
    – Mazura
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 1:12
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    In Mayotte (small French island), smash & grab are so common that people always leave their cars unlocked so the thieves can open the car and check by themselves that there's nothing of value there. It takes a while to get used to. Even knows someone who found a sleeping kid in her car in the morning (kid bolted). It also takes a while to adjust back when coming home. Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 9:36
  • 4
    @Random832 its a jeep, in good weather you can leave the doors at home. Commented Feb 9, 2018 at 13:38

Basically, the same rules as elsewhere apply. I’d stick with those:

  • If possible, do not leave anything of value in the car. They can’t take what’s not there.
  • Also avoid leaving hints of something valuable being in the car. For example, a few years back in Milan, the general advice was not to leave a suction cup holder for a sat-nav on the windshield, as would-be thieves might (and frequently did) infer the sat-nav might be in the car.
  • Leave the inside of the car visible. If you have a station wagon with a trunk cover, pull it back so everyone can see from the outside there’s nothing in the trunk. (Again, common advice in some parts of Italy.) Opening the glove compartment and armrest/center console cover is also a good idea. Anything that looks secured may hint at valuables and attract thieves.
  • If you do need to leave valuables in the car, hide them under some other object (which should not look like its sole purpose is to conceal valuables). A simple blanket, cheap jacket or the like might work. Taking your valuables with you, or leaving them at home in the first place, is still safer.
  • Anticipate being watched: Some thieves observe their targets and strike as soon as they are away. Don’t give any signs of leaving objects of value behind in the car (such as tucking away a cell or purse).
  • Avoid being the lowest-hanging fruit. If you can, park close to a car that looks like an easier or more desirable target.
  • If you are positively sure you have nothing inside your car that you aren’t ready to part with, you can consider leaving the car unlocked. This allows would-be thieves to rifle through your car without having to damage it. Do note, however, that you may be liable in some legislations: If the car is stolen, you may lose insurance coverage and might even be liable it the thief causes an accident with it (as you didn’t take necessary precautions). Some states, like Germany, even fine drivers for parking a car without locking it. Use this one with caution and check local laws and practice.

Still, as everywhere, there is no 100% security. At the best, these things reduce the likelihood of something happening.


One thing that has not been mentioned is to consider which trail head you park at. Some trails/areas have multiple trail heads. If you have a choice in trail head, it is worth talking to locals to determine if any are particularly problematic.

In my experience the most problematic trail heads are those with easy access. What this means is that often if the only available trail heads are problematic, that there are alternatives to parking directly at the trail head. Sometimes you can park in town (e.g., Walmart in the US or an outfitters) and catch a shuttle, hitch, carpool, or even bicycle to the trail head.


If you can't leave the car empty-looking, at least don't load the storage up at the trailhead. There was a spate of thefts a few years ago on Dartmoor where car parks were watched for signs of valuables being tucked away, then a window was smashed and the items stolen. This was the sort of place where cars are parked for hours rather than days. In our case they knew which side to smash to be able to reach a handbag. This was an estate car with a soft luggage cover; that seemed to be a bit of a theme when I looked into it after the event.

So instead, get your bags ready before the drive, and pick them up off the back seat when you leave the car. Any valuables you want on the drive should go with you. Then leave nothing on show that could look like it might hold valuables.

  • 2
    This is a follow-up answer to @Liam's answer, for cases when you can't leave the car empty (personal example -- day hiking on the drive back to an airport for an overnight flight)
    – Chris H
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 16:56
  • 2
    estate car = station wagon
    – Martin F
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 22:39
  • @MartinF thanks. I thought it meant some sort of luxury car that would be seen on a fancy estate or manor. The soft luggage cover bit makes more sense now.
    – Erik
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 17:16

There ain't no way man...As Mr. Miyagi would say, "the best defense against a would be car vandal is no be there."

I propose a different solution than others would:

I never have that problem because I do not park at trailheads. We have been known to pull our 1999 Toyota Corolla off the dirt road we were on ( another tip: find those dirt roads! ) and cover it up, even if it meant building a small lean to over it. Since we were already driving in a very deserted area not turning off a major highway and into a crowded trailhead we would just camp close to the car and we have never had a problem.

Sometimes, I bike to the trailhead after parking in Walmart's heavily watched parking lot a mile or so away. Or, I sometimes leave the car at home and bike all the way. Yea, down the trail and off of it too a good mountain bike will go.

  • 1
    This answer might be region-dependent: in my country I'd say Walmart-like parkings are way unsafer that trailheads.
    – Pere
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 20:24
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    @Pere: And in my part of the US, trailheads are generally much more than a mile from a WalMart parking lot. I know one that's only about 10 miles, but also about 2000 ft elevation gain :-)
    – jamesqf
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 20:42
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    @Pere Hi; Yes, you have to know where you are at. The good book says, "If thine eye offends thee, pluck it out." Likewise, If the car being parked at the trailhead is the problem, then do not park it there or do not take the car. There are enough hassles on the trail to deal with, let them be enough.
    – bobbym
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 20:44
  • 1
    Getting a ride to the start of the tramp/hike track is a workable solution. However getting out again might mean you have to carry a phone to call for your ride.
    – Criggie
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 23:44
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    @ David Richerby I only mentioned that to show that there are other alternatives to bringing your car if you are worrying about it. Many trailheads have signs warning you of recent thefts and vandalism, because there is parking there that does not mean you have to.
    – bobbym
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 1:02

If your vehicle has a trunk that can't be reached from the cabin, then physically disable the trunk release lever by detaching the cable. Objects in your trunk will only be accessible with a key, or by a very determined thief with a crowbar.

  • Or by popping the lock with a screwdriver.
    – Mark
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 22:46

The biggest thing is to plan ahead. Whether you are going to a trail head or to a show in the city... Don't think that a towel for a cover or sliding it under a seat will work. Stow stuff in your trunk before arriving. And hopefully you have a lock on your trunk button.


Great suggestions here; I would add I concur with the leaving car empty of all valuables, glovebox open. Additionally, you could buy a car camera with live feed and GPS capabilities. They are available and not too expensive. A "warning sticker" or two, placed prominently, might do the trick just as well. Akin to putting a security sign on your lawn and decals in the windows of your home. It has deterrent value and potential thieves may well go for a less intimidating vehicle.

Window Decal

  • While a good suggestion, it is not going to add value if the thieves know that cell reception is poor in the area. If they know there is no Cell reception it is a big sticker that says the system is in the car, and unprotected. Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 14:23
  • Not cell...satellite.
    – M.Mat
    Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 14:26
  • The GPS satellite, tells the system where the system is at. If it is live feed, it is either using a cell signal to send the feed to where it can be monitored, or it using more expensive satellite phone systems. If neither is is just making a recording that is in the car/device that will be gone when the thief steals it, they need only turn it off or remove power, so it does not broadcast when moved back into cell reception. Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 14:31
  • Gotcha. Point is to deter a thief. Most would rather break-in to a less assuming vehicle. As many here have stated, if someone wants to break-in, they will regardless. OP asking for deterrent suggestions, this is one.
    – M.Mat
    Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 14:38
  • Understood, for some thiefs it will be a deterrent for others it be an invitation. At Wallmart, this has high potential, at trail head in the Olympic national forest it is an invitation Remember: you can't count on cell phone coverage in remote areas! Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 14:43

There are already loads of good tips here as I add this, but I'm missing one in particular: if you have to leave electronics behind (for some reason you can't leave them at home, like maybe you're doing the hike on your way somewhere), in particular larger items like a laptop, shut the device down (or hibernate, not sleep) and take the battery out of the device just to be sure. Theoretically thieves can detect a device in several ways, including finding the electrical charge itself (against which the removed battery would help), but the easiest thing to track inside a metal car in practice is the wifi signal. This can at least on some models even be detected in sleep mode. Make these preparations before you're at your parking spot because as others noted thieves can be watching. And there are way more thieves with eyes than with wifi detectors.

While I'm writing anyway, avoid leaving expensive sports equipment in sports related locales. Thieves go to these trail heads because they're trail heads. It's mostly not an issue with walking, but a thief visiting say a cross country skiing trail start might know a thing or two about which skis are resellable. Similarly kayak exit points and campings are visited by thieves who know their boats. If you have to leave stuff, lock it up someway, make them work for their loot.

  • The usual way for thieves to find an electronic device is to look in the car, possibly after forcing a door open.
    – Mark
    Commented May 9, 2018 at 2:25

Although it may seem extreme, I often disconnect my battery before embarking on a hike. Especially if I am in a remote location. This is a nice way to ensure there is no slow electrical drain that may discharge the battery. Additionally, it would hamper a would-be thief’s efforts at stealing the car. If I must leave something of value in the car, I try to hide it either under a seat or in the spare tire compartment, hoping that the thief is too lazy to search thoroughly. I have also used personal alarms such as these:

New and Interesting Finds on Amazon

They are easy to attach to a backpack or bag left in the car, and if the thief removes the bag, the alarm goes off. Might be enough to cause him to run off.

  • 1
    New related sister site question Does disconnecting the battery have negative side effects? Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 17:39
  • On many cars, disconnecting the battery will trigger the alarm unless you disable it (the alarm) first - which then makes it easier to get in and nick your stuff. Commented Feb 16, 2018 at 15:09
  • Just out of curiosity, if the battery is disconnected, how would the alarm get power to sound the alarm? Is there a separate power source on some cars just for the alarm?
    – Eric1975
    Commented Feb 16, 2018 at 18:44
  • @Eric1975, they have an battery to protect the car from people who disconnect the main battery first.
    – Separatrix
    Commented May 11, 2018 at 7:16

1,5 year old question, but I do not see this trick which I (also) use:

Make the car and its content look shabby and uninteresting (that is more 'extreme' than the earlier suggestion avoid leaving hints of something valuable being in the car): dirt and a few old rags or newspapers make you car shout out this person has no valuables.

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