I recently read Everest climbers worried about oxygen bottle theft which says:

What can you do when thieves break the locks of the tent and take away oxygen bottles, food and even cooking gas?

which suggests that the people climbing Everest are locking their tents.

Obviously, the locks are not protecting their supplies. Perhaps the broken locks could indicate the tents have been raided, but the raiders could just as easily have cut a hole in the tent. I really think the climbers should be inventorying their supply whether or not tampering has been indicated.

What is the purpose of locking tents?

  • 2
    "Locks keep honest people honest." And sometimes they make dishonest people move on to the next tent, which might not be locked.
    – gowenfawr
    Commented Oct 12, 2018 at 1:44
  • How would inventorying help at all?
    – schroeder
    Commented Oct 12, 2018 at 8:57
  • A broken lock would indicate theft if someone is watching the thief. For sure cutting a hole would indicate theft.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Oct 15, 2018 at 10:13

3 Answers 3


Tent locks (or security awareness, or organisational policies, or anti-virus, or any security control) are not a perfect solution, so why use them? Flip the question around: what would happen if you did not use a lock (or awareness, or policies, or AV)?

Any security control (that includes tent locks) aims to reduce risk. The hope of a control is simply to reduce the inherent risk at a cost that does not exceed the difference between the inherent risk and the residual risk (the risk after the control is applied).

The control makes sense if either:

  • the residual risk is at a level that we can accept and that the cost of the control does not exceed the delta between the inherent and residual risks, or
  • the delta between the inherent and residual risks has greater value than the cost of the control

Controls do not, and never will, eliminate risks.

In the Everest scenario, the impact of supply theft is death or mission failure (we do not ascend). The cost of a lock is almost nothing in both cash and weight. More secure means of preventing theft will be heavier, and weight in a climbing scenario has a cost that at some point cannot be borne (pun intended).

So, the options are:

  • use a lock
  • do not use a lock

Given the impact of theft, what justification would you have for not using a lock, even if it was not a perfect control?

I would also note that a lock is a "preventative" control. Inventorying, as you suggest, is a "detective" control. Detective controls would not prevent mission failure.


There could be a number of reasons:

  • When picking a tent to raid, a thief will probably pick an unlocked tent over a locked one.
  • Seeing someone enter a tent and leaving with supplies doesn't look suspicious at all. As a witness, I would not intervene. Seeing someone slash the tent horror movie style, on the other hand...
  • If all you have to do is enter the tent, it gives the thief (somewhat) plausible deniability if caught in the act.
  • The opportunity makes the thief. An unlocked tent might just look too tempting.

I will translate this to a more general discussion: why bother to add protection to a system that can easily be bypassed?

Anders already pointed out good reasons for this. Another reason may be persecution and insurance protection: I myself recently had to learn the hard way that if there is no obvious sign that someone opened a room/garage (I would say also a tent) without having permission (broken windows, broken lock, broken door), in German law this is called "simple theft" - like if i put my bike in the city center, without a lock, and with a sign "Dear thief, take it if you want". The insurance company will not pay for this. Only if there is a visible sign for someone entering by force, German law will call it "especially aggravated theft".

If you transfer this and the answer of Anders to Information Security: you can almost never completely protect a system - you have to create hurdles to make it more difficult for intruders to get what they want. And in case of insurance claims, the insurance company wants to see that you at least tried to protect your values.

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