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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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    What's the general location where you are worried about someone stealing your backpack? – Charlie Brumbaugh Dec 29 '19 at 20:08
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    Varies. Generally away from tourism and weekend camper hotspots. Peak District, UK, Camino dos Faros, Spain, Landmannalaugar Trail, Iceland, ... – James Paul Turner Dec 29 '19 at 20:15
  • I tend to be more concerned with my boots than bag, particularly if in porcupine territory. And food as well, but that goes away from the tent. – Jon Custer Dec 29 '19 at 20:37
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    @JamesPaulTurner You can always consider a security (wire) cable with lock loops at the ends. Wrap it around one of the tent stakes (below where the guy-ropes are tied) and a couple of thick straps on your backpack, and lock it. It won't exactly prevent a theft but will introduce a barrier - cutting through thick backpack straps, which can deter the casual luggage lifter. – Yogesch Dec 30 '19 at 10:40
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    In 30 years backpacking, the possibility of theft by humans has never occurred to me. Mind you on over 95% of my camps, my group was the only one in camp. – Sherwood Botsford Dec 31 '19 at 2:51

10 Answers 10

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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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    Thanks Charlie. Agreed that the electronics and papers should be stored inside with you either way. I really like the camo bivy sack idea, and will try it out next time. I also just heard someone say they used it as a foot rest on cold ground, which sounds reasonable. – James Paul Turner Dec 29 '19 at 21:40
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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 had my backpack stolen from the tent when we camped too close to a trail and went for a hike. Close to the Montenegro/Albania border and the person left to Albania (according to the police who phoned their border guards). We had no time to search for a better place due to bad weather coming very quickly. It was just too close to the trail and too visible. More stuff got lost, but the backpack itself was by far the most expensive. – Vladimir F Dec 30 '19 at 11:48
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    Criminals are opportunists. Highest yield with minimal risk is the name of the game. If you're a particularly juicy target then they might spend more time on you. There's a huge difference between burglary and invasion. – MonkeyZeus Dec 30 '19 at 19:23
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    @MonkeyZeus Which is also why there's little theft in the backcountry--they would have to spend hours out there with no guarantee of any loot to be had, and the risk someone would have a satellite communicator they didn't get. Hiking out with stolen gear when the police are looking for you... – Loren Pechtel Dec 31 '19 at 3:34
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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.

  • I like this. A very novel idea that has me thinking. Could some kind of electronic movement sensor be used? Cheers for your suggestion. – James Paul Turner Dec 31 '19 at 0:14
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    Like the thing that flushes a toilet when a body is removed from being near it? – WGroleau Dec 31 '19 at 18:36
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    I’ve used this cable lock for this purpose, but just because I carried it for the bicycle anyway: bbbcycling.com/en_en/bbl-52-minisafe?option-id=143733 (weighs 80g or so). The weak points are the backpack straps you thread it through. If you are such a heavy sleeper that you don’t notice someone opening your tent then you probably also wouldn’t notice them undoing or cutting the straps. – Michael Jan 1 at 9:05
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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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    Hi Barker. I understand that people who venture out so far are generally decent and supportive, and I'm glad that those people are the majority. My only concern is when we set up camp towards the beginning or end of the route, when perhaps less supportive folk are present. Your words give me hope, though. Thanks! – James Paul Turner Dec 31 '19 at 0:50
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    Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that even in the mountains some people do steal. Without the backpack there was no other way than to return home. It is not such a hard investment if you have little. You put the backpack on your back, perhaps put your 9wn little bag inside, and carry on walking away. Since then I prefer to pack the bag, hide it, and only then go for a hike or climb with my day sack. – Vladimir F Dec 31 '19 at 19:12
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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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    Besides digging a big hole and burying it, I'm open to suggestions! :-) – James Paul Turner Dec 31 '19 at 0:33
  • I own a couple of Pac-Safe bags of this sort for travel. It's a wire cable mesh bag with a wire cable drawstring that can be locked--when you close down the bag you get some feet of play in the drawstring which is used to wrap around something before locking it. In the wilderness a tree comes to mind. – Loren Pechtel Dec 31 '19 at 3:38
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    Upvoting because I came here to make the same answer. I've used Pacsafe bags on all kinds of traveling. They're great for camping, bicycling, motorcycling, and so on. They're fairly lightweight and are flexible enough that they can secure any number of objects, backpacks, whatever. Here's an example: amazon.com/Pacsafe-Mens-Backpack-Protector-Steel/dp/B000KFTBFU – dwizum Dec 31 '19 at 18:25
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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.

  • Those ground screws are heavy... IMHO not worth carrying in the back country. I sometimes use one to secure a tripod in high wind (with a bungee cord connecting the two). The other limitation is that many areas don't have sufficient ground to secure them. Novel idea, however. – Steven the Easily Amused Dec 31 '19 at 20:48
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    @StevenTheEasilyAmused They're not too heavy. Thing is though, if I'm away from "civilization", I don't generally worry about thieves. It's the bastards round towns that worry me. – Graham Dec 31 '19 at 22:12
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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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    Hi James. Unfortunately my tent is already a 3 person tent, and we are usually fully booked! I thought about a 4 person tent, but I haven't found anything that isn't huge and heavy so far. You are correct that we just use it to sleep, and then pack up and move on in the morning. – James Paul Turner Dec 31 '19 at 0:12
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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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    Not sure this is a good answer, can you imagine caring that on a backpack? Plus the much bigger tent required to set it up in. – James Jenkins Dec 30 '19 at 15:07
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    +1 This would work in a campground or if you had a relatively short haul into a base camp, from which you explored. Then stash it well concealed by trees for your actual backpacking trip, and pick it up on the way back. Even better if you were llama packing. – ab2 MonicaNotForgotten Dec 30 '19 at 19:19
  • @James it can work when you travel by car, then stash the bed in the car and not carry it with you during the day. And such a bed is rather small, no bigger than sleeping bag in absolute width and height. (that I can say from experience, slept on such beds during my years in army). :) – Shadow Wizard is Ear For You Dec 30 '19 at 20:34
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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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I like to use my backpack as a pillow, which is the safest place, next to all my senses and reach of my hands. :-)

  • Thanks Jan. I have heard a few people mention similar things now - sounds like a good idea. The other thing I heard about was people their bags as footrests! – James Paul Turner Jan 2 at 23:55

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