Best Locks for Staying in Hostels (Avoid Theft)
Which type and brands of padlocks to get to prevent theft in hostels.
The article is structured as follows:
TSA Approved or Not
TSA approved locks are made for air travel, so security can open your bag with their master keys and look into it. There is no advantage to using them in hostels. They are not superior quality. Professional thieves could even have their own master keys.
Different Padlock Sizes to Get for Hostels
Some lockers have small holes and hence need a small lock. More precisely speaking, a lock with a small diameter of the shackle is needed. Some lockers only work with larger locks, because they need a shackle that is more apart and has higher vertical clearance. And a larger lock is also more secure. Therefore, it is advisable to bring two locks of different sizes.
For a small padlock, a shackle diameter of 5mm (0.20 inch) should be fine. That results in a body width of around 30mm (1.18 inch).
For the larger padlock, a body width of 40mm (1.57 inch) should be fine. These locks will then have a shackle diameter of around 6mm (0.24 inch) and thicker.
To the right is an example of a 40mm/6mm padlock and a smaller 30mm/5mm.
The smaller lock is more important to get than the larger one. It is more often a problem that the padlocks are to big for hostel lockers than too small.
If your backpack supports locking, then additional even smaller padlocks may be required and cable shackles could also be useful.
If you can get a padlock with a longer shackle, then it could be useful. But it is not necessary.
Get a padlock with a width of 30mm (1.18 inch). In addition to that, get one with a width of 40mm (1.57 inch).
Ultra-Low-Quality Key Locks
These locks are sometimes sold in stores and do not deserve the name lock. A simple screwdriver pushed into the keyhole and some turning pressure is enough for them to spring open. Some others just need an almost gentle hit with the back of a screwdriver at the right spot and they spring open.
Low-Quality Key Locks
Lockpicking tools made of paperclips are sufficient to open some locks quite quickly, but it requires skills. It is easier to open them using professionally made lockpicking or cutting tools, but who carries such tools around?
Higher-Quality Key Locks
High-quality key locks have specially made pins in their locking mechanism to make it harder to pick them open them using tools. It also requires some skill. The shackle and locking mechanism are also often made of better material, which makes it harder to open them with cutting tools or hitting it with force. These locks are also produced with hither precision. High precision is important, as imprecise moving parts make it easier to feel a lock out while picking it.
Dimple vs Regular Pin Tumbler Locks
One might come across dimple locks. Dimple locks use the flat side of the key. They require a bit finer tools and motor skills to be picked open.
Spending a few bucks more on a key padlock prevents that someone with only a little knowledge can open them within a few seconds. To open better quality locks, one needs at least some skills and tools. And opportunistic thieves are likely to not have the skills or the tools (picking, cutting, or forceful tools).
Handling the Key of a Key Padlock in Hostels
If you decide to use a key padlock then you must pay attention not to lose the key.
If you use the padlock on a locker while you sleep, then you must also store the key somewhere during nighttime. The safest choice would probably be if you could somehow fixate it in your underwear. Or you can use some sort of money bag that can be worn directly on the skin. And as last resort, you can put it into your pillow (but put it first into a small purse or mobile phone case or something, so you do not accidentally lose it).
Low-Quality Combination Locks
Some combination locks can be opened in less than 5 seconds.
Try it yourself:
- Pull on shackle.
- Turn the wheel that is the hardest to turn until you feel (or hear) it make click and the lock opens a bit.
- Then go to the next hardest to turn wheel and repeat step 2.
- Once you are through all wheels, the lock should open.
I can open the first shown lock from PacSafe in about 10s and the second with the TSA logo in about 30s.
Higher Quality Combination Locks
They have a mechanism called false gates. When the procedure above is applied and a wheel is turned, it makes click and the lock opens a little. But it not only does that at the real gate, but it has false gates that do the same. This makes it harder to trick them. It is still by possible without any tools by using a more complicated technique.
Searching for a good smaller lock, I bought the Stanley lock shown on the right (30mm width). It has 4 digits and false gates. It currently takes me around 3 minutes to open it and I do not have a lot of practice. I am not thrilled.
Key vs Combination Locks: Conclusion
Combination locks, even better ones, are often easy to open for someone with just a little practice and without any tools. A decent quality key lock requires quite a bit of skills and tools to be opened. Therefore, I suggest that a quality key lock is the safer choice.
Cable vs Hard Material Shackle
Cables are easier to cut than metal shackles. Some cables can even be cut with multitool pliers (e.g. Leatherman) that some people routinely carry around. Therefore, from a security standpoint, padlocks with hard shackles are to be preferred.
But if you use the padlock only for locking zippers of your backpack or luggage, then a cable shackle can be handy.
Drawing Attention to Expensive Padlock
Whatever padlock you buy, it should look just like a regular padlock. It should not look expensive or extra good quality. It would only signal to thieves that you have enough money to buy expensive padlocks and that you probably have valuable items in your locker.
Buy good padlocks that look just like regular padlocks.
Specific Brand and Model Recommendation
It is often almost impossible to get a specific padlock, because online shops often do not have all brands, not all models of a brand, not all sizes of a model, and not all variations of a certain size of a model. Some models are only sold in certain areas of the world.
Abus makes good padlocks in its more advanced product lines.
The Abus 85 line has mushroom pins and is double bolted (as of 30 mm and up). It is available in sizes of 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, and 70 mm.
Search on: amazon.com
Search on: amazon.com
The Asus 75 is a dimple padlock and is double bolted. It is available in sizes of 30, 40, 50, and 60 mm.
Search on: amazon.com
Search on: amazon.com
Other Abus Models
Abus Models 55 and 65 offer less protection. It is best to stick with 85.
Master Lock sells many different padlocks. Basically, it means you have to check the individual lock you are buying in the internet. Look for locks with anti-pick pins. The Master Lock's website also does not show many padlocks with width less than 40mm.
Stanley does not seem to have an own website where the models are presented. Look for locks with anti-pick pins.
To accommodate for different locker sizes in hostels, get at least two padlocks: one with a width of 30mm (1.18 inch) and one with 40mm (1.57 inch). If you carry more than these two locks with you, then they should be of the smaller type. Padlocks with keys are more secure than combination locks, but you must be able to handle the key and not lose it. Whichever type you get, do not get the cheapest ones, as they are very easy to open. Rather, choose the advanced line of whatever brand you are buying.
If you are interested in keeping your valuables safe in hostels in general (and not just the proper padlocks), then have a look on our article on How to Keep Valuables Safe in Hostels.