We’re travelling more than ever; cheap flights and the internet have made it easier to set off to far flung corners of the world with the same ease as booking a cinema ticket. Many of us are now travelling with smartphones, tablets, kindles, and wallets that together cost more than a few months salary for most people in Thailand or Peru. The last thing anyone wants when travelling is to be pickpocketed, particularly with the newest smartphones with our personal pictures, or our important travel documents at risk. But the first question to ask is whether an anti-theft backpack is worth the investment?

Anti-theft backpacks start at the lower end with basic protections such as hidden zippers to store cash or a passport to mid-range anti-cut materials to prevent slashing of the bag, and all the way up to expensive linings that prevent electronic theft by skimming credit card details. If you are travelling to Japan or Korea, where street crime is incredibly rare and people reserve restaurant seats by leaving their bag or smartphone on the table, then there should be no real need for the added security, but going to places like India where you will be weaving between the masses at bustling markets and packed buses might demand a bit more from your security routine.

The stereotype robberies have a few categories, a nimble thief slipping a wristwatch from a gentleman on the train, a violent mugging in an alleyway or a snatch-and-grab robbery, where the thief grabs a backpack or purse and simply runs away with it. Purses are the worst things for anti-theft safety, not only does the one shoulder strap system leaves you incredibly vulnerable, but the natural instinct to hold onto your belongings and lead to a fight over the purse and you could end up being thrown to the ground, making what could have just been a very scary and costly theft turns into a dangerous assault. 

Also the smaller the size of purses makes them easier targets for a quicker getaway for the thief, and they usually guarantee more valuables than a backpack which might just have some clothes, a bottle of water and a book.

If an anti-theft backpack is out of the question, or overkill for a country with less security issues, consider a simple light and durable backpack purse where the weight of the bag against your shoulders closes over the opening, for carrying a laptop or tablet it would be impossible for someone to open the bag enough to get the device through. With a sweater, a bottle of water and a street map it makes it incredibly difficult for a thief to find a wallet amongst the other items in a drawstring, but it also means you might spend some time fumbling about on the street yourself. The biggest drawback to this method is that the straps can easily be cut, and heavy items in the bag can cause it to cut into your shoulder, and the material is rarely waterproof which could ruin electronics.

Another consideration is what you require the backpack for, “digital nomad”, online workers who travel in mostly developing countries, working from cafes and hostels might benefit from the laptop specific backpack, like extra protection sleeves.

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What features do backpacks offer? The necessity of these will vary depending on where you live or where you’re going, but common features to look out for are slash-guards to stop blades slicing through the outer linings for your belongings to literally fall into the hands of a thief. Slashguard straps are non-visible flexible metal lining along the bags straps that prevents cutting in more dangerous areas. Other features that are worth considering are things like a secret pocket for valuables or a hidden compartment for tablets and laptops, for this it is recommended to look for a shockproof or padded lining to stop your device getting damaged through increased wear and tear of bumping around. 

The best designs have zippers closest to the body and covered over by material, the further away zippers are from you, the easier it is for someone to open a pocket for an opportunistic peek inside without you knowing. Often the subtle tricks are the best because they don’t draw attention to you or your backpack. A small padlock over the zippers of your bag will be an excellent mechanism to stop thieves opening a backpack, but it might make people wonder what is being protected, and lead to a full mugging or theft of your whole backpack.

Some backpacks go a bit further with features that border into gimmicky, many offer multi-function USB chargers, and can even be bought at a bargain, but if security is an issue maybe it’s best not to draw attention to yourself with wires coming directly from your bag to your brand-new smartphone. If there’s any way to make yourself a target it’s that. Another concern is getting an affordable backpack with USB charging, it’s important to consider what cost cutting methods the company took to install it, maybe less water repellant or durable materials. 

There is a wealth of features in these anti-theft backpacks, and with the world becoming increasingly mobile, the demand continues to soar. Ultimately, the choice depends on you, and whether you feel the need for it, plenty of people have travelled the world with drawstring backpacks without an issue, while others have taken every precaution imaginable only to have their phone unexpectedly stolen by another tourist in a hostel dorm room while they take a shower. Maybe that’s why it’s a good idea to prepare for the unknown and have some peace of mind. The best thing about these new backpacks is the designers know people won’t want to wear an ugly bag that looks like they’re carrying the petty cash box from an office, so the bags themselves are stylish enough to wear around Paris and New York, and safe enough for tourists getting lost on the busy streets of Bangkok or Buenos Aires.

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