June 18, 2006

Pacsafe Exomesh Security System
Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

When your entire life has been reduced to a single bag, to what lengths would you go to protect it?

I operate on the belief that if someone wants your backpack badly enough, they'll probably get it. Thankfully, most bandits aren't so determined. To this end, I practice techniques that enable me to counter potentially tragic loss by deterring most would-be thieves. The use of the Pacsafe Exomesh (which will be discussed below) is one of those techniques.

I believe that most theft inflicted upon travelers is opportunistic in nature, meaning that a thief generally takes advantage of an opportunity that a traveler has created. This is much more prevalent than the premeditated variety (such as robbery on the street).

Time is generally a bandit's biggest problem. Common are stories of a traveler that left their door open or unlocked while they used the bathroom, only to return to misfortune. It only takes a moment for someone to enter the room, grab that expensive iPOD sitting on the bed, and leave unseen.

How easy is it to duplicate a room key? I've done it (innocently) on several occasions for the sake of convenience (sharing a room, for example). How easy would it be for someone to amass a collection of room keys for a hotel or hostel? My guess is very easy indeed. How much do you really trust the entire staff?

What I'm hinting at is a more malicious, premeditated variety of theft. I'm of the opinion that most travelers put entirely too much trust in the lock on their door. They blissfully roam about the streets while Lord knows how many people have or had access to the very key safeguarding their belongings. I have images in my head of someone with a ring of keys quickly opening door after door in a hotel hallway around noon (when most people are out), looking for entire backpacks or expensive electronics to grab quickly.

To counter this threat, and many others like it, I have a very simple (albeit often annoying) rule that I force myself to follow: If I can't place my own padlock on the door, my backpack is locked to something secure using a wire mesh made by Pacsafe.

Some travelers leave an expired/bogus passport or wallet exposed in their rooms (or easily found in their backpacks) as a way to appease thieves, with the hopes that their thirst will be quenched upon finding such items. I'm more concerned with someone walking away with my entire backpack.

Like many travelers, I have lots of goodies stashed away in my pack: A couple hundred dollars in cash, extra credit/debit cards, my immunization record (yellow card), and of course my passport—I've discussed keeping your passport in your bag instead of on your person before—among other electronics and valuable things. The loss of my entire backpack would be most unfortunate. This is where the Pacsafe comes into play.

Pacsafe's Exomesh is my second line of defense against the bad people in this world (after the lock on my door), and it is treated as such. It's there to do three things: Serve as a deterrent, keep the inner contents of my top-loading backpack secure, and to keep someone from running away with the pack altogether.

The Pacsafe is almost like The Club (anti-theft device) that you would use for your car. It's not going to stop someone if they really want it, but it might be enough to make them move on to the next target.

The Exomesh is essentially a stainless steel bag of wire that wraps around your backpack—the more full the backpack, the better. A large gauge cable is then pulled to close the opening—which is also the same cable you can (and should) loop around an immoveable object to secure the pack. A padlock is used in conjunction with the cable to keep the mesh from opening, and the bag from "walking away without you."

I first encountered use of the Pacsafe Exomesh on the equipment list at Mike Pugh's Web site, Vagabonding.com (while researching in preparation for my own time abroad). Although I have yet to personally encounter another traveler using this deterrent, I believe such devices are more commonplace in Europe (where traveler-on-traveler theft seems to be problematic).

The Pacsafe works. I know, as I too have been the recent victim of opportunistic theft (mostly thwarted by this accessory). The Exomesh did exactly what it was suppose to do in this instance: keep the bag in the room, and the inner contents of the pack secure. You can read a detailed account of the incident (and hopefully learn from my mistakes) at http://travelvice.com/archive/2006/06/burglarized.php

Pacsafe Exomesh Summary


  • Visible theft deterrent
  • Can prevent your bag from being snatched out of your room
  • Reasonable security for hard to protect/lock top-loading backpacks
  • Sound cabling (of an acceptable gauge)
  • Relatively light and small (packed, about the size and weight of a large guidebook)
  • Padlock and keys included
  • Greater peace of mind


  • Could attract unnecessary attention
  • An expensive accessory
  • Doesn't keep hands from opening outside backpack compartments
  • Deters, but doesn't prevent, bag slashing to reach contents of pack
  • The strength against the tampering of critical polycarbonate components is questionable (but Pacsafe claims that they're bulletproof)

The Pacsafe Exomesh is available in a variety of sizes, and sells for between US$60 and $80 (depending on size).

Further details can be found on the Pacsafe Web site at http://pac-safe.com.

A photo of the Pacsafe in action can be found at http://travelvice.com/archive/2006/03/passport-in-room.php.

Article written for Andy the Hobotraveler.com by Craig Heimburger, in his first year of perpetual world travel.

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