The problem is that when you’re traveling, theft is an even bigger concern. If your bag gets stolen abroad, you may find yourself stranded.
Anti-theft bags offer peace of mind for those who want a purse that’s designed to look good and keep your stuff safe. They won’t prevent theft—thieves are highly organized and tend to work in teams to scope out easy targets. However, anti-theft bags will make you a difficult mark, and that may be all you need to get a thief to move on to an easier target.
What is an Anti-Theft Bag?
Anti-theft bags can be crossbodies, but they can also be backpacks, totes, or even a laptop bag. The difference is a collection of critical features that make a pickpocket’s life much harder.
A zipper alone doesn’t make a bag thief-proof. It’s more theft-resistant than your average flap bag, but a zipper is simple for a skilled thief. Good thieves can easily slide a zipper without the wearer noticing. Many will distract you by bumping into you or ask a question so you don’t notice the zipper moving.
If you want to deter a thief, you need locking zippers. These use a clip attached to the zipper’s pull tag. This makes it harder for you to open your bag quickly, but it’s also harder for thieves to do the same. The gold standard for locking zippers is YKK, which is the brand we use at Tortuga.
The exterior of an anti-theft bag looks like any other bag. That’s the whole point. But the interior is a whole different ballgame.
Where most bags are content to let you dump your belongings in the main compartment and call it even, anti-theft bags have a compartment for everything. Some manufacturers cover these compartments with fabric so the pocket doesn’t seem to exist at first glance.
This keeps everything neat, but it also makes it harder for a thief to reach in and grab. That said, smart thieves will watch you handle your bag to figure out what’s stowed where, so it’s a good idea to opt for hidden compartments with added protection. It will slow you down, but it will slow a thief down, too.
Slashproof Shoulder Strap
One of the easiest grab-and-go tactics for a thief is to slash your purse strap and casually stroll off with the whole bag. This saves them the trouble of trying to identify where you have items stowed in your purse.
Anti-theft bags counter this technique with a metal cable inside the strap. The strap looks like it’s fabric, but the cable is made of lightweight, flexible steel. It’s a win-win: comfortable to wear for long periods and it’s impossible to slash easily.
This can be complicated by a detachable strap. On the one hand, this allows you to thread your bag through a chair if you sit down to a meal. On the other hand, your steel cable doesn’t do much good if a thief can simply unhook the clasp.
It comes down to your priorities, but a cable is more universally theft-proof.
Features to Look for in a Crossbody
Those are the security features that make an anti-theft bag successful. That said, there are a range of non-security features that make an anti-theft crossbody functional.
The capacity, for example. How much space does your crossbody have? Some are the size of a large wallet, while others are big enough to hold a laptop. The right fit comes down to preference and travel style.
There’s also the question of interior compartments. Some bags have compartments for the essentials, like your phone, passport, and wallet. Others have more compartmentalization than a shipping yard. But you should also take a look at compartment features: Are they padded? Zippered? Locked?
Water resistance is another useful feature when you’re traveling, particularly if you’re a digital nomad and need your crossbody to carry electronics. Not all crossbody bags are waterproof, especially those with zippers. If water protection is a concern, look for waterproof zippers, which protect zippers under rubber gaskets.
Last but not least is style. This is more than just aesthetics. As a seasoned traveler, you know that the best way to be treated like a tourist is to look like one. That includes thieves, who know tourists are easy marks. Look for a crossbody that presents itself as a stylish everyday purse so that you can blend in with commuters.
The Best Anti-Theft Travel Crossbody Bags
Got your security and functionality checklist in hand? Then here’s a look at some of the best anti-theft crossbody bags available on the market right now.
Slashproof Shoulder Strap
If you’ve shopped for anti-theft bags of any kind, you’ve heard of Baggallini. It’s one of the best-known brands in travel bags, especially the Everywhere Bag, which is one of its most popular offerings.
The brand was founded by two flight attendants, and it shows in this bag. There are six exterior pockets, a sleeve to slip over your suitcase handle, a quick-access phone pocket, and tons of interior storage with multi-functional pockets. The whole bag uses RFID protection and includes a wristlet with RFID blocking.
Oh, and it’s machine-washable. You know, for those days when you sprint through mud and dust.
The best thing about this bag is the size. It’s just big enough for what you need (11 inches wide by 9 inches high by 5 inches deep) but not so big that the small incidentals (pens, lipstick) vanish into the void.
PacSafe Stylesafe Anti-Theft Convertible Crossbody Bag
The PacSafe Stylesafe Anti-Theft Convertible Crossbody Bag is a great example of an anti-theft crossbody that doesn’t announce itself. It’s stylish, versatile, and includes tons of great features.
Depending on your day, the bag can be worn as a crossbody or as a shoulder bag. That’s a statement of PacSafe’s design mentality, bringing together the security needs of a travel purse with the practical needs that make a purse functional for everyday use.
For example, the bag has lockable zippers, internal attachments for your keys and wallet, slash-proof fabric, and a slash-proof reinforced strap. But it’s also roomy enough to fit a 12-inch laptop in a padded sleeve.
It gets you the same level of functionality as the Baggallini for the same price. And if versatility is what you want in your life, the PacSafe anti-theft crossbody bag is a great option.
Radio frequency identification, or RFID, is how your tap-and-go credit card communicates with a merchant’s payment system. Thieves have adapted to this technology with RFID skimming devices, which allow them to grab credit or debit card information by finding cards that work on a given frequency.
Most RFID products rely on a Faraday cage, a metal cage that shields its contents from electromagnetic radiation by distributing the radiation around the cage. Anti-theft bags may use the whole bag as a Faraday cage or just compartments.
Put it this way: the military uses Faraday cages to protect essential IT against EMPs. If it’s good enough for the military, it’s good enough for your credit card.
With all of that said, as Tortuga writer Shawn Forno notes, cases of RFID skimming are all but nonexistent. This is not Ocean’s 11 and you are not George Clooney.
You’re more likely to have your credit card hacked through an email scam than RFID skimming, and more to the point, if a pickpocket gets close, there’s no reason to waste time on an antenna when they could steal your wallet.
So why do companies hawk the technology? To be blunt, because it makes people feel better, just in case you have the bad luck of meeting a hacker. The question is whether you buy into it or not.
As Shawn notes elsewhere in writing about the obsolescence of money belts, if you go through life thinking you’ll be robbed, you will be proven right. As long as you take appropriate precautions, there’s no reason to dampen your travel experience.
On the other hand, practically speaking, most anti-theft bags use RFID technology. There’s no real reason to shop around it unless you want to take a stand, and either way, RFID-blocking doesn’t do any harm.
When shopping for an anti-theft crossbody bag, look for lockable zippers, RFID blocking, hidden compartments, and a slash-proof strap. Don’t forget about other features that make a crossbody functional, like capacity and water resistance, but don’t neglect style either.
The two best anti-theft crossbody bags on the market are the Baggallini Everywhere bag and the PacSafe Stylesafe Anti-Theft Convertible crossbody.