lock shackle with small metal piece sticking out

Choosing The Right Locker Lock (Travel Locks Part 3 of 3)

For the last part of the Travel Locks series, let’s talk about locker locks. For any traveler staying in hostels, you will absolutely need a locker lock. However, for those staying in hotels, a locker lock might not be quite as important. Why? Because hotels rarely have lockers. However, even if you’re a hotel traveler, you may still run across lockers in train stations and at tourist sites, so this post still applies to you.

Generally, most lockers that you find around the world are going to require some sort of lock. In some more developed countries, banks of lockers may have a computer console where you can lock and unlock your individual locker. Other public lockers, particularly in European museums, are opened by a key that is removed when a coin is placed into a slot in the back. The money is returned when you insert your key to collect your belongings.

Over the last few years, some fancier hostels have started installing digital lockers that use the RFID card for the room to unlock your locker. This keyless locker is easier for staff to deal with if you lose your key/combination for some reason. The RFID lockers are really easy to use and simply require you tap your key to the locking mechanism.

In just about any other situation, you will need your own locker lock. If you grew up in the US, the large high school Master Lock combination lock may be tempting to use because it’s familiar. However, I can assure you that this is overkill for your traveling purposes…more on that later.

The most common use for locker locks is for backpackers staying in hostels. Most of the lockers will be thin wood or metal and just have a simple latch on the front. While it may seem like a good idea to reduce your overall bag weight and just use your bag lock on your locker, I would recommend against this because the thing actually making your lock secure is a pretty small piece of metal. You can actually see it at the base of the shackle (the U-shaped hinge) on your dial lock. Look towards the bottom right:

lock shackle with notch at base
See that little piece of metal sticking out at the base of the shackle? There’s one of those for each dial on your lock. That’s the locking mechanism.

One of these small pieces of metal is next to each dial on the lock. When all of the dials are correctly positioned, the small metal pieces on the base of the shackle are free to slide through groves inside the dials. This means that the only resistance preventing your lock from opening are these little metal pieces. However, take a look at my travel locks again:

picture of travel locks

In the middle and on the right are my bag and TSA locks. My locker lock is the lock on the left. Note that it is two times the size of the small lock chosen for my bag, but still has four dials for the same reasons described in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series. As you can imagine, the small metal pieces on the locker lock are much larger than on the bag locks. While your bag is at little risk of someone breaking the lock without tearing your bag apart, this is different on a locker. A locker can be used as leverage to tear the smaller metal pieces. Also, remember that if you decide to use a three dial lock, you only have 75% of the notch resistance of a four dial lock.

Another reason for a bigger locker lock is that many bag locks do not fit on a lot of lockers. They’re simply too small to fit through the latch. Having two lock sizes will get you by most situations. Keep in mind that more often than not, you will need the bigger lock, not the other way around.

Because of this, you may think to use a much heavier lock. I do not recommend the big high school combination lock as previously stated. The reason why is because you’re going to be in a out of your locker… a lot. When you go to the shower, come back to the room, forget a cable, need more cash, need to change clothes, etc. Lock, unlock, lock, unlock, lock, unlock…. That combination lock is going to drive you insane. Worse, it’s heavy. Also, you can’t reset the combination if someone else sees your combination by accident. Don’t bother with the big old school combination lock.

Lastly, I always keep a small bag lock on me when I’m out and about from my room. In the event that I do need to lock up my daypack while I’m at a museum or wherever, the bag lock will suffice. It’s unlikely that someone would attempt to rob museum lockers and there should be other people around consistently. Carrying the extra weight of your locker lock doesn’t seem worthwhile for this purpose.

Which one would I buy? This Master Lock dial lock is perfect.

That locks it up for this travel advice series! (See what I did there?) Overall, in my opinion, the minimum set of locks you’ll need if you’ll be backpacking or staying in hostels includes: 1) a bag lock for each piece of luggage; 2) a TSA lock for each airport checked bag; and 3) and one large locker lock – all with four dials. However, if staying in hotels, you can probably get away with only TSA locks and one regular bag lock for your daypack.

For the first two parts of this series, see Part 1: Bag Locks and Part 2: TSA Locks.


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