Protect Your Gear from Thieves with the Pacsafe Z28 Urban Security Backpack - ITS Tactical

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Protect Your Gear from Thieves with the Pacsafe Z28 Urban Security Backpack

By Brian Green

In today’s connected and technology-driven world, it’s hard to go anywhere without the need to take along some pretty expensive tech gadgets. And if you’re a traveling professional, remote teleworker or anyone who works in a technology related field, then it’s even more highly likely that you have some form of laptop or tablet device with you – possibly both.

Unfortunately, with so many portable electronic devices being carried around these days, device and data theft crimes have skyrocketed. Though most corporations provide their employees with safety guidelines on how to best protect their technology assets and intellectual property when traveling, opportunistic device theft is still a major problem.

PacSafe Z28

Smarter Travel Gear

Pacsafe Z28Pacsafe has a comprehensive line-up of anti-theft products ranging from RFID blocking wallets to roll along luggage, and everything in between. For the past few months I’ve been testing the Pacsafe Z28 backpack which is part of their Heritage series.

The Pacsafe Z28 urban security backpack is one of the largest mobile security backpacks available on the market.

With a cavernous 28L interior main compartment, this thing is more than big enough to carry all of your technology needs and much more. It is constructed of heavy-duty polyester canvas.

Despite its size, the Z28 is very comfortable to wear with its quilted back support and fully adjustable padded shoulder harness with sternum strap and waist strap, both of which are removable. In the photo above, you can see me wearing the Z28 into the office. For size comparison purposes I am 5 foot 8 inches and 155 lbs.

Taking a Closer Look

PacSafe Z28 Zippered Pocket

There are two main components to the Z28 backpack; the lid and the main compartment. Toward the back of the lid there is a fairly large zippered pocket that contains a plastic key loop attachment. This pocket can easily hold sunglasses, phone, keys, and other small personal items that you may need quick access to. Just behind the top lid pocket there is a typical hauling handle.

Inside the pack’s lid there is an internal zippered pocket that is slightly smaller and has no organizational features. Both the external lid pocket and this internal one are not secure and can be accessed even when the Z28’s eXomesh ® locking system is in use. In other words, don’t store any valuables in these pockets!

PacSafe Z28 Interior Compartment

The main compartment of the Z28 is extremely basic. There are no additional pockets or organizing pouches as part of the main body of the pack. However, there is a removable padded sleeve with two compartments. The larger compartment is designed to hold a laptop and is perfectly sized to take my 15″ MacBookPro. The smaller compartment is designed to hold an iPad or tablet device. A safety trap makes sure that your precious devices don’t slide out of the soft, padded sleeve.

Pacsafe’s eXomesh ® Locking System

PacSafe eXomeshAt the heart of the Z28’s anti-theft security claim is its patented eXomesh ® locking system that is integrated into the very fabric of the main compartment of the pack. The eXomesh ® system consists of a braided stainless steel net or cage that is sandwiched between the rugged canvas layers that make up the backpack. You can easily see the mesh cage between the layers in what looks like a series of criss-crossing veins.


PacSafe Locking System


To utilize the eXomesh ® security system, simply cinch the top of the bag shut using the integrated wire cable. The cinching system uses a 2 foot long braided stainless steel security cable laced around the the opening of the pack. The cable runs through grommets in the top edge and between the sections of the inner mesh to create a fully enclosed stainless steel cage.

To lock the whole system in place, pull the affixed steel “lump” through the largest of the two holes in the plastic end cap and slide it over to the smaller hole so that is holds the cable in place.

Finally, place the provided hardened padlock through the larger hole and lock the padlock. The loop of the padlock obstructs the larger of the two holes and restricts the steel “lump” attached to the cable from passing back through, thereby locking the entire opening of the backpacking – simple yet very effective.

You can easily puncture the canvas layers of the backpack with a knife, but the only way to get access to the contents is with a pair of wire cutters. And while this may be easy to do for a prepared thief, the average opportunist most likely won’t carry a pair of wire cutters.

Locking the Pacsafe to a Fixture

Another very ingenious feature of the Z28 is its ability to use the cinching cable as a way to securely attach the pack to an immovable or large object.

To do this, simply wrap the end of the cable through an opening on the object. In this example, I’ve attached it to the underside of an office desk, and used the fixed loop on the end of the cable to attach it to the loop of the padlock.

This secures the bag to the object while at the same time securely encloses the contents of the pack in the eXomesh wire cage. It’s very similar to the laptop cable locks that many of you may be using.

PacSafe Z28


While the Pacsafe Z28 may not stop a well prepared and determined thief, it will most likely protect against opportunistic crimes, and that’s what it’s intended for. The weakest point of this entire system is the padlock.

If you recall our earlier post about how to unlock a padlock using a shim made from a Coke can, you’d know that it’s not hard to pop open a padlock. Of course that still requires extra time and expertise that not everyone will have, but you get my point.

PacSafe Z28

I wish there were a slightly smaller option of this pack available. The 28L main compartment is enormous. It’s definitely big enough to function as a carry-on pack for traveling and could even store a few changes of clothes in addition to your gadgets, but for day to day office or commuting it’s just too big.

Another great addition to this pack would be some internal organization pouches and pockets. It lacks somewhere to clip in a few pens, stash some power cables or adapters, and slot in a notebook (of the paper variety).

This backpack would be great for anyone traveling and staying in a hotel room or for additional security when locking items in the trunk of your car. I also like that it is a very discrete looking backpack even when the cable is deployed.

Editor-in-Chief’s Note: Brian is an avid lightweight backpacker and author of the popular Brian’s Backpacking Blog. Originally from Southampton, England, Brian has lived in the US for over 15 years, finally settling in North Carolina. His love of the outdoors started at a very early age, almost as far back as he can remember. Now he spends as much time backpacking as his work schedule and family life will allow. Be sure to check out his blog for other great backpacking tips & tricks and gear reviews.

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  • I’ve never heard of this pack before and it has me interested. I like the security idea and truly not being worried about it. I enjoy sleeping on trains (well, I tend to fall asleep due to the gentle rocking and low hum of the engines) and my only other option was wrapping my backpack straps through my legs but it can get a bit uncomfortable sometimes. I’ll have to check this out!

    Oh one thing, how waterproof is this? It looks like it should repel water fairly well or at least keep it from getting into the main compartment easily.

    I also mentioned before about how I like the giant space for organizing my gear how I like it but for day to day commuter work, it would probably turn into a bit of a gypsy camp. I think you’re right at how a few pockets may help.

    • Mike, the Pacsafe repells water okay at best. In a downpour the outer canvas layer will start to absorb water, although I’ve never had any issues with water/rain penetrating through the inner layer which appears to be more synthetic. The cinched neck opening is actually really tight and with the addition of the lid there’s little to no chance of rain getting in. If you submerge the backpack, well that’s a different animal entirely.

      The lack of organizational features in the main compartment was not a show stopper for me. I mention it only in an effort to be thorough. It would be easy to shove a smaller organizer case inside the main compartment and call it good.

  • Excellent review on a product that actually addresses the growing problem of electronic/gadget theft. We all enjoy owning tactical style packs etc., but many of them make our gear or the pack itself, easy pickings.

    I think you could get around the lack of pockets by using small organizer pouches.

  • Ah, an article that hit precisely where my interest lies. I’m tentatively planing a lengthy trip by Eurail pass that’s likely to take me from Narvik, above the Arctic Circle in Norway, to far-eastern Turkey. I’d like to take along electronic gear a bit larger than a smartphone but worry about theft, either snatch-and-run in public or while I sleep.

    Snatch-and-run needs a lanyard attached to me or something solid. Theft while sleeping means some sort of lock-it-up scheme. This might be an answer to the latter, but I worry about wear between canvas and that stainless steel bag in all that traveling. Kevlar might be an answer. A quick Google turned up a number of Kevlar backpacks, but most seem to be intended to stop bullets rather than thieves and, sadly, many seem to be for children.

    Perhaps Pacsafe should make Kevlar-lined bags for iPads and laptops with a steel cable that can be locked to something solid. That’d allow us to retrofit existing bags of whatever size we need for either a daily commute or an extended journey.

    –Michael W. Perry, Across Asia by Bicycle

    • Michael, another possible option might be to look at some of the other Pacsafe products such as their eXomesh cage and pack protectors. Those are both more or less the same system without the actual backpack, a naked version if you like. You could insert the nake eXomesh inside the kevlar or stronger pack of your choosing to create a solution that suits your prefs. Just an idea.

  • eatmycamo

    I have one of the original pacsafe nets. They’re unbeatable for pack security.

    • eatmycamo – The Z28 backpack is basically the evolution of the mesh/net concept integrated into a sturdy pack. Pretty clever really and definitely best in class.

  • Lulz

    That lock and cable arrangement will take seconds to force and clearly mark the bag as containing valuables.

    • Lulz, unfortunately the padlock IS the weakest point of this system, I don’t deny that. If there is an alternative and more secure solution than a standard padlock I’d love to know so that I can use it. As I mentioned in a comment below, the cable is deliberately shown in the photos for demonstration purposes. In real use it’s not too hard to almost completely hide the cable – I agree that you don’t want to attract attention to the pack.

  • Francisca Yanez

    You had me nodding right up until the last line:

    “I also like that it is a very discrete looking backpack even when the cable is deployed.”

    Really? That wire mesh sticks out to my eye pretty blatantly. Part of good security IMHO is not looking like you have anything worth being targeted for, and that mesh’s purpose is pretty apparent, I’d say. It quite visibly some kind of strengthening mechanism, makes the pack look unusual, and that could attract trouble.

    I really believe that your suggestion to Michael (buy one of their mesh nets and put it inside a more normal-looking pack) is likely the better way to go, at least until they come up with an integrated product that calls less attention to itself.

    When I’m travelling, I like luggage that looks well-used. Beaten-up, even.


    • Francisca, well to be fair the mesh lines on my pack do show up pretty clearly, I’ll give you that. But that’s only because it’s had a lot of use and it’s gotten wear marks where the mesh cage runs through it – I wish that were not the case, trust me. The pack when new does look a little less suspicious, I’ve actually toyed with the idea of plunging the whole thing into a large bucket of Rit dye to hide the wear marks, but that’s just a PITA.

      The deployed cable shown in the photos is for demonstration purposes. In proper use it’s easy to almost completely hide the cable and make it look a lot more discrete. I guess the photos and that line don’t really work together eh? All this said I think that Pacsafe can definitely improve on the way they’ve implemented the concept. Right now the separate mesh cage and pack of your choosing may be the better option, but I like where Pacsafe is going.


    Seems to me you could easily bypass the whole thing by cutting the bag below the cinching cable, it doesn’t seem to be protected by the mesh.

    • Robert, the inner mesh continues up around the collar of the back and is looped through and around the cinching cable. There are absolutely no gaps in the enclosed mesh cage. It may not be easy to see in the photos, but trust me when I say that you cannot do what you are suggesting – if you could that would be kinda pointless 🙂

  • MagnusMcGlashan

    Hi Robert – the wire is connected to the draw wire cable. It is underneath the nylon.

  • Jeremy

    Thorough review!
    Is the cinching steel cable removable?  I’d use it in dodgy places, but for in safer areas, I could see paracord being more convenient.

  • faustro

    Im wondering if the wire is a problem at an airport terminal. Can you take it with you on a plane?

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