How to Not Get Your Gear Stolen
Tips from a gear tester who lives in a city known for theft
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Albuquerque, New Mexico is a great place to live—one of the top five American cities in my opinion. We have 300-plus days of sun, immediate access to hundreds of miles of bike trails, and world-class skiing just a couple hours away. We’re not as hot as Phoenix or as crowded as Denver and houses are still affordable. We do, however, have one major downside: a high theft rate.
According to the Associated Press, Albuquerque is number two in the country for stolen cars. We held the number one spot for three years straight before recently being overtaken by Bakersfield, California. Everyone who lives here understands that you have to be careful or your car will get messed with. We’ve all had a car stolen, broken into, or at least rifled through because of unlocked doors. Home break-ins are not quite as common, but we’re still careful.
So I’ve learned to take extra precautions when it comes to safeguarding my stuff. And as an outdoor gear tester and overlanding enthusiast, I have more equipment than most people. Here are the habits I’ve used to keep my gear safe.
Be Aware at All Times
My buddy Walt Wager used to guard special weapons systems for the federal government so he knows a thing or two about how to prevent theft. I asked him for tips and one of the easiest he shared is to always be aware. He says people who want to cause trouble capitalize on things like distraction and a lack of alertness, and that paying attention is an easy way to cut down on trouble.
For me, that means I’m always aware of where my gear is, whether it’s visible to a potential thief, and whether I’ve made it easy to steal. For example, I pay a lot of attention to my garage doors. I never leave them open if I’m not in the garage, and I never leave them open for too long even when I’m inside because I don’t want pedestrians looking in and seeing my stash. Another example: if my family and I are on an overlanding trip and I have a truck packed full of gear that I need to park somewhere for a dinner in town, I always take the extra time to find a parking spot where I can keep an eye on it. It’s much easier to spend 15 minutes circling the block than trying to replace a Yeti cooler.
When I’m using an expensive bike, it never leaves my sight. It sits next to me if I’m at a coffee shop and it sits in my office if I commute. If you do need to lock up a bike, buy one that you won’t cry over if it gets stolen. For a couple hundred bucks you can get a simple ride that’s slower than your race whip but will give you that extra exercise you always want. Check this article out for even more bike theft prevention tips.
Never Leave Anything in Your Car
I know two gear reviewers who’ve each had thousands of gear stolen out of their cars because they were lazy. One got all his camping gear yanked after he left it inside his locked car on the street overnight. The other had skis stolen from his SUV after he left them in his car while it was parked at the airport for several days. Both were victims because they were too apathetic to find a better place to leave their equipment.
I’ve never had someone break a window to nab something because my car is always clean. Even if I’m just running into the grocery store, I always take my laptop bag with me because it’s too easy to punch out a window. I also clean out my car every night, even if I’m exhausted and just got back from camping or skiing. I know it’s easier to load my car the night before an adventure, but I resist and instead get up early so that I don’t wake up to broken glass (all of this is different if you park in a garage, of course).
I’m also obsessive about locking my car doors. The last thing I do at night before climbing into bed is make sure that both cars are secure. The only time I had someone even attempt to steal from me was a night a couple years back when I was too lazy to lock the doors. Luckily, I hadn’t left anything valuable in the car.
If You Have to Leave Gear in Your Car, Do So Carefully
Sometimes, you just have to park your car where you can’t keep an eye on it—say at a trailhead. In these situations, do your best to hide valuable equipment. Stuff small items under seats or in the center console, and toss blankets or jackets over large things, so they can’t be seen. If you have a truck, move your gear into the cab. Camper shells are easier to break into. Drivers who have to regularly leave gear inside a car should also invest in lockable containers. Truck owners can buy a Decked system, which comes with lockable, slide-out drawers that fit into your flat bed. Tuffy also makes a series of metal lock boxes that can be securely mounted under the front or rear seats in a variety of vehicles.
Get to Know Your Neighbors and Rely on Your Family
I’ve lived in three different neighborhoods in Albuquerque and each time we’ve moved I’ve befriended the neighbors, both because it’s the right thing to do and also because I want them to watch my house when I’m gone. One neighbor was so good at watching my house that he once ran across the street to confront a bunch of teenagers having a late-night party because he was worried they were getting too close to my property. I knew that with him keeping an eye out, my gear was safe even if I was out of town for a week or more.
Our current neighbors look out for us, but aren’t quite as dedicated. So as an added layer of insurance I ask my mother-in-law, who lives close by, to pop by the house once each day when we’re out of town. She comes over and feeds the cat and waters the plants, which she enjoys, and if someone is casing my garage they’ll see her and know they could get caught if they return.
Invest in High-Quality Anti-Theft Gear
When it comes to keeping my garage and cars safe, my most important tool is a Ring camera ($180). (I like the wired version because I don’t have to worry about a battery running out.) I have one mounted over the top of the garage and it allows me to keep an eye on the entire front of the house via my phone. It’s set so that pedestrians walking their dog on the sidewalk don’t trip the sensor, but a spotlight comes on and I get an alert any time someone steps foot in the driveway. I also plan to set up two more Ring cameras so I can see the back and sides of the house. When I’m out of cell range the Ring is useless; but that’s why I also rely on neighbors and family.
I can’t park my overlanding truck in the garage because it’s too tall. The Ring helps prevent any trouble, but I also invested in a Ravelco anti-theft device (from $550). The Ravelco gets wired into your car and comes with a removable key. When that key is not plugged into the receiver (my receiver sits just to the left of my steering wheel), it makes the vehicle impossible to start, even if the thief tries to hotwire it. The only way to grab a vehicle with a Ravelco is to load it on a flatbed, which is not going to happen in front of my house or a hotel. We’ve covered bike locks ad nauseam at Outside, so I’ll refer you to this article and tell you never to skimp.
Buy Insurance Just in Case
Even if you’re smart, alert, and use all the best tech available, theft might still happen. That’s why I bought a home insurance policy that covers my gear just in case. I had to send in a detailed list of my bikes, skis, and other big-ticket items, as well as some videos, and then worked with my representative from State Farm to come up with a policy that would help me replace these items if anything ever happened. It’s also possible to work with your car insurance company to add on extra coverage for your overlanding vehicle. (I’m working on that now.) You’ll need to provide a list of receipts for all your additional gear and then decide whether a more expensive policy is worth the coverage.
For those of you with a lot of expensive camera gear, I’ve heard lots of good things about TCP Insurance. I don’t have enough camera gear to warrant a policy, but all my friends who are full-time photographers use that company and have had a good experience.