Stellar feature set: shackle dust shield, easy-to-see numbers w/cover, tamper-proof design, and industrial-grade strength. Comes with a lifetime warranty.
Expensive. It's also large and heavy, and it may be too much for some needs.
A rugged lock that can be used inside and out. Weatherproof and corrosion-resistant. Convenient size; neither too large nor too small. Includes step-by-step instructions.
Sometimes the combination is tricky to reset, but customer service is readily available to help. The warranty is only 3 years compared to the lifetime protection of some others.
Reliable, travel-friendly locks that can be easily removed and replaced by TSA agents. Practical and versatile; usable for other lock needs besides luggage. Value priced w/a a 3-year replacement warranty.
Provides some security, but can be cut; not ideal for serious security needs. Combination code is a bit difficult to set. Hasps are too thick for some luggage pieces.
Many high-end features for a great price. Easy to use and read, sturdy construction, and lifetime warranty. Two included w/purchase.
Not the best choice for heavy-duty use, but a value option for most consumers' lock needs.
Clearly visible numbers on the front and side. Combination is effortlessly set w/personalized numbers. Comes with clear instructions and lifetime warranty.
Some owners say it's larger than expected. It's on the heavy side, but it's not ideal for heavy-duty needs.
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Whether it’s books at school, a wallet at the gym, or priceless valuables in a strongbox at home, we all have belongings that we want to keep as safe as possible. With an effective combination lock, you can secure your items quickly and easily, so you never have to worry about having anything stolen.
But that’s only if you invest in the right combination lock. There are many options to choose from, so it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the shopping process.
If you’re looking for the perfect combination lock, keep reading our shopping guide, which is chock-full of tips to help you find the best lock for your needs.
Most combination locks contain a set of wheels called a wheel pack. Each wheel corresponds to one digit in the combination. The wheels are connected to a spindle that controls the wheels and a drive cam. When you turn the lock’s dial, the spindle turns the drive cam, and an attached drive pin hits a tab on the side of the wheels. The drive pin turns the first wheel until it strikes the wheel next to it, and the process continues until all of the wheels are turning. When the proper combination is used, all of the wheels line up and create a gap. That gap allows the lock to open.
Some combination locks have pegs rather than wheels. When you push in the pegs in the right combination, they fall into the proper position to open the lock.
Combination lock benefits
Secure: Depending on the number of digits, a combination lock can offer tens of thousands of different combination options. That makes it extremely difficult for a thief to randomly guess the numbers, so you can trust that your belongings are safe.
Easy to use: A combination lock doesn’t require a key to open, which makes it easy to open quickly. If you forget your combination, some locks do come with a key that you can use to open it. In some cases, you can easily reset a forgotten combination by pressing a button.
Combination locks with cable shackles work well for luggage because the cables are flexible enough to wrap around a handle.
Type: There are two main types of combination locks to choose from: dial and push-button.
Dial combination locks are the most common. They have the traditional wheels that you spin into the right position to open the lock. This type of lock doesn’t require a key and usually has shackles that are extremely difficult to cut through. Dial combination locks don’t usually offer resettable combinations.
Push-button combination locks have pegs instead of wheels. It’s easy to reset the code on a push-button combination lock, so you don’t have to worry about forgetting your combination. A push-button lock isn’t as secure as a lock with a dial, though you can maximize your security by choosing one with a code that requires more digits.
Shackle: The shackle is the portion of the combination lock that passes through some type of opening in the container you’re securing.
Standard: Most combination locks have a standard or conventional shackle, which is a thick, looped piece of metal that’s extremely difficult to cut. This type of lock works well for most applications, including lockers, toolboxes, gates, tool shed doors, desks, and safes.
Cable: Some combination locks have a flexible cable shackle, which makes it easier to thread through lightweight items like luggage, backpacks, and other bags. It can also be used on lockers and other smaller containers, as well as to secure bicycles. A cable style shackle is easier to cut through than a standard shackle.
Materials: The materials used in the body and shackle determine how durable and secure the combination lock is. Some common materials to consider include the following:
Pressed steel: Effective security for most basic uses
Brass: Less expensive; not quite as secure as other materials
Laminated steel: Budget-friendly; somewhat vulnerable to tampering
Steel alloy: Costlier but most secure
When it comes to the shackle, consider where you plan to use the combination lock. For outdoor use, you’ll want one that’s weatherproof so it can hold up when exposed to the elements.
Stainless steel: Good option for outdoor lock; offers effective security
Hardened steel alloy: More expensive; offers the best security
Size: Depending on the thickness of the shackle, a particular combination lock may not work for all applications. Locks with thinner shackles may not be the most secure, but they can work for smaller containers like lockers or strongboxes. For gates, sheds, storefronts, and utility meters, you’ll want a combination lock with a thicker shackle for increased security.
Digits: All combination locks require some type of numerical or alphabetic code to open the lock. The number of digits required determines how secure the lock is – the more digits in the code, the harder it is for thieves to guess the combination.
Many budget-friendly combination locks only have three-digit codes and are therefore easier to guess. You can find locks with four- or five-digit codes. For the most security, choose a lock with at least a four-digit combination.
Reset: Some combination locks are extremely difficult to reset. If you forget your code, you could have a lot of trouble accessing your belongings. Some locks are specifically designed to be easy to reset if you forget your combination. In many cases, you only have to push a button to reset your combination. If you tend to be forgetful, an easily resettable combination lock is the way to go.
A four-digit combination lock has over 10,000 possible combinations, so there’s little risk of a thief randomly guessing your code.
Three-digit combination locks are best used for low-security applications like a school locker.
Combination locks vary in price based on the materials and the number of digits in the combination. In most cases, you’ll pay between $4 and $40.
Budget-friendly: Three-digit combination locks made of brass or laminated steel or with cable shackles range from $4 to $12.
Mid-range: Four-digit combination locks made of pressed steel or steel alloy range from $12 to $25.
Expensive: Five-digit combination locks made of steel alloy range from $25 to $40.
Most dial combination locks must be spun three times to the right before you stop on the first digit in the combination.
While it’s a good idea to keep a copy of the combination handy in case you forget it, store it in a secure location where others won’t stumble upon it.
If you suspect that your combination has been compromised, immediately change the code on a resettable lock. For combination locks that can’t be reset, replace the lock to avoid any security issues.
Verify that any combination lock you plan to use outdoors is weatherproof or the lock may rust, leaving you unable to open it.
Q. What are the most important features in a combination lock for outdoor use?
A. If a combination lock is going to be exposed to the elements, it must be rustproof. Look for one made of 100% stainless steel so none of the lock’s components will corrode over time and prevent you from opening it.
Q. What features should I look for in a combination lock for luggage?
A. In order to use a lock on luggage that will go through airport screening, it must be accepted by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) so that TSA personnel can check the contents of your bag if you’re not present. These locks can be opened with a universal key, so TSA agents don’t need to cut the lock to inspect your bag. Approved locks are marked as such on the packaging.
Q. What do I do if I lose the combination for a combination lock?
A. Some combination locks have resettable codes, so you simply follow the manufacturer’s instructions for changing the combination. However, if a lock’s combination isn’t resettable, some manufacturers allow you to retrieve the combination via the lock’s serial number. Some manufacturers also allow you to store your combination on a secure website, so you can easily look it up if you forget.
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