Updated October 2021
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Buying guide for shopping guide for best lock boxes

Lock boxes are found in homes and businesses across the country. They are a convenient and cost-effective way to keep documents and valuables safe. Lock boxes come in a variety of sizes, with several different security options, and can not only deter theft but also help to protect the contents from water or fire damage.

How do you know which type you need? Do you want a biometric, combination, or keyed lock? Does your lock box need to be waterproof? Does the interior need to be padded to protect delicate items?

Given the multitude of features and possible uses, it’s no surprise that there are many lock boxes to choose from. We’ve been researching the market so we can help you make an informed decision. The lock boxes we’ve recommended here highlight the variety of alternatives available. The following shopping guide outlines their features in more detail.

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With small, portable lock boxes, there’s always the danger that someone could simply walk off with it if it’s left unattended. To prevent that, buy a lock box that comes with a steel security cable, or buy one and loop it through the handle.

Key considerations

We looked at lock boxes and user feedback so we could determine the key questions and discover the areas where people need clarification. Primary among these is the level of physical deterrence.


Material: Some lock boxes look robust, but on closer inspection they might be considered as much a fashion item as a security one. Although they may have steel or aluminum corners and edge reinforcements that help with durability, the main panels are thin plastic sheet. This gives manufacturers the option of offering a variety of attractive colors and designs (and, in a couple of cases, transparent sides, which seems odd), but doesn’t give any real protection to the contents. A thin plastic lock box might stop an inquisitive school friend or work colleague, but it won’t stand up to any kind of assault. However, not all plastics are flimsy. Some are very resilient and can offer remarkably good protection against water and fire.

For the highest level of physical security, you can’t beat steel. A determined attack with power tools will get through most lock boxes eventually. If you need that level of security, you should probably buy a safe. Lock boxes should prevent the opportunistic thief from getting in, someone who might have a knife or screwdriver. Plastic lock boxes will do that to varying degrees, but steel pretty much guarantees someone won’t get in. If the hinges are hidden and the closure makes it difficult to get any kind of leverage, that’s even better.

Cable: Portability is one of the benefits of many lock boxes, but it can also be a significant drawback. It’s easy for someone to walk off with one. Some lock boxes come with a steel security cable, which you can use to lock the box to an immovable object if you have to leave it unattended. If a cable isn’t provided but there’s a handle to fit it through, it’s an inexpensive but effective addition.

Lock box features

Other considerations when shopping for a lock box are the locking options, fire and water protection, size, and additional features.


Key: A simple key and robust lever lock is perfectly sufficient in many cases. The problem comes if you want to grant several people access or if you lose the key!

Combination: A common and practical alternative is a combination lock, sometimes with a three-digit but usually four-digit code. The latter gives 10,000 possible combinations, so it’s extremely unlikely that someone is going to be able to open it with a random guess. However, we did find a number of complaints related to this kind of lock, mostly concerns about durability. Cheap versions are known to jam or break after a while, so it’s a good idea to invest in quality.

Keypad: A few high-end lock boxes have keypad locks. Normally, you still only need a four-digit code, but the fact that you’ve got ten digits to choose from means there are millions of possible combinations.

Biometric: The ultimate locking option in terms of security is biometric, though the cost of the technology means very few lock boxes offer it (it’s more common on gun safes, which tend to be more expensive). The box incorporates a fingerprint scanner, so there’s no problem with lost keys and no chance of a code falling into the wrong hands. Only an authorized individual can open it. The device’s memory can store multiple fingerprints, so more than one person can be granted access if necessary.

Fire and water protection

This aspect of lock box specifications can be very confusing. Manufacturers use terms like “fire retardant,” “flame resistant,” and “fireproof.” You also get “water resistant,” “splashproof,” and “waterproof,” and it can be hard to distinguish the difference. To make matters worse, while it’s in their interest to be as truthful as possible, lock box makers don’t have to adhere to any set standard.

However, there are two nationally recognized testing laboratories that use independent certification: Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and Intertek (ETL). If the lock box meets the standards set by these companies, you can trust that it offers the protection claimed by the manufacturer. The specs will usually quote specific details, such as withstands 1,550°F for 30 minutes or can be submerged for 72 hours, rather than a vague claim of being “fire resistant.”

Size and additional features

Size: Lock boxes that offer substantial protection are often much larger on the outside than they are inside, but it’s the inside dimensions you need to check, especially for document storage. Online photos can often be deceptive, and numerous customers who didn’t check have been surprised when the product arrived.

Handle: A handle is a basic component, but many lock boxes don’t have one. If you only need to move the box from cupboard to desk, that’s not a problem. If you need to transport it any distance, it could be inconvenient.

Extras: Some lock boxes have padding to protect the contents. Some have straps or pockets to provide better organization or rails for hanging files.

Lock box prices

Inexpensive: The cheapest lock boxes cost around $10 or $15, which will usually buy you basic locking and theft deterrence rather than particularly strong physical security. You’ll find a few with combination locks that cost around $20 to $30.

Mid-range: There’s almost endless choice if you spend between $30 and $100. There is a vast array of different sizes and types of construction, from lockable document boxes that accept letter-size paper to products that are extremely tough, fireproof, and waterproof.

Expensive: Spend more than $100 and you’ll find a few biometric lock boxes or a selection of gun safes that can also be used for small valuables. It’s not difficult to spend $200 or even $300 on one of those.

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If you need a cheap and simple solution with plenty of capacity, consider a plain steel lock box. These are easy to stack together if you need several, but you might need to buy padlocks separately.


Q. What’s the difference between a lock box and a safe?
That’s a tricky one, particularly as our top lock box is called a “fire and water safe”! In general, we consider a lock box a secure but relatively portable container. A safe is usually built into a wall or floor or is too heavy to be picked up and moved without considerable effort.

Q. Is it possible to change the combination on lock boxes that have tumblers or keypads?
You can usually change them when the box is open; for instance, if you want to deny access to someone who has the current number. If the box is locked and you’ve forgotten the number, you’re going to have difficulties. You can try contacting the manufacturer, but even if they have a way to open the box, they can’t tell you via email or phone. They wouldn’t have any way to verify that you have authority to open the box.

Q. Biometric lock boxes need batteries. What happens if they go flat while the box is locked?
Don’t worry. Biometrics offer excellent security, but it’s never the sole means of opening the box. Usually there’s a key in the event the biometrics fail for any reason. So why not just have a keyed lock? Why bother with biometrics? Reading a fingerprint is much quicker than fiddling around with a key, and depending on the box, you could give a dozen or more people access. It’s not practical to give out that many keys, and those keys would be impossible to keep track of. Some biometric devices come with smartphone apps so you can monitor who accesses the box and when.

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