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Which is Best - Combination or Keyed Padlocks


Here at Insight Security we understand how difficult it can be to select the right padlock. We routinely deal with customer queries asking us which is the best padlock from our store for their needs. In this post we clarify the pros and cons associated with combination padlocks and provide some useful guidance to help when determining which padlock is the best choice.

What is a Combination Padlock?

A combination padlock doesn’t use a key. Instead, a sequence of symbols or numbers is used to open the lock.

Single dial combination locks, sometimes called Rotary Locks, use just one dial to enter the unique combination. The dial must be rotated alternately clockwise and anti-clockwise to enter the each digit in the combination code.

Multiple dial combination padlocks are the simplest form of combi locks. They use several rotating discs to enter the required combination code. Some briefcases, for example, use simple 3 x digit combination locks. The number of discs and characters determines the number of potential combinations. So a simple 3 x numerical digit combination lock would have a maximum of 1000 possible permutations, from 000 to 999.

squire combination padlock
Squire CBW85 Combination Padlock

Combination Padlock Advantages

Combination padlocks provide a number of important advantages which make them very popular.

  • Importantly - there are no keys involved which avoids the possibility of losing keys and being unable to open the lock.
  • Combination locks are often ideal for situations in which multiple users need to operate a single padlock. They avoid the need for multiple keys and the risk that these might fall into the wrong hands.
  • Combination padlock codes can be readily changed whenever security is compromised or perhaps when someone who knows the code no longer needs it.
  • In situations involving multiple padlocks, combi locks can all be configured to operate from the same code. This simplifies user access and avoids the need for multiple keys.
  • Combination padlocks are available in a variety of sizes and styles including:
    • Conventional open shackle combi padlocks
    • Closed shackle combination locks
    • Long shackle combi locks
    • Discus type locks
    • Anvil or shutterlock styles
  • Click here to see our full range of combination padlocks.

As noted, the number of dials or tumbler wheels determines the number of potential code combinations. The more combinations the less easy it is for the combination code to be guessed. For example, a combination padlock with 5 numerical dials provides up to 99999 possible combinations.

Combination Padlock Disadvantages

While combination padlocks provide a number of clear advantages its important to be aware of potential disadvantages.

  • Importantly, combination padlocks are not as secure as their keyed counterparts. It is worth noting that there are no combination padlocks which have achieved Sold Secure or CEN security ratings.
  • As noted - 3 wheel combination padlocks offer a maximum of just 1000 potential code combinations. This may be adequate for tool boxes or personal lockers but isn’t appropriate for any high security applications.
  • A 4 wheel combination padlock provides up to 10,000 numerical code combinations while a 5 wheel version offers up to 100,000 combinations.
  • Its widely known that cheaper combination padlocks are relatively easy to crack by detecting the correct dial positions through touch and feel. Higher quality combination padlocks, such as those from the Squire Range, have overcome this limitation with special security features.
  • If someone cracks a combination padlock code they can potentially configure a different code, preventing the owner from subsequently opening the lock.
  • The level of security offered by any combination padlock is influenced by the number of wheels, the lock size, the manufacturing quality and the materials used.

Keyed Padlocks

Having noted many of the primary advantages and disadvantages provided by combination padlocks its beneficial to compare these with keyed padlocks.

squire closed shackle keyed padlock
Squire SS100 Closed Shackle CEN6 Keyed Padlock

The most important aspect for comparison is the level of security provided by keyed padlocks compared with combi locks. Many keyed padlocks have achieved Sold Secure or CEN security ratings. To meet these standards they have been rigorously tested by independent assessors who apply some extremely arduous test procedures that determine how robust the locks are and how resistant they are to various forms of attack. You will find many outstanding examples of high security keyed padlocks that have achieved CEN6 rating, the maximum possible security rating for padlocks, in our store.

Keyed padlocks are available in a wide range of sizes and designs using a variety of materials. The huge range of high security keyed padlocks means there is bound to be a model suitable for every application.

Keyed padlocks are offered with various keying options including Keyed Differently, Keyed Alike and Master Keyed.

  • Keyed Differently means every padlock has a unique key which will not work with any other padlock.
  • Keyed Alike enables a group of padlocks to all operate from a single key.
  • And Master Keyed padlocks all have individual, unique keys but a single, master key can then be used to operate all padlocks within a defined set.

Bluetooth Padlocks

Since we are talking about padlocks it would be remiss not to mention a new type of padlock which is slowly entering the market. These new padlocks or smart locks typically use an electronically operated locking mechanism and Bluetooth connectivity. Some feature biometric control, such as finger print detection, but most commonly they require an app to be installed on a smartphone where the keypad is used to enter the required lock code.

Since these locks are electronic they require a battery which, for some models, can last up to around 2 years. But, at the time of writing, there are no high-tech bluetooth padlocks which have achieved Sold Secure or CEN security ratings.

How to Choose the Best Padlock

Choosing the best padlock for any application basically boils down to these important aspects:

  1. Level of Security
  2. Convenience and accessibility

Its recommended that consideration is given to these important factors as they help ensure the right choice is made.

Security Level

Before even considering which padlock to choose its vitally important to think about what the padlock will be used for and the level of security required. A useful technique is to consider the value of what is being secured and what will be the cost of replacement if stolen or damaged. Then allocate an appropriate security budget that’s appropriate to the value of what’s being secured.

For high security requirements keyed padlocks are currently the best choice to make. This is because high security keyed padlocks with recognised security ratings have been rigorously tested and verified to ensure they meet stringent security standards. Its worth noting that all insurance approved padlocks are CEN rated keyed types.


One of the main reasons people choose combination padlocks is for convenience. They don’t require keys which helps minimise the number of keys on a key ring and they avoid the risk of keys being lost or possibly duplicated.

Another important aspect of accessibility in favour of combination padlocks is in situations where multiple people need access. Combination padlocks avoid the need for multiple keys and therefore the associated risks of having many keys in use.

Padlock Selection Assistance

We know how difficult it can be to select the best padlock for any specific application. What’s needed to secure a shed full of valuable garden equipment is generally a lot different to what’s needed to secure a bicycle when out and about. So if you need any help or guidance be sure to give us a call or drop us an email and we’ll guide you in the right direction.

If you have any questions about combination or keyed padlocks remember that we are here to help. Give us a call on 01273 475500 and we’ll provide you with free, expert advice.

This message was added on Thursday 14th October 2021

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