They're as old as the hills, but when it comes to securing your bike or your shed, padlocks remain the simplest solution. But they're not all created equally: and any canny thief will tell you that some padlock are far easier to break or pick than others.

We've put together this list of the top padlocks available on the market. These tough little locks are particularly difficult to break, and they're suitable for a range of situations. And while some models are pricier than others, they all offer excellent value for money in terms of what they deliver. Also, we've put together a guide that tells you the chiefs differences between padlocks, and what you should keep an eye out for when you buy one.

Materials and design – With a padlock made from cheap materials, a thief can easily break it with simple tools such as a hammer, whereas a well-engineered padlock made from the likes of alloy steel or brass is a lot stronger and more theft-proof. Padlocks made from reinforced construction methods are best, as are those that include ball bearings. If you’re using your padlock outside, a weatherproof padlock is essential and if you’re using it around water – for example, on a boat – make sure it’s waterproof too.

Shackle – This is the silver hoop at the top. Ideally, get a padlock where the shackle is mostly hidden so cutters can’t get anywhere near it. With a cheap padlock, criminals have no trouble snipping through the shackle; with a shrouded lock body, they can’t.

Seal of approval – Look for endorsement from independent testing bodies, particularly "Sold Secure"’ (owned by the Master Locksmiths’ Association) and "Kite Mark" (owned by the British Standards Institute). Dan Willoughby of Nothing But Padlocks adds: "CEN grading is a rating system specifically for padlocks and works on criteria such as number of key differs available, how long the padlock would take to pick, how long it would take to cut through the shackle with bolt croppers and also the strength of the padlock when pulled and twisted."

Dan Willoughby points out: "For common requirements such a shed, a good quality hasp and staple will be required. A security setup is only as good as its weakest feature, so there’s no point in purchasing a CEN 4 padlock and then a £10 hasp and staple that either exposes a lot of the padlock shackle or can be flipped off with the leverage of a screwdriver or crowbar."

The hasp is the flat, hinged strip of metal with a thin hole in one end that usually attaches to your garden shed door. The staple is the metal hoop that attaches to the door frame: when the door is closed, the staple slots into the hasp, and a padlock is attached to it to keep the whole thing together. While we're sure you've seen one before, it's less likely that you know what each bit is called.

What Mr Willoughby is saying is that skimping on that hinge/loop pairing means that you're putting yourself at risk – sure, your padlock might be tough as nails, but a weak hasp/staple is easily cut or pried away from the frame.

Key designs are more conventional, but a combination lock is ideal if you want lots of people to be able to open the lock. It also means there’s no danger of losing the key – although you have to be careful that the combination stays secret, as you won’t necessarily know if it falls into the wrong hands.

If you do go for a padlock with a key, more pins will always be better, as this makes it trickier to pick the lock or copy the keys. Some high-end padlocks come with a restricted key, which locksmiths will refuse to duplicate unless you can provide evidence that you’re the owner.

You can be guided by the value of whatever it is you want to protect. If you just need to secure an indoor locker full of documents then a £5 lock is probably fine. For a shed full of valuables, it’s worth paying a lot more for a properly secure padlock. More expensive doesn’t always mean better, though, so be sure to check out our reviews below for the best padlocks to suit all budgets.

This heavy-duty padlock features a hardened iron shroud which protects the shackle from bolt-cutter attacks, while the internal dual ball locking mechanism means no amount of meddling is likely to break it, and the six-pin cylinder is extremely difficult to pick. Designed to withstand all weather conditions, it’s suitable for anything from trailers to sheds, and will see you through years and years of usage – a promise that’s backed up by a lifetime warranty.

Key specs – Lock type: Key; Sizes available: 3; Warranty: Lifetime against mechanical failure; Suggested uses: Gates, sheds, storage units, fences, containers and chains

This cheap yet durable, anti-pick combination padlock is designed specifically for lockers in schools and gyms. It might look like every other combination padlock you’ve seen, but it’s far more robust and long-lasting than you’d expect for the price. There are two sizes available – a 30mm model with three dials and a 40mm design with four dials for larger lockers.

Key specs – Lock type: Combination; Sizes available: 2; Warranty: None; Suggested uses: Lockers and gyms

Approved by the Sold Secure Association, this heavy-duty, seven-lever lock means business. It’s made from top-notch stainless steel that won’t rust or corrode, and it’s designed to easily attach across a door and its frame, so it actually serves as a bolt as well as a lock. It’s been tested to withstand bolt-cutters, drills and hacksaws, and it comes with four keys and a unique ID number.

Padlocks with built-in alarms are perfect for bikes, drawing instant attention to a would-be thief to encourage them to give up their attempts and scarper. This one sounds for ten seconds when triggered, with a 110dB twin tone siren (that’s very loud, take it from us), then resets after 35 seconds. Be warned that it is quite sensitive, though that might be a good thing – and the lock itself isn’t as tough as more expensive models, so we don’t suggest you use it without the alarm.

This robust and well-built padlock gives you sound security without the need for keys, and it’s easy to set your own code from the 10,000 possible combinations. With a 48mm steel body and hardened steel shackle, it’s reliable and highly robust, although some customers suggest spraying it with lubricant every now and then during wet weather to keep it from getting stiff. A steal for under twenty quid.

Key specs – Lock type: Combination; Sizes available: 1; Warranty: 1 year; Suggested uses: Sheds, gate barriers

A padlock for outdoor use needs to be able to survive the elements, but that doesn’t mean it has to be expensive. Practical Boat Owner magazine found that this lock, with its weatherproof PVC coating and hardened steel shackle, had the best attack resistance in its class, withstanding a lot of force and some serious bolt cutters. If you actually want to use it on a boat then you’ll find it’s somewhat resistant to salty water too, though you can expect a little corrosion over time, which can make the key feel stickier to turn. All in all, this is an impressive weatherproof lock, especially for the price.

Yale is one of the best-known names in the security industry, and the company makes a huge range of padlocks for all sorts of roles. This one’s particularly good for indoor jobs, such as cellar doors, document rooms and toolboxes. We’re particular fans of the closed boron steel shackle, which means that very little of the shackle is exposed, and the double-ball locking, which means that even if a thief were to cut into both sides the shackle would stay put. Its only limitation is that it won’t withstand tough weather conditions, so don’t use it outside.

Don’t be fooled by this lock’s modest size: it’s very strong and features a weatherproof coating to help it resist the ravages of the outdoors. The larger models (30mm and up) also have a protective shackle coating that makes them more resistant to corrosion. Made from an aluminium alloy called Titalium (as used for certain parts of planes, we’re informed) it’s great for cupboards, locks, tool boxes, shed doors and anywhere where you need a sturdy, compact padlock that won’t rust up.

Key specs – Lock type: Combination; Sizes: 7; Warranty: None; Suggested uses: Cupboards, locks, toolboxes and shed doors

This affordable, high security, ultra-solid and compact padlock can be used indoors and outdoors. We think it’s best suited to sheds and garages, although it has been designed with trailers, moving trucks, and self-storage trucks in mind. It’s on the small side, with a wide zinc body; the reinforced body bumper is scratch resistant, while the shackle seal and hinged dial cover protects against bad weather.

The 4-digit combination is one directional, making it easier to use when you’re in a hurry or if it’s dark. There’s even a roller pin locking mechanism, to protect against anyone attempting to pick the lock. Some customer reviewers complain that the lock combination is on the fiddly side, while others say the line can be slightly off-centre – which can trick you into thinking it’s not working – but we didn’t have either of these problems.

Key specs – Lock type: Combination; Sizes: 1; Warranty: Master Lock Limited Lifetime warranty; Suggested uses: Storage units, sheds, garages and workshops

Bicycle 4 Digit Cable Lock

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