Solar-Powered Backpacks Provide Off-the-Grid, On-the-Go Energy Solutions

I recently spent a few days in Europe on what would prove to be a whirlwind of a business trip. It involved several long flights, two nights with a combined 10 hours of sleep, and a lot of reliance on my iPhone. As I spent almost every waking hour away from my hotel and moving around a massive convention center, I never got the chance to stop and charge said phone. Which was just as well, because my good old American charger wouldn’t have fit into the pin-style European outlets anyway.

So how do you keep your all-important devices charged when on the move? Just get yourself a solar-powered backpack and let the sunshine provide all the voltage you need. I used the Energizer PowerKeep PRO to keep my phone and digital camera juiced up and ready for three days, no outlets required.

Energizer PowerKeep PRO – $186

Energizer PowerKeep PRO

First, let me make a point about this option that some people will see as a selling point, but that others will see as a drawback: the solar panel that comes with this pack is removable, as is the battery it powers. While the backpack is optimized to accommodate the solar panel and battery (with Velcro and clips for the former, and a pocket and pass-through wire ports for the latter), none of the hardware that makes this a solar backpack is actually built into the thing. For me, that was a plus; the backpack looks a bit clunky with the solar panel attached, and the ability to take the battery out made the pack a bit lighter when no power was required. Some might prefer a pack with fully integrated hardware, as this reduces the chance of anything being lost and means less time spent configuring the bag.

Beyond the solar power — which I should mention involves a 3.7V/1000mAh battery that charges in about a day and can recharge the average phone four times — this well-organized, ergonomic bag is capacious without being bulky. It has two large compartments, one with a laptop sleeve that can accommodate computers up to 17 inches and another with straps that can hold a folded shirt and/or a pair of slacks neatly. A third compartment has slots for pens, pads, snacks, or what have you, and a zippered mesh pocket can hold a tablet (or a book or toiletries). There’s also an expandable water bottle pouch and a small slotted pocket tucked behind the solar panel, as well as a spot for the battery. And finally, built into the generously-padded lumbar support pad, one more zippered pocket is the perfect secure spot for a wallet, passport, cash, or microfilm containing international secrets of untold import.

The short of it all? I carried around a computer, camera, food and water, a change of clothes, notepads, and more, and my shoulders never got sore and my devices never went dead.

But just in case the Energizer PowerKeep PRO doesn’t suit your needs, there are other solar power bags out there worth shining some light on, if you’ll permit such a wonderful pun.\

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SolarSak Hiking Backpack – $90

SolarSak Hiking Backpack

The SolarSak Hiking Backpack has the thick shoulder straps and wide, adjustable waist band you’d expect of any decent hiking pack. Even when loaded with gear, and the included two-liter water bladder filled, you can schlepp this pack for miles with minimal strain on your body. And thanks to a detachable 7-watt solar panel, you can keep a phone, tablet, or camera powered up even as you move miles away from civilization. At a 42-liter capacity, this pack is a fine size for weekend overnight trips or for all-day day hikes, but unless you’re an ultralight packer, it’s not fit for thru-hikers. I’d call it a fine choice for biking, though, especially as riding puts your back at the perfect angle for powering up.

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SolarGoPack Briefcase – $119

SolarGoPack Briefcase

If you’re a busy business person who is always on the go and often out of power, then you need to consider the SolarGoPack Briefcase. This rather casual messenger bag has all the features you’d expect from a briefcase, including a padded laptop sleeve; pockets for business cards, pens, and papers; and a shoulder strap and carry handle. What sets it apart is a built-in solar panel that can generate 6.5 watts of electricity and that charges an included 1000 mAh lithium ion battery in just three or four hours with direct sunlight.

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ECEEN Solar Backpack – $70

ECEEN Solar Backpack

Like the Energizer PowerKeep PRO, this is a backpack designed to keep your small devices powered up while you are out and about. A few things set this backpack apart from the Energizer option, though. First, it costs less than half the price. Second, the solar panel is built right into the bag and can’t be detached. And third, this is a much smaller bag that has less overall storage space and fewer organizational areas within. This would not be my choice for a multi-day business trip, e.g., but it’s a fine bag for the daily commuting professional or student, so long as your laptop is 14 inches or smaller.

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