Portable solar panels are an amazingly versatile product that I really recommend. I like them so much that I wrote an entire article about them. However, they can be a little inconvenient. You have to make space for them in your bag and you can’t use them while on the go.
Solar backpacks neatly solve both of these problems by integrating the solar panel into the backpack itself. If you’re an on-the-go person with a need to keep your gadgets both protected and juiced, your next purchase might very well be one of these electrifying bags.
Solar Backpacks vs Portable Solar Panels
The main advantage that a solar backpack has over portable solar panels is that you can charge your devices while on the move. With portable panels you need to set up camp in one spot. If you’re hiking or camping, chances are the times you do settle down will be at night or during the last bit of sunlight for the day. With a solar backpack you are charging the whole time you’re traveling; this is also when you are least likely to want to use your devices. It’s a win-win situation.
The main drawback to solar backpacks is that you don’t have quite as much surface area and therefore the potential wattage is lower than you can get from a panel that folds open. Most backpacks also don’t mount their panels at the best angle relative to the sun, although when you put the bag down you can remedy this yourself.
For urban dwellers who walk or ride to school or work, these backpacks provide a way to stay connected without anxiety about where you can hook up your phone charger. If you need a new backpack and want portable solar power as well, this is a match made in heaven.
What to Look Out For
Before we look at some actual examples of solar backpack products, let’s chat about what’s important to consider before buying one.
First and foremost, your solar backpack must be a good backpack. There’s no point in buying it for its solar abilities if it’s a crappy backpack. Step one is to make sure that the bag is fit for its purpose. How much volume is available? Is it made of good materials? Is it meant for the activities you want? After all, a bag designed for hiking is different from one made to house a laptop or one for cyclists.
You should also keep in mind that some solar backpacks also integrate a lithium battery. Even when you are using your devices, the backpack will keep storing energy. This can increase the cost of the backpack significantly, but is obviously a huge advantage.
OK, now we can finally look at some real backpacks that are out there. Strap in, folks.
Sunkingdom Solar Backpack
Sunkingdom is a brand I’m seeing more and more in this product category. This backpack looks pretty good to my basic sense of taste and it has a generous helping of solar power. It has two of the 6W panels that we typically see on these backpacks. That means 12W of charging power in ideal conditions.
There’s a single built-in USB port, which means you can only charge one device at a time. I’d recommend that you use that port for a power bank, rather than charging your phone or tablet directly. This is mainly because you can’t access the cable without opening the bag.
Inside the backpack there are nooks and crannies for just about anything you can think of that a modern person would be carrying with them. There’s also a sleeve to accommodate a 15.6” laptop. The fabric is water resistant and there’s back padding in place for comfort. Honestly, this is way more than I’d expect for such a low price. The material is also vented in places, which is great for the summer heat. This is the sort of bag I’d buy in a heartbeat!
Fanspack Solar Backpack
I quite like both the look and price of the Fansback backpack. One very cool feature of the 5.3W panel is the fact that you can remove it and use it independently of the bag. That also suggests that you could upgrade to a more powerful one or replace it if it breaks.
This is a sizable pack with space for a 15.6” laptop. It’s made of waterproof Oxford cloth, although the solar panel itself doesn’t seem to be. At least it’s not stated outright. If you have a lot of stuff to carry, this is a stylish option with a neat solar panel gimmick. It helps that it’s affordable too.
Birkin Solar Backpack
The Birkin is a little boring to look at and the asking price is definitely out of the impulse buy zone. There’s a single panel which powers a built-in power bank. It’s not particularly big at 300 mAh, but that’s enough to fully charge the typical smartphone. Birkin says it takes about two hours in the sun to fully charge, which is not bad at all.
The panel is waterproof, but they don’t actually say that the rest of the bag is. Still, it’s made from a durable material, with a thick lining on the inside. I like the black version in particular, since it helps hide the solar panel. Overall this is a solid mid-range bag.
Eceen Hiking Backpack
Eceen has more than a few solar backpack designs. This one is meant for hikers, and immediately I can tell they’ve made better use of the solar panel space.
This larger single panel is good for 7W of power. Some models of this backpack come with a built-in power bank, but not this specific one. That’s fine if you already have a power bank, as most of us do.
As a hiking backpack it’s no surprise that the panel has been made weather resistant and toughened up. The back is reinforced in the classic weak points and the material is strengthened against ripping and tearing. There seems to be a compartment for everything in this pack and there’s no reason it can’t do double duty as a daily driver. A good all-rounder, actually.
DTBG Solar Charger Backpack
I really like the design of this backpack. It reminds me of what people thought the future would look like in early 2000s movies. Because the center section of the pack is black, it nearly hides the solar panel. The other available color is all black, which obviously does the same thing, but for once I actually like the two-tone design.
This is a very tech-focused bag. It has a port so you can hook up the solar panel to a device outside of the pack. There are pouches for everything from a laptop to your mouse, still leaving a spot for a tablet, power banks, and your phone.
There is no mention of how many watts the panel produces, but it’s safe to assume about 6W peak, although a firm number would have been nice. For the price this is a very nice pack for the tech-savvy urbanite.
ECEEN High-Capacity Backpack
This Eceen bag is big in so many ways. It has 48 liters of space and is wide enough for a 17” laptop. It also looks like a beast with three solar panels. However, in total they only add up to 10W of power.
It has plenty of mesh pockets for all sorts of gadgets as well as external mesh for drinks. This is a big general purpose bag for urban dwellers who need to carry around a bunch of stuff, while still keeping their phone charged up. It also comes across as a bag that would be great for tourists too. Lots of space for souvenirs and all the other things you need while out of the country.
Given all the storage space, innocuous design and decent wattage, this big backpack feels like a good deal for the asking price. If the 10W on offer is too little for you, then for just a few dollars more you can get the same pack with 20W worth of power. Combined with a decent power bank (which there is plenty of room for) you’ll be laughing at the people queuing for a power outlet.
The Megasolar backpack looks a little flimsy in the pictures and, based on how it looks, I wouldn’t use it for heavy duty work. In fact, it’s a rather frumpy-looking product, but it does have a 10W panel built into it. That is 4W more than you get on average and certainly more than you’d expect from a low-priced backpack like this.
That being said, it can only manage 1.8A charge rate at 5v – OK for charging a single device. The bag is big enough to house a 17” laptop and has a few nooks for other things,but it doesn’t compare to the detailed array of pouches we’ve seen so far. This bag is, however, perfect for a school student in a modern institution that’s gone digital. It’s cheap enough to replace and functional enough so a teen will get great service from it.