Solar backpacks are a brilliant way to generate green energy for your devices. But which of them are worth your hard-earned cash? Let’s find out!
Have you ever been hiking only to find that your smartphone is dead when you need it most? Maybe you’ve been taking photos in a remote location, only to find your DSLR camera battery is dead with no grid power for miles around?
Maybe you need a solar backpack.
Solar backpacks are kitted out with lightweight flexible solar panels that convert sunlight into solar energy stored in a battery pack. If you’re a hiker, photographer, camper, or you just like having green energy on tap, these backpacks are a great purchase.
Here I look at the best solar backpacks on the market.
Solgaard’s flagship product, the Lifepack Backpack is a solar backpack designed for business people, students, and everyday workers who want to carry around their laptop, hard drive, devices, and other essentials without relying on grid power.
In my experience, around 1 hour of direct sunlight can lead to a 25% charge for smartphones, so the Lifepack is a great way to keep your smartphones and cameras topped up with power throughout the day.
I find that 3-4 hours are enough to charge my smartphone fully.
The Lifepack is also made from a unique material called Shore-Tex, a unique fabric that uses upcycled ocean plastic to make high-quality backpacks. Boasting solar power and upcycled materials, I’d say that the Solgaard is the best solar backpack for a GreenCitizen like myself.
At 30 liters of capacity, the PowerKeep Energizer Wanderer is a pretty large backpack that can fit many of your necessary devices and supplies.
Uniquely, the power bank included with this backpack can also be plugged into a wall outlet, allowing you to charge the battery either with solar energy or grid power depending on what’s most convenient at the time. This gives you multiple options on how to best charge your devices.
Nonetheless, the 3-watt solar panel is disappointingly subpar, while the lack of proper waterproofing makes this backpack useless for anyone who spends significant time outdoors.
The ECEEN 7W solar backpack comes with a 7-watt removable solar panel, so you can acquire solar power while walking around or you can leave the panel in direct sunlight while you do other things with the backpack.
However, I used this on a camping trip once and was pretty disappointed.
While the removable panel is okay, the bag itself is flimsy and cheap-feeling. The mesh pockets came away quickly and one of the zippers broke in just 2 days.
Designed as a laptop bag, I’ve often swung this bag over my shoulders as I head off to Starbucks to do some remote work on my Chromebook.
This solar-powered backpack comes with a USB port for charging your phone battery and a micro-USB port for charging with an AC outlet, so you have the option of solar-powered charging or regular grid power.
There’s also an LED indicator that tells you when the battery is full, which is nice and handy.
However, the 19.2% charge efficiency of the solar panels is rubbish, and the material for the bag is a little cheap. It’s fine for popping to Starbucks, but I wouldn’t stake my life on this bag.
God, I hated this backpack. The Amazon description was very confusing, which is never a good sign, but I decided to roll the dice on this backpack, and boy did I regret it.
This backpack comes with a 7-watt solar panel, though it seems to hardly work. It comes with adjustable shoulder straps though, which is nice. However, I struggle to find other redeeming qualities after that.
The fabric is cheap, the backpack isn’t properly water-resistant, and it falls apart after a few uses. Can I get a “meh”?
Not exactly one of the best solar powered backpacks on this list, the Voltaic Systems Array Rapid Solar Backpack comes with a large 25,000 mAh battery pack included, which is nice of them.
However, their claims of a 1-hour smartphone charge are not exactly true, and for such an expensive solar backpack, this product certainly feels cheap and flimsy.
Oh, and if you’re a city dweller, forget it. This thing is big, bulky, and gets in the way.
If you’re looking to charge your smartphone and other electronic devices, you need to make sure that the solar backpack has a solar panel that’s actually decent.
Loosely speaking, you ideally want to look for 5-watt solar panels (or higher) that produce 5V of power, as most smartphones charge at around 5V.
While higher wattages don’t always mean faster charging, it can help you out on cloudy days where sunlight is limited.
Phones can only accept charge up to a maximum rate of around 0.5A@5V. This means that over around 2.5W a larger panel will not charge your phone faster in bright sunlight. However, in poor light conditions a larger panel will continue to generate sufficient power when a less powerful panel will not.
What are you going to use the backpack for? Different packs have different capacities because they’re designed for different uses and types of people.
For instance, a 15-liter backpack is perfect for small laptops and smartphones, while a 45-liter backpack has much more storage for campers, hikers, or professional photographers.
The best solar backpacks have the storage and capacity that you need, as well as the solar panels necessary to charge your particular devices.
Some backpacks referred to as the “best solar backpacks” actually have huge problems with durability and lifespan.
For example, you might find that your backpack’s battery dies after a few months, or you have problems with the USB port connections after a while. These electronic issues are common with cheaper solar backpacks especially.
You also need to consider weatherproofing — not all backpacks are waterproof, and you don’t want your digital devices to get damp or wet, right?
How long will it take your solar-powered backpack to charge your devices?
If you’re relying solely on solar power, you need to carefully check how long it will take you to get the power you need.
The best solar backpacks at the higher end of the price scale will usually be able to charge your smartphone fully in 2-3 hours of sunlight, while cheaper backpacks with subpar solar panels will usually charge a smartphone battery in 5-6 hours or more.
Of course, the sunlight conditions make a large difference, but some solar panels charge devices significantly faster than others.
While a solar-powered backpack is a brilliant piece of kit, it requires you to have the backpack outside in good sunlight conditions for several hours per day.
Unless you’re a hiker, that just isn’t practical.
As such, it’s good to buy a solar pack with a power bank that has AC outlet charging capabilities, meaning it can be charged from either the solar panels or a regular wall AC outlet.
Many people, myself included, use their solar backpack’s solar energy as a sort of “top up” to help keep the power bank topped up when walking around.
Some solar backpacks have removable solar panels instead of sewn-in ones.
This makes it easier for you to leave the solar panel in direct sunlight (perhaps on a rock or window sill) while you use the rest of the backpack to do things.
Detachable solar panels make it easier to get solar power for your devices, especially if you spend most of your time indoors away from sunlight.
However, if you’re a hiker, camper, or adventurer who’s going to spend most of their time outdoors wearing the backpack, then this feature won’t matter as much to you.
A solar backpack is a backpack that comes with an integrated solar panel on the back, allowing it to charge and receive solar energy from the sun as you wear it on your back outside.
Some of these backpacks have their solar panels sewn in, whereas others have detachable panels that you can place elsewhere to charge while you do other things.
Some solar backpacks come with power banks included, meaning that the solar energy can be stored in the power bank and then used whenever you need to charge your devices. Other solar backpacks force you to charge your devices with the solar energy immediately — you can’t store it for later.
These solar-powered backpacks come in various sizes depending on your needs — you can get small 15-liter backpacks designed for laptops and tablets, or you can get larger 40-liter and above bags designed for camping, hiking, and outdoor pursuits.
Certain solar backpacks with power banks may allow you to charge up the power bank from an AC wall outlet as well as from sunlight. It’s often a good idea to use a combination of the two.
Solar backpacks are equipped with a flexible solar panel made from monocrystalline.
They also come with a battery, charge controller, various leads/cables, and they may also come with a power bank to store the energy for use at a later time.
Most decent solar backpacks can provide 120 watts of energy per day — enough to charge most your smaller digital devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.)
The bags work because of technology in the panels called photovoltaic cells (PV cells).
When sunlight hits the panel, electrical energy is created in the semiconductor. This is then sent to the charge controller or the lithium-ion battery for later use, depending on how your solar backpack works.
Photovoltaic (PV) cells are what make it all happen. The cells, grouped together as modules or panels, collect light from the sun and convert it to usable electricity. They're able to do so with the help of something called a semiconductor. These are substances that can conduct electricity. In the case of solar cells, silicon is the semiconductor of choice.
Most solar backpacks use a pretty standard setup reminiscent of the days that they were used in the military, where they first got their start.
You can expect a decent amount of storage space ideal for camping/hiking equipment, in addition to the flexible solar panel, powerbank, and a couple of USB ports for your devices.
With this setup, you can expect 120 watts of power per day on a 12-hour charge, assuming sunlight conditions are good. This is enough to charge most smartphones and smaller digital devices at least a couple of times. Many of these outdoor-style backpacks also have features like built-in LED lights.
In modern times, more urban-centered solar backpacks are becoming available. These backpacks tend to be smaller in capacity (20 liters or less) and have special storage compartments for laptops, tablets, and other digital devices. These backpacks often come with anti-theft features to help with pickpocketing and stealing in cities.
Some solar backpacks, whether designed for outdoors or city life, come with detachable solar panel kits that allow you to charge up the panels separately from the bag. This is useful if you don’t spend that much time walking around in direct sunlight.
This being GreenCitizen, we have to say that the biggest upside of these backpacks is that they produce green renewable energy that isn’t dependent on grid power, which is often made with fossil fuels.
These backpacks also don’t have byproducts or fumes that are released into the atmosphere, so pollution is reduced too.
Not only is solar energy attainable as long as the sun shines on the earth, but let’s not forget that it’s also a green energy source for the environment. This means there’s no pollution involved whatsoever, so you’ll be doing your part in reducing the production of fuel exhaust due to the use of diesel generators or similar power resources.
Most sun-powered bags are very lightweight, designed with portability in mind.
The panels used for capturing energy from the sun are usually made from lightweight, flexible materials. This means that you don’t need to worry about the bag bending in unusual positions too much.
Most of these bags are 2lbs or less when they’re empty, so they’re very easy to sling over your shoulder without feeling like you’re being weighed down.
The most obvious benefit of sun-powered bags is their ability to help you charge your devices when you’re camping, hiking, or just not near convenient grid power.
Most of these products have at least 1 or 2 USB ports that allow you to connect your smartphone or tablet to charge.
Some bags also allow you to charge slightly larger devices like laptops and DSLR camera batteries.
Most sun-powered bags are designed to be weatherproof and water-resistant, at least to some degree. This is because the solar panels must be able to absorb sunlight without getting damaged by rain, hail, and other adverse weather.
Weatherproofing also has the added benefit of helping to keep your possessions and digital devices safe from the elements inside your bag.
However, cheaper bags might not have this feature, so bear this in mind.
Generally speaking, you don’t need to be a professional hiker or long-time outdoors-y type in order to use a solar pack. These products are designed to be easy to use for everyday people who don’t know their charge controller from their watt-hours.
That’s me, by the way. I’m the least technologically minded human on the planet.
So yeah, if you’ve got the ability to turn on a laptop and send some emails, you will be able to use one of these bags just fine.
To make a solar backpack, you would need a regular bag, a flexible solar panel, a battery, and all the necessary cables. Attach the solar panel to the back of the bag and hide the battery and wiring inside the storage compartments. Voila!
The solar backpack may have been invented by Job Bihn, who filed a patent for the design back in 2006. However, it’s hard to know for sure who came up with the design first.
You attach solar panels to a backpack with double-sided adhesive tape. Heavy-duty tape is preferable, especially if you live in an area prone to rain and bad weather. Double-sided tape allows you to maximize the surface area of the panels exposed to sunlight.
I’ve looked at a lot of sun-powered bags on this list, but if I had to recommend just one, it would be the Solgaard Lifepack Backpack.
This solar backpack has 2 USB ports for charging my devices, a very efficient solar panel system, and is even made from Shore-Tex, their own material that includes upcycled plastic bottles from the ocean.
Charge my phone and save the whales. Win-win.
Solgaard Lifepack Backpack
Our # 1 Solar Backpack