As we become more and more connected, it is harder to leave behind our electronic devices, even we are immersed in nature’s splendor. The following are my picks for what to look for in a solar backpack and several good choices in what to get depending on what you need it for.
Reasons to Buy a Solar Backpack
Solar panels get better and better every year and they have finally gotten to a point where you can add solar panels to your backpack and as long as you are outside in the sun, keep your phone and other wearable electronics fully charged.
Who doesn’t want to help out Mother Nature? You have to use this a good bit to offset the initial carbon footprint cost of manufacturing this item, but as long as this is a well used item by you, you can count on free energy from the sun without causing any harm. Enjoy nature and help preserve it at the same time while staying connected off the grid.
More and more jobs require people to be outside for the jobs with devices that require power. Battery packs are a must in these situations, but including a way to charge keep these devices and battery packs charged gives you one less thing you have to worry about.
Do a lot of biking or hiking and want to make sure all your electronic devices stay charged? You are already out in the sun with a backpack, might as well use all that free energy beaming down on your pack. Do you need to keep a tablet, phone, GPS, flashlight, radio, digital camera, GoPro or one of hundreds of other electrical devices?
What to Look for in a Solar Backpack
I recommend a backpack that includes at least a 10000mAh battery pack with it. A 1000mAh is the ideal weight, not too heavy and beefy enough to charge your phone several times or your iPad a couple of times. A typical smart phone will have a 1440mAh – 2200mAh battery. Directly charging from the solar panel works but makes things more difficult then it needs to be. The battery pack will ensure that a charge is ready when you are. If it does not include one, you should buy one at least this size and make sure it is a dual port charger.
You are going to want to pair the 10000mAh power pack with at least a 7W solar panel. 7W is enough to fully charge the battery pack with a full day of sun (7-9 hours). The more wattages you go though, the quicker you can recharge and the more items you can charge. Once you go over 15W though, the price and size start getting past what you can comfortably fit on your back.
The panels should get a good amount of sun from just being on your back during a normal hike or bike ride as long as the sun is out. If you do plan on stopping for a little bit, it is worth it to make sure you lay your backpack flat on the ground so that the solar panels are at a 45 degree angle to the sun’s rays. You should periodically wipe your solar panels off with a microfiber cloth. The panels will pick up dirt and it is good to keep them wiped down to prevent pitting and degradation. If your backpack does not include a microfiber cloth, it would be worth picking one up and making sure to keep it in your backpack.
You are also going to want to make sure everything is at least water resistant if not water proof since this is designed to be outdoors and nobody wants to have to go find shelter every time there is a light rain. Protection from dirt and shock is also another good thing to look for.
Already Have a Backpack?
Already have a backpack you really like and just want to add some bare bones solar charging without having to get a separate backpack? You do have the option to just get separate charging panels and attach them to your existing backpack. Unless you are in the market for a new backpack, this is really the way to go.
The following two items are my two choices if you just want to add solar to an existing backpack. The first is a small clip on battery pack with a solar panel on its face. This will not provide a whole lot of solar charging though. The second option is if you want to add real charging capabilities to your backpack with full size solar panels, but it is a bit more expensive.
Levin Dual USB Port 5000mAh Portable Solar Panel Charger – $24
The best thing about this is its cheap! So cheap that it is worth it almost just worth it for it being a 5000mAh battery pack. For $25 you could easily buy this in addition to getting a full solar backpack and just hook it on for a little more peace of mind. The worst thing about this attachable mini charger is the same thing that makes it awesome, since it is so small, it can take up to several days of being in the sun to fully charge the battery pack. It can be charged manually though before your trip, so this makes a good emergency battery backup that you simply hook to your backpack and forget about. The battery pack has enough juice to charge a smart phone back up to full twice, maybe three times if its a small phone.
The small size of this charger makes it great for bringing to sports or to the beach and just leaving it on the ground while you enjoy the outdoors and get some free charging for your battery pack. Keep in mind that this is rain resistant and not water proof. A light rain is fine, but if you drop this in the ocean, you will need to dry it out immediately.
- 5000mAH and dual 1A USB ports
- Compact at 5 1/2 x 2 7/8 x 1/2 inches and 5.3 oz
- Built in flashlight
- Rugged case that is water resistant and shockproof
- Included micro USB charging cable, carabiner clip and regular + lightning Apple adapter heads
Best Solar Backpacks Under $75
VIVO Solar Bag 2.4W Solar Panel and 1600 mAh Battery – $50
This is exactly the bag you think you would get for $50. The solar panel and battery are really just powerful enough to give you enough juice for emergencies or if you just want to make sure you always have the option to get some power to your phone or device. The solar charging is basically enough to keep your phone at the same level if you do not use it, which is really not a bad thing to have in a backpack.
Besides the solar panels, this is a standard 18″ backpack and would make a fun gift for a middle or high school kid. This is a decent option for an EDC (Every Day Carry) bag as it is just the right size for all the basics.
- 18″ Backpack
- 2.4W Solar Panel
- 1600 mah lithium ion battery and 7 adapters
ECEEN Solar Powered Hiking Daypack – $70
This is the highest rated solar powered daypack on Amazon, and it is easy to see why. Though a good bit under-powered compared to some of the other models for a similar price, this has the perfect feature set to be used as a small hiking, travel daypack or for light biking. It folds up into a convenient carry pouch that takes up very little room or weight in your main backback, suit case or briefcase. You could also use it on your lunch break or while commuting to work. Check out the photo below to see how small this thing gets! At 1.06 pounds this is great pack for minimalists.
This pack is made from rip and water resistant fabric, making this a light and durable pack. Common tear points are reinforced so this thing is built to last you many years of daily use.
The included solar charger is removable and foldable allowing you to choose if you want to use it or leave it at home. 3.25W is about half the wattage of a standard charger, but this is plenty considering this is only meant to be used for a couple hours at a time and then neatly put away. It is half the wattage but 1/3 the size since they use high efficiency solar cells. You sacrifice power for weight and size in this case. The solar cells are in a protective anti-scratch coating sewn into PVC fabric to make these durable for outdoor use.
Like most things in this back, the 2000mAh battery pack is less powerful than what you can get in some other packs but it is slim and waterproof and will give you a single charge to your phone or similar device. Once again you are trading off compactness and weight for power
- Lightweight – 1.06 lbs
- Roomy – 33 Liters
- Unfolded – 19x13x8.2 inches VERSUS Folded: 7.5×7.5×3 inches
- 3.25W solar charger
- 2000mAh battery pack
Best Solar Backpacks Under $100
EnerPlex Packr Commuter Solar Powered Backpack – $80
This one is designed specifically for your work commuter (think bus, train, walking and not biking commuting). It has padded interior sleeves for your laptop with a charging pass-through. Lots of interior compartments and two external pockets for water bottles. Plenty of room for you business supplies such as pens, cards and notepads.
The shoulder straps on this are not nearly as adjustable as a backpack designed for hiking or biking, but you will also not have it on your shoulders all day, so it is a fair tradeoff.
This bag is perfect for business commuters that get a fair bit of sun on their commute and are not always near a power outlet.
- Padded interior laptop sleeve with charging pass-through
- Interior compartments with several pockets and charging pass-through
- 2 external zippered pockets for water bottles
- Business supply compartments for pens, business cards, and more
- Padded, adjustable shoulder straps
SolarGoPack 5W Solar Cell and 12k mAh Battery Backpack – $100
This is a decent middle of the road backpack. Lots of pockets and compartments with a decent enough shoulder straps. Has a spot for a water bladder if you have your own hydration system already. 5W solar cells are a bit underpowered and the 12k mAh is a little more powerful than what usually comes with these. Some complaints on quality on this but customer service is very responsive with this company and they tend to take care of problems quickly. This is the backpack you want if you are shooting for average. Works nicely for middle or high schoolers though.
- 12000 mAh Power Pack
- 5W solar cells
- 35 Liter of inside space
Best Solar Backpacks Under $150
ECEEN Solar Bag with 7 watt panel and 10,000 mAh Battery – $120
Another quality bag from ECEEN. This thing is ultralight and ultra durable making it a great bag for everyday use. This thing is quite roomy as well, fitting a 17 inch laptop in the main pocket. Material is lightweight and water resistant including the solar panels and battery pack. Solar panel is flexible as well as being scratch resistant. 10000 mAh battery will charge your phone back to full 2-3 times. Dual outputs on the battery pack of 1A and 2A for charging your phone or tablet. Panels are power enough to charge up a normal phone from dead to full in 3 hours in full sunlight.
Comfortable and adjustable mesh straps means you will hardly notice this backpack on your back. Tons of pockets and compartments for all your needs.
- 7 watt high efficiency panels
- 10k mAh waterproof Li-Polymer Battery
- 1.7 lbs
- 21.3 x 8.7 x 15.4 inches
ECEEN Solar Powered Messenger Bag – $130
If you are looking for a solar powered messenger bag, than this one is for you. 10W of solar power and 10k mAh power pack also means that this backpack will give you plenty of juice on the go.
This bag is made for carrying books and a laptop, not so much for hiking and biking. So, keep that in mind. Think going to school or a picnic not going for a hike in the woods. Interior is roomy enough to easily fit a 15″ laptop and includes an external side pocket for a water bottle. Inside compartment is roomy and expands to fit a few large books and lots of odds and ends. Shoulder straps are comfortable but can be wearying if you load this thing up with a lot of weight.
- 10W Solar Cell
- Strong, durable canvas material
- 36 liters of space
- 10,000mAh power pack
Solar Backpacks with Hydration Packs
Solar backpacks that include hydration packs are the ultimate inconvenience. These include everything you want for a day trip, slack hiking or just walking around in the city. CamelBak, solar charging, battery pack and a comfortable backpack. A lot of these you can purchase at a cost cheaper than just getting a normal CamelBak. Solar + Hydration for cheaper than a CamelBak? Sounds like a no-brainer to me.
For most of these backpacks I would suggest you wash out your hydration bladder several times before using it. Completely fill it with water and let it drain through the tubing 4 to 5 times at least. If not, the water will have a plasticy taste to it. After this you should clean your bladders with a Camelbak Antidote Cleaning Kit once a month or after several uses. If not, your tubing and bladder can get grungy and disgusting. Make sure to store the bladders completely dry as well, if not you can get mold in the tubing that can get hard to clean out.
Ivation 7W Solar Charging and 1.8L Hydration Backpack – $100
I really the features to price for this backpack. You can usually find this cheaper than just getting a similar quality CamelBak, so the addition of the solar charging is almost just a bonus. The bladder has a wide cap and makes it really easy to fill up. 1.8L is plenty of water to carry around without having to worry about running out and also not worry about too much water weight on your back. Tubing and bite valves are pretty simliar to what you would get with a CamelBack hydration pack, so no worries on that end.
The 7-watt solar panel clips on to the backpack in a 4 point attachment that makes it easy to detach if you do not need solar charging that day. The shoulder harness is lightweight mesh and does not chaff. It has several adjustment points and nice airflow, so this should be comfortable on your back all day. The solar panels are sturdy and the included battery pack is waterproof, allowing you to not worry even if you get caught in the rain. Stitching is solid and includes access holes for your hydration tubes as well as cables to your battery pack so you do not have to take out the battery while you keep your phone charged.
This is not a full sized backpack so its best if you only have a couple of things you need to carry or need a lightweight backpack for daily use. The included 10000mAh power pack is the perfect size for keeping multiple devices charged throughout the day. The zippered pockets on the side are prefect for storing your cords and other small items.
- Removable 7W/6V Solar Panel Absorbs Sunlight While Biking, Hiking & Camping
- Includes Waterproof 10,000mAh Emergency Power Bank/Backup Battery Stores Charge
- 2 USB Charging Ports Simultaneously Charge 2 Mobile Devices Using USB Cable (1 Cable Included)
- Backpack Features Large, Zippered Pockets for Storing 2 Phones Plus a Tablet
- 1.8L Water Bladder Features Flexible Pipe for Drinking While Wearing Backpack
ECEEN 7W Solar Charging and 1.8L Hydration Backpack – $120
This backpack from ECEEN is super similar to the Ivation review directly above and pretty much has the exact same feature set but slightly better quality and $20 more expensive. If you have an extra $20 to spend, this is the one to go for. The color choices on this look pretty stylish and make for a good all around backpack to wear for any activity.
The 7W solar panels will fully charge the 10000mAh in 7 hours of full sun. The battery pack has dual USB ports so you can charge two devices back up at the same time. Pack has 4 LED lights to indicate how charged it is. If you charge it up using an electrical outlet instead of the sun, it should take around 6-7 hours for a full charge.
Straps are all adjustable and include thick padding in the shoulder. Even full loaded this should not cause any strain on your shoulders. Back should get plenty of airflow so this pack should stay pretty cool and keep your back from getting too sweaty in the sun.
Hydration pack has a big mouth for easy filling and the tubing and bite make for easy drinking from your 1.8L bladder while using the backpack. Side pockets are convenient for storing cords and small items.
- Ultra-light coming in at 2.6 lbs with everything
- Waterproof 10000mAh Power Battery Pack
- 1.8L Hydration Pack with flexible drink tube
- Adjustable straps
SunLabz 7W / 1.8L Hydration Pack – $68
This pack usually goes for $130-$150 but is currently on sale for $68. This is basically identical in style to the last two packs but sells for $30 less. Pick this one up quickly while the sale lasts.
Solar Powered BugOut Bag
Voltaic Systems 10W Backpack – $390
Want the best of the best for your bugout bag? For $390 you can get the Voltaic Systems 10W Backpack. This thing is your go to bag for making sure you are ready for hurricane season. This backpack is expensive, but like purchasing a fancy car after doing a lot of research, it will be well worth the purchase.
Included solar panels (10W) and battery pack (20k mAh) are just beastly. The battery will full charge most 15″ laptops and smaller and will recharge it with 11 hours of sunlight. Will charge a 10″ tablet 1.7x times and will recharge a tablet with 3.5 hours in the sun or 2.5 hours of tablet use per 1 hour in the sun. The amount of connectors you are given with this thing will allow you to charge all known Apple and Android devices as well as most DSLR and you can recharge the battery pack with the included DC connector (car).
This thing has a huge interior and plenty of room to fill this with all your bug out items so you are completely ready when SHTF.
- Backpack is made from water and UV resistant fabric all while still being lightweight.
- 1500 cubic inches of storage including a padded laptop sleeve and tons of pockets.
- Solar system can be removed and used independently of the backpack.
- 1 hour in the sun will charge an efficient laptop for 40 minutes of use and give you 2.5 hour of use from a large tablet.
- 3 rugged solar panels with 10W peak output at 6V or 18V. Panels are coasted in a self healing urethane to withstand scratches as well as being waterproof and lightweight.
- Battery system inclues a removeable 20,000mAh / 72 Wh battery with USB outputs of 5V/2a, 12V/3.5A and 19V/3A. Can also be charged from AC or DC.
Solar Backpacks to Avoid
Ivation 3W with 2 Builtin Speakers – $75
This thing is like the backpack version of the calculator watches kids in the 90s wore. It has a lot of functionality and seems like a good idea, but it really just does not pull off the concept. For $75 dollars you can get a much nicer backpack, more powerful panels and a bigger battery. Maybe you really want the speakers though? Which seems to be the only thing this backpack has going for it. Though, for $5 bucks you could probably get better speakers than are included on this.
3W is not a lot of solar charging. This would take you a full day of sun to give your phone a noticeable charge. The included 2200 mAh power bank is not enough to even give your phone a full charge. This bag is also cheaply made and most reviews show that it falls apart almost immediately. Save your money and buy something better.