Scoring a Solar Backpack

Solar_BagIt all started with someone at a social venture networking event (yes, I go to those) suggested I get solar-powered batteries for my next trip. Huh. Interesting. 
So I began to check it out, and my online search for solar-powered batteries quickly led me to a site selling solar backpacks.

I thought “Bingo”! I could combine my need for a new day pack, be environmentally friendly, and save money in the long run. But hold on there, cowgirl.

Solar Specs

Being the simple sort, I needed some basic info about how my solar backpack actually works. Here it is:

The solar panel supplies electricity from the sun to the battery that already exists in your device. For most devices, you use a standard cigarette lighter adapter that connects the solar panel to your device. You can also charge AAA and AA batteries with a separate battery charger.

Charging time? Depends on the amount of sun and the type of battery being charged. In general:

• Cell Phone (4-6 hours)
• Digital Camera (4-6 hours)
• GPS Unit (4-6 hours)
• iPod/MP3 Player (7-9 hours)
• PDA (7-9 hours)

Multi-Device Use? Some models provide multiple 12V sockets for charging multiple electronic devices at the same time. Although, the more devices that are plugged in, the longer the charging time.

Solar Advantages

I then starting thinking about the advantage of using solar power, like:

You never need an outlet. Although if there are no electrical outlets around, what are the chances that I’ll have a signal for either my phone or WiFi for my computer. Nil.

You don’t need to buy batteries. I don’t really buy batteries anyway, but instead charge all my gear each night.

whats-included-thumbDecreased gear. Nope. Actually, having a solar alternative will multiply my gear load since I’ll need to have a cigarette lighter adapter for each device. And since the solar panels don’t work inside, I’ll need to bring all my regular electrical chargers too.( Ugh. That’s a lot of wires and such.)

Environmentally friendly. Ok, this is good. But good enough?

Backpack Requirements

By trying to combine all my needs in one, I was nearing the danger zone of not meeting any of my needs. On the backpack front, for instance, I have A LOT of requirements. This one piece of baggage needs to:

1) Hold / protect my computer.

2) Hold / protect that big-ass camera I just bought. I decided to go for the Nikon D90, but I’m too intimidated to take it out of the box yet.

3) Be comfortable enough to wear around all day.

4) Hold a water bottle (with zero chance of leaking onto the electronics).

5) Not be conspicuous.

My product demands were starting to seem like a tall order until I came across the Voltaic System line of solar- backpacks (pictured at the top). At $250 a pop, they’re not cheap, but the cool factor is high. And they seem to meet my top 3 requirements.

Osprey_Elroy_BagNot having a slot for a water bottle though is a bummer. And *radness* is cool in the U.S., but not so cool in developing countries where the detachable solar panels might draw just a little too much attention. I’m thinking this bag screams: “Mug Me”!

I got the Message!

Weighting the pros and cons, I opt not to buy the solar backpack. In fact, I decided not to get a backpack at all, but a messenger bag.

My main reason is safety. When traveling in most countries, you wear your backpack in front of you where you can keep an eye on it. You wear a messenger bag that way anyway. At least I do.

Besides, this bag has an internal computer sleeve, room for my honking camera, and a water bottle slot on the side. Sold!

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 6th, 2010 and is filed under What to Pack.

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