Is a Solar Charging Backpack Worth It? Tips for Smart Choices
Venturing in the outdoor today is very different from what climbers, hunters, and backpackers experienced half a century ago. In fact, even the past 10 years were enough to completely revolutionize the way we look at technology in nature. Instead of an expensive GPS, many climbers today use their smartphones to figure out their route.
Whatever the reason you might need electronics while hiking – for GPS or charging your camera’s battery – you will require some serious juice on the trail. And thanks to technological advancements, a solar backpack could be the perfect solution for you.
What Is a Solar Charging Backpack?
Usually, a solar backpack is a simple cloth sack that is portable and can be carried on the back or on the shoulders of the traveler. What makes it special is the solar equipment: A flexible moncrystalline solar panel, batteries, light bulbs, plugs, cords, and a charge controller. Thanks to this mechanism, the backpack can convert sunlight into usable electricity. In turn, most of the portable electronic appliances and devices can be provided with power.
The usual limitation of the solar backpack equipment is a maximum of 300 watts. The best of the best can deliver power lasting up to 120 watt-hours per day. While this kind of technology works great for any casual mountain climber, there are many other practical applications. The solar backpack can be a lifesaver in the case of international aid, field research, disaster relief, or emergency power.
But now that you know about this wonderful invention, how do you know which solar backpack is the best for you? There are plenty of models available on the market, but here are some of the aspects you should be looking for before buying a solar charging backpack for yourself:
1. Powerful Design
REPPS (Rucksack Enhanced Portable Power System) was the original design of the solar backpack. It was meant to help the United States Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development, and Engineering Center on their field trips in Afghanistan. The system included a 62-watt solar panel blanket that provided enough power for the entire unit. The US Air Force and the Marines used a similar type of system for their operation.
The REPPS has proven so valuable in the field. That the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team (Logar, Afghanistan) is still using it today. When buying a solar charging backpack, make sure you’re getting the powerful design you need. Don’t settle for cheaper models; get the most out of your money and buy a device that remains functional with every use.
2. Length of Exposure
When researching for a solar backpack, it is essential that you take into consideration the charging factor. Different models have different charging time requirements; in other words, some may need a longer exposure to sunlight to become fully charged. The ideal scenario you should be looking for is a solar backpack that can power an emergency light for nearly 14 hours after just six hours of charging.
It’s all logical: The longer the exposure time, the more you’ll have to wait before the device you need powered becomes functional. Those who are constantly on the move often do not have the luxury of waiting, so the backpack should charge fast. You should always think of the fact that just because you’re outdoors, it doesn’t mean you can have access to sunlight.
3. Capable of Powering Laptops
Given the fact that not all solar backpack models can charge laptops, those that can will be a bit more on the expensive side. However, you might realize it’s a worthy price to pay. When researching for your model, look for one that can power laptops for 3 hours on the average. This way, you can get a pretty good gauge of how much electricity it can deliver.
However, you must consider that not all laptop designs allow them to receive power from an external battery source. If you want the solar backpack to charge your laptop, consult your product manufacturer. They can help you in regards to the availability of this feature. Otherwise, you may end up with a functional source of solar energy and a dead laptop due to the incompatibility with the electricity it outputs.
4. Charging Flexibility
Before buying a solar charging backpack, consider your location, which shouldn’t hinder the charging you might need. Inquire the manufacturer about the flexibility of using the solar backpack charger. Usually, you should have any problems using the charger at home or at the campsite. However, some issue might arise when you’re on the move.
Therefore, you should be looking into a solar backpack which allows charging from conventional electric sources in addition to sunlight charging. Such flexibility allows you to use your devices even if you’re stationed in area where you don’t see the sun for months. It also gives you the convenience of being able to charge the unit at home at night for the next day.
5. Lightweight and Easy to Carry
The main motivation to buy a solar charging backpack is the increased convenience and flexibility. This purpose would be cancelled out by a heavy and difficult to carry backpack. If the product you’ve been researching is not designed to be lightweight enough for on-the-go activities, then keep your money. Essentially, a solar backpack should allow you to keep your devices charged without making your life more complicated.
It should also be able to cut down your bills (due to the free solar powering), while reducing your carbon footprint. Also, consider a solar charging backpack that is waterproof. You’ll be using it in remote areas and generally in the outdoors. In other words, the backpack should be able to function regardless of the weather – whether it is cloudy, raining, or snowing.
Friendly reminder: Do not get the wrong idea. Not all of these factors require you paying a lot of money; a number of affordable devices – not necessarily high-end solar backpacks – can satisfy the factors we’ve talked about. You can still get a pretty decent deal that will keep you powered on-the-go without making a hole in your budget.