Best Solar Backpacks

Updated July 2021
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Pros
Cons
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

30 Models Considered
14 Hours Researched
3 Experts Interviewed
140 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for Best solar backpacks

Solar backpacks have quickly developed from an interesting idea with limited practicality to an indispensable tool for those who want power for their devices no matter where they are. They are particularly useful for people who need to study or work on the move, and they reduce your carbon footprint, too.

Today, if you want to be in contact with home or work while you’re hiking or camping, it need never be a problem. Solar backpacks are a boon for photographers, offering the ability to not just charge cameras but also carry all the associated gear. Want to set off into the wilderness with your laptop and write that novel? No problem. Given solar backpacks’ combination of versatility and practicality, it’s no surprise that there’s an enormous choice. That’s great, but rapidly changing technology can be confusing, and it’s not always clear which is best. 

That’s when BestReviews steps in to help. Thanks to extensive research, we can recommend a number of alternatives that showcase the range of performance and value options available. If you’d like more detail, you can find it in the following solar backpack buying guide.

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If the solar panel and power pack are removable, it offers a couple of advantages. You can use the solar panel separately — in the backyard, for example — without needing the backpack. You can also use the backpack on its own, without the other items weighing it down or adding bulk.

Key considerations

Power pack

Solar backpacks use what’s called a monocrystalline panel to convert daylight to electricity, which can then be used straight away or stored in a lithium-ion battery (often called a power pack). However, not all models include a power pack, and we think that’s a major issue.

Without it, your backpack will still charge on the go — as long as there’s a reasonable amount of light — but it has no storage. Even the most powerful solar backpack takes at least an hour or so to charge a smartphone and perhaps five or six times that long for a laptop. Without a power pack, your bag has to be in the sun all day, with your device plugged in. With the power pack included, the solar panel can spend all day charging that (while you hike, for example). You can charge on the go if you need to, or you can wait until you’ve stopped for the day and then charge your equipment. You can also do it overnight if you like. With a power pack, you get both better performance and greater flexibility.

Capacity: The milliamp hour (mAh) rating of a power pack tells you it’s maximum capacity. They range from 10,000 to 30,000 milliamp hours. As a rough guide, the latest smartphones have batteries of around 3,000 milliamp hours, and a laptop battery is around twice that.

Unfortunately, many solar backpack manufacturers don’t give milliamp hours, preferring to say the backpack will charge a phone in a certain number of hours. You have to take that on trust, and estimates are undoubtedly in “ideal” conditions. We’d be inclined to assume that charging takes a little longer than advertised.

Speed: The wattage (W) of the solar panel tells you how quickly it can charge the power pack. Most range anywhere from 3 to 7 watts. The higher the watt rating, the faster the solar panels can charge the power pack. Note that this has no impact on how quickly the power pack can charge your devices; that comes down to the USB connection. 

USB: No matter what power your solar backpack generates, charging speeds are governed by USB. You’ve probably noticed that if you charge your phone from a household mains socket, it does it much more quickly than it does if you plug it into a USB port on your laptop. Older models charge at 500 milliamps (mA), the latest are theoretically capable of 3,000 milliamps, though 2,100 is more likely.

More or less universal are 5-volt, 2-amp (5V/2A) USB output ports. You might get two or more in different combinations of standard USB, micro-USB, and possibly older, manufacturer-specific connectors (Nokia, for example). If you carry a number of different devices, such as a phone, tablet, and camera, it’s important to check those.

Efficiency: You’ll often see solar panels given an efficiency rating, and at around 20% it doesn’t sound particularly impressive. Nevertheless, anything within a couple of percentage points of that is as good as it gets.

Size: Although the physical size of the solar panel isn’t an absolute indicator of charging ability, it usually gives you a pretty good idea. Those that unfold may be a little more cumbersome but generally work faster.

AC adapter: You might be able to charge your power pack from a standard household (AC) outlet. You can then set off with a full charge and use the solar panel to keep it topped up rather than having to wait all day.

Charge indicator: Most solar backpacks have a charge indicator somewhere that lets you know it’s working.

If your solar backpack has a removable power pack, buying a second one gives you the option of using one while the other recharges. However, they aren’t cheap.

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Features

Backpack

Material: Once you’ve narrowed down the power and connectivity you need, you can look at backpack designs. As you might expect, these vary considerably. The main material is either nylon or polyester, which offers some weather protection and is fairly durable. The ripstop fabric prevents small cuts or punctures from turning into long tears.

If you’re focusing on being environmentally friendly, look for a backpack that is made with recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) soda bottles. It’s unlikely to make up the whole bag, but it can be a significant amount.

Size: Some backpacks are smaller than they appear in onscreen images, so check the size carefully, particularly if you intend to carry a laptop. Most take a 15-inch model, a few will take a 17-inch laptop. Capacity is often given in liters (1 liter is 0.26 gallons), but that can be difficult to picture, so look at the outside dimensions as well.

Storage: An external pocket is useful for rapid access to your phone. Often a charging cable is incorporated in the pocket, too. Some have a contactless charging pad: you simply place your phone in the pocket.

Some solar backpacks are aimed specifically at photographers. These interiors offer great flexibility in terms of how they can be arranged, with good padding and a tripod pocket on the exterior.

Comfort: As with any backpack, check the adjustability and comfort of the shoulder straps. It’s not unusual for large people to complain there is insufficient adjustment for their build.

Those backpacks made for enthusiastic hikers and campers offer greater capacity, plus chest straps and hip belts that take much of the weight off the shoulders. These larger packs often have high-performance solar panels, too.

The solar panels and power pack make a backpack heavier than a nonsolar model, which isn’t surprising, but on some backpacks the extra weight can be substantial, so it’s worth checking.

Extras: Other features include RFID-blocking pockets that prevent would-be thieves from reading credit or bank cards. Some backpacks also have lockable pockets and hidden zippers to increase the security of the contents.

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DID YOU KNOW?
Solar backpacks are perfectly safe. The only way you might get an electric shock is if your pack has been damaged. Even then it’s very rare, and while it might be slightly uncomfortable, it isn’t dangerous.
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Accessories

Headlamp: LHKNL Rechargeable Headlamp
Here’s the ideal convenient, hands-free solution when you’re out after dark. Lightweight and easy to use, this headlamp is adjustable, can be recharged via your backpack, offers multiple light modes, and can run for up to 10 hours. It’s also waterproof to the IPX4 standard.

Backpack cover: Salzmann High-Visibility Backpack Cover
If you want to protect the contents of your solar backpack from bad weather, a waterproof cover is cheap, effective, and packs down small when not in use. The Salzmann cover is made from 3M reflective material for additional safety in poor visibility, and it comes in a range of colors.

Solar backpack prices

Inexpensive: The cheapest solar backpacks we found cost around $30, which seems like a great bargain. Unfortunately, the overall quality of these bags is often criticized. We’d look to pay between $50 and $60 for an entry-level model, though you probably won’t get enough charging capability for a laptop.

Mid-range: Between $80 and $150 you’ll find tremendous variety in both backpack design and size of the solar array. We expect most people can find what they’re looking for within this bracket.

Expensive: The most powerful and adaptable solar backpacks with anti-theft features and wireless phone charging cost $250 to $300. It’s a considerable investment, but it’s an unrivaled solution for those who need the mobility they offer.

Don’t worry about getting caught in an occasional shower. It won’t have a big impact on the backpack’s charging ability, and it might even wash off any dust. When the sun comes out again, the panel will be more efficient!

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Tips

  • Treat your solar backpack with care. Backpacks often come in for a lot of abuse, getting dropped and kicked around. Bear in mind that while they’re reasonably well protected, that sort of treatment with a solar backpack risks damaging both the panels and internal connections. 
  • Clean the solar panel. Dust and dirt on the solar panel are a barrier between the sun and the solar cells, reducing performance. Clean the solar panel regularly with a microfiber cloth. Any stubborn marks can be removed with a camera lens cleaner.
  • Note charging times. Some solar backpacks are capable of charging two devices at the same time, but bear in mind that if you share power, the charging times will be considerably longer.
  • Charge your devices at night. A solar backpack can let you use your devices on the go, but you’ll get better performance if you allow the power pack to charge during the day and then charge your devices at night.
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If you’re hiking long distances, consider a solar backpack that also holds a water bladder so you’ve got handy hydration, too.

FAQ

Q. Does a solar backpack require a hot, sunny day?

A. No. Solar cells do charge best on a bright day, but blazing heat isn’t required. Ordinary daylight, and even partial clouds, can still provide adequate light. In fact, some models are actually slightly less effective when temperatures rise above 80°F.

Q. Are solar backpacks waterproof?

A. A few high-end models are, but most are described as “water-resistant.” The challenge is that there’s no common standard for this, so you’re taking the manufacturer’s word for it. Water ingress won’t damage the solar panel itself, but it obviously isn’t good for your phone, tablet, or laptop. An integrated rain hood offers extra protection, but if you’re expecting to be out in heavy rain, we suggest a backpack cover like the one recommended above, or you could use separate waterproof bags for each item you want to protect.

Q. Can I make my own solar backpack?

A. You can, and if you’re interested in electronics and solar energy it could be an interesting project (there are numerous plans online). However, if you’re doing it to save money, by the time you’ve bought the solar panel, components, and tools, you may not be any better off.

 

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