We Actually Went Out in the Sun To Test the EnerPlex Packr Solar Backpack
...and lived to write about it!
Keeping my phone charged when I’m not home is a constant source of anxiety for me, and I don’t think I’m alone. (Please tell me I’m not alone.) So any product that can help allay the fear of running out of juice immediately has my attention. The EnerPlex Packr is a backpack with a built-in solar panel for charging your stuff on the go, and I had the chance to test it out.
The solar panel built into the Packr is another EnerPlex product, the Kickr II. We’ll have a full review of the Kickr II and its bigger sibling the Kickr IV next week, but in short they’re flexible, durable solar panels that output to a USB port. The Kickr II puts out 3.0 watts and 5 volts of power and claims it can charge a Samsung Galaxy S4 in four hours. I have an S3 and had similar results using the Packr to charge my phone.
As a backpack, the Kickr II is more or less what you’d expect. It’s made of polyester. It has two main sections with smaller areas inside, and a padded sleeve for a laptop. There are two of those side pockets that fits water bottles pretty perfectly. There’s a waist strap. You know—backpack stuff. Did I mention it has a solar panel built into it? Because that’s sort of a big deal. EnerPlex also includes a multi-use USB cable inside the bag, which is a nice touch. It features mini and micro USB as well as the old-style iPhone/Pod/Pad cable.
While I prefer a messenger-style bag to the Packr’s more classic school-kid-style pack, I’ve been using this as my primary bag for most of the time I’ve been testing it. Does it make me look like a giant 7th-grader? A little. Is it worth it? Totally—as long as you’re outside enough to make it worth it. Even if you’re mostly an indoors person like me, when you’re out in the world it’s nice to know you have that panel on your bag ready to power your stuff if you need it.
In terms of style it’s not particularly groundbreaking or attractive, but the fact that it has a solar panel on the back has turned some heads and gotten a few people to stop and ask about the bag while I was wearing it. It’s sort of like wearing a calculator watch.
Unless you’re an avid outdoors-type person the idea of waiting for four hours out in the sun for your phone to charge probably doesn’t sound very appealing. Campers and hikers probably stand to get the most benefit out of the Packr, but I certainly don’t think they’re the only ones. Nerdy students should definitely consider it. It’d be perfect for a day trip to the beach or some kind of outdoor festival. I was testing another company’s solar panel during last year’s Maker Faire, and I would have much rather had the Packr with me at the time.
I got the most use out of the Packr by pairing it with the Jumpr Slate 10k rechargeable battery EnerPlex also sent. (Full review of that as well next week.) By charging the Slate instead of charging my phone directly it made charging a much more passive experience. The Slate was in there if I needed a charge, but my phone was still accessible. I could charge the battery separately and in shorter bursts so that I didn’t have to be out in the sun for hours at a time. If you want to get the most out of the Packr it’s best to pair it with a chargeable battery of some kind, but if you’re particularly outdoorsy or environmentally conscious you would likely get a lot of use out of just the panel.
The Packr is listed on the EnerPlex site for $99.99. Considering the Kickr II panel that’s built into it sells for $69.99, you’re essentially just buying a $30 backpack to go along with it. All and all not a bad deal for a cool bit of tech that can keep you powered up in a pinch. In an email a representative from Enerplex told me the Packr is just a preview of a fuller line of day and overnight bags that will be more feature-rich. I’ll be excited to see what they come up with.