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j bullivant solar backpackAlways excited to test out gadgets that might make my travels easier, I set off for Alaska last month with the Solar Backpack from J. Bullivant, a company that specializes in what it calls “Urban Survival Gear.” The pack is equipped with enough pockets and compartments to fit everything but the kitchen sink, as well as built-in solar panels for charging what’s known as a Personal Power Generator (PPG) — a tiny power pack for charging a cell phone or iPad when your devices are dead and there just aren’t enough outlets.

When it comes to the bag’s construction, I have no complaints. It’s comfortable, attractive, lightweight and durable. (Anything that survives my chronic overpacking has to be.) The storage options are plentiful, with spots specifically designed to hold everything from laptops and pens to car keys and spare change. There are even hidden compartments for more important items like passports and wallets.

The Ultimate Guide to Travel Packing

But this backpack’s claim to fame is its ability to charge electronics — and unfortunately, in that regard it was a bit of a bust. After two days of putting the pack in the sun for several hours, I saw no increase in the charge it gave to the PPG. It does work well if you use the included power/car adapter to plug the PPG directly into the wall to charge, but if you’re going to spend time and effort doing that, you might as well just plug in your cell phone or laptop or whatever it is you need the PPG for in the first place.

Of course, the semi-functionality of the product wouldn’t be such a big deal if it were priced in line with other backpacks. But for the most basic model, you can expect to shell out nearly $200. The amount you’ll pay increases from there, depending on what else — pepper spray, hazmat mask, water purification system, ballistic shield — you choose to add to your paranoia pack. (And no, we’re not kidding about anything in that list.)

All things considered, this is a great item to own if you’re active and need to keep your things organized on the go. The PPG is an added bonus if you have access to a car or wall outlet, but don’t get too hung up on the solar panel “cool” factor.

The Suitcase That Beats Bed Bugs

Want to try it for yourself? We’re giving away our (gently used) Solar Backpack. Just leave us a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on October 31, 2013. We’ll pick one person at random to win the backpack. This giveaway is open only to residents of the Lower 48 United States and the District of Columbia. To read the full contest rules, click here.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. Frannie Heath has won the backpack. Congratulations! Keep an eye on our blog for further chances to win.

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

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55 Responses to “The Power’s in the Pack … or Not”

  1. Dalia Garcia says:

    I’m not that outdoorsy, but love a good back pack with many pockets. I usually carry a plug for my devices, but would like to try this one with solar charge. Agree with the article that if it’s not that great for charging the price should be more reasonable :)

    • Carol-Ann says:

      Is this solar pack being sold in Europe or how can someone order it.
      thx, Ca

      • Hi Carol-Ann,

        Thanks for commenting. If you click on the Solar Backpack link in the post, you should be able to purchase the bag directly from J. Bullivant’s website. I tested the checkout process and saw many countries in the dropdown list, so I’d imagine the company can mail it anywhere. It just might cost you extra for shipping.

        Happy travels,

        Sarah Schlichter
        Senior Editor

  2. Patti Merritt says:

    What a great idea — hopefully, they will continue working on it so that you’ll give it a thumbs up– I’d certainly use it!!

  3. Dana says:

    Got a big trip coming up next year. This would be great for recharging your phone when it dies & you are out & about.

  4. Maci Cozart says:

    Cool! This would awesome for travel, camping, and hiking! I want one!

  5. My grandson would love this backpack for all his electronics!

  6. Diane Green says:

    This would be great if they can perfect the solar panel idea! So many times on an airport there are no unused power outlets left to plug into!

  7. Shari says:

    This would be good for military deployments. Worth a try!

  8. Cody Hevner says:

    I would love to try this out myself. I hope they keep workin to improve the bag, as solar power is getting soooooo much better.

  9. Charlene Davies says:

    Would be handy to avoid leaving an electronic item in an airport during the rush to board.

  10. Martha says:

    I travel to Japan a lot and would love to try this backpack!

  11. Carole Talan says:

    Delighted to have this as a “prize” but does not sound like it is worth a $200 purchase at this time. Great concept but needs work!

  12. Eileen Bussenger says:

    Despite the shortcomings of the solar performance, I imagine the pack itself would be useful when plugging into a car lighter or electrical outlet at the airport, keeping one’s electrical devices contained In one place and out of site. Less is best IMHO.

  13. Kelly Malleck says:

    Now how cool is that! I love solar powered stuff!!! Hubby is experimenting with building his first solar panels…he’s such a nerd ;-)

  14. Deb says:

    This would be great for our boating adventures, for times when we are away from power sources. Our solar panels on the boat have added a lot to our ability to be “off the grid”, this sounds like another step in the right direction!

  15. Fran says:

    Efficient, original idea. Seems like a great way to travel with electronics.

  16. Mary says:

    I LOVE travel gadgets! This one is right up my alley because I NEVER travel without a pack. I always find a small pack is the most useful item in my possession. Because I’m chronically organized, J. Bullivants design with all those pockets, pouches and zippers is just my style. The PPG is a real bonus, even if it does under-perform a bit. I do like the idea of the Medusa Hyperspeed charger. Yes, if you have an outlet to charge the charger, why not plug in you device and charge it directly? Well, why not do both? Charge the device and charge the charger before heading out. Hopefully, in addition, on a sunny day the solar panels are trickle charging enough to be beneficial. I would also be carrying my Eton hand crank radio which can charge my phone. Really useful when away from those outlets that seem to keep us tethered to the wall. Happy trails, Mary

  17. Maureen says:

    Love anything with lots of pockets!

  18. Patricia Smith says:

    looks like it would make a great carry on. thanks

  19. Kristi Curry says:

    I agree with a previous poster who stated why not charge both the pack and your electronics and use the solar power as trickle charger! CLEVER! The bag looks roomy enough for a day pack or carry on, which appeals to me as I am an avid traveller ;)

  20. Anything that helps keep equipment charged is great!

  21. Mary says:

    Love that you’re not just tossing the test backpack! Too bad there’s not a wind-powered version of this backpack–it could probably run a small town here in the Texas Panhandle. ;)

  22. Diane Towne says:

    Thanks for the opportunity to win this great backpack. We are heading to India Dec 1 and then to Vietnam using only backpacks. We would love to try these out on that trip!

  23. Jackie says:

    I am taking my very first trip overseas -first time outside of the US!- to Europe in a couple of months. I’m so excited! This backpack sounds perfect! :) Hope I win it!

  24. Libby says:

    I saw something like this on Kickstarter and thought it was the coolest! We do a fair bit of adventure travel, and always carry a backpack. Our long-time go-to pack just bit the dust, and we haven’t found a comparable replacement. With the solar charger even if it were enough to give a phone juice enough for an emergency call, it would be worth it.

  25. Jeff says:

    Amazing how versatile some manufacturers are trying to make their packs.. hazmat mask, hmm…

  26. Susan says:

    That looks great and will have to hide it from my kids so they won’t steal it from me if I win this one! Oh and you just gave me a great idea for Christmas presents for sure! Thanks.

    • Susan says:

      Just read that does not charge very well so hope they improve on that soon! I sure won’t be spending that much on it when it doesn’t charge well. Disappointed.

  27. Cynthia says:

    Amazing idea, I am sure they will improve on it quickly. Very nice backpack, it looks pretty rugged for what it does.

  28. Simone Duhon says:

    This would be GREAT for travel and just as a daypack for heading to the park, festivals, etc.

  29. Nancy James says:

    Perfect combo — high tech AND being outdoors! I like it.

  30. Karen says:

    Looks like a great backpack for travel – love the hidden compartments – and the solar capacity is a plus!

  31. Barbie says:

    This is such a clever solution to an ongoing problem of charging devices when traveling. I am just amazed I have not seen one before!

  32. Carol says:

    As much as I travel and I am out and about it sounds like a perfect solution to a problem. I love it!

  33. Carol says:

    As much as I travel and I am out and about it sounds like a perfect solution. I love it!

  34. Judi says:

    Would love to give it a try.

  35. richard kadash says:

    I,m 78 years old and finding a light backpack with all those features would be a huge benefit to me. everything sounds perfect except the cost. It would be amiricle to win it.

  36. Jake says:

    My friend had a solar recharger for a camping trip. It was great

  37. Jewel says:

    I hike and run a lot in the mountain trails around where I live so this would be great. Nothing worse than being 12 miles out and run out of phone juice!! heck sounds like you can even take a small TV!! lol thanks for this chance!

  38. Patrick Cates says:

    My wife and I travel to see our daughter and her family in Europe for several weeks each spring, and we each take backpacks as well as a whole array of cords and charger units for our phones, netbook, and our iPads. We are always on the lookout for the best backpack and ways to trim down what we carry. This solar backpack looks like a really smart idea — a great backpack that allows us to reduce what we carry! Thanks for a great idea!

  39. Jeff Schulz says:

    Going to OZ in a few weeks could use a backpack for the Outback!

  40. Wow! The solar backpack would be super useful to carry what needs to be carried when we’re out hunting mushrooms! I hope that I win!

  41. Terry Kong says:

    We all have SO many electronic gadgets these days. This backpack is a great idea for keeping them charged. I would love to try it out. Thanks!!

  42. Kelly Grant says:

    My hubby would love this!

  43. Dayna says:

    Backpacks are the way to travel . Sounds like a great one to get up and go with!

  44. Frannie Heath says:

    This would be perfect for backpacking or day hikes,as one never knows how long the old batteries will last before the next charge!

  45. Lori says:

    I would like to give it a try.

  46. Carla says:

    About to travel abroad and this pack looks like it would be a great asset.

  47. John H says:

    would love to have this and supply myself with power

  48. David Freifeld says:

    Last summer, I walked across Spain on the Camino de Santiago – a 600 mile footpath that winds its way from the French Pyrenees across to the ancient region of Galicia. I remember wanting to somehow document my trip in such a way that I could bring such a formative journey home with me, and show my family and friends the beauty of it all.

    While on this path, I met dozens of faces and heard hundreds of stories from travelers worldwide. Among that group of people was a man using one of these solar backpacks to power his trip across the country. He was filming his journey and used this backpack to keep his camera rolling! It was brilliant!

    I’m sure that he left with a lifetime’s worth of gorgeous footage all due to this handy pack. “Wherever I travel next,” I remember thinking, “I should bring of those along!” So, when I saw this giveaway contest, I thought I’d give it a shot!!

  49. PATRICIA says:

    I need a new back pack – my kids have stolen all of mine. Love the aspect of the charging – hopefully it will work bvetter over time.

  50. luis ferreira says:

    No, the power is not in the pack they try to get at the gym!
    The power is in The Pack that comes along with your dreams and wishes…

    Long live The Pack!!!! (It is solar!) :-)

  51. nikedis says:


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