Published on November 28th, 2017 | by Kyle Field0
The Voltaic Systems OffGrid Solar+Storage Backpack (CleanTechnica Review)
November 28th, 2017 by Kyle Field
We recently spoke with the folks at Energizer Solar and took their solar backpack for a ride around the block. It was an extremely functional pack that made the most of the 3-watt solar panel that cranked power into the detachable 10,000 mAh battery. At around $190 for the pack, it is not cheap, but it does provide significantly more functionality than a traditional backpack.
Commenters on the article noted that Voltaic Systems had a bit more experience in the space and had a full line of solar + storage packs that would integrate into an even broader set of use cases. I reached out to Voltaic and they sent over their Voltaic Systems OffGrid Solar + Storage backpack which retails for $199 and includes with an integrated 10 watt solar panel that pushes power into a 12,000 mAh battery for me to review.
Check out the high level specs for this impressive pack before we start unzipping all the things:
- 12,000mAh USB Battery Pack (with 2 USB Charging Ports)
- 25 L Of Storage
- Padded 15″ Laptop/Tablet Sleeve
- Made From 33 Recycled Plastic Bottles (Recycled PET Fabric)
The first thing that hit me when I pulled the pack out was how well it is built. The exterior of the pack is comprised of a rigid shell that gives the pack a very defined shape, even when empty. Voltaic Systems built this exterior using recycled PET fabric made out of 33 recycled bottles per pack. In addition to making it strong, that’s a very responsible way to build backpacks.
The shell was built with extra strength to protect delicate tech gear like laptops that slide into the well-padded laptop sleeve, camera gear and the like. I took it to the extremely crowded Tesla Semi unveiling event and found that it kept all of my belongings nice and secure while at the same time, allowed for relatively easy access to my laptop, water bottle (spiked with cold brew coffee for the long night), cell phone and notebook.
The top of the pack sports a protected shell pocket designed for easy access to sunglasses. A double pocket on the side of the pack reveals the power ports and detachable 12,000 mAh Voltaic battery. 12,000 mAh is roughly equivalent to four full charges on modern smartphones. A mesh pocket up top stores a few shorty USB cables to allow all your gadgets to tap into the power of the battery and gulp down some juice.
The second pocket is just outside the battery pouch and was designed for cell phones. It features a pass-through grommet that allows for charging off of the battery without having to remove it. Opposite the battery pack is an expandable pouch that makes a great home for water bottles, a tripod or a few snacks.
The bulk of the rear of the pack is covered by the Voltaic solar panel. It is comprised of a hard, flexible material that seems absolutely bombproof. In addition to packs, Voltaic also sells small solar panels as stand-alone units that were designed from the ground up to be efficient, portable and durable, for installations exactly like this one on a durable backpack.
Voltaic Systems also sells all of the adapters and connectors you could possibly want for them, including full technical specs and drawings for the panels. It’s an impressive offering that allows DIYers and renewable energy enthusiasts to make the exact product they’re looking for without having to sacrifice quality.
The main compartment in the pack is accessed via a zipper that zips from the top around and down both sides of the pack. This voluminous chamber is well-protected and is well suited for photographers. The folks at Voltaic Systems agree and have built a custom insert for the pack specifically to house delicate camera gear.
Using the OffGrid pack as my office-on-the-go, I found the main compartment a bit too large and wish it had more partitions to allow me to store my notebooks, snacks, and lunch in their own zip pocket. Over the week I’ve had it, the center compartment and bombproof exterior (no, not literally) have grown on me as I’ve adjusted how I use my pack to the new design and I’m very happy with it.
Three mesh pockets are stitched into the rear wall of the pack to store business cards, USB drives, miscellaneous cables, and other smaller bits that you wouldn’t want to drop into the cavernous main pouch. I’ve found it to be a nice balance of simplicity and function. If I don’t have a dozen pockets to put things in, I don’t have to look in a dozen pockets to find that one thing I need.
Voltaic Systems kicks the pack up to the next level with a handful of helpful add-ons to the pack. Complementing the aforementioned camera equipment insert are a host of USB charging adapters for popular camera batteries that allow professional photographers to extend the utility of the solar power coming into the pack to their camera gear. Having an extra camera battery is standard for professional photogs but the ability to not just charge it on the go but to pull extra juice in from the sun extends the functionality of the pack in a meaningful way.
Voltaic Systems clearly isn’t very content at just doing with what they have, as they have made adapters for what seems like every possible use case imaginable to allow everyone to charge up on the go. Need to charge your Nintendo DS Lite? There’s an adapter for that. How about your Macbook? Yup. Microsoft Surface? USB-C? Check and check. In fact, head over to their adapters page to look at the lengthy, indexed list yourself. Be amazed, it’s ok.
As with any product on the market, the Voltaic Systems OffGrid kit has features that will appeal to some but not others. For my use cases of using the pack as a mobile office, I found the bulky, fixed shape of the pack to be a drawback. It’s large and as a result, I found myself bumping things when wearing it, not used to the large pack extending off my back. A normal backpack would just sit flat based on how much stuff is in it, but the OffGrid pack extends out a bit.
That statement comes with the knowledge that there are many consumers who would find that to be one of the biggest attractions of the pack — it has a firm shape and protects its contents. I adjusted to the larger size in the time I’ve been using it, but it was an adjustment.
The only other thing I’m not too fond of (and I’m nitpicking) is that the battery charges with something other than a standard USB input. Most USB batteries use a micro-USB cable to charge up, and then discharge through a normal USB 2.0 outlet or two. The Voltaic Systems battery included does not use this standard input, which prevents swapping over to another USB battery if the included one is fully charged. That’s not a deal-breaker for me by any means but it would have been nice to have the option.
Overall, the Voltaic Systems OffGrid pack is a well built solar + storage pack that harnesses the power of the sun to charge all your gadgets while you’re out getting work done. It is well-built with responsibly sourced materials and a solar panel that looks and feels like it would survive a nuclear explosion. The impressive 10-watt output from the panel is channeled into a well-sized 12,000 mAh battery that can be fitted with adapters to charge all your devices. This whole package fits in at a price point of $199 that feels like a great value considering the quality and functionality of the included components.
Photos Credit: Voltaic Systems and Kyle Field | CleanTechnica