BirkSun, a new company based in San Francisco, makes solar-powered bags and backpacks that make it possible to charge your small electronics while on-the-go. Earth911 staff writer Katie Sukalich recently had the opportunity to test out BirkSun’s Levels backpack ($150), which features a 4.5 watt solar panel and can charge your phone, music player, iPad and a handful of other gadgets.
My initial observations about the backpack were that it looked attractive and functional. The solar panel isn’t huge like some panels, so if I wore the backpack while walking down the street, people probably wouldn’t stare at my back wondering what I was wearing. The backpack also has pockets for holding a water bottle and laptop and it has a bungee cord on the front, which BirkSun suggests could hold wet items. The Levels backpack’s design makes it versatile, so it could be used in a variety of situations.
Click through to learn more about how the Levels backpack works.
How It Works
Admittedly, I haven’t been spending a ton of time out in the sun recently since in Phoenix where I live, temperatures soar well above 100 degrees this time of year. So rather than take the backpack out for a hike as I might have done during the spring or fall, I set the pack out in my yard and let the sun (which we do have plenty of) charge it.
The backpack comes with a built-in battery located on the side of the bag that is connected to the solar panel by a cord. When you expose the solar panel to sunlight, the battery meter, which is visible through a small window on the backpack’s side, lights up and begins showing the percentage the battery is charged.
To charge your devices, the Levels pack comes with a set of adapters to connect the electronics to the battery. This includes adapters for iPhones and Android phones, iPads, eReaders and some digital cameras. These electronics get plugged into a cord at the top of the backpack where they can be conveniently stored in a pocket while charging.
I used the bag to charge my iPhone 5 and my iPod Nano, and both, which were about three-quarters charged at the time, regained battery life pretty quickly. It’s possible to charge electronics at the same time the solar panel is charging, too, so you don’t have to wait to power your device. My only word of advice if you plan to do that is to make sure the backpack’s battery isn’t completely dead when you plug in your device: the battery needs a little power before it can charge anything.
BirkSun writes on its website that after being in sunlight for one hour, the solar panel will generate enough energy to boost the battery charge of most smart phones by 18.75 percent, which I observed to be true. BirkSun also says it will take about six hours to fully charge the backpack’s battery in the sun.
Because I haven’t been spending large chunks of time in the sun, I had to designate times to take the pack outside and partially charge it, meaning I usually couldn’t use the backpack to charge my phone completely. A longer charging time is one of the trade offs of having a smaller solar panel, although BirkSun does note on their site that the technology they use in the panel has a higher yield than traditional panels.
It’s also noteworthy that ideal conditions aren’t necessary to use the solar panel. In indirect light or on a cloudy day the backpack still charges, just more slowly. After I allowed the backpack to charge for a few hours in indirect light, my iPhone got about a 25 percent charge boost.
The backpack also comes with a USB cord, which you can plug into a wall adapter (which isn’t included). This is handy because on days when you aren’t outside much, you can still charge the battery using traditional electricity so that you can take the bag with you and charge anything you need to later on.
When to Use It
The BirkSun Levels backpack could be useful in many circumstances, and I imagine it would be especially useful while out hiking or camping. People who walk or bike to work would likely find the bag helpful, since it could charge while they’re commuting. For the same reason, I think this bag would be good for students who are out on campus throughout the day. Plus, the bag has plenty of room to carry typical student essentials like books, a laptop and a water bottle.
Like many solar products, this bag would also be great to have in an emergency situation or power outage when having access to a phone to make calls or get news updates is essential.
The BirkSun backpack might not be best suited to someone like me who spends a lot of time indoors at my desk in an office building, but I could still imagine myself using it while traveling (it’s TSA-approved) or enjoying the outdoors during other parts of the year.
The BirkSun Levels backpack is available through the company’s website for $150.