The Packr Commuter is a special backpack – along with a couple of main compartments, some smaller pockets and adjustable straps, you’ll find something unique that you can also find in SBP’s range of Victron inverters. The front of the case is actually a flexible solar panel, and it’s hooked up to a small battery inside that’ll charge your smartphone or tablet over USB. But does it work – and does this cool inclusion make for a better backpack? Let’s find out in the review below.
The first thing you’ll notice about this backpack is the solar cell on the front. It’s made from a flexible material, allowing it to be bended and absorb hits without breaking. According to the maker’s website, an American reviewer* shot it and ran it over with his truck and it still worked. Once the sticker on this is removed, it looks fairly ordinary.
* Standard American testing procedure, I’m happy to confirm…
Inside the bag, you’ll see the small bit of circuitry that provides power to your devices. This unit is about the size of a matchbox, with a USB port on the right-hand side protected by a silicone port cover. A micro USB cable is provided.
There are a good range of pockets at useful sizes; the main pocket contains space for a 15-inch laptop and a tablet (or e-reader, or book). There are also two smaller pockets that work well for storing mice or power cables.
The front pocket is also well-equipped, with a single large zipped internal pocket right next to the solar cell that would suit a phone or tablet. Outside of this, there are quite a few places for pens, books, cards and other small items.
Another pocket, accessible from the top of the bag, is about the right size for a phone or MP3 player (although larger phones with 5.5-inch diagonals or greater won’t likely fit once the charging cable is plugged in).
The larger compartments and the two smaller pockets have a passthrough, allowing a cable to be routed to the solar charger at the front of the bag.
Finally, we have two side pockets for small water bottles and other items.
The top of the bag has a padded handle, and the usual straps on the back. These have a mesh padding, and can be adjusted in the normal way.
I used the Packr Commuter for a one week period, taking it with me as I commuted to work and traveled for pleasure. I’ll be judging the Packr’s performance both as a solar charger, and as a backpack.
Sadly, I don’t have an American southwest to test the bag in, so it’ll have to be wintry Britain I’m afraid.
The solar cell provides at most 0.6A, which is slightly above that provided by USB 2.0 (0.5A). In theory then, anything that charges fine from USB 2.0 will also be charged by the Packr. However, you do need to get sufficient sunlight for this to work. On a typical overcast British day or under artificial lighting, you don’t collect enough energy to produce a useful charge. Go outside in the sunshine though, and the bag does work to charge your phone slowly.
There’s also no internal battery here, to store the power until it can be used. EnerPlex instead recommend that you use the connection to charge your own portable battery, and then use that to charge your devices after dark.
It’s disappointing that the backpack doesn’t include its own internal battery or charge at a faster rate, but these seem to be limitations of the technology available rather than any poor design choices from the manufacturer.
As a backpack, the Packr Commuter is quite well designed. I was able to easily carry my standard two-day load (laptop, book, phone, chargers and peripherals, clothes) without issues. The Commuter looks the part, too – it’s not particularly stylish, but the giant solar panel doesn’t attract too much attention and the bag looks well made.
While the solar charging feature of this backpack failed to meet my (perhaps uninformed) expectations, the feature did work as described and bolsters what is otherwise a well-designed and practical backpack.
- Comfortable to wear, with padded adjustable shoulder straps
- Good pocket layout, including laptop, laptop and phone pockets
- Inoffensive black colour; solar charger isn’t too weird looking
- Larger phones don’t fit in the best charging pocket
- Requires a sunny day to work properly
- 7 / 10
- Official Packr Commuter product page (including US sales)