Powerkeep Wanderer Backpack by Energizier REVIEW Harness Solar Power For Your Adventures
One of my favorite television show genres has been the quiz show format, specifically Jeopardy and Are you Smarter than a Fifth Grader? So, here is a question? What is the closest star to Earth? Hopefully, you answered “What is the Sun?” and not “What is Alpha Centauri?” Located 92.96 million miles from our planet, the Sun bombards the surface of Earth with an average of 164 Watts per square meter, according to zebu.uoregon.edu. It is amazing to think that it takes eight minutes and twenty seconds for the light from the Sun to reach Earth. Across the globe, 84 Terrawatts of power per day is available for capture, and interestingly, we only use a total of 12 Terrawatts of power per day. According to the US Energy Information Administration, in 2016 the average American was using around 900 kWh of power per month. If you wish to know the average for your state, you can go to electricchoice.com and evaluate the typical use for each state.
With the rebirth of Easter Flowers, the return of the singing birds, the return of the rainy season and the need to “Spring Forward” due to Daylight Savings Time, signs are clear that Spring has returned. This past Friday, March 9th, 2018, PowerKeep by Energizer celebrated Solar Appreciation Day. Personally, these annual markers, reinvigorate a love for camping, hiking, the outdoors and the Sun. Energetically, we can finally shake off the winter blues and celebrate the joy of spring. The zebu.uoregon.edu website provided a few scenarios illustrating the power generation ability of solar panels. It is sad that our current solar panels are only 12–20% efficient and can only generate about 30% of our daily power need. However, this is 30% of our power that is renewable and clean. Despite the current limitations, our Sun is so much more important than a cool celestial body to observe during an eclipse!
The Wanderer Backpack is a three-part kit, composed of a 30L backpack, an Ascent Solar Panel and a PK10K battery (10,000 mAh LiPo). When combined, the product weighed 3.5 lb (1569 g) and measured 19 5/16 inches tall by 13 7/16 inches wide by 7 1/8 inches thick. Removing the 6.2-ounce solar panel and sleeve and the 8.6-ounce PK10K battery, you will be left with a nearly 2.5-pound backpack. I was excited to find that the features of the backpack were able to stand toe-to-toe with the technology. The generous shoulder straps start at 3 inches wide, at the upper attachment point, measure 2 3/4 inches at the middle and 2 1/2 inches at the lower strap insertion point. The right shoulder strap assumes a slight “S” shape, and the left an inverse “S” shape. The curve extends inward towards your chest and then outward again near the base. Along the bottom of each shoulder pad, you will find a 1 inches wide by 5 inches tall strip of fabric with an included sternum strap buckle. The buckle is attached to a 3/4 inch wide semi-elastic chest strap and removed a large portion of the weight from the shoulders.
The shoulder straps seemed a little too rigid initially. However, this did improve as I used the kit. Over the last month, I have carried the backpack nearly every day to work and on weekend outings with my family. The wide shoulder straps proved to be more comfortable, the more that I used them. A little more padding overlying the shoulders may be needed, but the comfort could not be ignored. As previously stated, the sternum strap was an integral part of this setup. If you carry a bag without a sternum and abdomen strap, once you have a bag with them, you will never go back. The ability to use your abdomen/sternum for weight control will save your shoulders and markedly decrease fatigue. You will notice the carry difference after you unbuckle the snap. The buckles and retention straps were secure and stayed exactly where they were positioned. For added comfort, you can slide the chest strap upward or downward, and you can adjust the lower 1-inch straps. The inferior straps attached to the outer-lower edges of the backpack into a triangular wedge of fabric and not to the backpack itself. Just inside of the lower straps, you will find a 4 1/4 inches wide by 6 1/4 inches long padded, moisture-wicking, side/abdomen pad. Attached to each of the side pads you will find a 1-inch wide strap with secure attachment buckles. Combined, the chest and abdominal straps drastically enhanced the user experience.
If you have ever used some of the economy backpacks, you know that the straps attach flush to the surface of the bag and are often simply sewed into the fabric. Unfortunately, these types of bags may not even last us an entire semester. The PowerKeep Wanderer was simply built to last! Additionally, the wide, strong, shoulder pads, chest/abdomen retention straps and the incredibly well padded moisture-wicking backing material was designed for prolonged use. Put simply, the bag is comfortable and designed for your enjoyment. If you get tired, you can carry the bag using the carry handle along the top of the backpack. PowerKeep has included a 3/4 inch wide carry handle with outer rubberized grip material. The 5/8 inches wide by 4 1/2 inches long black rubberized grip allowed for comfortable and secure hand carriage. The oval shape was ideal and conformed well to the hand.
Along either side of the backpack, you will find a 4 1/2 inches wide by inches tall mesh pocket with an upper elastic retention strap. If the backpack was empty, you could fit a full-sized plastic water bottle, a Contigo water bottle, a metallic coffee cup and with some effort a Nalgene water bottle. With the backpack fully loaded, it became much harder to add the larger Nalgene. Personally, I do not think that I would keep the large bottle in the pockets. If desired you could put your keys or a snack into the outer pockets, for quick access. Along the lower front of the Wanderer, you will find a 12 inches long zipper covered by a water resistant flap. The single metallic zipper pull controls access to the 12 inches wide by 7 inches tall by 3 inches deep pocket. This pocket remains conveniently hidden by the solar panel and provides a degree of concealment. It is large enough to fit a full-sized Nalgene bottle or in my case a firestarter kit/first aid kit from Maxpedition. You can use this pocket for a rolled medium towel/gym towel, toiletries, extra socks, power cables, iPad/MacBook charging bricks, etc. With the water retention strip and the solar panel covering the pocket, your gear is much less likely to get wet.
The second pocket, just behind the solar panel, can be accessed by opening either of the dual-zipper pulls. The 25-inches long clamshell opening is lined entirely by secure, well-stitched zipper. The 9 inches wide by 11 1/2 inches tall pocket extends 3 inches below the clamshell opening. There is an “X” shaped rubberized cord access port that opens into this pocket. The PowerKeep Wanderer bag was designed for active use, and this is yet another feature that supports this claim. The pocket will accommodate an iPad Mini 1–4, iPad Air 2, or an iPad Pro 10.5.” I do not have an iPad Pro 12″ to test, but I suspect that the pocket would hold the device easily. The option to charge your tablet, phone or other USB powered electronic while hiking/walking around was perhaps the most useful of the features of the Wanderer. You do not have to wait until you get back to base/camp to separate the device from the bag/charging tech. This kit allows you to charge on the go and then separate the halves to continue charging while you are using the bag. If you do not want to use the pouch for electronics, it is large enough for a folded pair of pants, or a full sized book.
Behind the above pocket, you will find another larger pocket which is lined on three sides by approximately 30-inches of zipper. Similar to the above pocket, you can access this clamshell-shaped chamber by opening one of the dual zipper pulls. You can expect the same well-stitched, securely-fastening zipper as the other pockets. The 14 inches wide by 12 inches tall pocket had some conveniently placed internal organizational pockets The front most pocket was accessible by opening the 8 inches wide zipper. I did not like that the zipper pull inside of the bag was silver instead of black, as this seemed like an oversight. Inside of the 8 inches wide by 4 inches tall mesh pocket, you will find a conveniently included 38 1/2 inches long USB-A to USB-micro cable. This pocket, staged like a flipped house, was perfect for your charging cables, pencils, calculator or for your smartphone. Behind this pocket was an 8 inches wide by 5 inches deep pocket with a 2 inches long by 1 inches wide velcro closure along the midline. Toward your top right, the Wanderer has a Key retention loop to clip your keyring or gym badge. You can quickly and easily pull your keys out of the middle administrative pocket. Just behind this pocket, you will find an 8-inch wide by 6-inch tall pocket. Again, you can place your smartphone, a calculator, index cards, wallet, etc., into this pocket.
Before I discuss all of the features of the master pocket, I need to tell you about the security features that were present in the middle pocket. Along either side of the middle pocket, PowerKeep provided two compression/security buckles. Utilizing the buckles, the zippers become inaccessible, and the contents of the pocket become more secure. For further protection, I would recommend placing the dual zippers on either side of the pocket and not directly at the apex of the pocket. Each of the front buckles attaches to a 1inch wide by 7 1/2 inches tall trapezoidal band of green fabric. The entire base of the trapezoid absorbs the pull force of the retention straps. Similar to the lower shoulder strap attachment, PowerKeep provided a very secure, well-made bag.
To prevent water from getting into the large pocket, you will need to pull back the wire-lined rain flap. The master pocket was lined with approximately 33 inches long zipper. The main pocket used the same black dual zipper pulls to open into another clamshell chamber. Within the main compartment, you can enjoy four smaller pockets. The main chamber was 20 inches tall by 13 inches wide. The bag has a layer of padding at the bottom that will fold down and velcro to the base of the bag. This will allow the bag to stay upright and provided an added layer of inferior padding. This was a convenient feature of the bag and more proof of the PowerKeep attention to detail. If desired, you could un-velcro the padding and compress the bag flatter. If this were permanently layered across the bottom, the compression feature would have been lost. There is a 1-inch elastic strap running the width of the bag and just in front of the next pocket. The first pocket measures 10 inches wide by 7 inches tall by 2 inches thick. The sides are lined with a collapsible fabric, and the bottom has two elastic bands. Directly behind this panel is a very thin layer of nylon. This layer serves as the front of the 9 1/2 inches tall by 12 inches wide by 3 inches thick pocket. The base is lined by the same elastic straps as listed above.
The last pocket of the bag, a thin 11 1/2 inches wide by 14 1/2 inches deep pocket was designed as a water bladder holding compartment. At the top of the main pocket, you will find three 3/4 inches wide velcro loops, which will hold the water bladder in place. At the apex of the bag, you will find a dome-shaped 2 inches wide by 1 1/2 inches tall access port, which will allow the tubing from your water bladder to exit the bag. Whether you stoor your Macbook, iPad, books, overnight gear or camping supplies in the bag, there are so many uses for this backpack. I did feel that the bag was missing outer loop attachment points and either a lower or upper loop system for a bedroll/blanket. If needed, you can stuff a small blanket roll or your jacket behind the solar panel and use the lower loop and upper velcro to hold them in place.
The attention to detail, the attempts to reduce water ingress, the stitching, the webbing, the attachment points, retention straps, organization pockets, chest strap, abdomen strap, shoulder straps and the dual zipper pulls were amazing. As noted above, there were so many features that required mention. However, there were features of the backpack that I found that needed to be addressed. The first was solely a nuisance and the other a rather serious design flaw. The green water-resistant nylon was well accented by black nylon, mesh, and webbing. The zippers were black, the zipper pulls were black, and this theme permeated the setup. It was incredibly odd to find a single silver zipper inside of the middle compartment. I am not certain if this was an oversight, but it was an odd, semi-tolerable oddity. Now to the major flaw. Anyone who has utilized a water bladder/backpack knows that they will sweat or leak. As the condensation/fluid accumulates, it will fill the bag/pocket as there is no outlet port. The bag needs a lower rivet/water outlet port to drain water downward. I would not add electronics to this pocket if used for water and because there is no outlet for the water, the larger pocket almost becomes unusable without individually waterproofing my gear.
Backpack Solar Panel
Whereas many solar panels are made of glass, the Energizer PowerKeep portable panels use a very flexible, lightweight material (copper indium gallium (di)selenide (CIGS)). The technology allows for increased flexibility, portability and what I will refer to as takeability. The 13 11/16 inches tall by 6 1/2 inches wide solar panel is divided into two sections of 45 squares tall by 16 squares wide cells. The panel was incredibly flexible and felt like a laminated piece of cardstock. If you look towards the top of the device, you will find the power panel/output port labeled with the “Energizer” logo. The back of the panel has a USB-A input along one side of the panel that is covered with a rubberized cover. The solar panel was designed to slide into a nylon 7 3/4 inches wide by 14 3/8 inches tall pocket. You cannot insert this incorrectly as there was a cutout on the back of the case to accommodate the output power box. Along either side of the solar panel, PowerKeep included a 3/8 inches extension of clear plastic. Conveniently, the strips allowed the solar panel to easily slide into the outer nylon carrier. On the reverse side of the carrier, you will find a 7 11/16-inch tall by 6-inch wide dual zippered mesh pocket. The zippers open all but the lower edge of the pocket and allow for the storage of the Energizer PK10K power bank.
The 6.2-ounce nylon case and solar panel (with or without the PK10K) will attach to the front of the wanderer backpack with 1/2 inch retention straps. There are two loops on the lower part of the solar panel which will accept the straps on the backpack (green/black color junction). Located along the upper edge of the backpack, you will see a beautifully silkscreened white Energizer Logo. Just beneath the logo, PowerKeep provided a 9 inches wide by 1 7/8 inches tall green flap, with a 5 7/8 inches long by 1 1/2 inches thick black velcro strap underneath it. This strap perfectly aligns with the velcro strip on the front of the solar panel case and holds it in place.
Energizer PK10K Powerbank
To harness the energy of the sun, PowerKeep utilized the solar cells of their panel to absorb the energy and then the PK10K rechargeable LiPo battery to store it. The 10,000 mAh battery can be charged via two methods, 5V/1–2A input from a wall outlet (7–13 hours) and from the sun (20–30 hours). Assuming 80% efficiency, you can expect 1–1.5 charges on tablets and 3+ charges on modern smartphones. I typically do not carry less than a single 10,000 mAh battery with me when I travel. I like 10,000 mAh batteries as they are typically the lowest size that will fully charge my iPad Pro 10.5″ 8134 mAh battery (again assuming 80% efficiency).
The Energizer battery measured 5 3/4 inches tall by 3 inches wide by 9/16 inches thick. Along the top, you will find a 5 1/8 inches long yellow, flat, USB-A to USB-micro cable. The battery has a convenient groove that will accommodate the cable for easy storage. As a detail-oriented person, I was pleased with the inclusion of this facet of the battery. There is a USB A output, a USB-micro input, a dummy micro-USB input for storage and a bank of four LED. During storage, the USB-A output port will be used, and the dummy port will be used, and the cable can be nestled into the top of the battery. The four LED will alert you to the power/charging status of the battery. If you hold the battery with one hand and then tap the battery with the palm of your other hand, the LED bank will illuminate. If you see all four blue LED, the battery is fully charged at 100%, if you see three LED then 75% of the power is available, two LED represents 50%, and a single LED represents 25% charge available. If one of the LED is blinking, you will know that the device is charging and once all are fully illuminated, solid, and blue, you know that the battery is fully charged.
The battery can simultaneously charge two devices and can also allow passthrough charging, meaning your device will charge while the battery charges as well. I was able to charge my iPad Pro 10.5″ from 20% to full in about 4 hours and essentially used the entire battery. The battery then took just at 7 hours to charge to full using the iPad charging brick. This winter, on non-rainy/sunny days, I left the solar charger outside. For one test, I left the charger outdoors for a total of three eight-hour days and was happy to find 75% battery charge. During this test, I did not move the device, nor did I orient it towards light. I simply left it out on my deck and checked back on the battery. I did another test on a cloudy, rainy day and found that the solar panel survived in damp conditions. I would worry about the battery in heavier rain though, as it is not a waterproof battery. The battery will not charge as quickly during overcast days. When I repeated the above test with 2–3 position changes throughout the day, I found that the battery was fully by the end of the third day. Direct sunlight provides much more power than indirect sunlight. Fully charged, the PK10K battery was able to charge my iPhone X (2716 mAh battery) from ~40% to full nightly for an entire work week, without charging the battery.
If you are looking for an ultra-lightweight backpack, this may not be the device for you. That group of people is a subset of a subset and this gear was not designed for the ultralightweight world. Rather, this is designed for the tech lover and the Average-Joe. At around 2.5 pounds and 30L, the bag is a tad on the heavy side when there are similar bags on the market for weighing roughly 8–12 ounces less and with about 10L more space. I truly enjoyed the testing/reviewing experience and the discussion I was able to have with the team while attending CES 2018 (Las Vegas, Nevada). So far, most of my reviews have lasted days to weeks. I wanted to give this review my full attention and more time/effort. Thus I have used/tested this kit since early January. The Wanderer backpack is designed for the weekend warrior, the Scout Leader, for those who like camping/hiking/bicycling and other outdoor sports. I loved that I could charge my phone, recharge the battery and charge my USB powered flashlights without having to take so many power banks and without the need to return to power.
On the go, you can charge as you walk. If I were going to offer insight into future enhancements, I would have attachment loops on the side and shoulder straps/sternum pad to be able to better angle the solar panel as you walked. While separated from the bag, I wished that there was a strand of paracord or perhaps a loop/buckle that would detach from the bag. This would allow you to attach the panel to a tree or to a tent. The biggest feature that requires attention is the lack of an inferior drainage port for water. Using this with a water bladder is a risky proposition, without the ability to remove excess water. Also, I would recommend that PowerKeep remove the silver zipper and replace it with a black one, to stick with the color scheme. The overall experience has been incredibly rewarding and I would highly encourage the Wanderer Backpack from PowerKeep. Similar to lichen, this symbiotic relationship between PowerKeep and Energizer seems to be highly successful. Keep your eye on PowerKeep and their future gear. If this is how they come out swinging, we may have a new homerun King before long. I would rate the overall experience at 4.5/5 stars.
Originally published at macsources.com on March 12, 2018.