Gadling Gear Review: BirkSun Atlas Solar Powered Backpack

BirkSun Atlas solar powered backpack
BirkSun

As a gear reviewer for Gadling I see a lot of different products come and go across my desk. Everything from high-tech gadgets to travel apparel and footwear are sent my way for evaluation. After awhile, much of that gear can start to look alike and while I seldom come across an item that is completely without merit, it is also rare to find an item that surprises you with how well it performs. That happens to be the case with the new BirkSun Atlas, a backpack whose main selling point is its ability to charge your small electronics via a built in solar panel. But to focus too much on that one feature alone runs the risk of dismissing everything else this high quality pack brings to the table.

When I first took the Atlas out of the box it was shipped to me in, I was immediately struck by the high quality materials that it is made from. It uses soft, yet durable, fabrics that are resistant to the wear and tear that comes along with travel. In fact, after using this bag as a daily commuter pack for several weeks, it hasn’t shown a hint of fraying, abrasions or any other typical blemishes that you would normally expect to come with regular use. Those same materials provide a level of water resistance as well, helping to protect the important items you carry inside. The entire package feels solid, well built and more than ready to hit the road.

Speaking of the interior of the pack, it is absolutely cavernous. BirkSun has designed this bag to allow you to carry all of your important equipment with you wherever you go. It includes a large laptop sleeve capable of safely holding up to a 17-inch notebook, while still giving you plenty of room in the main pocket for an iPad or other tablet, not to mention any other miscellaneous items that you want to bring along such as a camera, book, snacks and so on. A smaller secondary pocket houses the Atlas’ battery pack (more on that later) and some organizational sub-pockets that come in handy for keeping track of smaller items like pens and business cards. An elastic water bottle holder along one side is a welcome touch too.Taking a few cues from messenger bags, the Atlas features a large flap that seals the interior with both heavy-duty Velcro and a pair of very solid plastic clasps. The back panel is thickly padded and works in conjunction with a pair of thin shoulder straps to make this a very comfortable bag to wear, even when it is loaded down with gear. A strategically placed handle on the top of the Atlas makes it easy to grab and go when you’re in a hurry as well.

BirkSun Atlas solar powered backpack
BirkSun

All of these nice little touches add up to a very impressive pack in its own right and that is before we even get to the Atlas’ ability to keep your gadgets charged while on the road. As mentioned, this pack has a solar panel embedded into the flap that efficiently collects power from the sun and stores it in an included battery pack. The battery sits nestled in its own pocket and features a proprietary cable that can be fitted with a variety of plugs to cover nearly every type of smartphone or other small gadget. BirkSun includes both micro- and mini-USB adapters as well as plugs for Apple’s 30-pin and Lightning ports. Those four options will cover just about anything you could ask for including Android phones, iPhones, iPods and a variety of other small gadgets.

Using my iPhone 4S as a test, I was able to get two full charges out of the battery before depleting it fully. As is typical with a solar charger, the length of time that it takes to recharge the battery pack depends on the amount of direct sunlight the solar panel is exposed to. When placed directly into the bright sun, it takes just a couple of hours to restore the battery, but on cloudier days it will be much slower. If you need to juice it up quickly it can be recharged via USB on a laptop or wall outlet, which takes no time at all. This is useful when you’re heading out the door and you want to make sure you’re at full power before you ever leave home. No matter how you charge it, however, you can set out secure in the knowledge that if your smartphone battery begins to dwindle, you’ll always have a charger close at hand ready to help restore it to full power.

BirkSun is a relatively new company but their first foray into the backpack arena shows that they have a keen eye for detail. For instance, the pocket that holds the battery has a small window on the outside of the pack that allows the user to quickly check the level of the charge it holds without ever having to remove it from the bag. I thought that was a nice touch and although it seems simple, it isn’t the kind of thing that the competition would necessarily think to incorporate into their packs too. They’ve even included a nice little carrying pouch to store the various adapters for the charging system, helping to keep them organized and preventing them from getting lost. I also appreciated the strategically placed zipper on the side of the pack that grants access to your smartphone without having to open up the entire bag.

As you can probably tell, I am highly impressed with the BirkSun Atlas. It serves as a great pack for travel or for daily commutes to the office, carrying everything you would need without a hitch. The built-in solar charger and battery pack would make it easy to dismiss this pack as just a gimmick but quite frankly that would be selling it short. This is a product that does an excellent job of doing its primary job, which is to carry all of our gear comfortably and securely. It just so happens to have a nice portable charging station built into it as well. The combination of all of those things make it easy to recommend and with a price tag of $160 it is more than competitively priced. This is a great piece of gear that will keep you – and your smartphone – happy for a long time to come.

Gadling Gear Review: Cannondale Quick Backpack

The Quick Backpack from CannondaleFinding the perfect carry-on bag can be a never-ending quest for some travelers. It has to be capable of carrying all of your gear, while still keeping its contents safe from harm. It should also be comfortable enough to lug around all day, but also durable enough to survive the rigors of the road. It also doesn’t hurt if it happens to be attractive and affordable.

That description fits the new Quick Backpack from Cannondale to a tee. Yep, you read that right. The company that is best known for making some of the best bikes in the world also happens to make a pretty great backpack for travel. Originally designed for commuter cyclists looking to haul their gear around, the Quick Backpack is so well designed and versatile that it can be used for far more than just pedaling around town.

The Quick’s main compartment is massive and seems to swallow up all the gear you can throw at it. I tossed in my digital SLR camera, along with a few lenses, and they barely took up any room at all. When I added an extra jacket, a couple of books and a spare pair of shoes, I started to wonder if the bag was actually bottomless. A separate laptop sleeve kept my computer nicely protected while an additional interior organizational pocket was great for small items like pens, USB drives or a pair of earbuds. A large exterior zippered-pocket makes for a fantastic storage space for travel documents or other items you want to keep close at hand, such as a cellphone, iPod or passport.Harkening back to its cycling roots, the pack also features two large pockets on either side that are designed to accommodate water bottles. They of course come in handy for holding your favorite beverage while on the go, but they’re also deep enough to be used for other things as well. For example, I found that they made excellent pockets for holding an umbrella, which is one of those items that can’t be easily accessible enough when you really need it.

Made from high-quality 600D nylon fabrics, the Quick Backpack is designed to take abuse on daily cycling commutes. That means it is more than up to the task for most travel needs as well. I was very impressed with how well built this pack is and after several weeks of testing, there is nary a scuff, scratch or rip to be found. Better yet, those same fabrics also happen to be quite water resistant, helping to keep all of the precious cargo inside safely dry. The designers of this pack took that protection one step further, however, by lining the bottom of the pack with a rubberized fabric. This prevents the bag from soaking up liquids, and potentially damaging its cargo, when inadvertently set on a wet surface.

Perhaps the biggest surprise that this pack has in store for us is just how comfortable it is to wear. Its shoulder straps are easy to adjust and are nicely padded, while its back panel allows for plenty of ventilation and incorporates some of the best cushioning I’ve ever seen on a pack of this kind. All of that padding allows the Quick Backpack to carry a heavy load with ease, ensuring you won’t strain a back muscle while hurrying to catch your next flight.

If you’re already a cyclist then adding the Cannondale Quick Backpack to your gear closet seems like a no-brainer. But this is the kind of pack that many travelers might dismiss outright because it was primarily designed for riding. That would be a mistake, however, as this is quite simply a great pack that is both highly functional and versatile, whether you ever get on a bike or not. Its ability to comfortably carry large loads and its high level of durability makes it an excellent choice for active travelers looking for something a little different in their carry-on bag. With a price tag of $120, it also happens to be a real bargain too. I know I’ve certainly paid more than that for a bag that wasn’t nearly as good as this one.