Solar panels are getting cheaper and more efficient, so at an increasing rate we’re seeing them implemented into different kinds of products. The Xtorm Helios backpack is a fantastic example of this trend, it’s one for a tech savvy lifestyle and features an enormous solar panel on its front.
Design & Quality
Being a backpack with a solar panel equipped and one that will be holding expensive electronic possessions, it’s very important that it is reasonably resistant to water when we’re caught out in rain; so the panel is well covered in hard plastic and the bag features a waterproof front and cover flap which secures itself over the top of the Helios via velcro. This isn’t the most attractive or stylish material in its implementation here, but it is truly waterproof and not just water resistant.
And when considering the kinds of outdoor activities; such as hiking, camping, cycling and other physical uses, that the Helios backpack lends itself to, it’s nice to see that Xtorm tries hard to keep the water away from your possessions. The zippers and main recycled PET exterior body are not waterproof, but are still reasonably rain resistant, and the PET exterior is hard wearing against rocks and the like too. It’s a clean design, with the solar panel being the main spectacle, but some colour options other than black would be nice.
Carrying Options & Comfort
A handle is stitched to the top of the bag for picking it up by hand. Two shoulder straps are also featured and they boast some rather thick and heavyweight padding along with the rear lining of the backpack. These did help to relieve the pressure of friction when heavy objects were loaded, with the bag's shoulder straps rested on our shoulders and against our back. The foam lining also encourages breathability, so our back wasn’t hot and bothered after 30+ minutes of wearing it around; fantastic for cyclists.
The Xtorm Helios backpack boasts 25 litres of total storage capacity and in summary we could keep our MacBook Pro, chargers, iPad, iPhone, Nintendo 3DS, American Apparel hoodie, portable speaker, over-ear headphones, A5 documents, 250ml drink bottle, in and on the Helios backpack, with space to spare.
However, we prefer to keep an organised area in the bags we use, so that we’re not required to remove multiple items to gain access to just one thing. And the storage options are this bag's greatest weakness, with the main and only compartment holding most of the above items we mentioned. This section doesn't have any internal pockets, so things like our chargers and documents couldn’t be individually organised and were just bundled together. A design similar to the Timbuk2 Power Q, a backpack that similarly chargers devices via USB, would have been terrific. But we did like that the main middle compartment had two sleeves for keeping tablets and notebooks within. They’re secured by velcro straps and the rear compartment has a generous thick layer of padding, so we opted to put our MacBook Pro here and an iPad with a case in the other. On the front of this backpack a zipped pocket contains a micro-USB cable (can run through via a hole into the main compartment), and there’s enough space for the power bank battery pack and/or a mobile device that charges via micro-USB.
Lastly, there are two zipped side pockets and three exterior mesh pockets; one on the left shoulder strap and the other larger two are found on each side of the backpack. The side pockets are ideal places for providing immediate access to things like water bottles and smartphones.
Solar Panel & Charging
The Helios is available in four variants, but the backpack itself is exactly the same in each. Each comes with different sized Xtorm Power Bank battery packs, which are sized at 4000mAh, 6000mAh, 9000mAh and 15,000mAh. We have the largest 15,000mAh Power Bank Free. The solar panel has a peak input of 4 watts, making it the most powerful panel, in terms of pure electricity production potential, we’ve ever used. In fact, we reviewed the Xtrom Aurora DSLR camera bag in 2013 which sported a similarly sized solar panel with a peak input of 2.7 watts, so this one is greatly more efficient.
This increase in charge rate was noticeable in our usage, particularly when using the Xtorm Helios backpack outdoors on sunny days with temperatures of 25-30 degrees. We timed how long its solar panel took to charge the drained 15,000mAh battery pack, testing it over many days, and we can conclude that it took roughly 20-24 hours to fully charge in direct sunlight. Yes, this sounds like a long time, but this battery at full is efficient enough to charge an iPhone 6 nearly seven times (can charge three devices simultaneously at a rapid rate of 5V/3.1A) and an iPad Air 2 around one and a quarter times. So if we break this information down we could charge an iPhone 6 from drained to full from solely the sun in a very respectable three hours and in nerd terms it breaks down at 4hrs=3000mAh.
Hours pass by quickly when engaged in activities like hiking and camping, so to generate electricity from the item holding all your belongings, in the manner Xtorm have provided with the Helios backpack, is very non-complex and friendly. We also liked the fact that this is defended by a partially waterproofed design, with generally heavy duty wear resistance. Our only suggestion is that further pockets and sections could be added to the Helios for improved organisation of belongings.