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Ask Arthur

Ask Arthur: Is a backpack with USB power a good idea?

A reader asks whether it makes sense to buy a backpack that has a USB port and power bank built in. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK weighs up the pros and cons.

In the age of constant connectivity, where our devices are our lifelines, power backpacks combine the practicality of a backpack with the convenience of a built-in USB power cord. That means no more frantic searching for an outlet or the anxiety of a dying battery on a smartphone, tablet, or other USB-powered devices.

But they have both pros and cons. 

On the plus side, there are 2 big benefits:

  • They tend to have spacious compartments and clever organising features, helping keep devices and cables securely and neatly in place.
  • They provide a sense of security, knowing you have a reliable power source immediately at your disposal, a single connection away. It would be a stretch to say it is like having a personal power station on your back, as some of the advertising has it, but it’s going to get you through a backpacking day that makes, for example, extensive demands on navigation via smartphone.

On the minus side, there are at least 4 big drawbacks:

  • With great power comes… a slightly heavier backpack. Power backpacks, with their built-in power cords and battery compartments, can be bulkier than traditional backpacks, and are probably not ideal when they have to be on your back for extended periods.
  • They are convenient, but they are not limitless power sources. The battery capacity varies, and you may find that your backpack’s battery drains faster than standalone, handheld power banks. 
  • They cost more than regular backpacks due to their integrated power features. Budget-conscious users would find it difficult to justify the extra expense.
  • All power banks have a limited life, and your backpack essentially dies with the powerbank.

This short summary has the cons outweighing the pros. That would be my personal conclusion: a standalone power bank, bought to the specs that make the most sense for your devices, and which can be slipped into any carry bag or pocket, makes more sense than buying a specially equipped backpack.

In summary, the ability to charge devices seamlessly sounds cool, but added weight, charging limitations, and higher cost count against it.

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