Attendees at this year’s PopTech conference in Camden, Maine, were handed the Swag Bag to End All Swag Bags on Thursday: a messenger that transforms into a portable, solar-powered light source. A collaboration with Timbuk2 and the Portable Light Project, the FLAP (Flexible Light and Power) is a next-generation messenger bag with solar panels that can be charged in the day, then used to power a built-in LED light—or a small mobile device—at night.


Renewable energy that is untethered to one spot isn’t a new concept to The Portable Light Project—the nonprofit has been working with the Rocky Mountain Institute to create portable solar textile kits for impoverished communities living without electricity. These energy-harvesting textiles offer the promise of clean, mobile technology for education, healthcare, and economic development, along with the potential for self-sustaining renewable energy even in the face of extreme poverty.

These energy-harvesting textiles offer the promise of clean, mobile technology even in the face of extreme poverty.

Buoyed by Timbuk2’s manufacturing expertise, working on the FLAP offered both teams of designers the unique opportunity to draw up, prototype, and field test a new—and affordable—multipurpose energy-generating and lighting design—one that could serve developed and developing nations, as well as be adapted to local materials and skills.

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Photo by Timbuk2


With a detachable flap that incorporates the solar panel, LED reading light, and a mini-USB port for charging small devices, the FLAP can be used to cast light or power a cell phone with or without the rest of the bag attached. Ingeniously, the flap’s reflective inner lining helps increase the range of the LED light, creating a makeshift lantern.

The detachable flap allows you to use the LED light and USB port with or without the rest of the bag attached.

Practicality and real-world performance, of course, was key, and White African and AfriGadget editor Erik Hersman was tasked with carting 10 partially fabricated bags and 10 solar light kits through Ghana, Kenya, and Uganda. Feedback ran the gamut, from quibbles over the oversized nature of the American-style Timbuk2 bags to observations that the electronics would need to be ruggedized for African use.

It’s what you might call a work in progress, admits Sheila Kennedy of the Portable Light Project. “The FLAP bag is a freeze-frame snapshot in our ongoing process of collaboration,” she says.

+ PopTech

+ Timbuk2

+ The Portable Light Project