Solgaard makes for easy packing and unpacking
Norwegian-American innovation at its very best
Business & Sports Editor
The Norwegian American
Every traveler faces the predicament: How much can be packed in the suitcase? Will the suitcase be too heavy to carry?
Adrian Solgaard hails from near Kristiansand, Norway, but “most of my growing up, [I] was bouncing around Europe and Canada.” He traveled and worked remotely, first as a videographer and then after launching a bicycle lock on Kickstarter in 2012. He understood what it meant to live out of a suitcase.
Necessity is the mother of invention
“I had this constant need to travel and live on the go,” said the 36-year-old founder and CEO of Solgaard Luggage via Zoom from New York. “I have that Viking gene in me. I grew up learning about lost luggage. I knew that living out of a suitcase is not too much fun, so making sure that you’re able to live life on the go with the ‘comforts of home,’ is important.”
He knew what he wanted: a backpack with a solar panel. Then, Solgaard was traveling in Barcelona, Spain, when his date had her backpack stolen.
After six weeks of international calls, he and Chris Cavill, who had worked together before, presented the Lifepack Original in March 2016, supported by 3,705 backers on Kickstarter. The backpack line continued with the Hustle Backpack in June 2017; Ocean Plastics Daypack in November 2018; and Lifepack Endeavor in January 2021.
The description of the “Original” explains how this backpack differs from others: “The solar powered and anti-theft backpack. Fully featured with Solarbank with bluetooth speakers, retractable cable lock, drop-proof laptop storage and more, the Lifepack is built to join you on every journey so you can be ready for anything.”
Sustainability was also an important factor for Solgaard, something he learned from his grandfather, who was born on a small island in Norway.
“The only roads were a gravel path,” said Solgaard. “There were no cars on it. Everything you take to the island or any garbage you make, you have to take it off the island. So, I think there’s this built-in thing of don’t create excess waste.
“I didn’t know how to make a solar power plant or wind farm, but I wanted to do something in sustainability. Maybe, I could make a unique backpack that has a solar panel. That could be the first step. So I launched Lifepack on Kickstarter and that got funded successfully.
“I was surfing in Bali. I realized there’s so much plastic on the beach. Instead of focusing on this small solar panel, maybe we can do something to harness all this ocean plastic and use that to make the fabric for a wide range of products.”
It took two years to develop a supply chain.
Ocean Plastics was the breakthrough. The everyday backpack was made from plastic recovered from the ocean.
The Carry-on Closet revolution
In between the backpacks came the flagship product Carry-On Closet 1.0 in November 2017, and Carry-On Closet 2.0 in December 2018 (with 2,989 Kickstarter supporters).
Open Carry-On Closet and you have–your clothes closet. With the six shelves you have your dresser. The cubes can be compressed to take up less room. The lining is made of Shore-Tex®, Solgaard’s proprietary ocean-bound plastic fabric, with each purchase rescuing 229 plastic bottles (5 pounds) from the ocean. The shell is unbreakable polycarbonate, the frame, lightweight aluminum, which is waterproof and scratch-resistant. You can pack or unpack quickly—or not unpack at all. There is a retractable soft handle grip with two levels and quiet, frictionless wheels. You can use the hook to hang it in the hotel room closet.
“The polycarbonate shell is a super strong material that’s also very lightweight,” said Solgaard. “It’s a material that can take a hit, bend, without breaking.”
There’s a USB charging port and a TSA-approved three-digit locking mechanism. For $125, you can also purchase a 15,000 mAh juicepack battery from Solgaard that can be charged in the Closet USB port and can charge devices wirelessly or with USB-C and/or two USB ports. For $25 more, try the solar boombox–bluetooth speaker, powerbank, wireless charger and solar power–small enough to fit in a Lifepack or Closet.
A strap allows you to attach another piece of luggage–like a Lifepack. Best of all, carry-on means carry-on. It has been approved by numerous airlines.
The bag that the luggage is packaged in and bag that holds the closet can be reused as a tote or laundry bag. Nothing left to waste. In addition, there is a vegan leather swatch on the inside mesh.
The Carry-On Closet comes in three sizes: Closet Medium, recommended for international travelers, is $275. The Large, recommended for U.S. domestic travelers, is $295. Each offers six colors. The largest is the Check-in Closet for $355, which is not a carry-on and comes in five colors.
The Carry-On Closet won TIME magazine’s Best Inventions of 2018, although there was only one size at the time.
More than just luggage
These days, Solgaard is about more than luggage. Their accessories include a compact Dopp kit toiletry bag ($55); Home Base ($195), a wall shelf to wirelessly charge as many as four devices simultaneously; and stylish hexagonal watches in different colors ($175, $229, $525) and wallet ($40).
All the accessories are made from Shore-Tex®, and Shore-Plast™, the fabric and material made from the the ocean bound plastic.
The LifePack Endeavor incorporates a closet in a backpack. “When you get to your destination, put the closet in the room closet,” said Solgaard. “The backpack expands and compresses. Then, you have this really great backpack, that’s not a crazy oversized travel bag.”
Among the recognition Solgaard products received in 2022 alone, were CNET: Best Laptop Backpack and Best Travel Tech Gifts; Rolling Stone: 30+ Eco-Friendly Gifts; Heavy: 7 Best Smart Backpacks; Rolling Stone: The Best Carry-On Suitcases; Mashable: The best eco-friendly gifts at every price point; and Wired: Our 27 Favorite Products Made of Recycled and Upcycled Materials.
Learn more about the award-winning Solgaard luggage line at solgaard.co.
This article originally appeared in the February 2023 issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.