The Arc'teryx Covert CO was a middle of the road performer in this review lineup. It was neither exciting nor offensive, and frequently any negative attributes were balanced out by distinct positives.
The Arc'teryx Covert CO travel backpack.
Comfort is not the selling point of this travel backpack. If you travel very lightly, the issues we found with comfort will likely be moot. However, due to the pack's focus on light weight and simplicity, we found there to be a cost to comfort. If you're looking for a very small travel backpack with more comfort features, check out the Cotopaxi Nazca or the Gregory Compass 30.
The shoulder straps on the Covert are very thin and light, so they are easy to get out of your way or stow, but if you're trying to carry 15-20 pounds of gear in this bag, your shoulders will be sore after a longish walk. Also, there is no hip belt to share the load, nor is there a frame of any sort to support the weight (though the pack is made of firmer wall materials which provide some rigidity and padding). We found the pack to be most comfortable around only 10-15 pounds.
The Arc'teryx Covert CO travel backpack is a bit awkward in backpack mode, but has a number of positive attributes to balance its shortcomings in comfort.
Keep in mind, however, that this is only a 40 liter pack, mid-to-low capacity compared to the other packs in this review, and there are no external straps to hang extra gear on the outside, so that helps to keep the weight down by restricting the volume of stuff you can take. The only trouble, which is also a positive, is that this pack, for its small size, really gobbles up your gear!
The Covert CO has a handy external pocket for small, flat items. However, this is the side that rests against your back when using the backpack straps, making it a little uncomfortable if you put anything thicker than a piece of paper or passport in there.
The one design oddity we found was that the shoulder straps were placed on the top of the pack rather than the bottom, this means whatever little items you put in the outer pocket, like your wallet or tablet or phone, rests against your back when you sling it over your shoulders. This is good for security, but often makes for an odd and uncomfortable shape protruding into your back.
The best feature of this pack is, in a way, its lack of features. This is a very simple pack with thoughtfully designed but minimal pockets. It has handles on all four sides and light and simple shoulder straps which can be used as a backpack or sling, depending on the length, and which stow out of the way easily. The Patagonia Headway MLC had a similar boxy design, easy to pack (though it lacks the rigid side walls of the Covert), but larger, much more comfortable, and with many useful features.
Our only actual complaint is that when putting the pack on your back to carry in backpack mode, the shoulder straps often would loosen suddenly, which was very awkward. Also, there is so much extra adjustable strap that it hangs down and can get in the way, especially if you throw this bag on a wheeled cart at the airport.
The shoulder straps would often loosen spontaneously when throwing the bag over our shoulders.
There is no laptop sleeve, but the pack is not legal carry on dimensions, so perhaps this is moot. A tablet slides easily into the covert (Covert!) outer zip pocket. And the firm sidewalls of the bag allow you to pack folded clothes and keep them neat during transit. But there are no external straps, so don't plan to pack anything with this bag that you can't fit inside.
Perhaps the most surprising negative attribute is that this bag is not legal carry on size. It is quite small, so we were surprised that it is not within the necessary dimensions. Several packs in this review, like several of our award winners, had a higher overall volume but still managed to fit within the airline carry on bag dimensions. So when we packed this bag, we measured its dimensions. When it was not packed to the max, we measured it at roughly the dimensions of a legal carry on bag. Depending on your appetite for risk, you might decide to go for it. Just be sure the pack isn't full, and that you measure the bag before leaving home so you don't get into a heated argument with the airline representatives and have to do the airport luggage shuffle, or worse, end up having to check your only carry on bag.
Packing & Accessibiliy
The capacity of the Arc'teryx Covert CO travel backpack: everything made it inside! (The standard set of gear, top, was packed into each bag to compare capacities with an actual load rather than relying on the company's reported volume numbers.)
We loved how easy this bag was to pack. The simple rectangular design and firmer sidewalls make the pack open like a box of donuts, so you can stack, fold, or cram your clothes and gear quickly and easily inside. There are a few small pockets on the outside to ensure valuables like your passport and even a table are easy to access, as well as a couple of inner pockets to keep your keys secure and ensure your favorite pair of socks don't get lost. Otherwise, not a lot of organizational features, so this pack was best for shorter, lighter, and simpler travels. The Osprey Porter 46 has a similar rigid structure to the bag, which we also liked, but it opens more like a strict panel loading backpack rather than like a suitcase/box of donuts.
The Covert is easy to pack with almost any type of gear or luggage because of the stiffer side walls and the suitcase style opening.
This pack functions first and foremost as a panel loading travel pack, and will keep your dressy clothes nice during transit. But we also found that this bag satisfied our inner climber and our cultivated tendencies to stuff, not fold our gear into our bags. You can cram, jam and stuff belongings into the boxy bag, then use the inner compression straps to get it all under control, zip it up, and you come out looking like a business professional without having to compromise your efficient climber packing style.
The sleek design and smooth exterior made it easy to maneuver this bag in many environments--no wheels to get caught up on in a bustling airport.
It holds its shape well through an assortment of packing situations: if it is not full, all the way through being stuffed. The inner compression straps also help to keep things in place when the pack is not full. And it kept its shape when overstuffed, but we ran in to comfort issues carrying this bag when the capacity was maxed out.
The Arc'teryx Covert CO travel backpack has a few very useful organizational pockets.
Though the shoulder straps were not the most comfortable, we did find that they did not get in the way of opening the pack, which is a common issue with duffel bags (not in this review). The Gregory Compass 30, for example, was very comfortable at lighter pack weights, but it was one of the worst in the review for packing and accessibility largely due to those shoulder straps blocking the opening. Also, the Kelty Redwing 44 was a very comfortable pack, but it had compression straps that overlapped its panel access zippers, an accessibility annoyance.
Overall, we were astonished that everything from our standardized test load fit inside this bag, given it was one of the smallest in the review at only 30 liters capacity. The Covert really shines in the category of packing and accessibility.
The Covert is a very well made travel pack. It is made of very strong materials which resist abrasion, and its simplicity ensure there is little on the pack to fail. The outer pocket was strained by overstuffing, but not under normal packing volumes. The main zipper is big, smooth, and very strong. The zipper is also placed so it wraps around the pack just over the corner of the bag, so the tension of the bag's corners are less on the zipper (imagine, again, how a donut box closes). A very durable pack, overall. For a similarly sleek, very durable pack that functions much better as a backpack than the Covert, check out the Minaal Carry On 2.0.
Weight & Capacity
The light weight of this bag helps make up for the lack of comfort when in backpack mode--it helps keep the overall weight down, so those thin shoulder straps don't dig in quite as badly. The Gregory Compass 30 is the only pack that was lighter in this review. Neither scored very highly overall, but they each have numerous excellent attributes, in very different ways, and if they fit your needs, they are great packs.
Testing the Arc'teryx Covert travel backpack on a recent camping trip.
This pack is particularly good for business travel due to its classy and neat style, and for its firmer sidewalls: your folded clothing stays neat! This is also a pack that will stand up to a lot of use, and still look presentable for business trips after you've lugged it around on various adventures.
Keep in mind, however, that this pack is not legal carry on size, but if it is not full you can likely argue that it fits within the 9 x 14 x 22 inch restriction. For such a small bag, at only 30 liters capacity, it makes it difficult to recommend the Covert as a travel pack. Many travelers would likely want to avoid checking baggage if they only have 30 liters worth of luggage.
Keeping with the theme of Arc'teryx gear, this is a very speedy travel pack, matching the pricey Patagonia Headway MLC at $189, but for much less capacity. It is one of the most expensive packs in the review, up there with one pack that is almost twice its size, the Osprey Farpoint 55, which is actually two backpacks in one. The pack is very well made, however, and we are quite confident that if it suits your needs, it will thrive through many adventures.
The Arc'teryx Covert travel backpack is sleek, stylish, durable, and keeps a low profile on your urban or outdoor adventures.
The Covert was not a high scoring pack in this review, but there were many things we liked about it. The sleek look and muted tones don't make you stand out as an outdoorsy-type or an obvious tourist as much as the flashy and outdoor-specific Osprey packs. The Covert was very easy to pack, very light weight, sleek, and durable. If carrying comfort, carry on size, and oodles of features are not requisites in your travel pack needs, this is a pack that will keep you stoked for a long time.