The Arc'teryx Covert C/O is a middle of the road performer in this review lineup. It is neither exciting nor offensive, and frequently we found that negative attributes were balanced out by distinct positives.
The Arc'teryx Covert C/O 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.
The shoulder straps on the Covert are very thin and light, so they are easy to get out of the 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 material which provides some rigidity and padding). We found the pack to be most comfortable with around only 10-15 pounds inside. 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 Covert is a bit awkward in backpack mode but has a number of positive attributes to balance its shortcomings in comfort.
The one design oddity we found is that the shoulder straps are placed on the top of the pack rather than the back. 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 Covert 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 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 that can be used as a backpack or sling, depending on the length, and which stow out of the way easily.
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 a tablet slides easily into the covert (see what we did there?) 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 if you pack it too full. 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 super full and that you measure it 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
We love how easy this bag is 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 tablet 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 is best for shorter, lighter, and simpler travels.
The Covert 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 make it easy to maneuver this bag in many environments. It holds its shape well through an assortment of packing situations, from not full to totally stuffed. The inner compression straps also help to keep things in place when the pack is not full. Despite keeping its shape when overstuffed, however, we ran into comfort issues carrying this bag when the capacity is maxed out.
Though the shoulder straps are not the most comfortable, we did find that they do not get in the way of opening the pack, which is a common issue with duffel bags. Overall, we were impressed that everything from our standardized test load fit inside this bag. The Covert shines in the category of packing and accessibility.
The Covert has some very useful organizational pockets.
The Covert is a very well made travel pack. It is made of strong materials that resist abrasion, and its simplicity ensures there is little on the pack to fail. The outer pocket is 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.
Volume to Weight Ratio
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. This pack holds 40 liters and weighs 3.05 pounds, a decently average ratio in our review.
Keeping with the theme of Arc'teryx gear, this is a very spendy travel pack. For the price, however, this brand has fostered a very strong reputation. The Covert pack is very well made, and we are quite confident that if it suits your needs, it will thrive through many adventures.
Testing the Arc'teryx Covert travel backpack on a recent camping trip.
The Covert was not a high scoring pack in this review, but there are many things we like 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 some of the flashy and outdoor-specific packs. It's very easy to pack, lightweight, 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.
The Arc'teryx Covert travel backpack is sleek, stylish, durable, and keeps a low profile on your urban or outdoor adventures.