- Buyer's Guide
Road Test :: Arc’teryx Covert Case C/O
A lightweight minimalist carry-on
We’ve been in love with the reinvigoration of Arc’teryx’s carry range of late (you’ve probably noticed). And while our recent reviews have focused on their backpacks for active folk, the Covert Case is targeted more at the airport traveler.
It’s a sleek, lightweight modernist carry-on that called for a similar kind of reviewer, which is why we’ve roped in Alex Knorr, a product and graphic designer who feels just right for their target market.
- Name: Covert Case C/O
- Brand: Arc'teryx
- Format: Hybrid backpack & shoulder bag
- Measurement: Height: 28cm, Length: 57cm, Width: 38cm
- Capacity: 40 liters
- Weight: 0.98 kg / 35 oz
- Zippers: YKK #10
- Material: 500D ATY nylon 6,6 silicone treated with PU
- PriceUS $178.95
Who it suits
Those looking to swallow a large amount of gear, but present it discreetly and with style. The Covert is awesome for the creative professional traveling the world, as it looks sharp but interesting in front of a client, but also looks right at a camp or active setting. It eschews overt features in favor of restrained design, which means you have to dig that minimalist approach to things. And it generally works better for those carrying an additional messenger or satchel, as this can be ditched in your accommodation.
Who it doesn’t suit
If you’re hauling a bag for long periods, there are more comfortable bags and cases. If you only want one bag, and/or you’re accessing things on the go, you’ll need a bag with external pocketing, so this isn’t for you. And if you’re on a tight budget, there are more affordable bags out there.
Initial impressions were really good – I was really excited to get my hands on it. The Covert is very simple styling without all the tech on show. As I used it more, I became less sure though, as it really depends on what angle you view it or what configuration you have the bag in.
I love simplicity but sometimes I felt this might have been too minimal (whoa, don’t think I have ever said that before). Sitting on the ground with the zip facing you looks nice, especially with the straps stowed away – but as a backpack it really looked more like Santa’s sack and lost its identity as a product.
The curves on the zip look nice but if filled, they can cause the zip to snag a little on the corners, making it difficult for a quick getaway. This panel detailing is perhaps not fully resolved.
The fabric though is awesome. I love the 500D Nylon, as the air textured yarn takes on a more matt, almost polyester appearance (but with Nylon durability). The muted color palette helps further, with tasteful tonal zips and a beautiful absence of visible stitching.
Hit and miss. Mostly okay.
So the shell is sweet, as there is enough padding between you and your luggage for it to be comfortable in both configurations, especially when throwing it around the cabin of a plane and lugging it around the airport.
The straps are the issue. They are thin, very high density foam, and have relatively sharp edges.
If you’re carrying lighter loads or for shorter distances, using a single shoulder strap is the pick for convenience. This is when the bag looks the best and works as a short hop for your clothing and basics. If you have to haul for longer, or more weight, it was nice being able to pull out an additional strap, it’s just the bag started to be compromised when asked to do this (in looks and comfort).
Generally the shoulder straps never really seemed to hit the sweet spot when carrying. There was a lot of adjusting for not much result and the padding always seemed to be either on a funny angle or in the wrong spot which meant the thin straps dug in.
One trick in backpack mode was to cross the straps over before clicking them in. This meant they were less likely to slip off a shoulder while in use (because they’d get an X at the top of their anchoring), but it did make them a touch more confusing to grab in a hurry.
Love the soft EVA foam shell. It held its shape well even after it took a beating around several global airports. As I said, it felt like it had enough protection for my gear. I even had my camera loose in the middle and it survived.
The only issue I had was in the shoulder bag config, the clip for the strap popped out when I was lugging it around. Again, those straps seemed to be my main concern.
The #10 YKK zips are quality (except when struggling around the corners) and pattern work is great if your load is light. As you put more weight in, the shape can get pulled in a few awkward ways, but the seams mostly deal well with this.
Soft shell and size
Arc’teryx have provided us with the C/O, which fits almost all international cabin standards. The I/C/O is larger at 50 Litres, but only suits US and larger cabin size restrictions.
So, our C/O is designed for 1-4 days but I would travel with that for up to a month. I think the size is spot on and I wouldn’t want anything else except for a laptop bag. It seemed to fit all my shopping at the end of my trip as well, which is where the internal compression straps came in really handy.
I don’t like hard-edged travel cases. I do love this soft shell case as carry-on though. It fits in every airport bag checker I could find – even the budget carriers – and played nicely when chucking it in and out of the overhead cabin. There is nothing worse than being drowsy from the sleeping tablets and pulling your travel case down and nearly knocking someone out with the wheel on the edge of your case.
Backpack or shoulder bag? Love the idea but they haven’t really nailed either.
In the backpack config it’s hard to get it to fit right and it leaves some straps flopping around in the wind (you can sort of tuck them in, but it is quite fiddly). I’d generally option the second strap if I was walking over 1-2 kms.
I used it mostly in the shoulder strap config, which was my preferred option by far. The only problem was the force on the strap popped the clip a couple of times while picking it up in a hurry. Plus padding on the strap didn’t seem to be as comfortable as it could be.
I loved the way it opened as a suitcase. There’s nothing worse than stuffing all your gear into the top of a pack, without ability to quickly access the first items you put in.
Internals were very sparse – only one pocket on the inside. Actually make that two – there is a document pocket just below the zip. The only use for the pocket seemed to be your pens? Not sure but I kind of feel like it was a bit unnecessary as my passport would only have fit if I rolled it up. I didn’t use it once.
The large pocket under the lid was useful but I was left wanting a bit more organization from that section.
Also, I can’t say I was digging the material chosen for the lining. It felt a little cheap, especially with the big logo stitched into it – but that’s being super critical. It’s designed to be a light color for better visibility of your contents, which works well.
I have to say this was my favorite feature of the pack. I am the type of guy that will always forget where he puts his passport and have a little freak out until I realize it’s in my top pocket of my shirt rather than in my normal stow away. This made it super simple and documents were clipped in and never left that pocket. It was quick and accessible as it faced you in the shoulder bag configuration.
Alternatives to consider
There are no shortage of options for maximum legal carry-on. Some of the options you should at least be aware of are:
- For airport warrior shoulder bags, check out the Patagonia MLC, Red Oxx Air Boss, or Tom Bihn Tri-Star. None of these are as stylish, but they all have more features and devout fans.
- For something that’s more of a one bag solution, try the Incase EO travel backpack, the Minaal Carry On, or the Goruck SK40. They all have a similar clean silhouette to the Covert, but are more backpack oriented with more features.
- For something more outdoorsy, play with the idea of a North Face Base Camp in small size and black.
- Or for something smaller and more urban, check the Qwstion Daypack.
This is a great carry-on if, and only if, you understand its limitations. It works best as a single shoulder discreet carry-on that can swallow a week’s worth of light clothing, and yet still be presentable in front of a client or the in-laws. It’s best when partnered with a small work messenger, where you can carry-on both. If you try to use it outside of these roles, you start to hit its limitations.
So some crew will love it (I did). The design is elegant, and the construction and materials are quality. The size and format worked well for me, as I like traveling light. The protection and accessibility to the luggage is awesome.
But in the end, there are more flexible and adaptable bags out there. If they could better nail the two configurations, add a touch more comfort to the straps, and get those corners working better when full, this would easily hit 4 stars. As it stands, this is a bag I love having as an option, but it’s not something I’ll reach for every trip.
- Maximises the amount you can carry on, with minimal weight
- Discreet, but stylish and interesting looks
- Superb fabric and excellent construction quality
The Not As Good
- Not great for heavy loads or extended carry
- Awkward corner zip line when fully loaded
- Strap clips popped a couple of times with the loads we carried