Good gear is truly a great asset but travel is the best way to ruin your good stuff.
I travel, and I travel A LOT. A couple years ago I tallied my annual trips and these travels had taken me through an airport on average every 48hrs. To put that into perspective, in that same year I slept at home on 21 weeknights and we nicknamed my apartment "the storage locker" because it was where I kept things until I could get back to swap bags.
Although in all of my travels there is one lesson I had to learn the hard way... too many times. Traveling with cheap packs is a short term solution and a long term problem. What do I mean? Heres a fun story. On a trip to Boston my suitcase came out the carousel with the main closures destroyed, fabric torn, and my belongs trailing behind like wreckage. My pack was a goner. I'd have make a stop on the way back to the airport to buy a new bag, repack, and then dispose of the old bag before even checking in. I missed my flight.
Since then I've decided to up my travel game. Below is a review of my experiences with the Arc'Teryx Covert Case I/C/O that has been by side through airports, on photoshoots, car trips, weekend getaways, and cycling trips.
If I had to guess, I'd say that on average I go through a new carry-on bag every year. These tend to take the biggest thrashing because I try to avoid checking bags if ever I can and I use them for everything. This year I caught on to the new travel packs from Arc'Teryx. While recently added to their larger collection of packs, the Covert Cases are focused on the airport traveller rather than the backpacker, climber, alpinist, or urban commuter. At first sight the Covert Case stands out because it's very different than what you'd expect from Arc'Teryx. It's big, it's boxy, and it's definitely not going up the mountain or into the forest with you. It feels light, it feels well made, and of course well designed. The volume of the bag is quite generous. The very simple box shape of the bag leaves a lot of space to fit an impressive amount of stuff. When I unzipped the bag this ample amount space was definitely the first remark I made. The bag has enough space to accommodate about a weeks travel if you pack right. It's a great bag.
I'd describe this pack as utilitarian in it's aesthetic. The Covert Cases come in two versions, the C/O and the I/C/O. What's the difference? Well the "I" stands for "International" because it's 50 litres in size versus 35 litres as international airlines have a larger carry-on allowance. The case I chose for me was the larger I/C/O version since I try to get as much into as few bags as possible. The I/C/O has a stated weight of 1.5kg and mine comes in at 1.54kg. Close enough. The current Arc'Teryx lineup offers the Covert Case in 2 colours. Blue Smoke and Carbon Copy (dark grey). I prefer the subtleness of the Carbon Copy but the Blue Smoke has some pop to it.
The body of the pack is made from 500D ATY Nylon 6.6. Ok uhm so what does that mean? From what I know and can find, it's a 500 denier nylon thread while the 6.6 ATY nylon thread in particular is known to be a soft synthetic material with a feel similar to cotton. Because it is nylon it's easy to clean and won't shrink when washed and dried. This textile has also been silicone treated to add to its durability and water/dirt resistance.
Throughout, the Covert Case is padded with EV 50 closed cell foam. This means the foam is made of Ethyl Vinyl Acetate with a closed cell structure with a density of ~50kg/m3. This type of foam is used in a lot of things from knee pads to mattresses as it holds up well to impacts with fairly good insulating properties. This choice in padding helps give the Covert Case a good solid structure while keeping weight down and your stuff protected.
The Covert Case has 3 carry handles so it's easy to grab from any direction and also has stowable shoulder straps so it can be carried as a backpack too. This is really useful when it's fully loaded and your hands are full. If you so choose, you can also use just one of the shoulder straps and carry the back as a shoulder bag. While I haven't found a particular need for the Covert Case as a shoulder bag it's a nice option. When stowed, the straps are out of sight and out of mind, adding to the clean lines of the pack.
In terms of features, the Covert Case has what you need. The bag has high quality corded (unmarked) zippers and the bag opens via a large suitcase style top. On the outside, there is a large external pocket that is great for papers and other last minute items you may need quick access to while on the move. Arc'Teryx have included a key clip in here so you don't get all the way home only to find yourself locked out.
The inside of the bag has a lot more to offer. There is a small zippered document pocket. It's quite small and I'm not sure what you're supposed to fit in here, I usually stow charger cables etc because my passport and important docs seem to be a tight fit. On the underside of the lid there is a larger zippered security pocket for things you want to keep separate and prevent from falling out or being left behind by mistake. This is good for stuff you want to keep seperate but may not need access to all the time.
There are two compression straps to help hold your stuff in place while in transit to your destination. The material on the inside of the bag is a high contrast (green for the Blue Smoke and white for the Carbon Copy) which is to help you find your stuff while quickly fishing around in the dark.
Overall branding is pretty minimal on the Covert Case but it's not unidentifiable. There are 3 brandings in total. First, the outside of the bag has a small logo embroidered in the top corner. Second, the inside has a large logo embroidered on the bottom of the main compartment. Finally, a third logo is found on the stowable shoulder strap but it's on a stowable strap so not always visible.
As the branding is fairly subdued, it's a lot less in your face than what you'd find in other packs. I really appreciate that. The carbon copy colourway has grey stitching for the embroidery which only helps increase the minimalism. If you want a bit more pop, the Blue Smoke has contrasting stitching for the logos.
I've come to really appreciate the Covert Case as a great travel pack. It's extremely versatile and just does what I'd expect it to do. There are a few drawbacks so therefore potential improvements that could be made to this pack. The compression straps inside only pull at the top of the bag. So while this helps compress a fully loaded bag, it doesn't do much for a bag filled part way. I'd like to see the compression straps originate lower on the inside of the bag to secure a lesser load similar to how most carry on suitcases do.
The keyclip is a great detail to the bag because there is nothing worse than realizing you've lost your keys while you're standing at your front door after a long journey home. They key clip is located in the outer zippered pocket where I'd prefer to see this in one of the zippered inside pockets where it's less likely to get in the way and or even fall out.
Depending on where you are going and what you are doing the 50 litre I/C/O can get pretty heavy. The backpack straps help with being able to get the pack from place to place but wheels are always easier. This is a tough one because wheels require some serious concessions to the design. Wheels add a lot of weight while also requiring a supporting structure. That takes up too much available space. While I do prefer the carry pack, there are times that wheels would be really helpful.
There's a lot to think about when you're choosing your gear. Cost, features, function, style... and there are so many choices available on the market that it'll made your head spin. Making the right choice for you is important. For me, the Arc'Teryx Covert Case I/C/O has been the right choice. It's held up really well through some rough trips. The size is versatile and the construction is the usual top shelf quality you expect from Arc'Teryx. The choice in bag sizes with 35 and 50 litres means there is something to suit almost everyone. Pairing the Covert Case with the likes of the Index 10+10 or the Index toiletries bag helps provide additional organization and space maximization for the pack. It's a really killer combo.
If you're looking for a great pack for airport travel with a bit of style and outdoor experience built in then you should check out this pack.