5.11 COVRT 18 Backpack
We have a lot of backpacks. Way, way, too many backpacks. So when I told my wife I wanted to get another one she probably thought I had lost my mind (that's a topic for another article). But I had been looking at the 5.11 COVRT 18 Backpack for months and couldn't get it out of my head. All our other packs are either tactical or camping styles and I wanted something that was super-durable but looked like your everyday backpack. The COVRT 18 seemed to fit the bill.
So before a recent month-long trip I decided to pull the trigger and really put it through its paces to see if it would hold up if we ever needed it in an emergency situation. Here's how we did it:
The main storage area is quite large: 19"H x 12.25"L x 6.5"D
Our first decision was to pick the color while we were ordering it from Amazon. My wife liked the Ice coloring best, so we decided to go with that. You don't really see military bags in that light grey color so that was another reason to go that route, since I was trying to get away from the "tacticool" look the rest of our bags have. This looks like it could be a kids backpack for school. Nothing to see here...Next I loaded it up to see how the shoulder straps would feel with 25 lbs of gear and test the balance.
The 5.11 COVRT 18 Backpack uses a yoke-style strap which was new to me. It felt great. The pads were nice and soft but still durable feeling. The sternum strap was already in the right place so I left it there. I found myself using it about 50% of the time on our trip but it's a nice thing to have for long carries.
Inside mesh pockets are sturdy and helpful for organizing.
It passed the preliminary testing so it came with us for 5000 miles in four-weeks via 5 airline flights, 3 ferry boats, 3 trains, 6 cars, and 1 donkey. I had it loaded with: 2 Klean Kanteen bottles with water (2 liters total) our EDC Kit, Ipad mini, Kindle, language book, iWalk 6000mah backup battery, Vanguard binoculars, Cocoon Air-Core Ultralight Pillow, iPhone, Canon Point-n-shoot camera, 2 pairs of Surefire Earplugs, Hand sanitizer, bandanna, eyeglasses + case, Camelbak Antidote Bladder, in-ear headphones, Rite-in-the-rain notepad, Fisher Space Pen, sweatshirt, and the kitchen sink.
Inner MOLLE in the R.A.C. compartment. The is a conceal pocket behind this one.
I lugged all that stuff halfway around the world for weeks with this thing. No so much as a whimper from the pack. It was a delight to use. The zippers are oversized with nice plastic handles mounted on cord to grab and yank on mercilessly. The pockets are laid out in such a way that it's easy to have all your small quick-grab items super accessible.
The admin pocket is big, and well planned out, easy to get in and out of.
There is a concealed dual-entry pocket which I used to hold passports and tickets in as we were moving along. When we were bunked down for the night or leaving the pack behind I would move our valuables to the water bladder pocket, and hid them behind the Camelbak. Not that I thought that was fool-proof but it's not so easy to see that that pouch exists, so perhaps a would-be thief might not expect it in a bag like this one. Then again the bag is so nice they might just steal the whole thing anyway...
Water bladder pouch holds the short 3L Antidote.
The soft fleece pocket on the top is a lifesaver. You can throw your glasses in there without a case and not scratch the heck out of them. 5.11 made it big enough to hold much more than just glasses, and our phone, camera and sometimes wallet wound up in there as well. It has two zippers on either side so you can open from left or right.
No more scratched lenses!
All in all the pack performed brilliantly. I'm glad to say that, because it wasn't cheap. We got it for $100 on sale but still, that's a lot of cheddar for a backpack. My only real concern is the feel of the handle at the yoke where you pick up the pack before placing it on your shoulders. It's a nice spongy material but it feels weak in the middle - like the two parts of the yoke are sewn together there and it has a little too-much give to it when it's fully loaded. So far so good however. I'm half tossing around the idea of reinforcing it by wrapping it in paracord, but I'm not sure if that would damage the spongy stuff if I ever decided to take it off so I'll probably leave it.
The soft and squishy yolk handle.
My wish list for this pack would be a few lashing points on the bottom, and a weatherized bottom that can handle moisture, and slightly better buckles. I'm always afraid of the plastic buckles on modern packs, that they are used a lot and a likely point of failure. The only exception to that would be on our Spec Ops packs, which uses a very substantial and reinforced buckle.
As far as using one of these for a Bug Out Bag or Everyday Carry, I think this pack can work for both. It has the right specs, it's durable, it's low-key, and it can be adapted to your individual tastes and load-out with the interior MOLLE system. It does lack outside lashing points although there are a few loops and things on the outside of the pack where you might be able to rig something up if you needed to. Using this pack with some kind of belt storage system would help to carry coms, cutting, lighting and fire tools and add some additional quick access storage.
It's also not the most durable bag you could get for the money. There are other brands which use tougher materials. But the upside to this pack is getting a nondescript pack with hidden upgrades to make it more usable and dependable than a Jansport from Walmart.
They come in a variety of colors so you can match your ensemble. Kidding. But 5.11 did a nice job of keeping the design understated enough so that these look like your run-of-the-mill backpacks, but tough enough to be there when you need them to be. All in all we are pleased we got one, and it will be our go-to bag for travel, and may one day wind up being a GHB in one of our vehicles.
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Update: August 2018
We've had this backpack for 2.5 years at this point and wanted to update the review to include our long-term impressions so far of this bag. It's being used nearly daily and has held up very well, surpassing our initial expectations.
Our usage consists of typical moderate use, airplane travel, beach and hiking excursions. We've packed it to the gills and it can easily handle heavy weighs when cinched up and worn snugly.
The color has held up well and there are no stains evident on the outside cloth.
We've washed it twice, soaking it in in hot water with detergent, to remove some beach stinkiness that built up over time. Both washes removed any odors and stains.
Air travel with this bag is the best. All the different organizational pockets are great once you get your "where goes what" system in place.