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Recently, I got my hands on 5.11 Tactical’s Rush 12 2.0, a member of the company’s impressive flagship line of backpacks. There was a lot to love about it, but one of its major drawbacks was its tactical styling. When you need to keep a low profile, a backpack with that much webbing goes over about as well as the Miami Hurricanes’ “Turnover Chain” during a basic training shakedown. Like it or not, tactical bags stick out.
Enter the 5.11 Tactical COVRT18 2.0 backpack. When I first saw the COVRT18, I knew I wanted to get my hands on one. It sports all the critical features one could want in a tactical pack, but tweaks the Rush formula to be a bit friendlier to a civilian context. For me, this pack looked to hit a sweet spot for EDC use, air travel, urban adventures, and mountain hiking. Once it arrived, all I had to do was take off the tags and throw my gear in before I put that theory to the test.
Unlike other 5.11 packs, the COVRT18 2.0 bag comes in two civilian colorways designed to blend into almost any setting. The one I received was tan with dark navy accents and bright orange zipper loops, and it came with a reasonable amount of packing. As with the Rush 12 2.0, this pack came earmarked with bright orange tags advertising the various features and highlights of the pack. While the contrast between the bag and tags was muted compared to other offerings, 5.11’s marketing team had the sense not to hide anything in hard-to-find locations, making de-tagging easy.
Editor’s note: the 5.11 Tactical COVRT18 2.0 backpack also made Task & Purpose’s roundup of the best tactical backpacks of the year.
When I first laid eyes on the COVRT18 2.0, I felt like I’d found the perfect all-around backpack, the pack of my dreams. While its build quality felt trivial compared to the Rush 12 2.0 (not an entirely fair comparison), this is one sturdy bag, and boy, does it look good! I appreciated the pack’s design, and its similarities to its Rush cousin made it easy to navigate. With few exceptions, the layout fit the 5.11 mold I encountered with the Rush 12, and where the COVRT18 did deviate from that pattern, it seemed to be with good reason. This bag competes well with the Rush series of bags, but is clearly designed to be at home in a civilian context.
This generation of the COVRT18 has plenty of excellent features and comes in at just the perfect size for an all-around backpack. It measures a healthy 19 by 10.5 by 6.5 inches and boasts 32 liters of cargo space, plenty of room to accommodate a wide variety of missions. Like other 5.11 backpacks, it packs in plenty of organizational compartments alongside a variety of practical goodies, including yoked, breakaway shoulder straps with just the right amount of breathable padding, cinch straps, a padded carry handle, back panel ventilation, and large pull loops on the zippers. While plenty of backpacks have a similar kit, few also include the COVRT18 2.0’s unique combination of a hidden CCW compartment, dual water bottle pouches, a flex cuff channel, a TSA-friendly laptop/hydration reservoir compartment, and a helmet-friendly external stuff pouch. Heck, you can even tuck the tiny 5.11 tags out of sight, and the outside panel on the front compartment rolls down and out of the way to reveal a MOLLE-compatible mounting surface complete with hook-and-loop strips for ID markers. 5.11 packed in all of the critical tactical features and then some, left out all the tacticool nonsense, and created an incredibly versatile backpack.
How we tested the 5.11 Tactical COVRT18 2.0 backpack
For weeks, I lived with this new version of COVRT18, carrying it with me everywhere I went. While not intended as an EDC bag, I find that everyday carry on any backpack is a good way to get familiar with it quickly. I loaded it up with my Vertx S.O.C.P. panel with all of its various goodies, such as a custom first aid kit, ballistic panel, and a few other odds and ends. I also included a handful of other EDC essentials, such as a snack or two, electrolyte packets, writing utensils, and more.
On my various excursions to and fro, I made sure to take advantage of the external stuff pouch, usually loading it with a rain jacket and the occasional book. I also made sure to stuff the things as full as possible to see how well it handled a bulging load.
In addition to following me literally everywhere I went, this pack also went on a few short simulation trips designed to mimic a run through the airport, an urban commute on foot, and a warm-weather day hike. During one such trek, I made sure to include my trusty, leaky water reservoir to test the bag’s reaction to an unexpected internal deluge.
What we like about the 5.11 Tactical COVRT18 2.0 backpack
Compared to the average Jansport, the COVRT18 2.0 may feel slightly beefy, but compared to most tactical backpacks, this thing feels like a feather. It weighs a little over eight ounces lighter than the Rush 12 2.0 but boasts eight more liters of cargo capacity than its cousin, a welcome tradeoff. Of course, the COVRT18 meets 5.11 standards for tough construction, although it admittedly wouldn’t be the best choice for a GoRuck event. The stitching keeps everything securely in place, and the 500D and 840D nylon panels feel ready to handle anything short of a deployment to Southwest Asia.
I am a huge fan of clamshell pack designs, and the COVRT18 2.0 delivers twice! Both the main compartment and the laptop/hydration reservoir pouch completely unzip for fast and incredibly easy access to whatever gear you have inside. As a semi-frequent flyer, I especially appreciated the segregation of the dual-purpose laptop pouch from the main cargo compartment. Most backpacks bury their laptop sleeves inside their main compartments, underneath all of your clothes and gear, but the COVRT18’s sleeve is sandwiched between the main cargo bay and semi-rigid back panel with its own dual zippers, making removal mind-blowingly easy. Honestly, why didn’t someone start doing this sooner?!
When wearing the pack, the COVRT18 2.0 virtually disappears on your back. In addition to being comfortable thanks to stout, breathable padding, and good back panel ventilation, this sucker provides a truly incredible range of arm motion, something you have to experience to appreciate. I discovered this benefit by accident, but once I did, I spent the next few minutes looking like a naked duck flapping its arms. With the obvious exception of trying to touch my elbows behind my back, I could move my arms in virtually any direction without the bag interfering with my movements at all. Color me impressed.
In terms of tactical bonuses, this bag has it all, but many of these features work well in other applications as well. The stuff pouch between the two main compartments is equally perfect for stashing away a rain jacket or a ballistic helmet, and the cinch straps attached to either compartment allow you to tighten down your “stuffed” cargo without any concern of losing it. While I’m not a huge fan of off-body concealed carry, I did appreciate the dual-zippered, pass-through design of the CCW compartment as well as the Velcro panel inside.
Finally, I appreciated 5.11’s attention to detail in the engineering process. The dual elastic water bottle pockets on either side of the bag provide a decidedly practical, civilian flair, and two tiny 5.11 branding tags come with their own little pockets, perfect for achieving an ultra-low-profile look. On the flip side, the flex cuff channel virtually disappears when not in use.
What we don’t like about the 5.11 Tactical COVRT18 2.0 backpack
Honestly, there’s very little to dislike about the updated COVRT18, and writing this section made me feel like I was starting to pick some nits. Still, there are a couple of items that left me a little disappointed.
As a non-operator, I am unlikely to use this bag in a tactical situation, so the lack of an included hip belt was my biggest gripe. That said, the pack comes with a set of hip belt attachment points, turning this downside to an annoyance. Still, at an MSRP of $130, I am disappointed that a hip belt is another expense to add on top of the pack’s purchase price. I also found the lack of a sunglasses storage pouch to be another minor irritation.
Probably the most annoying feature of the COVRT18 2.0 is the back panel padding. Yes, it is comfortable and well-ventilated, but after toting a very leaky two-liter hydration reservoir around my neighborhood for about 10 minutes, I noticed a bit of dampness at the bottom of the pack. Of course, I expected such a result, but by the end of my 25-minute walk, a good four to five inches of said padding was soaked and squishing like a sponge. What made this particularly aggravating is the fact that the padded laptop sleeve sandwiched between the reservoir and the back panel barely absorbed anything. While this does mean that a leaky reservoir likely won’t damage your electronics, the back panel padding and, to a lesser degree, the main compartment both act like sponges, wicking water up instead of letting it drip off naturally.
My other two complaints concern the sternum strap. First, I noticed with the Rush 12 2.0 was the inability to adjust the sternum strap up and down which left the strap sitting uncomfortably close to my Adam’s apple. While the sternum strap placement on the COVRT18 2.0 isn’t quite as bad, the lack of vertical adjustability was disappointing.
Second, the sternum strap attachment points on my test bag did match. Like the Rush 12, the shoulder straps feature three perpendicular strips of webbing to which the opposing ends of the sternum strap attach. On the bag I received, one end was attached to the highest of the three webbing strips while the other was attached to the middle strip, a two-inch offset from center to center. Obviously, this is not a design flaw but a quality assurance failure. I certainly can’t knock the designs for this issue, but the fact that this defect made it out of the factory and to a customer without being caught is a disappointment, especially considering the price tag.
Few backpacks manage to hit the sweet spot of practicality and style, but the COVRT18 2.0 certainly does. Not only did the folks at 5.11 Tactical do their homework, but they really used their brains when designing this backpack, too. For all but the most specialized applications, this bag has virtually everything you could ever need and nothing you don’t. It is equally at home as a commuter bag, travel bag, tactical bag, or hiking bag (especially with a hip belt), and while it might be a bit large for EDC, it will certainly work in a pinch.
If you plan to buy one bag and one bag only, then seriously consider snagging a COVRT18 2.0. True, no bag is perfect, but few will come as close to being the perfect all-around backpack, one that is equally at home on the range, in the office, and on the trail. Sure, there are times when a rough-and-tumble tactical bag is the only tool for the job, but if you dig the gray man life, then you will want to check out 5.11’s newest take on the COVRT18.
FAQs about the 5.11 Tactical COVRT18 2.0 backpack
More questions? Here’s Task & Purpose’s additional brief.
Q. How much does the 5.11 Tactical COVRT18 2.0 backpack cost?
A. 5.11 Tactical lists the COVRT18 2.0’s MSRP at a penny under $130. At press time for this review, most third-party retailers are listing the bag at the same price.
Q. What makes a tactical backpack covert?
A. Most tactical backpacks feature a very distinctive aesthetic thanks to a thick, tough nylon body sporting tons of MOLLE-compatible webbing, whereas covert versions of these bags use slightly lighter construction materials, drop virtually all external webbing, and replace the box-like shapes of traditional designs with a more “civilian” aesthetic. Functionally, however, both styles boast many of the same features, such as breakaway shoulder straps, a concealed carry compartment, and excellent durability.
Q. Who would benefit from using the 5.11 Tactical COVRT18 2.0 backpack?
A. The COVRT18 2.0’s primary target market includes private military contractors, undercover law enforcement, and private security professionals. That said, concealed carriers, travelers, commuters, and others with more passive professions could just as easily appear on the list.
Got questions? Comment below & talk with T&P’s editors
For over 25 years, Brian Smyth has been neighbors with the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Army’s Ivy Division. He loves the challenge of crafting words and has written for The Drive, Car Bibles, and other publications. Nothing gets him going quite like the roar of dual Pratt & Whitneys overhead, the smell of cordite, and the stories of the Greatest Generation.