A Midnight Special You’ll Surly Love

Surly Midnight Special
Photo: Surly Bikes

A monstercross bike with clearance for 650b x 60 or 700c x 42 tires? What’s not to love? Well, Surly has got you covered with their new Midnight Special. Starting with a TIG-welded double-butted 4130 chromoly steel main triangle, the Midnight Special is made for pretty much any riding besides racing. It’s got front and rear fenders including rack mounts, flat-mount disc mounts, a 142×12 rear thru-axle with vertical dropout out back complimented with a 100×12 thru-axle steel fork.

The Midnight Special comes in eight sizes from 40cm-64cm and is available now at a very reasonable $625 for the frameset (with chromoly fork) or $1,799 complete featuring a SRAM Rival 22 2×11 groupset and a pair of TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes. Ride all day, anywhere, anytime.


Surly Midnight Special

We Gave An Everyday Rider A Pair Of Castelli Premio

Castelli Premio Bibshort

Having owned several Castelli bibs over the years, I thought I’d nail the sizing with a “medium.” Well I was wrong, and the size “medium” felt a wee bit too short in the shoulders for a thin 6’ 3”. So we thought why not give it to a properly proportioned Matt – an everyday Portland cyclist with many hundreds of bikepacking, mountain biking and commuting miles under his belt – and change up the review format to a Q&A. Thanks for putting in some time with these Matt!

Castelli describes the Premio Bibshort as a departure from a product line that is unabashedly made-for-racing and minimalist – a high-quality bib with more compression in the legs and lower back that “comes up a bit higher in front to hold everything in.” How does your experience with the bib reflect or diverge from that description?

Castelli has produced a bib that remains snug around the legs; you won’t find them bunching up on your thighs after miles in the saddle. This is made possible by a surprisingly comfortable band of rubber treads near the opening of the legs. The front certainly does its due diligence to “hold everything in.” At first, it almost felt a little too snug, but after getting on the bike I felt right at home.

Castelli Premio Bibshort
Vertical silicone grippers

How would you rate the comfort of the chamois pad in this bib? How would you describe other comfort attributes (compression throughout the garment, breathability, leg cuffs, chafing from seams?)

The chamois pad has a wonderful taper that makes it feel less like a diaper and more like an extension of your body. The gradual increase in thickness made the seams almost unnoticeable entirely. While in a comfortable riding position, the waistband up front feels almost nonexistent, thanks to the tension placed on the shoulder straps. The mesh in the rear that holds the shoulder straps together is light, breathable, and kept my back cool under the jersey. This fabric is light enough to be forgotten about, but durable enough to feel confident about.

Castelli Premio Bibshort
Progetto X2 Air chamois pad

What are your expectations of durability for this bib, and how would you compare your impression of durability to other bibs and shorts on the market today?

At this price point, I am expecting the Premio Bibshort to last many rides and to hold up in the wash. I wouldn’t expect anything less than top quality from Castelli and so far they feel nothing short of that. All of the seams (especially where the elastic shoulder straps meet the shorts) are reinforced with an intricate stitching pattern that is durable and robust, while maintaining maximum comfort.

Based on your body size and the size of this bib, what has been your experience with overall fit and the fit of the shoulder straps?

As a 5’8 male with a 32 inch waist, the medium size was the best choice for me. I found the legs to be slightly longer than other bibs out there, but not too long to cause discomfort. While in an riding position I experienced no discomfort whatsoever, that being said, standing up-right made things a bit tight up front. Castelli wasn’t lying when then said the front comes up high. The straps keep this bib in place while feeling light and airy around the back and shoulders.

At $250, this is a pricey — though not astronomically so — bit of kit. What kind of rider would you recommend consider buying the Premio Bibshort, and why?

The price of this bib is a bit steep, but I feel that you really get what you pay for with the Premio: advanced chamois pad, light weight, breathable, minimal seams. I would recommend any cyclist to consider trying these out. I would especially encourage those who are riding long distance, as the shorts become almost unnoticeable while riding.

Anything else we haven’t covered?

Style! This bib is sleek and smooth. With minimal seams and branding these things look great. Around back, each leg gets a small Castelli logo and modest dash of reflective print that is practical and looks neat.

For reference, please share your experience testing this bib.

My first ride with this bib was on one of my favorite routes that includes lots of climbing and tight turns. Before leaving the house, I felt a little skeptical about the tight fit. After a couple of miles warming up I had forgotten all about the slight discomfort I had felt after being in a riding position. The chamois pad provides a delightful mix of comfort and breathability. The compression in the legs and back offers support without feeling constricted. Overall, this is a high quality bib that any cyclist should consider trying out. Whether you are riding centuries, track racing, or commuting, this bib is worth every penny.


Castelli have cured my winter blues

Until recently, I lived in Rome, where “winter” is something of a theoretical concept. Everyone’s heard of it, sure, but they don’t really understand what it really means. The minute the temperature creeps below 10ºC, people appear in balaclavas, snow boots and full-length insulated jackets, presumably to cover up the inch-thick thermal onesie that they’re wearing underneath.

It made me soft. My hardy Irish blood grew accustomed to the sunshine, and even though I rode all year round, I can honestly say that – trips elsewhere excluded – I went years without getting wet on my bike. And I was never cold.

And then I moved back to Dublin, immediately realising that my bike wardrobe was totally unprepared. It’s not that it ever gets properly glacial here; the problem is that it doesn’t ever get hot, and you never – and I mean never – know what it’s going to be in a few hours’ time.

Adaptable is the name of the game. And it’s exactly how I’d describe Castelli’s Alpha Ros jacket, an all-weather marvel from the Italian brand that harnesses all the goodness of their game-changing Gabba and takes it up a notch. The result is a product that redefines the standard for winter kit.

It’s not waterproof, in the strict sense of the word, but it works flawlessly in the rain. And it’s super soft, fits brilliantly, and offers plenty of ventilation when you want it, so you’ll be happy to use it in blue sky conditions, too.

Drainage holes, reflective accents, and Gore’s totally windproof but extremely breathable membrane are just some of the nice touches on this great jacket.

The prominent parts of the seams are sealed, and Gore’s new (brilliant) Windstopper membrane is rain-resistant, so while I still carry a light shell for torrential downpours, this is all you’ll need in typical wet conditions. The two-layer construction separates the outer shell from an insulation layer, both of which zip up separately. It looks funny at first, but it’s a nice option to have when you just need to let a little air in without freezing.

There’s a nice and high double collar, complete with soft lining, and the seamless cuffs are similarly soft, with a snug cut that slots in perfectly underneath gloves without bunching up and leaving any exposed spots. And on top of the traditional rear pockets, there’s a zipped one on the front, too. Most riders will be accustomed to having three pockets, so this extra one isn’t strictly necessary, but I thought it was a nice touch.

So, is it worth the $350 price tag? That depends on how much you like being warm and dry. For me, it’s a resounding yes. It’s not cheap, but the Alpha Ros is a cut above anything else I’ve tried and it makes most of the competition look seriously out of date. And alongside some cosy new gloves and shoe covers to match, it’s enough to get even me outside when there’s a gale blowing.

Hillsound Armadillo LT: Perfect For Mushrooms

Hillsound Equipment Armadillo LT Gaiter
Photo: Daria Gneckow

Whether you are crashing through the brush in search of delicious chanterelle mushrooms, hiking long miles to your next camp or bounding through the snow like a goofball, the Hillsound Equipment Armadillo LT gaiters are an excellent option for a waterproof barrier that can take a pounding with panache.

Coming high up on the calf, the LT features a sculpted shape that fits close to the leg while leaving room for necessary layering in cold weather. This well-considered fit, which I consider half the battle in gaiters, is effective at keeping pesky dirt, water and snow out of the hiking shoes.  The design maintains freedom of movement when rock scrambling or bushwhacking.

The quality of the hardware is clear from the first time you zip these up. A burly waterproof zipper closes off the gaiter, featuring an oversized pull that is friendly to bulky gloves. A sturdy front retention hook slips easily under laces for a secure fit. The buckle, the strap that goes under the shoe, the cuff strap – all feels great, and inspires confidence that the model can hold up to serious use.

Hillsound Equipment Armadillo LT Gaiter
Out hiking and foraging mushrooms in Oregon. Photo: Daria Gneckow

I had no issues with water soaking through the fabric of the Armadillo LT despite hours of tromping through rain-soaked woods and six-inch-deep snow in the Pacific Northwest, and the gaiters seemed to live up to Hillsounds promise of breathability. The Flexia fabric also handled the abuse of spiny bushes and rock abrasion with hardly a scratch — the lower part of the gaiter is a tougher fabric, with a lighter and more flexible material up top.

Hillsound Equipment Armadillo LT Gaiter
Got ’em. Photo: Daria Genckow

At 315 grams for this tester’s large, the Armadillo LT is the lightest in Vancouver, Canada-based Hillsound’s lineup. It is also the least expensive, at around $49. Two models profess to offer greater durability and breathability, but at a greater penalty in weight and cost – the highest-end Super Armadillo Nano gaiter comes in at $79, and a weight of 380 grams in size large.

I believe these gaiters are a great fit for through-hikers putting in long miles and anyone looking for a well-fitting, quality piece. Mountaineers might lean toward the other models, yet I would confidently take the Armadillo LT on my next alpine adventure.


Rapha’s Loopback – Function With A Splash Of Flair

When Rapha’s loopback jacket arrived to my apartment, the mercury was pushing 40ºC [I’m not sure what that is in fahrenheit, so let’s just call it “Hot AF”]. It was sharp-looking, sure, but not what you want to see during southern European summertime. Just the thought of it was enough to induce severe perspiration, and so, it waited patiently, for the weather to change and the autumn to come.

A couple of months later and it’s become a go-to, which is about the best thing you can say for any garment. But I do have one bone to pick, albeit a pedantic and totally silly one. Rapha’s own description reads: “Trucker jacket utility with the comfort of a jersey.” I’ve just travelled from southern Spain to northern Portugal, and along that 1,100km stretch of road, at not one single rest stop did we see a trucker wearing Rapha.

Trucker jackets usually come in heavy-duty fabrics like denim or canvas and close with sturdy metallic buttons. And while the lightweight loopback fabric used here would be fine against bare skin, this isn’t a jersey. I’m not sure why they’re trying to make either association. Perhaps “blouson” didn’t sound as cool?

Rapha Loopback jacket

That said, you’re buying the jacket here, not the marketing copy. And the only bad thing I can say about the product is that I was a little confused by the sales pitch. I’m not sure how much more I can add, other than to say that it goes well with a tonne of stuff, is very comfortable, and the reversible, high-vis and pink cuffs are a nice touch for anyone feeling a little fancy. The water repellent, wind-blocking material is quick drying, so it does a great job as a cycling commuter jacket, but thanks to some low-key retro styling and a smart cut, it does just as well on social occasions. All in all, a solid addition to any wardrobe.






A Hammer For Deep-Pocketed, Heavy-Hitting Weight Weenies

Abbey Bike Tools Team Issue Titanium Hammer
Photo: Jim Merithew/ element.ly

Who in their right mind would lust after a $200 titanium bike hammer? Me. That’s who.

For certain repair or build tasks, especially on a pricey carbon whip, there’s nothing better. Titanium has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any metal and yet can be up to 45 percent lighter. Thus you can have this featherweight, 235 gram, Abbey Tools hammer in your toolbox for those tasks where you need to deliver a blow, without having to carry the heft of a regular hammer. The lower weight also allows faster speeds with less effort when, say, trying to remove some pesky press fit bearings.

The backstory is a good one. Orica GreenEDGE professional mechanic Craig Geeter first dreamed up the hammer while wrenching on pro bikes and then reached out to Jason Quade, owner of Abbey Tools. Quade luckily had some extra titanium laying around from his days building heat exchanges for the nuclear industry and built a quick prototype.

“At first I thought it was the dumbest thing anybody had ever requested,” Quade said. “But then, once I started to use it, I realized Craig’s idea wasn’t dumb at all and was actually pretty awesome for the light tapping you do on modern bicycles.”

Quade ended up making an initial batch of 50, with each one numbered and then engraved with the owner’s name. That batch sold so quickly that the hammer has since become a regular item in Abbey Tools’ catalog.

Most people still buy them for their bikes, but the hammers have also found a following with gun owners who like them for adjusting sites and tapping pins out. Because they’re non-magnetic, the hammers sometimes get used in data centers were magnetic signatures can be a problem.

If you asked me whether I absolutely need my $200 hammer the answer would be a stiff no. But if you asked me if I regularly enjoy the fine craftsmanship and precise mechanics, my answer would be a pounding, er…, resounding yes.

Bice Bicycles – Sexy Steel From Someone Real

I met Bice Bicycles’ founder (and only employee) Dario Colombo a few years back, on a bike-packing trip from Venice to Turin. He showed up with a big smile and an old Pedersen, a peculiar Scandinavian rig with a cantilevered frame and a hammock-style saddle, complete with a set of modern pannier bags. It made a good first impression.

As we rode along the banks of the Po river, he talked enthusiastically about his business building steel frames, getting away from the homogeneity of the modern bike market by making products that would last and that could be tailored to each rider’s ability and needs. This also made a positive impression. When we got home, I promised, we’d talk some more. So this chat is long overdue.

Tell us a little about yourself.

Like a dating profile? My name’s Dario, I’m a nice guy, handsome, hard-working, a generous lover [laughing] … Before becoming a frame-builder, I worked as an electronic engineer for Siemens, and as an environmental engineer, working on the development of cycling in the city of Milan. I also worked at a biomechanics lab specialising in sports, and as a teacher on sustainability and smart cities, when I opened four cycling workshops around Milan to help young people repair their own bikes, have some fun, and maybe discover a future career.

Aside from the work, I suppose people would call me a Xennial, I’m still young, but old enough to remember rewinding my cassette tapes with a pen. I’ll happily drink beer but I prefer wine, in my part of Italy we say “La birra fa pisciar, il vino fa cantar,” – Beer makes you piss and wine makes you sing. I prefer mountain climbing to sunbathing and beaches, and I love music and cycling, obviously. If you made me choose between a concert and a bike, I’d tell you that I was riding to the gig. I actually did it last year when Dub FX played in Sestri Levante, on the Ligurian coast, I think it was more than 2,000 metres of climbing over about 220 kilometres.

When did you get into bikes?

Let’s say that before 2007, I wasn’t a cyclist. I went for a ride every so often, but nothing special. That June I went on a cycling trip to Provence with eight people and it changed my way of seeing the bicycle. From then on I started to bike-pack and to use it constantly for commuting and fun. I never had any grand delusions – if you saw my Strava you’d know what I mean – and I’ve always just seen the bike as something to have fun with and as a means of transport. I’m a committed singlespeeder, but at the same time, I don’t dislike innovations like e-bikes, especially not when you’re talking about something like a cargobike.

Why did you start making frames?

It was a gradual thing. Aside from my professional experiences, it began as an experiment, I just wanted to be a part of the bike world. My previous jobs were all positive experiences, but none of them really felt right for me. And I’ve always enjoyed creating things from scratch – but never to assemble them – and I liked bikes. It seemed like an obvious fit.

I started out modifying an old Leri frame, turning it from road to pursuit, changing the geometry and the rear end. The funny thing was that, even if it was a game to me then, before beginning that frame, I built a rig that I continued to use for three years. That first one was finished on Christmas eve, 2011, it was snowing and as is the tradition around my home town, there was a guy dressed as Santa doing the rounds, handing out presents. Meanwhile, I was flying around on my homemade track bike, it was such a weird beginning that I felt like it could only be a good omen!


What was the hardest thing about starting out?

Learning everything from scratch, self-taught, and above all, learning from my (many) mistakes, without letting them discourage me. In Italy, old frame-builders don’t have the money or the time to invest in young people, to pass on their skills and knowledge – even though a lot of them want to. So I wasn’t able to learn as a proper apprentice, and I could only get the knowledge by asking questions, listening, and watching. I came home several times after a day spent by with a frame-builder, only to completely change the whole workshop and machinery – as well as my mental modus operandi.

Another big difficulty is knowing the value of a firm “NO”. Involving the customer in the building process is an great experience for both parties, but it needs well-defined limitations if I’m to enjoy my work and they’re to get the best possible end product. But it’s a work in progress – I’m always learning!

Have you changed a lot?

So much. Every encounter with a frame-builder corresponded to a lesson in technique and in life. How to point a chassis, what type of welding alloys to use, how to TIG weld, how to set up the workshop to optimise my space, how to approach customers.

Not to mention the type of frames: at the beginning I didn’t even have a real price list, but now I’ve got a series of models that I’ve developed based on my experiences. I started with 29er frames and then moved on to touring, CX and most recently to the gravel and bike-packing scenes. Roughly, that corresponds to my personal cycling life.

One thing hasn’t changed: my desire to adapt and improve. Experimenting with new techniques and new tubing, for example, is an everyday thing for me, but it has nothing to do with market demand or programmed obsolescence. It just reflects my desire to keep moving and getting better.

Who buys a Bice?

The average customer is somewhere between 30 and 45, they generally have a lot of cycling experience, and are fed up with the modern “disposable” world. They don’t mind waiting four months for a truly custom frame. What’s the difference between that and one off the shelf? Well, you know who made it. You know it’s real.

Cycling has changed so much in recent years. Where do you see it going from here?

The modern bike industry is a child of our times: there is such a huge supply of products and a lot of the history, emotions, and memories, are being annihilated by increasingly heavy marketing campaigns. A year or two on from the presentation of a new model and it’s already “old.” Just one financial mistake, a speculative move made on the other side of the world, and a historic brand disappears. But I think a lot of people want to distance themselves from all that. I certainly do.


Reversible style from Rapha

Photo: Paolo Ciaberta / element.ly

Am I the only one thinking that it’s about time Rapha’s city collection made the mainstream? Not that there’s anything wrong with the cosy waters of the cycling world, but Britain’s foremost pedal-powered fashionistas have been killing it with their civvy threads for a while now, and in my recent experience, their casual clothing garners the most lustful glances from those observers who haven’t ridden a bike since around the time their voices broke.

One of their latest offerings, the reversible wind jacket, struck me as peculiar when I first picked it up, because you can buy more technical jackets for far less, but the thing is … they don’t really look as good. This is not a coat for the darkest of winters, but in most climates it will do you year round with some creative layering because the wind-resistant fabric is really effective, and it’s now become a real go-to item when I’m running out the door.

Photo: Paolo Ciaberta / element.ly

It was the only jacket I needed in May during my day-job duties covering the Giro and on a recent vacation home to the old country, it stood up fine against the famously un-summery Irish summer. It’s super lightweight, which makes it perfect for those of us who like to travel, and reflective elements will keep you safe on your commute while at home. But my favourite thing about it? Subtly flipping sides while in the company of others, and waiting to see if they say anything. Add a hat or glasses for best effect.

Photo: Paolo Ciaberta / element.ly

A quick Sea Otter pictorial

I could write more about Sea Otter but pictures are way better than words. Enjoy the partly random, partly happy snaps along the way!

If it weren’t for these guys, parking on Wolf Hill would have been a giant mess. Thanks! Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
It’s all calm here but I saw one raging off road later in the afternoon. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
One of the handful of Factor O2’s currently in the U.S. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Kogel Bearings and their impressive lineup of bearings, pulleys, and bottom brackets. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
3D-printed Spoke Fins from Null Winds Technology are said to reduce drag on your existing wheels by as much as 67%. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
This HPC Revolution e-downhill bike is hand-welded one by one in Los Angeles, fully customizable including a drivetrain capable of going as fast as 60mph and a high-capacity battery cell for up to 100miles in one charge. Ultimate beast mode? Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
This Easton Cinch spindle power meter system sure got everyone talking. With the power measurement unit fully contained within the spindle, the $600, 65-gram power meter spindle will be compatible with existing Cinch crank arms and all the chain ring combos such at these here. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Sure, the 875g (paint included) Specialized S-Works Epic Hardtail in the back of this photo is jaw-droppingly light, but I like this one better. Just think of all the history behind this bike. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
WTB dropped some new treads at Sea Otter too. Here’s their new Byway Road Plus TCS tire for the growing 650 gravel road crowd. Decent amount of side knobs for traction while the smooth rolling center keeps the ride on the trail way more tolerable. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Hydrate or die. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Emily Batty out doing her course recon. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Secretly stashed inside the bus booth was the only GameChanger aero helmet in the U.S. It’s only available in Europe for the time being but they may just bring it stateside before you know it. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Enduro practice session. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Just when you think there’s nothing else new with taillights, Cateye dropped this Rapid X2 Kinetic (left) with a built-in accelerometer that automatically changes from blinking to solid red whenever deceleration is detected. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Prominently displayed at the OneUp Components booth was their new EDC tool system that utilizes all that space within your oversized (alloy) steer tube. With a very well thought out minitool that comes with 8mm which is relatively rare for a tool that size, chain, tire tools and option of either a pump or a CO2, what’s not to like? Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
At first glance, these gloves from Showers Pass looked similar to your normal liner gloves. But no, they are waterproof and plush without being excessively bulky. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
There were a good number of eBikes at Sea Otter again this year but there was a lot to be liked on this e-Cargo bike from Riese & Müller: Full suspension for comfort and additional traction, integrated Abus lock, the ability to mount a second battery to double its range, and a variety of options to customize the cargo area from double child seats to a higher sidewall for hauling more groceries. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Normally it’s hard to sit and write about kids bikes but Islabikes caught my attention with their new Pro line of high-performance kids bikes. Here, the Cnoc 16 came stock with a carbon fork, TRP v-brakes, titanium-spindled pedals, 185tpi folding tires, smaller-diameter grips and brakes for the little one. And weighing in at a little over 10lbs, the Cnoc will probably save the lower backs of many parents, too. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
#quoteoftheday Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Fat Chance is back! Fresh at the show was Chris’ new model, the Chris Cross. It’s Chris’ utilitarian take on cross, gravel, and bike packing. The beautifully-painted steel frame uses a mix of Columbus and Reynolds tubings and it’s handmade one by one in the U.S. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
The all-new Ibis Ripley LS, now with longer travel along with the usual sharp paint job. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Dubbed as an inner-tire suspension system, the CushCore is a circular-shaped engineering foam that goes inside your tire and is said to improve traction and stability while providing a layer of protection against flats. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Love the paint job on this Santa Cruz Hightower. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
See ya next year! Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

Go under the radar with this Thule Covert DSLR backpack


For me, the chase of finding the perfect camera bag is as difficult as finding freaking Nemo.

You see, over the years I pretty much have what some might call a collection of camera bags, and the collection is still growing. There are bags I use everyday (ThinkTank ShapeShifter, AirportSecurity), some are seldomly used (the good ol’ LowePro Stealth AW), and some, such as my giant Pelican 1650 where I bought solely to photograph the America’s Cup a few years ago, are essentially one hit wonders. There’s even a repurposed Timbuk2 messenger bag with inserts for small flashes and lenses when I need to go light and stealth.

All of those have been my “system” and they have worked for me for a variety of assignments from shooting the Super Bowl, wildfires, sitting in presidential campaign motorcades, CEOs, weddings, and bike races.

But, as if the N+1 rule extends to camera bags too, there’s always room for another one.

The struggle is so real that I now sympathize with my wife whenever she goes bag shopping. Okay, maybe not about the last part but you get my drift.

So here comes the Thule Covert camera backpack.

Better known for their extensive line of roof and bike racks, Thule has been making inroads into various products to help consumers bring whatever they want along, hence their motto of “Bring Your Life.” So out in the wild are Thule phone cases, luggage bags, strollers and backpacks.

On the outside, the Covert looks just like any other roll-top backpack that has been all the rage lately. It’s a pretty inconspicuous bag that doesn’t scream “HAVE CAMERA. ROB ME NOW.” Awesome.

From the top, the roll-top lid is neatly tucked away with adjustable buckles, and unrolling it will reveal the zipper to access the main compartment.

The main compartment can be divided into two with its removable partition that seals the top half of the bag from the lower half that houses the camera insert.

Halfway down the bag is a second flap that covers a generous zippered organizer for small items such as batteries and keys. There are also two Velcro pouches that I found to be perfect for storing external hard drive and charge for my Macbook Air.

As if there isn’t enough space, there is one more pouch on the lower half of the bag where I can comfortably store a u-lock or a Nalgene bottle. There’s also another zippered pocket behind the lower center pouch to carry more ClifBars.

So yes, lots of pockets for those who 1: Like to carry a lot of stuff and 2: like their bags to be organized.

On the right side of the bag is an open pouch with an adjustable opening that’s meant for bottles and a small travel tripod. Also good for beer.

Moving on to the left side of the bag, there are side-entry zippers to the laptop/tablet storage and the heart of the bag: the camera pod.

the SafeZone camera pod Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

While the idea of a removable camera compartment isn’t new, Thule deserves giant kudos for making the compartment right. Dubbed SafeZone, the pod’s dividers are some of the best I’ve ever come across. They’re denser than the ones from my other camera bags and cases. They also have origami-like ridges to facilitate folding for a customized fit.

I’ve been using the bag on and off for the past few months and it’s now my go to when I have to travel with my camera. During a recent wedding shoot in Mexico where I needed to divide up my gear for security, I was able to fit my essential kit (a Canon 1Dx Mark II, a 135mm f/2, a 50mm f/1.2 and a 24-70mm f/2.8) into the pod. The removable-nature of the pod also made going through custom inspections an easy one since I was able to just pull it all out at once. The partitioned top half of the backpack also meant the rest of the gear wouldn’t fall out of the side door if you go for the camera or remove the entire pod.

For short in-town trips, I could pack a 70-200 2.8 and a 24-70mm f/2.8 attached to Canon 5D Mark III straight into the compartment with room to spare. The carrying chassis of padded shoulder straps and the back panel are ergonomically shaped to stay comfortable. I do wish Thule included a waist strap for better stability though.

Maybe I am a sucker for a multifunctional backpack with an understated look, but the more I use the bag the more I actually enjoy using it. For me, the Covert hit the sweet spot of what I want in a travel camera backpack: Keeping my essential camera kit safe while leaving plenty of room for everything else. By removing the divider and the camera pod, the Covert can be quickly converted into a regular backpack for those last minute grocery runs. The water-resistant material and overall construction are good quality and it is well thought out from its pockets and dividers, all the way down its zippers. At $199.99 and a lifetime warranty, the Covert is made for the long haul and will carry all your gear, or lots of six-packs, with ease.


Thule Covert next to a Canon 200-400 attached to a 1Dx Mark II


Yup. I can shrove a Canon 200-400 f/4 with a 1Dx Mark II into the Covert. With the camera pod and divider removed, of course. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly