Tested: Backcountry Covert XC Bib
The reason all my other bibs are collecting moths
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The pocket has a storied history in garment design. I recommend a podcast series produced by 99% Invisible called Articles of Interest that, in one episode, explores the history of pockets. Seems it wasn’t always an assumption that our clothes would include somewhere to put our stuff, especially for women. History has clearly repeated itself, because the majority of bib shorts are still without pockets. And even most of those that do offer them still aren’t offering everything they can. Most, except for the Backcountry Covert XC Bib Shorts which, by the way, are available in both men’s and women’s versions.
Before I get to the pockets themselves, I’ll say that the bib that surrounds those pockets is … good enough. Thanks to my taste for big rides, I’ve become a bit of a snob when it comes to what I’ll wriggle into at the beginning of a long day. Gore, Hincapie, Castelli are among the tags I’ve carefully snipped out of my favorite pairs of high-tech Spanx, so keep that in mind through the following list of mild grievances. Also keep in mind that I wouldn’t be telling you about them if I didn’t absolutely love wearing them.
The Covert XC Bibs aren’t as refined as the flagship offerings from more boutique brands. Almost none of the seams are flat-stitched, so there are tiny flaps facing your skin wherever panel meets panel. This is mostly noticeable only at the moment you slide them on, and only barely, but again, if you reach snob status, you can find a way to let these things bother you. Also, the overall build of the bibs is on the heavier side. Part of that is thanks to the extra material needed for the many pockets, but the rest of the chassis feels, in a word, thick. There are a few panels along the back, sides and thighs that are of a more sparse mesh, and I absolutely do notice the breeze in those areas, but holding them in my hands next to my Gore C5 Vent bibs, they’re just not as light and supple as I wish they were. The pad itself is good, though. The right size, and not too fancy. A little on the thick side, but I’m not complaining.
I saved my main nitpick for last, but please don’t consider it a deal-breaker. The overwhelming majority of bib shorts handle one specific component exactly the same way. The Covert XC Bib’s shoulder straps are of the traditional design, with a very breathable, very flexible mesh flanked by sturdy reinforcing piping. Because that mesh is so stretchy, all you feel is the piping. Instead of two wide straps, your shorts are held up, essentially, by four thin strings, two on each shoulder. Those fancy bibs I mentioned hold themselves up, instead, with wide, unsupported strips of the same fabric that makes up the rest of the short. These sheer straps are nearly undetectalble once you put them on. For whatever reason, they’re reserved exclusively for bibs that cost $200 and up, but I don’t care. They’re better.
Hopefully you’re still with me, because I’m about to get to what has put the Covert XC bibs in a distant first place on my podium of special shorts. The pocket layout is absolutely perfect. Starting across the back, where The Great Bib Short Pocket Battle first begun, you get two shallow pockets within relatively easy reach while on the bike. They’re a little higher than the Specialized SWAT pockets, but not by much. I often put packs of Cliff Shot Blocks in there, or I’ll stuff a glove in each for the climbs. They’re not safe enough to put anything of value that’s too heavy or too smooth to safely stay put, but that’s pretty standard for these pockets. Stretching across the front of them is a zippered pocket, also par for the course in any pocketed bib worth its salt. Cash, credit cards, or a car key were what this pocket was made for. Not quite big enough for much else.
If you want big, go behind that pocket, and you’ll find the first major standout in the Covert XC Bib’s pocket ecosystem. The central pocket is deep enough to hold a water bottle, but it also widens out just below its opening. It’s amazing what you can stuff in there. My favorite is a full collapsible water filter pouch. 32 ounces of soft-shell hydration, comfortably out of sight. But over the winter, I put a collapsible windbreaker and a set of knee warmers in there. It’s a little high up to reach a bottle comfortably while riding, at least with shoulers as stiff as mine, but it’s perfect for a reserve that you can switch out with whatever’s on your bike.
But I’ve saved the best part for last. The pockets on the thighs are what have made any other bibs nearly unusable for me. One pocket is zippered from the side, the other is open at the top. My rides include a lot of long climbs, and as you can guess from my opener, I listen to a lot of podcasts. It’s nice to have my phone well within reach if I want to swap between shows or services. And this is a whole other story about me, but on those long climbs, I always stow my baggy shorts and ride in pure Lycra, like god intended. And even if I didn’t, keeping my phone in the pocket of baggy shorts is annoying. It hangs and flaps and constantly reminds you that it’s there. When it’s tucked safely in a tight, zippered pocket, you can completely forget it’s there. Yes, it does prevent some ventilation over a small, 12-square-inch part of your thigh, but like the non-flat-stitched seams, I mostly forget about that once I’m moving. On long, committed descents, I’ll transfer the phone to a fanny pack or one of the back pockets to protect it, but when I feel like risking it, it’s far less distracting than having it swinging around in the pocket of a pair of baggies.
Then, on the other side, is what feels like a traditional hip pocket, once you get used to having it on a set of bibs. Similar to the side back pockets, this is great for lightweight, less essential items. Fuel, temporary glove or glasses storage or (yet another story about me), a hip flask. It’s also an excellent stowage for items you may carry for a moment while transitioning before a ride if you don’t happen to be wearing your baggies, like a wallet or a set of keys, prior to battening down the hatches and shoving off.
So no, these aren’t the superest, duperest, high-tech baggies you’ll ever wear, but they offer features I have never seen from anyone else. That’s where much of their $150 price tag comes from. Not cheap, but worth it. I even bought another pair to have in rotation, and if Backcountry makes a premium version with lay-flat shoulder straps, lighter fabric and fancier stitching, I’ll take two. They’re that good.