For a long time, I thought about lightweight, packable backpacks as cheap, almost throwaway gear, so I never really paid much attention to them. I thought you needed the extra padding, the rigid frame, and generally a thicker material to call a bag the best hiking backpack. That all changed when I acquired the Matador Freerain28 Waterproof Packable Backpack.
I remember contacting Matador last year for bag recommendations for our running backpack guide, checking if a different model was available. Being the bag wizards they are, the Matador team suggested the Freerain28, and me being a person who tries to avoid confrontation at all costs, I agreed to take a look.
I'm not saying I had no faith in the bag; I'm a huge fan of the brand, and I still use the Matador SEG30 Segmented Backpack to this day for weekend trips. It's light and allows me to organise my stuff exactly how I want to. However, the Freerain28 is a different beast altogether.
For starters, it can be folded up so it takes up as much space as my fist. It's also made of a thin, waterproof material, has almost translucent straps and zero rigidity. Reading the description and looking at the images made me think that the backpack would be flimsy and too unstructured to be taken seriously.
The bag arrived, and I tried it, and it was... fine. It didn't blow my mind, although I must admit I liked the lightweight nature of the Freerain28. Still, I couldn't let go of the notion that a bag, no matter how durable it might be, needs to look like a backpack. If I can scrunch it up and put it in my pocket, it can only ever be a backup option.
Then, I signed up for the Mongol 100 and spent months sorting out the gear for the trip. Among other gear, I needed a lightweight backpack I could carry around in the cold with all my emergency gear, snacks, and water. The bag had to be easy to carry and even easier on the shoulders, so I wouldn't find it cumbersome to run 100 miles wearing it.
After trying multiple options, I found myself running with the Freerain28 more and more often. I loved the adjustability, the water protection and the durability. The see-through contoured monomesh shoulder straps, which initially concerned me, proved to be forgiving on the shoulders and allowed air to move through them, reducing chafing and significantly improving comfort levels.
Since Mongolia, the Freerain28 has been my go-to bag when I'm going on a trip or a day hike. I like travelling light, and this ultralight, packable backpack allows me to do just that. Often, I have the Freerain28 in my carry-on suitcase or duffel, just in case I end up having too much stuff on a press trip and need extra space.
As for hiking, my only issue with the bag is the lack of compartments, but the versatility of the Freerain28 makes up for this big time. The bag has a sternum strap and hip belt, for instance, which is essential for more technical hikes. The UHMWPE-reinforced wear panels provide extreme durability, abrasion resistance, and tear strength. I didn't have to mend the bag yet despite taking it on multiple challenging trips.
Is the Matador Freerain28 Waterproof Packable Backpack the perfect ultralight bag? I found it extremely useful, and the Freerain28 also made me want to try more premium packable bags. Matador has a packable duffel, which is something I am keen on trying out at some point. The Matador Freerain28 Waterproof Packable Backpack is available to buy now at Matador for a recommended retail price of $125.