Review: the Matador Freerain24 waterproof packable backpack is a minor league champ in a major league world
This ultralight pack shines to a point, but may not be best for rugged duty.
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It’s time to get hiking, alright? If you’ve neglected it this year (I get it, the summer has been hot and muggy), you have to do yourself a favor and get out into nature now. With autumn upon us, it’s the perfect time to start getting in some miles on the trails or even some late-season camping. The bugs will begin to retreat, the stifling humidity will vanish, leaves will be changing colors, and it’ll still be warm enough to do some swimming or creek walking. If you’re looking for more tangible reasons to hit the trails, hiking is a great way to mix up your fitness routine. Not only can it reduce stress and blood pressure, but a challenging trail can also give you both a cardio and a core workout (as the Harvard Medical School has pointed out). I’ve done a decent amount of hiking this year, and I’m getting ready to participate in something called the Twin Valley Trail Challenge at the end of the month, where I’ll try to hike 28.7 miles in one day. For something like that, I need to prepare wisely.
I own a couple of backpacks. Both are rugged, but neither of them is waterproof. Not that full waterproofing is absolutely essential, but it would be nice to know that my extra socks and maybe my cell phone will be dry should the weather turn bad. And since the largest pack I own (an Air Force issued Blackhawk RAPTOR pack) weighs almost seven pounds on its own, and is probably overkill, I decided I wanted to take a look at something lighter. That’s why I wanted to get my hands on one of Matador’s waterproof backpacks.
Matador specializes in lightweight, waterproof products. I somehow came across a pitch for the Matador Freerain24 Waterproof Packable Backpack, which looked to be a reasonable size for an extended day hike but also promised to be waterproof. At $60, it’s priced to be quite affordable, so I decided to get my hands on it and see just what this Matador could do.
When I first laid hands on the small brown package in my mailbox, I was sure someone made a mistake. I was expecting a backpack that could store 24 liters, and this box was maybe 10 inches by seven inches. So you can imagine my surprise when I opened it and found an almost comically small pouch that claimed to have a waterproof backpack within it. I showed my wife, and she thought maybe it was actually a poncho. I opened the pouch and extracted a tightly folded wad of nylon material. (By the way, this ability to be crammed into this pouch is why the product is called a “packable” backpack).
After unfolding the Freerain24, it started to look like a backpack. Almost 20 inches long and 9.5 inches wide, it has the main storage compartment, a single outer pocket accessed via a zipper, and two open side compartments for water bottles. Access to the main compartment is through the top and is secured using a hypalon roll-top (meaning no zipper, I have to fold the material over toward the front of the pack a couple of times, and then secure it by cinching it closed by buckling it to points on the side). The adjustable shoulder straps are a see-through mesh. It also has a thin sternum slider to help adjust the fit. All together, it appears well-made, but certainly not rugged.
The charcoal gray Matador Freerain24 is made of lightweight waterproof 30D ripstop nylon. The “D” stands for “denier,” and represents how heavy the fabric of the product is. According to Matador, a typical backpack is made of 400-600D material, and most ultralights are made of 100D material. So the lightness of the fabric is a key feature of the Freerain24. All told, the pack weighs an astonishing 6.6 ounces. Compare that to the similar capacity SOG Ninja Tactical Daypack, which weighs almost two pounds.
How we tested the Matador Freerain24 waterproof packable backpack
Obviously, I wanted to pack this sucker up and get it on the trails ASAP. But first, I mapped out some clear testing categories. Regardless of the size, I think a backpack needs to be evaluated on certain basic features. Can it carry the minimum gear for my journey? How comfortable is it to carry when loaded? How much protection will the backpack provide my gear from water? I decided this last category, in particular, was going to be tested at length, since Matador specifically describes the Freerain24 as a “waterproof ultralight backpack.” Time to get to it.
Packing minimum gear and comfort: With a 24-liter carry capacity, the Freerain24 isn’t intended to carry a ton of supplies or gear. And as an ultralight backpack without a frame, it won’t comfortably carry heavy or bulky items. For my first test, I just wanted to see how it felt loaded with whatever I would normally throw into any daypack for a hike. So I ignored the fact that this was an ultralight without any sort of support and just crammed some stuff in there: food (power bars and fruit snacks), a first aid kit, a small flashlight, and a multitool. Then for kicks, I threw in a change of socks and a spare pair of hiking boots. After adding two 24-ounce bottles of water (one in each side pouch), I had about 11 pounds of gear. Not heavy at all, but I could tell it was not going to feel comfortable on my back.
I took this load on a quick, one-mile hike just to get a feel for it. The sternum slider and adjustable shoulder straps helped me adjust the load, but I couldn’t get the shoulder straps to conform to my chest. I think the odd-shaped contents inside the pack pulled the thin material in a way that did not play to the ultralight’s strengths. After hiking the fairly tame trail mile, I was ready to take the pack off as it was getting to be uncomfortable. What I determined from this test was that I couldn’t just throw whatever I wanted to into this pack. Without any sort of frame or rigidity, any hard or odd-shaped edges in the pack had a good chance of poking out and annoying me at the least or making me uncomfortable at the worst. This pack is for lighter stuff, not heavy camping gear.
The next hike I took it on was a two-miler at Caesar’s Creek State Park here in southern Ohio. This time, I packed the Freerain24 more in line with what I felt it was designed for. I ditched the extra boots and loaded a woobie poncho liner (if you know, you know). Now my load was more for a picnic than a rugged camping trip. As with my first hike, I couldn’t get the shoulder straps to conform comfortably to my body. But since the gear was lighter (about seven to eight pounds) and not bulky, this wasn’t much of an issue. The pack performed well with this load, and I had no complaints except the fit of the shoulder straps. But the highlight of this hike for me was the rain.
Protection from the elements: A couple of days prior to my hike at the State Park, a weather system moved into the area, which I saw as the perfect chance to test the Freerain24 under real-world conditions. However, the first wave of showers hit when I couldn’t possibly run out for a hike, but I didn’t let that deter me. I had already packed similarly to how I described above, but for the items in the outer pouch, I wrapped them in paper towels. This would allow me to detect if even small amounts of moisture penetrated the zipper or seams. So when the rains started that morning, I hung the pack outside on a metal pole on my deck and left it there, exposed to the heavens and whatever Mother Nature decided to drop on it. For the next hour, the rain fell steadily, with a couple of lighter periods, but all in all a good soaking. Once the 60 minutes had passed, I brought the pack in and pulled everything out, one by one. There wasn’t a hint of water or dampness of any kind—not a drop detected on the paper towels. The Freerain24 passed this test handily.
So when I went on my two-mile hike, I already assumed that the waterproofing would hold up. The rain was light but consistent, and the pack was again loaded with items that theoretically would be soaked if the pack failed. But the Freerain24 once again had no problems. The waterproofing is no joke.
What we like about the Matador Freerain24 waterproof packable backpack
The waterproofing of the Freerain24 is impeccable. Under constant rainy conditions, it kept my clothes and cell phone dry in both the main and outer compartments. So in regards to two of the primary selling points for this pack, lightweight and waterproof, the Freerain24 delivers handily.
What we don’t like about the Matador Freerain24 waterproof packable backpack
The lack of a frame or any support makes this a difficult pack to love for anyone who plans on carrying any significant gear or heavy loads. I’m sure proponents of ultralight hiking might argue, but I had a hard time figuring out how to pack any amount of meaningful kit for serious hiking without it feeling like I was lugging a sack of billiard balls around on my back.
I also could never get the fit quite right. As stated earlier, despite having adjustable shoulder straps and a sternum slider, I could never get the pack to sit comfortably on my back if I had heavier loads (although with lighter and softer gear, was fine). So while this might be perfect for younger or smaller people carrying light loads, it doesn’t seem to work well for carrying a lot of kit.
If you’re an ultralight backpack enthusiast, then this pack may be for you. There are some who look to shed every possible ounce from their rucks, and have made packing as much into these ultralights as possible into a science. In this case, more power to you. You’ll love it. Or, if you’re looking for something for specific activities that require waterproofing but not lugging a ton of gear on your back (I’m thinking of canoeing and kayaking for instance), this would work very well.
Don’t get me wrong: This is a quality product. However, if you’re used to having a pack that can take a hit, and that is better at supporting heavier loads, the Matador Freerain24 likely won’t work for you. It’s well-made for its intended purpose, but doesn’t have the ability to be pushed beyond daytrips or environments that might stress the pack beyond normal wear and tear.
FAQs about the Matador Freerain24 waterproof packable backpack
More questions? Here’s Task & Purpose’s additional brief.
Q. How much does the Matador Freerain24 waterproof packable backpack cost?
A. You can get it for $58.66 through Amazon.
Q. The Amazon product page says the Freerain24 is made of “30D Cordura ripstop nylon.” Your fantastic article explained what “30D” means, but what is “Cordura ripstop nylon?”
A. Well, thanks for the compliment. Cordura is a fabric manufacturer that specializes in, among other things, tough, light materials for backpacks. Ripstop is a method of weaving that prevents a tear from spreading (it’s that square stitch pattern you see on a lot of military issue gear).
Q. Does Matador make ultralight backpacks that also have a frame for support?
A. Yes, and I wish I had realized this before I jumped at the Freerain24. Again, it’s a well-made product, but I want some support. Matador makes a wide range of backpacks, but the Beast28 is an ultralight that utilizes a flexible frame for support.
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W.E. Linde spent 12 years in the Air Force as an intelligence guy and loved both his enlisted and commissioned time. Now a civilian, he toils away as a healthcare business analyst by day and wannabe writer by night because who needs sleep when you have coffee? His time in the military made him appreciate just how funny the term “military grade” can be. He currently writes for Duffel Blog and for the humor site Damperthree.com