- Buyer's Guide
Exclusive First Look: Matador Beast28 Ultralight Technical Backpack
The Matador Beast28 is ready to stake its territory with a blend of travel packability and technical functionality…
Matador are the masterminds of all things travel. Well, perhaps I should rephrase that, they are the masterminds of all things packable. If you’re into the ultralight life, or just like innovative solutions, chances are that you may have come across these traveling gurus.
They’ve attacked and worked their ultralight wizardry on almost every critical travel item. A palm-sized blanket for 2 to 4 people? Done it. Flatpack TSA-approved toiletry bottles? Please, completed it. Keychain dry bag? Easy. You get my point, travel isn’t just in their DNA, it is their DNA.
Now accessories aside, they also have a history of excellent packable bags. We recently reviewed their SEG42 travel bag, and their 16L packable day bag was a cornerstone of our Autumn Adventure Kit. Matador has been defying the odds for a while now, and not only in function, but cost too. They famously took on the notorious hiking pack and made it packable with the Beast 28, and they did so with great aplomb. Now, they’ve spent the past three years tweaking, refining, and reshaping and they’ve made it even better.
We’re happy to bring you a Carryology exclusive first look at the Matador Beast28 Ultralight Technical Backpack.
Easy on the eye
Personally, on the whole, I like my outdoor bags to blend in. I usually stick to blacks or earthy tones. This fits the bill perfectly. Not only that, Matador have updated their branding from the original. Gone is the square piece of fabric. Now the word ‘Matador’ in an elegant script adorns the top corner of the bag, supported by a small vertical size descriptor (this bag comes in both 18L and 28L versions). It is decidedly minimalist, and I like that immensely.
The Beast is also very shapely, and no, not like a minotaur. It is svelte and stays close to your body with a smooth curvature that keeps the bag from sticking off your back and making you look like a certain French Disney character. My wife commented that it is subtle and I think that is entirely apt. This is an outdoor bag that blends into its surroundings, and allows you to focus on the adventure at hand!
Can of soup or capable adventure buddy?
We can’t get much deeper into this review without talking about the non-existent elephant in the room. This beauty (28L version) weighs in at an impossibly light 1lb 8oz. That’s as much as a can of soup, a football, a smartphone, or maybe a couple of beers. When I first opened the box from Matador and picked up the Beast, I was, well, almost confused. My initial thought was, “Am I missing something?” but low and behold, that was the actual weight of the bag. It beggars belief that a bag as capable as this can be so featherweight.
Now I am not an ultralight fiend (I don’t cut my toothbrushes in half because I actually find the handle quite useful). But after using the Matador Beast28, I can finally understand the appeal. Add in the fact that this packs down into a small Tupperware-sized mesh bag, and it really becomes a piece of kit that you wouldn’t want to leave at home.
That said, while the phrase ‘ultralight’ makes for great marketing materials and can sway some buyers, when we’re talking about a technical alpine pack, it simply has to perform and I’m delighted to say that it does. I’ve been a fan of Matador for some time, and this bag has really cemented my admiration of them. While I’ve only had the chance to use it for a short while, I’ve tested it in various situations with different demands, and it has excelled in all of them.
The most important part of a hiking adventure bag for me is always the ergonomics. If you are going to be away from creature comforts for hours, perhaps even days, at a time, relying on your bag and the equipment in it, it simply has to be comfortable. All bag companies mention that their bag is comfortable to carry and use. However, in my previous experience with packable bags, there is often a compromise or a gimmick to make the bag check that comfortable box.
The beauty of the Beast is that it is almost instantly comfortable from when you first put it on. You make the micro-adjustments to the height and the hip belt of course, but that’s about it. Not once in testing was I uncomfortable or making constant adjustments to appease an aching back, or soothe sore shoulders. This was new to me with an ultralight bag, particularly a packable one.
The back panel and shoulder straps are lightly padded with a breathable mesh that is more than enough to keep you cool and comfortable. Due to the relatively unstructured nature of the bag, you can essentially increase your comfort by how you load too. Want more padding? Pack a jacket or sweater along the back wall of the bag (if not using a hydration reservoir!). The flexible steel loop that constitutes the frame provides even greater ergonomics due to its malleable nature. Aside from the packable design behind this steel wire frame, it also allows the bag to move with you as you roam around.
If, like me, you’re scrambling through woods and over rocks to try and get a decent shot, that is great news. No more being hit in the back of the head by your own rigid pack as you lie down to stabilize! The same theory applies to any ultra-active use; the Matador Beast28 doesn’t ride up and down your back, it stays with you. It moves for you, not against you. I found that to be a really excellent upside to the limited structure.
Where to go?
In the week that I’ve been using the Matador Beast28, it has been with me in a few scenarios that showcase its talents. I’ve taken it to coaching sessions, errands around town, and what it was really designed for, hiking. It’s important to note that this isn’t suggested as an EDC bag, and personally I wouldn’t use it as one. However, it is more versatile than its main billing suggests. After all, for most of us not every day can be a mountainous adventure. I found it did a great job for errands and anything mildly active too. Its 28L capacity is enough to hold bits and bobs. I used it to deliver a few parcels to the post office and to carry my rugby boots and equipment, all with no concerns whatsoever.
The dual compartment design makes it easy to separate items depending on your use case. I carried an extra layer and IFAK in the front, smaller compartment, and left heavier-duty gear in the main compartment. Complemented by the easily removable hip belt (Velcro and a clip on either side), it becomes even sleeker for the more urban setting.
When you do use it for its main purpose, adventure, it’s where it really excels. I took this pack with me for a six-hour, twelve-mile hike. Carrying 25lbs of camera equipment. Let that sink in, 25lbs of camera gear, in an ultralight bag, with no discomfort. Come the end of the day, I fully expected to feel strain in my shoulders, as traditionally in UL packable bags the straps can be a bit flimsy or attached with some webbing. Not here. They are part of the bag’s structure, and it really tells. My usual big camera gear hauler carries a lot of equipment, but it also weighs close to 7lbs empty, and while it is a tank, it’s a little awkward to move around nimbly with it.
During this hike, I was looking for Bald Eagles (found some! Check out the pictures!) and that almost exclusively requires two things: patience and scrambling. Bald Eagles are quick, elusive, and in this instance, living by a lake. I spent most of my day in and out of the water’s edge trying to get close enough for a good shot, but far enough away to not spook them. Said process usually involves squeezing through trees and into odd spots.
Thanks to how closely the Matador Beast28 sits to your body, I could slide into the gaps I usually ignore because of the bag I’m wearing. That’s a huge plus. If you’ve read any of my reviews before, you’ll know I’m the biggest fan of products that allow you to focus on what you’re doing, rather than worrying about this not working, or that not being quite right, etc., etc., etc. This is the epitome of that mantra. I even sent a text to our esteemed Senior Editor Taylor after my final test and said “6 hours later, my shoulders feel great. I’m kind of blown away!”
Now comfort is one thing, but will it survive a beating? Designed as an ultralight technical alpine pack, it has to be able to handle some abuse. I honestly had no concerns. This bag was with me on the ground, through the winter trees, and scrambling over rocks. Looking at the bag next to me, I see no scrapes or damage after a pretty substantial micro adventure! The 210D Robic® Nylon is up to the task. Not only that, it appears wonderfully weatherproof too. The waterproof UTS coating is supposedly 30% more efficient than traditional Polyurethane coatings. Unfortunately (or fortunately!) it’s been a dry, cold, crisp week here on the East Coast, so I haven’t been able to test this in a downpour. But, it did take a good dousing post-hike with no concerns. All of my gear, camera included, stayed nice and dry!
It’s all in the details…
Often with packable offerings, the finer details can be skimped on. I’m happy to say that isn’t the case with the Matador Beast28. Hearty YKK zippers are adorned with Hypalon zipper pulls. The front daisy chain is also Hypalon reinforced so you can attach any adventure gear you may need. And there are two more gear loops at the very bottom of the bag which could be used to lash any necessary extras! The wonderfully stretchy gear loops on the sides of the main body hold any tool you might need. I found these great for my tripod, but they are really designed for walking poles, ice-axes, and other alpine adventure gear.
The light gray interior gives great visibility to your load, which is only enhanced by a smooth asymmetric clamshell opening, something that I found really useful. You get access without having to open up entirely; space can sometimes be at a premium in the wild. The oversized bottle pockets (including Hypalon pull tab) swallowed a 26oz water bottle with ease. You could comfortably fit a larger vessel if you prefer that to the hydration system, which, by the way, can be routed over either shoulder. Even the removable hip belt isn’t just a hip belt, it too has stretch mesh zippered (YKK) pockets. I found it perfect for storing my armless sunglasses, a snack, or keys.
The bag packs down with a twist and fold of this frame, as outlined with a simple diagram on the mesh sack. I found it really simple to do that. However, if I was taking this away with me, I would be just as likely to lay it flat in a carry-on or suitcase depending on how I’m traveling.
I was delightfully impressed with the Matador Beast28. The comfort, the durability, the weatherproofing, the packability, and obviously the weight (or lack thereof) make this a real winner. It is incredibly well designed and full of features for a packable bag. I think it is a piece of gear that you’d be silly not to take with you on your travels. Whether in your car, in a carry-on, or otherwise, because it really is that useful. A big part of the appeal when looking at a bag like the Beast is that it doesn’t require you to restructure your packing routine or choose one item over another. This will comfortably come with you on any given day (it could even live as a permanent feature in your suitcase!), even as a safety net on the off chance there is a great adventure awaiting you when you least expect it!
I don’t often discuss value for money, as I’m an ardent believer of ‘buy it nice or buy it twice’. However, like most of us, I do also love a good bargain. At $140, I think this is an absolute steal. The magic folk at Matador have really found an excellent sweet spot between performance and value here. This is a bag I cannot wait to use again and again. Dare I say it, who knows, it may even force me to retire some others in my quiver…my wife will be pleased.