For the last year or so I’ve been using both the Matador DL16 backpack and one of their other models, the Freefly16. While at first glance they both look fairly similar, there are some key differences between the two.
Both bags are highly packable and have a volume of 16 liters, but since Matador first launched the DL model they’ve come out with their Advanced Series which includes a number of products. The Freefly16 is one of those products and there have been a few notable changes in comparison to the DL16.
These updates make the bag more comfortable and easier to use than the DL16 while also making it a little more versatile depending on how you intend to use it.
About Matador Products
Pretty much everything in the Matador lineup is highly packable and this is what makes them stand out from other products on the market. We’ve also tested their 30L Duffle and were very impressed with how much stuff could fit into the bag, even though it packs down into the size of a fist. Even their large Beast28 Technical Backpack fits into a 7”x4” pouch.
All Matador products are designed to be lightweight and strong making them perfect for traveling. It’s super easy to throw these in with the rest of your gear so you’ll always have a spare bag with you. When in use, you can drag them across rocks, pour water on them, and generally put them through the ringer and they’ll still be alright.
Key Features of the Matador Freefly16
The Freefly16 is made from 30D Cordura and on social media and other places Matador has referred to it as ‘military-grade’. In hand, the material feels thin and somewhat fragile, but in reality it is far from that. Don’t worry about protecting the bag or looking where you throw it. Cordura is a sturdy fabric and on the Freefly16 it is specifically labeled as ripstop. With all the Matador products I own I’ve never had any issues with durability or the bags getting punctured.
If you’re curious to learn more about the fabrics and what all the different denier ratings and weave references mean, Matador has a great post on their blog that goes deep into the details on the materials they use in their products.
Adjustable Contoured Shoulder Straps
On the Freefly16, Matador has made the straps from a material that is contouring and weight distributing. This stiffer feeling material is called Air Mesh and is very comfortable on the shoulder due to the fact the straps won’t lose shape as you add weight to the bag. This allows for any load to be evenly distributed across your shoulders, versus a softer or more flexible strap that might cut into them. Honestly, Air Mesh reminds me of the screen enclosure we had around our pool at my childhood home in Florida.
Other brands, like Fjallraven, sell you pads to put on their skinny straps. Matador just gives you a better strap.
Another benefit of Air Mesh is that it doesn’t absorb water. The rest of the bag is pretty watertight, so this keeps the straps from getting soaked while your bag stays dry.
Elastic Water Bottle Pockets
Stretchy water bottle pockets should be a given, but you’d be surprised at the number of bags that give you a stagnant sleeve to put your bottles. If the bottle is too big, it won’t fit. If it’s too small, it’ll get knocked around. Matador has solved both of these problems with an elastic band at the top of the pocket and an adjustable strap that goes over the bottle area. If the bottle is smaller than the pouch, cinch it down and get on with it.
Sealed Internal Seams and Zippers
It’s one thing to have weather resistant fabric, but it’s a whole other thing to top that off with some sealed internal seams and zippers. Everytime a stitch is made in the bag during production, it perforates the weather resistant fabric and creates an opportunity for water to get in. Matador uses a heat activated adhesive on the inside of the bag that seals up those stitches.
The zippers then have a PU coating, so that when they’re zipped shut the coating meets in the middle and seals the bag from water (think rain – it won’t prevent water from getting in if you’re hitting it directly with a hose).
Front Organization Pocket
If you’re a PB&J packing type of hiker, this is where you put your sandwich. The front pocket is fairly deep and extends almost the vertical length of the bag. It’s wide enough for your phone, small notepads, maps, snacks, and all sorts of other things that you might be reaching for more often.
For a real nerd out session on the materials used in the Freefly16 and all of the details Matador has put into the bag, check out their Materials Deep Dive article for the Freefly.
How and Where to Use the Freefly16
The Matador Freefly16 is a lightweight bag with minimal features. If you’re looking at it thinking it needs a pocket for hydration packs, sternum straps and hip belts, and all that other nonsense, you’re thinking about it in the wrong way. This is not a bag to replace all bags. It’s a bag that is highly versatile and allows for some creative utilization.
Both the 30L duffle and this bag are always thrown into my luggage when I travel, whether I plan to use them or not. I do this because if I want to take shorter day trips, head over to a cafe, or carry a few items while exploring, the Freefly16 is a much better choice than my heavier and frankly less discreet Rover Pack.
Heading to the coffee shop for the morning? Meeting some friends at a park nearby? Toss a few things in the Matador and be on your way. The weather resistant fabric means you won’t have to worry about anything spilling on it and you could even use it as something to sit on once you get to your destination and empty it out.
Backpacking backpacks are great for hauling all of your crap into the middle of nowhere, but once you’ve emptied and set up camp it’s not so useful. Using your backpacking gear to go on a day hike is like using a Cadillac Escalade to run to the store for milk – kind of a waste. The Matador Freefly16 takes up very little space and is perfect for situations like that. Toss in what you need, and leave the cumbersome stuff in the tent.
This use case is a little sacrificial, but the Matador bags are easy enough to air out or wash, so here it is. I do use the Freefly16 and 30L duffle when traveling, but besides taking them out on day trips, they’re also great for keeping dirty laundry separated from the clean stuff in my luggage. The water resistance and sealed zippers mean any stank gets kept in the bag, and because it’s so packable there’s no penalty for having it.
Matador Freefly16 vs DL16
Looking at both of these bags side by side you may be wondering why Matador has both in their lineup. A lot of it comes down to the use case of the bag and what you need it for. That being said, the Freefly16 is only $5 more than the DL16 and I think the upgrades are worth the price difference (unless you’re really set on the colors the DL16 comes in).
Here are the main differences:
Both bags have water resistant sealing zippers, but the Freefly 16 takes it a step farther with the internally sealed seams and a siliconized waterproof coating. Feel free to pack it full and head out in the rain. Whatever’s inside your bag will stay nice and dry.
On the DL16 the straps are adjustable and breathable, but the material would fold in on itself and could create some uncomfortable spots. This mostly occurred if the bag was loaded up as the straps would lose shape and ‘push’ in some areas. The straps on the Freefly16 are structured and are much better at supporting the weight of the bag’s contents without pushing into your shoulder.
The DL16 carry bag had a cinch closure and is 4.6 inches high. The Freefly16 has a roll-top closure bag and is about 4.75 inches high. The new roll top and extra room makes packing the bag a lot easier than the old one. While I’ll typically still roll the bag up to pack it away, the new pouch allows you to quickly shove it in and go if you don’t want to bother with making it neat.
If you have to have blue you can only get the DL16 in their Indigo colorway as the Freefly16 is only available in Black or Coyote (brownish/tan).
Review of the Matador Freefly16
If you’re looking for an everyday back to haul your crap to the office or load up laptops and books and whatever else you need, try something else. The Freefly16 doesn’t have internal pockets nor much structure for hauling stuff every day. But, used as a spare bag, a weekend grab bag, or a day trip bag the Freefly16 is perfect.
I’ve taken mine on plenty of day hikes, loaded it up with miscellaneous items for camping, and generally used it when I don’t need or want to take a larger backpack. Matador positions themselves as a travel product brand (or at least all of their videos make it seem that way) and the Freefly16 is a perfect travel companion. Toss it in your luggage and be glad you did when you want to take a stroll around town and need something to carry a few things for the day.
Final ThoughtsFinal Thoughts
Materials, Fit, and Finish5/5 AmazingThe bag material almost feels like a thick wax paper, but don’t be fooled - it is tough. In the years I’ve had the Freefly16, and even the DL16, I don’t think about where I put them or how I treat them. They get thrown in the trunk, dragged across the ground, kicked aside, and when it comes to packing I put in all sorts of things with sharp angles and weird shapes. Through all of that there have been no issues with the material or the zippers and straps. Maybe I need to try harder?
Functionality5/5 AmazingFor being a lightweight, packable bag, the Freefly16 nails it. Especially when you consider what they’ve done with the weather resistance. It really makes for a perfect bag for day tripping or frequent traveling.
Price4/5 GoodAt $55 the Freefly16 isn’t something that you just pick up to have lying around. It’s about $10 away from some other standard backpack models that you’d likely get a lot more use out of. That being said, getting to the other side of the world and wishing you had a backpack like this for carrying items on day trips makes that price penalty a little more worth it. Or, if you’re a gear lover but have no more space for another bag, this one fits in a sock drawer and can be tucked away until it is needed.