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Matador ReFraction Packable Backpack Review

The Matador ReFraction Packable Backpack feels more structured than other packable bags we've tested, yet it’s still easy to compress.

Our Verdict

8.0 /10
Great info

Form

70/100

Design

87/100

Value

83/100
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Pros

  • Two secondary pockets hold quick-grab items
  • Fairly structured for a packable bag
  • Comfortable harness system includes sternum strap

Cons

  • Bulky items noticeably imprint against fabric when packed full
  • Front stitching coming loose
  • Gets misshapen if haphazardly compressed
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Technical Details

91 %

Carry-on Compliance

View 132/145 Airlines

81 %

Like the Look

Polled on Instagram

  • Capacity

    16l

  • Weight (oz)

    7.9 oz (224 g)

  • Denier

    100D

  • Dimensions

    17 in x 10 in x 7.5 in (43.2 x 25.4 x 19.1 cm)

    (unpacked) | 5.5 in x 8 in x 3 in (packed)

  • Notable Materials

    Recycled Nylon, Spandex, Polyurethane, PFC-free DWR Coating, Paracord, Hypalon®, YKK Zippers, YKK Buckles

  • Manufacturing Country

    Cambodia

  • Warranty Information

    Matador "No Fine Print" Warranty

Buying Options

Brand
Price
Deal
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$59.99 
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Full Review

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Despite its packable design, Matador’s On-Grid Packable Backpack doesn’t feel too limited. Packable bags tend to shed some features to be packable, such as thick padding, structure, and many other individual features—they’re basically backpacks on a diet. As such, how do you improve this kind of bag? We like the On-Grid so much that we included it on our Digital Nomad Packing List, so is there even room for improvement?

Matador ReFraction Packable Backpack Carry Handle
Matador ReFraction Packable Backpack | It’s well-appointed for a packable backpack.

The short answer is yes. The long answer is still yes, and the ReFraction Packable Backpack is proof. It has thicker shoulder straps, an extra secondary pocket and is generally less saggy and more structured than the On-Grid. Looks like a complete upgrade, right? Not exactly. To better elaborate on that, let’s dive into the review.

External Components

The first thing that really catches your eye with the ReFraction Packable Backpack (or at least this sample) is its colorway. Matador’s gear usually comes in black, black, or black, so this Slate Blue colorway looks quite refreshing. But perhaps “refreshing” isn’t the correct term. It’s more muted and pastel than other shades of blue that pop and contrast against the background of a drab cityscape. The overall design still feels conservative. There’s a small logo off-center on the front, a few pieces of bartack stitching, and black edges to accent the blue fabric. To put it another way, even though this isn’t the usual color Matador typically uses, it still blends in inconspicuously—a relief for those who still want the anonymity of a black colorway.

Matador ReFraction Packable Backpack Brand
Matador ReFraction Packable Backpack | Both fabrics are 100-denier.

The ReFraction Packable Backpack’s base fabric is 100-denier recycled nylon with a PU coating for added weather resistance. Most of the outside is covered in a stretchy fabric that feels like spandex, though Matador’s spec sheet says it’s a “100-denier bluesign® span.” Regardless, both the recycled nylon and spandex-like material feel adequately durable for city use despite their light denier. Matador also matched the color of the two fabrics seamlessly, so those who’re nitpicky about aesthetics needn’t worry.

Most packable bags have issues when it comes to structure, or the lack thereof, and Matador’s On-Grid was no exception. However, there is a somewhat effective attempt to address this on the ReFraction Packable Backpack with the two aforementioned fabrics. Combined, they form a more cohesive and stable build that doesn’t collapse or sag as much as the On-Grid. Does this affect packability, though? We’ll see.

Matador ReFraction Packable Backpack Zipper
Matador ReFraction Packable Backpack | Loops at the end of the track can be used to lock the zippers.

The No. 5 YKK zippers include a PU coating. These appear similar to YKK AquaGuard zippers, though they don’t feel as robust, hence why they’re probably not full-fledged AquaGuards. Each zipper on the outside gets a paracord pull with heat-shrink material around the tips to make them easier to grab and unzip. Plus, the main compartment and top pocket’s zippers come with a loop at the end of their track where you can thread the pulls into, a handy security feature to deter would-be pickpockets. It’s by no means unbeatable, but it’s better than nothing.

Since it’s a packable daypack, the harness system isn’t very robust. We have a pair of trusty shoulder straps and a complementary handle at the top—and that’s it. The latter is quite thin, so it has the potential to dig into your hand when the bag’s fully loaded. That said, we don’t often carry it this way, so it’s not a huge issue for us. As for the shoulder straps, there’s some padding, but not a lot. It’s more than what the On-Grid has, falling in line with the straps of the Away Packable Backpack and WaterField Designs Packable Backpack.

Matador ReFraction Packable Backpack Full Harness
Matador ReFraction Packable Backpack | The straps’ inner edge lacks the rough-feeling reinforcement present on the outer edge.

Matador goes a step further by adding a few notable details to the ReFraction Packable Backpack’s shoulder straps, though. First, though the outer edges are reinforced, they opted to keep the inner edges blunted and smooth for better comfort. There’s also a sternum strap in case you need extra support pushing the bag’s weight forward. The only worrying part that worries us about the harness system is where the straps are joined to the bag itself. There’s noticeable fraying that might deteriorate later on in the bag’s life. There’s also some loose thread at the front, but while that’s arguably superfluous, it’s more concerning when it’s on a strap’s joint; that’s the part you carry, after all.

Matador ReFraction Packable Backpack Luggage
Matador ReFraction Packable Backpack | The sternum strap doubles as a luggage pass-through.

The back panel lacks any padding or mesh, which is unsurprising for a packable backpack. A padded back panel introduces structure and rigidity, characteristics that go against packability. The only feature here is a pair of loops on the outer edges at the sides. You can thread the sternum strap here and, in turn, use it as a makeshift luggage pass-through. It’s a clever way to get more functionality of an existing feature, and we dig it.

Fit Notes

Matador ReFraction Packable Backpack Side By Side
Left: Eric Hergenreder, Height: 6’0″ (183 cm), Torso: 18.5” (47 cm) | Right: Lauren Maternowski, Height: 5’6” (168 cm), Torso: 16.5” (42 cm)

As you might expect, a 16-liter daypack like this demands little from its harness system. The shoulder straps, as minimal as their padding appears, do a good job cushioning the weight. You may want to use the sternum strap to shift the weight forward. However, in practice, we rarely find the need to do this for backpacks of this size. If you do, it makes the ReFraction Packable Backpack carry more like a hiking backpack, which is a bit overkill for its intended purpose.

Matador ReFraction Packable Backpack Strap
Matador ReFraction Packable Backpack | The relatively good structure and amount of padding makes this a comfortable packable daypack to wear.

The back panel easily conforms to your back’s shape since there’s no built-in rigidity or structure. In other words, there’s really not much to complain about in terms of comfort, especially considering that this is a packable backpack with the usual limitations in features. While we wish the adjusters came with corresponding strap keepers so we could manage the slack better, that’s getting nitpicky, and it’s more of a nice-to-have than a must-have.

Inside The Backpack

A feature that we liked having on the On-Grid is the water bottle pockets. We like to carry our travel water bottles whenever we go on trips since buying water is expensive. The good news is that Matador put not one but two on the ReFraction Packable Backpack (same as the On-Grid). The spandex-like material keeps them seamlessly integrated. On the other hand, this also makes them quite deep, though not as proportionally wide as we’d like them to be. An 18-ounce YETI Rambler is already a tight fit, and anything bigger may not work at all.

Matador ReFraction Packable Backpack Water Bottle
Matador ReFraction Packable Backpack | This is the preferable side to put a water bottle on.

One thing to note is that taller bottles may obscure the zippers if they’re off to one side, so avoid putting the zippers on the extreme ends put your bottle where the zippers aren’t. For what it’s worth, the main compartment zippers’ loop is on the left side, so we usually avoid putting the bottle there if we want to lock the zippers.

At the front is a zippered pocket integrated into the spandex-like material. A welt neatly covers the opening to preserve the bag’s clean look. It is an upwards welt, though, so it can catch splashes and rain if you get caught in a shower. Space-wise, the interior is quite roomy, and we can fit both a wallet and a smartphone inside. This is thanks to the stitches at the corner that allow the pocket to expand outward. At the same time, though, the stitching at the sides is noticeably worn after a few weeks of testing, making us a bit uneasy about the bag’s long-term durability, so we’ll have to keep an eye on it.

Matador ReFraction Packable Backpack In Use
Matador ReFraction Packable Backpack | You can see your smartphone’s outline from the outside.

On the top is another pocket for your quick-grab items, though its primary purpose is being the stuff pouch where you repack the whole bag. That said, any extra pockets are a welcome addition to a packable bag, given their typically barebones design. There’s no additional organization inside, which is fine, and only a single loop where you can attach a carabiner or keyring.

The main compartment gets most, if not all, of the ReFraction Packable Backpack’s 16-liter capacity. In fact, packing the main compartment is easy despite having “only” 16 liters of space. The minimal structure makes it easy to stretch and bend the space according to the shape of the gear you’re packing, so there’s almost always an ounce of space to squeeze an extra pouch or two.

Matador ReFraction Packable Backpack Packable Cubes
Matador ReFraction Packable Backpack | There’s no built-in laptop sleeve.

Of course, this has its trade-offs as well. Pack too much, and you risk bowing the back panel and impacting comfort. It’s also fairly easy for bulky items to bulge out and make an obvious outline. The most egregious example is the outline of the iPhone we put inside the front pocket—it looks inviting to pickpockets.

It’s worth noting that, despite being a direct replacement for the On-Grid, the ReFraction Packable Backpack lacks a built-in laptop sleeve in the main compartment. We worry less about protection (since the On-Grid’s lacked padding anyway) and more about the organization. A laptop inside this main compartment can simply lean forward and obscure all the gear underneath, so we wish Matador retained that feature.

Matador ReFraction Packable Backpack Packed
Matador ReFraction Packable Backpack | You’ll have to be careful so that it comes out an even shape.

Compressibility is relatively easy. As mentioned earlier, the top pocket is where you stuff the rest of the bag. Simply push everything from the side of the back panel until it’s all inside. Pro tip: try to distribute the material equally inside to make sure the resulting shape is uniform and, therefore, easier to pack into your larger travel bag. Then again, we’re never able to compress it into as neat of a shape as we would like, though, regardless, the overall size is relatively compact.

Usage Timeline

Initial Usage

Condition: Excellent

  • Pretty solid upgrade from the On-Grid Packable Backpack
  • Substantial padding on the shoulder straps for a packable bag
  • Digging the stretchy pockets on the front and side
2 Weeks of Use

Condition: Excellent

  • Some of the seam along the front pocket is coming apart—nothing has broken, though we’re curious how it’ll hold up over time
  • Super roomy pockets all around for quick grab items
  • It feels more premium than a lot of packable backpacks we’ve tested
mm
By Lauren Maternowski
Created June 23, 2023 • Updated July 25, 2023
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