Organization is my new obsession. These days I’m into storage bins, label makers, and color-coordinated folders. Maybe it’s a sign of my advancing age, or maybe I just crave a bit of structure in a hectic world full of uncertainty. But even without the global pandemic and shifting social norms, my life is crazy. I have kids. There are shoes and glitter all over my house. I need stability in some form, and the Matador SEG42 ($190) gives me a little slice of order.
The SEG42 is a 42-liter backpack duffel where the space is divided between five built-in packing cubes accessed via exterior zippers, and a full-bag clamshell opening to a large compartment for shoes, gear, and clothes that shouldn’t be rolled or folded. There’s also a dedicated laptop sleeve, so in theory the SEG42 presents itself as a single solution for all kinds of travel, from weekend camping to airline-based work trips when we’re flying again. I’ve spent the past two months testing the pack on a handful of short camp-outs and a seven-day family surf excursion, and the SEG42 delivered the organization I desperately needed.
The integrated packing cubes are the obvious standout feature. Each section is a different size, and when they’re loaded they carve up the majority of the interior space. But even when the cubes are full you have enough room in the main compartment for a pair of shoes and some bulkier items. If you need a single large compartment, you can also flatten the cubes and zip them away to use the whole space like a traditional pack.
On the surf trip, I put shoes, flip flops, and a rain jacket in the big clamshell compartment, and used cubes for underwear and socks, swim trunks, and sun shirts and rash guards. On camping trips that have a multi-sport agenda, I pack the cubes based on activity—my trail running kit in one cube, mountain biking clothes in another, and camp pajamas in another. When it’s a shoe-intensive outing, I use more of the clamshell space and fewer cubes. You could pack the cubes by day if you wanted, too. It’s the flexibility within the system that makes the SEG42 so appealing.
The fact that the SEG42 converts from a backpack to a duffel is nothing new; there are dozens of similar packs on the market, and I’ve tested my fair share. But the Matador is the most comfortable of the lot to wear as a backpack, even when it’s fully stuffed. I’d have no problem lugging this pack through an airport, thanks to the harness system: its wide straps don’t bunch up and pinch your shoulders. And one of the happy side effects of the cube system is that it keeps the load evenly distributed throughout the pack—your gear doesn’t sink to the bottom when you carry it.
The SEG42 will fit in most overhead bins and has a top pocket for snacks and anything you need to access on the fly, and its built-in laptop sleeve is great for (future) work trips. I typically travel with two bags—one for clothes and gear and another to hold my laptop and various snacks (I must have beef jerky with me at all times). The thought of being able to knock out a three-day excursion with just a single carry-on is tantalizing.
Matador is known for its ultralight but durable and waterproof duffels and backpacks, and the SEG42 follows suit. I have no worries about slinging it around camp or strapping it to the roof rack if space is tight in the car. It’s built from a mix of 840-denier and 420-denier nylon with UTS (ultra tear strength) coating that the company bills as weatherproof. (I took a hose to the pack for a few minutes, and some of my outer layers got wet through the zippers. The hose mimicked monsoon conditions, though, so I’d have no worries running through a typical storm.) The pack is definitely not waterproof, which is an important distinction when you’re carrying a laptop.
My only real complaint so far is that there’s not enough padding in the laptop sleeve. I’m a nervous Nelly when it comes to my computer, and I want more structure around my baby. More padding would obviously add weight and take up space, but I think it would be a worthy upgrade. For now I’m putting my laptop in a padded sleeve before packing it, but it would be nice to eliminate that step.
Overall, the SEG42 is a pack designed to pull double duty—it’s rugged enough to handle the road-tripping and car-camping lives we’re leading now, and svelte and thoughtfully designed enough to transition into the jet-setting future that we’re all so desperate to get back to. In both scenarios, it offers an unrivaled level of organization. And that feature is always welcome—global pandemic or not.