Welcome to AFAR Approved: a deep dive into the travel items that we’re totally obsessed with, never leave behind, and can’t stop telling our friends about. Starting 12 p.m. MT on Thursday, November 24, 2022, save 30 percent sitewide at matadorup.com. Then, November 25–28, 2022, save 25 percent on all Matador products. No code necessary.
I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of time researching reusable travel toiletry bottles—I’m talking hours of research over the past three or four years. It started casually, a way to procrastinate when I had to pack for a big trip. But it quickly became a habit: To this day, if I’m in an REI or a CVS, I’ll often drift over to the travel-size toiletries section to browse. In fact, while you were reading the news about the IHG ban of mini bathroom amenities, I was probably poking around online to see if any new travel size bottles had popped up as a result of the announcement.
But despite my constant research, I don’t need an upgrade right now: I’m flat-out obsessed with Matador’s FlatPak toiletry bottles.
I’ll admit, I was skeptical at first. These “bottles” really look more like high-tech bags. They are not the chic containers I’d always imagined myself carefully lining up on a hotel vanity. But Matador offered to send me a sample, and, intrigued by the high-tech features, I wanted to give the FlatPak travel size bottles a try. Here’s my review of the Matador FlatPak and why they quickly won me over.
Matador FlatPak travel size bottles are lightweight and compact
Like most of Matador’s adventure gear, the FlatPak bottles are designed for minimalist and ultralight travel. (This is the same company that created a picnic blanket that fits in your back pocket and a travel towel that packs into a hand-size, key-ring container.) Each 3-ounce, TSA-approved bottle weighs just 11.5 grams empty—Matador claims that’s five times lighter that most comparable silicone toiletry bottles, which feels about right to me. And because they’re made from an extremely durable, waterproof, nylon-based Cordura fabric, these containers can squish around the deodorant, pill bottle, and various items of makeup that clutter my dopp kit.
→ From 12 p.m. MT, November 24, 2022: $10 for one or $26 for three (was $14 for one or $37 for three), matadorup.com
→ From November 25 to 28, 2022: $11 for one or $28 for three (was $14 for one or $37 for three), matadorup.com
Matador FlatPaks are easy to fill
No, the FlatPak bottle is no wide-mouth wonder, like the GoToob+. But the fill opening is wide enough if you’re pouring from a standard shampoo bottle or pumping from a soap dispenser. Plus, there’s a rigid structure around the cap that helps keep the fabric pocket open while you’re filling. Sometimes you’ll need to give it a firm shake to move contents down as you go, but I can usually fill mine in under a minute.
They shrink to fit their contents
This is hands-down my favorite thing about the FlatPak bottles: The more shampoo and conditioner I use, the less space they take up in my luggage. And because the sides of the bottle are fabric, I can really get at every last drop.
As an overpacker, I love using up the things I bring on my travels. It makes me feel accomplished and gives me a guise of efficiency: If I used it all, clearly I needed it. An over-cluttered toiletry bag full of empty bottles, on the other hand, is incredibly frustrating.
It’s never leaked on me
Nor has it popped open or exploded in a suitcase. The flip-top cap clicks securely into place, and the bag’s seams are welded together. Nothing is escaping this bad boy.
There are drawbacks to this wonderful bottle, of course. It only comes in black, so if you amass a FlatPak fleet, it’ll be hard to tell them apart. Yes, there is a spot for a label on the snap loop, but I’ve been using these regularly for a year now and never once thought about filling out that label. Or looking at it, for that matter.
Some reviews I’ve read of these say they’re hard to clean, but I travel every few weeks and so have used mine often enough—and always filled with the same products—that I cycle through their contents pretty regularly and haven’t yet had to actually try to clean one out beyond a quick rinse. I have, however, found that lotion tends to dry out a little and become thicker if left to linger in a FlatPak bottle.
An alternative travel toiletry bottle
If you’re accustomed to using whatever travel toiletry bottle was on sale at the local drugstore, the hard-sided bottles that come with Sea to Summit’s TPU Clear Ziptop Pouch ($27) are a good, more traditional pick.
The pouch itself, which is made out of thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), is the primary product, as far as Sea to Summit is concerned, but there are plenty of devotees of the semi-translucent, leakproof bottles inside the pouch. The variety pack includes three 3-ounce bottles and three 1.5-ounce bottles, all of which are TSA-approved, making it great for people who use a range of products. Some consumers love the narrow-opening caps, which allow them to dispense the contents more precisely; others point out that such a feature is better for more viscous liquids, but make it arduous to squeeze out thicker products such as conditioner or sunscreen.
Why haven’t I included any silicone bottles? Plenty of people prefer silicone options, which are somewhat rigid but still have a nice squish that allows them to pack in easily with other toiletries. But the market is flooded with cheap versions and I’ve had too many brands leak on me. Also, I find them a little clunky. But who knows? All of these mini-plastic-bottle bans might spark a new era of reusable travel-size toiletry bottles. For now, I’ll stick with my awesome, space-saving FlatPak bottles.
This article originally appeared online in 2019; it was updated on November 14, 2022, to include current information.