Backpacks are the unsung heroes of adventuring. No matter how gorgeous the mountain view or how hypnotic the sounds of the babbling brook, if your shoulders are chafing, you won’t notice any of it. How, then, should you go about choosing a backpack?

What you look for in a backpack largely depends on what you’re planning to do with it. The backpack that takes you to the top of Kilimanjaro might not be optimal for a foot tour of St. Petersburg. Among other things, it might not fit into the overhead compartment of an airplane. Here are some tips to find a bag that fits your style of fun.

For the Avid Hiker

When planning a hike, look for backpacks with wide, padded hip and shoulder straps and a centered lumbar pad, all of which will help support your load. Easy access to your water bottle is essential; mesh or stretchy side pockets are the way to go. And, of course, check the fit (especially torso length and hip size), since mild discomfort at the beginning of the hike can escalate into screaming pain a mile later. Take a look at Gregory backpacks for examples of good hiking bags.

For the International Connoisseur

If you’re looking for a backpack for international travel, make sure the backpack fits the carry-on dimensions of most airlines. Common restriction sizes are 9” x 14” x 22” and 10” x 16” x 24”, and some airlines also have weight limitations of 35lbs. Straps and buckles should be the hide-away sort to avoid damage in transit, and a zipper that goes all the way around makes a backpack easier to pack, so you can stuff pairs of socks in there.  A popular choice for traveling packs is Tom Bihn.

For the Urban Adventurer

Go abroad in style with sleek, minimalistic designs. It’s handy to have a pocket for your laptop, which can be secured with lockable zippers. And nothing is worse than having to dig through your underwear just to find your wallet, so hit the streets with a front-loading bag that features lots of compartments. Check out the packs created by Minaal and Tortuga.;

Handy Sites

Picking Backpacks:

Determining Size:

Pack Volume Calculator:

—Rosalyn Helps

Photo by Jason Priem via Creative Commons.