I am looking for advice/information on packs and tents. We don't anticipate doing anything horrendously strenuous. 1-2 week outings. Casual walking pace with stops to provision and hotel it at most opportunities. Hopefully no more than every 3 nights. I am looking at kelty packs in particular and a northwood 2 person tent. I really cannot tell the difference between one fabric or another and the review go from 5 to 2 stars.
I just went through that whole process myself over this past Winter. I know first hand what it's like trying to navigate all the differences in types, materials, etc.
I don't have enough experience on trail to suggest anything specific for you but I can give you a fairly high overview of my decision-making process.
For a tent, I was looking at the Zion 2 tent from Hyke & Byke. I liked that it was not only freestanding but also designed that you can erect the rain fly before you set up the tent. So if it's raining, you can basically create a shelter to keep dry while you put the tent up. I ended up not getting it because it was over 5 pounds and that was pretty heavy. But I otherwise liked the specs.
Once I ruled that one out, I started looking at semi-freestanding and trekking pole tents. Decided against those because I knew there's a chance I'll be going where using stakes won't be an option. I realized that, for me, a freestanding tent was the way to go. As my first and primary shelter, a freestanding tent gives me the most options for pitching that tent no matter where I go.
But I also briefly flirted with a hammock instead. But, again, I felt more confidant that I will have an easier time finding a tent spot than two suitable trees. I ended up getting the new REI Half Dome SL2+ tent. It's light for a freestanding tent.
But what really helped my decide on the tent I was going to purchase? I spent 45 minutes doing a video conference with REI's Virtual Outfitter. The person who worked with me walked me through a process and by the time I was off the call, I was really comfortable with the decision I made.
For the pack, I did read how a lot of people really like Kelty as their first pack. Since I was buying almost all of my gear during a three or four month period, I wanted to make my purchases count and decided that I would get a higher-end pack that I shouldn't have to replace for many years until it wears out. I did rule out (almost immediately) the ultralight packs (Z-Packs, Gossamer Gear, etc.). I am not an ultralight backpacker and I certainly didn't think I'd be able to keep my base weight low enough for a UL pack to be comfortable or to not exceed the rated weight limit of the pack.
So that left me looking at three brands: Osprey, Deuter, and Gregory. I settled on the Gregory (Baltaro 65) and so far am really happy. It fits me well and although it's a havy pack (5 pounds empty), because it's a heavy-hauler pack, it does a great job distributing the weight evenly across the pack. So it's really comfortable. So I would definitely say that a good pack which may weight a bit more may do a better job of carrying the load and it will be more comfortable than a lighter pack.
Anyway, that was how I thought out my purchasing. Hope that helps!
I'd say wait until REI does the annual Anniversary Sale at the end of May, then make an appointment with a pack expert for a fitting. Plenty of gear on good sales then, and I got a lot of great advise on gear when I was talking to a live person.
I've been backpacking since the mid-80's, and have learned a few things the hard way. First, it's better to spend more on quality gear you'll be satisfied with for a long time than to replace cheaper/poorly designed gear with another purchase before long.
Lot of factors to consider on gear selection and I won't go into specifics here, but lighter is better if it has the functionality and fit you need. See if you can find some trustworthy reviews on durability. Ultralight gear is sometimes achieved with materials that don't stand up well to abrasion and snags, and you can pay a lot more for just a few ounces less.
In selecting a pack, the best advice is to go to a specialty store (like REI) and try on a variety of packs. Bring all the gear you will carry to make sure it will fit, and walk around the store carrying that weight with a properly adjusted pack (it's important to have the help of an experienced salesperson). Comfort is very important in pack selection.
I've been hammocking for several years now. I'm more comfortable in my Warbonnet Blackbird XLC than I've ever been in a tent, but you never know if a hammock is for you unless you try sleeping in one.
I still have a tent for areas without suitable trees, and much prefer side entry with a good sized vestibule and interior height tall enough for me to sit up without brushing my head. I'm partial to Six Moon Designs for price/weight/features, but lots of good options out there (many which you won't find in retail stores). A good 3 season (not winter) one person tent can be under 2 lbs, and under 3 lbs for 2 people.