Weight—or a lack of weight—could be the most important gear innovation I’ve seen in the past decade. The gear I use today works just as well as it did in the 1990s. The difference is that it weighs a lot less.
Theoretically, you could bring dozens of items on a weekend backpacking trip, so I’ll stick to areas where I think you'll find the biggest weight savings. First up, tents.
It wasn’t that long ago that a 2-person, 3-season tent tipped the scales at 6 or 7 pounds. Today, a two-person tent tent like MSR’s Hubba Hubba ($329) weighs 4 pounds 3 ounces and offers 29 square feet of floor space, 2 doors, and an excellent full-coverage fly. Along the same lines, Sierra Designs Vapor Light 2 ($300) weighs even less, at 3 pounds 5 ounces. The Vapor Light isn't quite as roomy, but it provides enough space for two people and would make a beautiful solo tent.
I've also enjoyed REI’s Quarterdome T2 ($299), which is 3 pounds 14 ounces and comes with more ripstop nylon in the canopy than the tents from MSR or Sierra Designs, making it slightly warmer. And with 30 square feet, it's bigger than both, too.