Hiking: Just Lighten Up

You call this "roughing it"? Today's hiking and camping gear is much lighter and more luxurious than ever. With tents that have built-in air mattresses and backpacks that blast your favorite MP3s--no wonder a record number of Americans are hitting the trails. Tip Sheet takes a walk on the wild side, testing out the best new gear.

PACK RATS: For overnight excursions, look for a back-pack of 3,000 cubic inches or less, and don't feel compelled to fill it. Meanwhile, manufacturers have finally realized that no amount of adjusting will ever make a man's pack fit women hikers properly. The shoulder straps on the Badlands 65 are tapered for women's smaller frames ($179; thenorthface.com). Or try the Matrix Harmonium pack with its portable sound system. Just slide your CD or MP3 player into the padded pocket, plug in the speakers and the hills are alive with the sound of music ($225; eaglecreek.com).

GIMME SHELTER: If you're backpacking, look for a tent that weighs less than five pounds. At just 3 pounds 8 ounces, the Ultra Flash still provides 32 square feet of floor space--making it an ideal two-person, three-season tent ($239; sierradesigns.com). If your family prefers car camping, you can splurge on heavier housing. The cushy, self-inflating base of the Airfloor 33 will ensure everyone gets a good night's sleep ($499; thenorthface.com).

SLEEP ON IT: Synthetic-fill sleeping bags are best if you expect to get wet, but there's nothing like goose down to keep you cozy. The Lucid provides downy warmth to 20 degrees, and at 1 pound 12 ounces, it's well worth its weight ($260; www.moonstone.com).

CREATURE COMFORTS: When car camping, bring a cast-iron --skillet to fry the catch o' the day. On multiday hikes, you're better off with the ultralight titanium Titan Mini Cookset, $89.95. And keep the pond scum out of your camp coffee with the Miniworks EX ceramic water filter, $79.95, both available at msrcorp.com.

HOT BOOTS: What should you slip into after you pull off those boots? Try the Ultra-Thong, with a contoured foot bed that hugs and protects tender toes, while the sticky sole aggressively grips wet rocks ($40; merrell.com). Sneakerlike shoes are fine for light day hikes, but for long excursions, you'll need ankle protection. For women, the Talus GTX XCR Mid features a multilayered sole, firm heel support and plush ankle padding ($125; vasque.com).

WEAR AND TEAR: Nothing's handier than zip-off pants. Unzip the lower half of the Convertible Pack Pant and you've got shorts; at night, zip the legs back on to ward off pesky skeeters ($100; www.mountainhardwear.com). Every serious hiker also needs a good rain jacket. The 2.65-ounce Travelite will keep you desert dry ($99.95; royalrobbins.com). It even folds into a pillow--perfect for camping or flying coach.