For newbies, ultralight backpacking may be a good approach. Although that "advanced" style of backpacking emphasizes carrying the lightest weight safely possible for a given hike for the purposes of long distance hikes, it also is a good approach for the more casual day hikers and weekend backpackers.
To hardcore backpackers who set out on those long trips, I might be misusing the term backpacker here, but I'll take that risk.
Light and ultralight packs generally refer to base pack weights below 20 pounds and below 10 pounds respectively. (Traditional backpacking often results in base pack weights of 30-60+ pounds.)
Ultralight backpacking was popularized in a book by Ray Jardine (see below). He claimed his first Pacific Coast Trail thru-hike was with a base pack weight of 25 pounds and on his third PCT thru-hike, he was down to less than 9 pounds.
By carrying lighter and less equipment, backpackers usually cover longer distances per day with less wear and tear on the body.
What do you leave home? Camping luxuries such as camp chairs, coffee makers, electronic gadgets, camera equipment, multiple items of clothing, etc. all vanish.
Backpacker will also use or make lighter versions of items - remove the handle from a toothbrush, transfer boxed & canned food items to plastic bags etc. They substitute light nylon & other fabrics for packs, tents and covers for older & heavier materials.
And they use things that serve multi-purposes - the rain poncho that also is a tarp shelter or dressing more warmly s that a lightweight sleeping bag is sufficient.
Having partners on your hike - a good idea for any type of outdoor adventuring - also means that some equipment can be carried by one person for the group. How many compasses, maps or GPS nits do you need?
Okay, so you have considered how to keep that pack light. Now, where to go...
Since 1876, the Appalachian Mountain Club has been promoting the protection, enjoyment, and stewardship of the mountains, forests, waters, and trails of the Appalachian region. AMC is the nation’s oldest outdoor recreation and conservation organization.
The New York-North Jersey Chapter (originally the New York Chapter) has more than 13,000 members from New York City, southeastern New York, and northeastern New Jersey and would be a good place to begin your research.
Try their Trip Search. I checked our region and found three backpacking trips still open for this year:
11/21/09 - 11/22/09 NY Catskills Five Peaks Loop Backpack
11/28/09 - 11/29/09 Big Savage Mountain Backpack (MD)
12/05/09 - 12/06/09 Appalachian Trail in PA-Wind Gap to Delaware Water Gap
They offer local chapter activities and major excursions worldwide at all ability levels. It's not limited to hiking and climbing. There are also paddling, snowshoeing and skiing trips.
Want to go a distance and not carry that tent? They have AMC Lodges, Huts, Full-Service Camps, Cabins, Shelters and Campgrounds.
They also offer programs in the skills to be safe outdoors and care for the natural world around us, through for children, teens and adults.
Sunrise Mountain view via Flickr
http://www.thebackpacker.com offers trip information, like this Appalachian Trail hike from Culvers Gap to NJ Rt. 23. About 13 miles, along Kittatinny Ridge to the crest of Sunrise Mountain with great panoramas of the NJ Highlands and the Poconos before dropping down to High Point State Park.