Which equipment is best is not an easy question to answer, as people's preferences and needs differ.
I know that Vasque boots have been mentioned in this thread, but I have never really liked them, for two reasons - they're more expensive than a number of other excellent brands, and the leather is too soft. Whilst this means that you don't have the pain of wearing them in, it also means that they tend to wear out more quickly, and that they are also a bit more shapeless on your foot. For long-distance hiking, I far and away prefer Scarpa. I've been through two pairs of Scarpa in 17 years, and was able to have both pairs resoled to extend their lifespans. I've used them hiking all around Australia, from cool-climate rainforest in Tasmania and the Lamington plateau, to desert and tropical escarpments in Kakadu National Park. I've climbed mountains in Indonesia, Malaysia and Japan, and I've worn them around cities on three continents. In short, they've been spectacularly well suited to whatever I've wanted to do in them. The only problem I've noticed is that the leather lining on the interior of the tongue tends to wear and occasionally split due to the frequent soaking/drying that it experiences when hiking (ie soaked with sweat during the day, drying at night, and then getting soaked again during the day). Having said that, though, the tongues on my boots took a good few years to develop a couple of tears on the inside, and I was able to get them repaired at the same time that I had the boots resoled. When using a good waterproofing agent on the leather, such as Snoseal, they become virtually impervious to water - I've slushed through streams and hiked through snow in them without a leak.
In terms of backpacks and tents, I use Macpac. I don't know if they have a presence in North America, but Macpac is a New Zealand brand with a strong presence in Australia and NZ. They make excellent internal-frame packs and daypacks - my internal frame pack has lasted me for 17 years, too (bought it when I bought my first pair of Scarpa boots). It looks dirty and battered and I've had to make a couple of repairs to it, but just like the Scarpas, it's taken everything I've thrown at it and it has served me exceptionally well. The zips on the secondary pockets have never malfunctioned and everything is still in good working order. It comes with a lifetime warranty, and I've heard of people returning their packs after twenty years to have a zip replaced and of getting the pack repaired without a murmur from Macpac. My tent and sleeping bag are both Macpac, too. I've used the tent and the bag in the snow at temperatures of about -10C without any problems (I was using a thermarest autoinflate three-quarter length sleeping pad to insulate me from the freezing ground).
Really, knowing what to get requires giving some thought to what you want to do with the equipment.
If you're just going on day walks in relatively dry areas on established tracks, then you could even get away with a pair of sneakers. If you're going on day walks in dry areas with some rock scrambling, then you might want to get a lightweight boot mainly constructed of fabric. If you're going on longer walks and/or will be getting into wet stuff, then get a pair of Scarpas or similar boots. I used to have a pair of Nike AGC Mowabbs (a light, high-top sneaker with an inner, neoprene boot and some heel/ankle support) and they were perfect for rapid daywalks in relatively dry terrain where we wanted to cover quite a lot of ground on the trot.
It's the same with packs. If you're only going for a day (or even one night), you can get away with a day pack. If you're going longer, then you're going to want an internal-frame pack, probably with compression straps so as to help adjust your load and pack size. I'd tend toward getting something with a 70-80 litre capacity. Don't forget that if you are going for some time, you'll need to carry tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, stove, fuel for the stove, food for three meals a day and snacks, at least one change of dry clothes that has been triple-bagged to keep it absolutely dry, and quite possibly a good supply of water. All of the above takes up quite a lot of space (to say nothing of how much it weighs - particularly the water).
I'm sorry that I know nothing of North American brands, but I hope that my ramblings have been of some assistance in helping you to target the sort of things that you need.