Trail Lingo

Lots of lingo to learn and I’m sure we will think of nicknames for certain things between Chantal and myself. A couple of websites have compiled and this is a selection of them.


AT (spoken in individual letters: A-T) – The Appalachian Trail, which is on the Eastern side of the United States. Many people will compare the AT, CDT and PCT and outline the differences.

Alpine Start – Getting an early mountain ascent start (midnight to 3 a.m.) to avoid lightning or rock falls.

Alpine Zone – The zone above the tree line at the top of a mountain that is characterized by rocks and soil and that resembles the moon. This can range in elevation, usually between 9,000 and 11,000 feet above sea level.

AYCE – ‘All You Can Eat’ Restaurants that offer all you can eat buffets are very popular with hungry hikers.

Apron – Transition area on a switchback where you change direction.

Banana Blazing – The counterpart to pink blazing. It’s when a girl changes her pace or skips a section to hike with a guy

Base weight – The weight of the gear a hiker is carrying, not including food, water, fuel, and the clothes on his or her back.

Baselayer – Next to skin clothing layer, preferably wicking and quick drying.

Bear Burrito – Hammock. I have an obsession with burritos, so this is my favorite term.

Bear Fortune Cookie – Tent.

Bear Pinatas – A poorly hung bear bag that’s sure to be popped open overnight like an ursine party favor.

Bear Cannister – A container that you store food and scented items in that is bear-proof if you use it correctly.

Bench – A long step, or tier, on the side of a hill.  You climb until you reach the bench, then you walk across it, then climb until you reach the next bench.

Blowout – When your hiking boots take a beating, and you need to repair them with duct tape or string to hold the sole and shoe together. It is now time for a pair of new shoes!

Big Three – Your backpack, shelter, and sleep system. These are typically the heaviest, most expensive, and most critical categories of items carried, and thus tend to get the most attention during gear discussions.

Bonus Miles – Extra miles you end up hiking to re-supply or when you made the wrong turn. Nobody likes these!

Bomber – An item of gear that is extremely durable.

Bubble – A general group of people that are hiking the same pace and they disappear and connect with you as you hike but you always meet up again in towns or campsites over a length of time.

Bounce Box – A mail-drop type box containing seldom used necessities that is mailed ahead to a town where you think you might need the contents.

Break Trail – In winter, to hike in the lead position, forcing one’s way through fresh snow. Others follow in the footsteps.

Brown Blazing – Taking a detour off the trail to take a dump.

Blow-down – A tree or shrub that has fallen across the trail.

Cobbknocker – Whoever is first to wake up and start hiking usually ends up clearing the trail of spider webs.

Crash Camp – An improvised camp site. When a 22 mile uphill day turns in to too much hiking crash camp sites are looked for around mile 19. Too small, not level enough, and hardly ever near water. Crash camps lead to early mornings.

Camel up – To drink as much water at a water source as possible, so as to not have to carry as much water to the next source.

Cathole – A small hole (6 to 8 inches deep) a hiker digs to bury their poop in the wild.

Carin – Those ridiculous looking man made rock towers made to direct hikers in the correct direction on the trail (trail markers). They should be close enough to see the next one in heavy fog and high enough to see above fallen snow. Unfortunately, the general public likes to build these for fun or as a form of expression without understanding the actual meaning behind them. LOL or an old grumpy lady on the trail telling you to stop doing something 😉

Calorie Loading – Eating as much high fat food as you can during a town stop.

CDT (spoken in individual letters: C-D-T) – Continental Divide Trail

Cowboy camp – To camp out under the stars instead of in a shelter. Usually with just your sleeping pad on the ground and your sleeping back on the pad.

Comfort Hiker – A hiker who is in the mindset that the fifty pounds on his/her back make them more comfortable than the twenty pounds on the ultralighter’s back.

Crampons aka Microspikes – Yes this term sounds like menstruation, but it actually refers to a spike-like traction device you put on your hiking boots in order to hike through snow and ice.

Contouring – Following an imaginary contour line around a mountain or canyon to get from point A to point B, rather than going up and down on a direct path. When a trail is “contouring” it means that it’s relatively flat, and going around a promontory rather than over it.

Cotton World, The – Life off of the trail. So called because wearing cotton will not put you in danger of hypothermia. Also known as real life.

Death March – A long boring hike with no views in 90-degree weather or an uninteresting trail you must take in order to reach the desired trail. I consider fire roads a death march, but yet we must take them in order to get to the beautiful trail.

Dirt Bag A dirty hiker. – On a long hike where you have camped along the way and have not showered in a couple of days… strolling into town to eat a burrito before cleaning up. Basically you resemble a homeless person wearing expensive brand-named hiking clothes ordering a burrito without a care in the world. This is the ultimate description of a dirtbag.

Dirty Girls – The most colorful and best hiking gaiters on the market!

Dip ‘N Sip – Cowboy water:  Straight from the source, unfiltered. The easiest, laziest means to acquire water in the woods. Usually at high altitudes, well away from cow pastures.

Dry Camp – A waterless camping spot. In other words, you have to carry all of your water in. I have had my fair share of dry camping trips; some were fun, others were just plain aggravating.

Double Walled – Tent construction that reduces condensation by having an inner net and an outer waterproof shell separated by some space.

Drift Box – See Bounce Box.

Drop Box – A fancy name for a resupply box.

False Summit – It looks like the top…until you get there and realize there’s one more, even higher. #%&*!

Fall Line – The most direct route downhill from any particular point.

Flip flop – To hike a large portion of a trail and then flip up to another location and hike back to where the first portion ended. This can be done to ensure the best weather along certain stretches of trail or to avoid large groups of other hikers.

False Lead – It looks like the trail, smells like the trail, and for a while it seems like you’re on the trail…but you actually followed the false lead off the true trail.

FBC – Freezer Bag Cooking. To cook in a quart size zip-lok freezer bag by simply adding hot water to dehydrated food.

Fun-Factor – The amount of fun you are actually having on the trail. I always say if there is no fun factor, it is not worth the hike, and it is time to turn around and go home.

Glissade – An incredibly fun way to descend a snowcapped mountain slope, sitting and sliding down, usually holding an ice axe to be used to slow or stop the slide.

GORP – Good old raisins and peanuts.

Glonk – A clueless idiot who doesn’t realize that uphill hikers have the right of way on a trail, and just bulldozes down.

Gaiters – Outerwear that zips or snaps around ankles and lower legs to keep dust, water, snow, muck, or rocks out of your hiking shoe

Green Face – Variations include Acute Mountain Sickness, High Altitude Pulmonary Edema, High Altitude Cerebral Edema, and apoxia. Anybody can get it, from Weekend Warrior schlubs to Olympic athletes, and it sucks entirely. Best treatment? Get lower.

GBITS – Great Backpacker in the Sky. The great being who sees over all backpackers and throws massive numbers of challenges their way to test the fortitude of their minds and heart.

Gear Acquirement Syndrome (GAS) – The need for new hiking toys.

Gear Head – A hiker whose main focus is backpacking and outdoor gear.

Gearly Afflicted – A camping enthusiast who knows no boundaries when it comes to owning new equipment.

Getting Off – The polite way to say someone is quitting their thru-hike, the implication being he/she may get back on.

Ghost Blazing – The art of following a section of trail that is no longer used. When a trail is “re-routed,” usually the old blazes are blackened out.

Giardia – More properly known as giardiasis, an infection of the lower intestines cause by the amoebic cyst, Giardia lamblia. Giardia resides in water so it is wise to always chemically treat or filter your water before drinking. Symptoms include stomach cramps, diarrhea, bloating, loss of appetite and vomiting. Also known as a backpacker’s worst nightmare.

Gram Weenie – A person obsessed with reducing weight of items worn or carried.

Gray Water – Dirty dishwater. Some campsites will have designated spots to dump your gray water. Such designated spots may be provided with a strainer so that you can remove your food particles from the gray water and pack those out.

Ground Control – Support that handles the ‘real world’ concerns like bills and pets, and mails a hiker packages.

Hanger – Anger due to hunger; when one is hangry, poor decision making occurs.

Heel Stepping – A method of hiking down a snow covered slope that involves digging the heels into the snow with each step to prevent slipping.

Hicker – A person who is still trying to figure out the whole hiker/gear thing while on the trail.

Hiker box – A box kept at hiker locations (hostels, trail angel houses, etc.) wherein hikers can leave their unwanted items and pick up other hikers’ unwanted items. Think about someone buying a tube of toothpaste to split with a hiker friend to fill up a reusable little bottle and the rest of the tube they leave for someone else.

Hiker funk – The smell of a long-distance hiker who wears the same sweaty outfit every day, does not wear deodorant, and showers maybe once a week at best. This smell attaches itself to all of the hiker’s belongings.

Hiker hunger – A massive hunger which kicks in after a few weeks of burning large amounts of calories on the trail. Hiker hunger cannot be satisfied.

Hiker legs – The state a hiker’s legs reach after a few weeks on trail in which they are strong and accustomed to big miles; could be characterized by amazing calves.

Hiker midnight – The time at which most hikers go to sleep, usually at dark or even earlier. Like 9pm.

Hiker trash – A general description of a thru or section hiker, or of thru hikers collectively. It probably comes from the fact that thru hikers often are confused for homeless people during town stops. It also comes from the fact that the usual ways of determining status in real life have little, if any, meaning on the trail.

Hiker Tan – A sheen of dirt and mud accumulated from the trail, aka the kind of tan that washes off.

Hiker Widow – A loved one left behind while a thru-hiker walks the trail.

HYOH (Hike Your Own Hike) A saying meant to express the idea that a hiker should do what is best for them on the trail and not worry about how other hikers do things.

Iceberg – Large rocks planted in the ground at an overused campsite to discourage any more tenting.

JMT (spoken in individual letters: J-M-T) – John Muir Trail

LASHer (LASH: Long A** Section Hiker) – Someone who hikes a very, very long section of a trail.

LNT (Leave No Trace) – An ethics philosophy with seven principles that will leave the least impact on the land while recreating outdoors.

Look, The – At some point in the trail a hiker will develop the look. It’s a combination of a lean, muscular body and a look of confidence and determination in the eyes. Those who have the look will probably finish their hikes. Those who don’t have the look will probably leave the trail before they finish.

MacGyver – After an old TV show where the hero would construct useful devices out of common materials. To hikers it means to build or repair gear with imagination.

Misery Index – A scale that attempts to place a hiker’s state of suffering and misery into numerical form; a score of ten is absolute misery, while a score of one borders on blissfulness.

Mountain Money – Toilet paper.

MUDs – Mindless Up and Downs. Where the trail goes up and back down several times for no reason other than the amusement of whoever laid out the trail.

MYOG – Make Your Own Gear.

Nero – A day in which a hiker goes nearly zero miles.

NoBo – A person who hikes northbound.

PCT (spoken in individual letters: P-C-T)– Pacific Crest Trail

Pack Weight – Weight of your pack and its contents, including consumables (food, water, and fuel).

Pack It Out – The practice of leaving nothing behind on a backpacking trip.

Pass – Relatively low point on a ridge or in a mountain chain, allowing travel from one valley to another.

Pink blazer A hiker who is more concerned with following women than following the trail.

Platypus – A soft-sided bladder for carrying water. Platypus is the most common brand.

PO – Post Office.

Point –Lead person in a line of hikers. Responsible for following the trail.

Post Hole – Hiking in deep slushy snow usually without snowshoes or skis where you leave large holes behind. A sloppy way to hike, but sometimes unavoidable. Can be painful and super frustrating. Most people try and hike early in the morning when the snow is more frozen and later in the day the sun will make it slushy and you will fall through the snow.

Posthole Digger (PhD) – A hiker who enjoys postholing.

Pot Cozy – An insulation wrap to keep the contents of a cooking pot warm once off the stove.

Power Hiker – A hiker who habitually chooses to cover very long distances each day, often hiking late into the evening.

Purist – Example of “Purist”: covering every detail of the main trail.

Privy – A trailside outhouse for solid waste. You shouldn’t pee in the privy.

Register – A notebook kept at hiker locations (hostels, trail angel houses, etc.) wherein hikers can sign and leave notes for other hikers behind them.

Relo – A section of trail recently relocated.

Repeat Offender – A person who has hiked the same long distance trail more than once.

Resupply Box – A package with new supplies sent to a town’s post office ahead of you.

Ride Bride – A female hiker who accompanies a male hiker when he attempts to hitch a ride. It is thought that people are more likely to pick up a male hitchhiker if a female is with him, and that a female hitchhiker is safer if a male is with her.

Rutabaga – When the seat of the privy is still warm from the last person who used it.

Skipping – Leaving the trail and reentering at another location, to bypass a section of trail. Skipping is done for several reasons such as forest fires, heavy snow pack, fatigue, lack of motivation, a need to make up for lost time or to meet up with friends who are hiking ahead of you. Often people who skip a section of trail, but complete the rest of it, still consider themselves thru hikers, especially if the reason for skipping was to bypass a trail closure due to forest fires.
 
People who skip sections of trail will sometimes turn around and hike the skipped section in the opposite direction. This is known as flip flopping.

Skunked – Failing to get a car to stop when hitch hiking.

Stick Snake – Those pesky sticks that jump up and bite you on the leg when you step on it.

Scat – Animal poop.

S.A.R. – Search and rescue volunteers that are trained in backcountry wilderness and give up their time to rescue lost or injured hikers.

Section hiker – Someone who hikes just a section of a trail at one time.

Slack pack – Carrying only the essentials instead of a full pack for a full day of hiking, then returning home or sleeping indoors for the night. The pack or the hiker is usually shuttled one direction to accomplish this. Slack packers often string together their day’s hikes to complete a longer trail.

Single Track – A trail made for one-way traffic. Think follow the leader and pull over for other hikers trying to pass you.

SoBo – A person who hikes southbound.

Stealth camp – To camp in a location with the intention of not being seen.

Summit Fever – When a hiker will do anything in his or her power to reach the summit, even if they put themselves or others at risk of injury or illness (we have all been there).

Switch-Back – Oh Lord no! The never-ending zig-zag pathways that lead to the summit (top of the mountain). These apparently make the climb easier and prevent erosion. Do people actually enjoy switchbacks?

Sweep – The last hiker that takes up the rear in a group to ensure the entire group makes it safely to their final destination. 

Stump Bear – An old tree stump of the trail that on first glimpse looks like a bear.

Tank Up –Drink your fill of water at the source until you’re filled up then hike on. Also called Camel Up.

Tarp – A basic shelter with no floor and usually no door.

Ten Essentials – Short lists of 10 or 12 items thought necessary to be carried by day hikers in their pack. One example of such a list: map, compass, water and a way to purify it, extra food, rain gear/extra clothing, fire starter and matches, first aid kit, knife/multi-purpose tool, flashlight with extra batteries/bulbs, sun screen/sunglasses.

Thru-Hike – Longer continuous hike in one direction.

Topo – Topographical Map.

Torso Pad – A ground insulation sleeping pad that is sized for a person’s torso only.

Touron – Tourist+Moron. Usually encountered in crowded front-country areas, Tourons demonstrate too little wisdom for the types of activities they are involved in.

Trail Tattoo/ Dead Branch Tattoo/Rock Tattoo – When you get scraped on the trail deep enough to be able to point to it and tell the story year after year.

Trail angel – Someone who helps hikers out in any way, e.g. rides, food, or trail magic (see below).

Trail Candy(slang, Amer., sometimes derogatory) Eye candy, but on the trail. Also known as an attractive hiker.

Trail magic – A random act of kindness or object found on the trail, anything from a cooler full of sodas sitting at a road crossing to someone inviting you to a home-cooked meal and a chance to sleep in a real bed.

Trail Name – A pseudonym that a hiker takes on as his or her trail identity.

Trail Muffin – Inedible leftovers found while clomping along behind a party of horseback riders.

Trail Spice – The unavoidable bits of leaves, twigs, and dirt that end up in trail food from dropping or otherwise.

Trail Squatter – A townie or other person who regularly camps in the same spot, usually the best spot, on a trail. Arrives early in the day and stakes a claim while the rest of the world is busy hiking. Then when you are setting up camp, the Trail Squatter stops by to nose around in your activities.

Traverse – To climb a slope diagonally rather than a more direct approach.

Treadway – The trail beneath a hiker’s boots, constructed for that purpose.

Treeline – The point of elevation on a mountain above where the climate no longer supports tree growth.

“The Trail Provides” (phrase) – A phrase meaning that, in emergencies or difficult situations, a hiker’s needs will be met somehow.

Tramily (noun) – Short for “trail family”.  Generally referred to as the group of people in which you spend a significant amount of time hiking a trail with, typically also lodging in town with whether at a hostel, hotel room, or otherwise.

Triple Crowner – Someone who has hiked all three “big” long-distance trails in the US: the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail.

Ti – Titanium.

Trowl – A shovel to dig a cathole.

Ultralight – Carrying the lightest backpacking gear possible. Usually, base weight (sleeping bag, mat, tent, clothing) is less than 10 pounds. Usually, they want to tell you about it.

Vitamin I – Ibuprofen, called thus because of the regularity with which some hikers take it.

Vortex – A location hikers get sucked in to and have a hard time leaving, like fun towns or trail angel houses.

Wag Bag – A bag you carry your poop in when you are forbidden to dig a cat hole. One of the many reasons why people do not enjoy Mount Whitney.

Wetted Out – When all your waterproof gear is no longer waterproof. Hope you have a trash bag handy!

Weekend Warrior – They only enter the wilderness on Saturdays and Sundays and are notorious for either attempting feats beyond their skill level or just lying about it Monday morning at the office while they show off their Dead Branch Tattoo.

Woofer – WFR or Wilderness First-Responder, which requires a week-long course of moderate outdoor training on rescue scenarios and backcountry emergencies.

Widow Maker – Trees that have already lost limbs or have potential to fall. Don’t set up camp or sit under one of these!

Yellow blazer – A hiker who hitchhikes around sections of the trail, following the “yellow blazes” of the highway.

Yogi – To finagle treats from day hikers or picnickers, much like Yogi Bear.

Yoyo – To thru-hike a whole trail, and then turn around and go back to the beginning.

Zero – A day in which a hiker goes zero miles.

Zeek – A week in which no miles are hiked.

Zero-Mile Mark – The spot where a measured trail begins; may or may not be the trailhead.

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