Trail Lingo

Hiker speak. Learn the definitions for terms and commonly used abbreviations, phrases, lingo, jargon, lexicon, slang, you name it used in the long-distance hiking community.

If you'd like to add to the list or suggest corrections, please send a comment.



2000 Miler – A person who has hiked the entire distance between termini of the official (white-blazed) AT, either by thru-hiking or section hiking.

Access Trail – A trail that connects a primary trail to a road, campground, or another trail.

Acclimatization – The process of becoming gradually accustomed to high altitude.

ADK – Adirondack Mountain Club, established in 1922.

ADZPCTKO Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off. An annual event organized by former thru hikers for the benefit of current thru hikers. The Kick Off is held at Lake Morena, 20 miles from the southern terminus of the trail, during the last weekend in April. The purpose of the Kick Off is to offer information, encouragement and camaraderie to the current year's thru and section hikers. Also known as the ADZ.
In an effort to spread out the pack, some thru hikers will begin their hikes before the Kick Off, hitch a ride back to Lake Morena to attend the Kick Off, and then hitch back to the point where they left the trail. Kick Off participants offer rides to and from points as far north as Warner Springs.

Alcohol Stove – A stove that runs on denatured alcohol or HEET. Mainly used for boiling water to rehydrate or cook food.

ALDHA – The Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association began in 1983 as an off-trail family of fellow hikers who’ve all shared similar experiences, hopes and dreams on the Appalachian Trail and other long trails. ALDHA sponsors the Gathering each October and member volunteers compile The Thru-hikers' Companion for the ATC. Membership in this nonprofit group is open to all.

Alpine Zone –The area consisting of all the land above tree line in New England. The alpine zone is best defined by its plant life. Conifers such as spruce and balsam grow as Krumholz near the tree line, giving way to tundra-type lichens, moss, and shrubs above.

AMC – The Appalachian Mountain Club, maintaining the AT in the White Mountains of New Hampshire to Grafton Notch in Maine.

AMC Huts – In New Hampshire's White Mountains, in heavy use areas and above treeline, the AMC provides buildings called Huts for backpackers to stay overnight.

AMS – Acute Mountain Sickness. Occurs at high altitude due to diminished oxygen. Begins with shortness of breath, followed by swelling, flu-like symptoms, and eventually, death. Most people won’t experience symptoms until they reach heights well above 10,000 feet. Varies with the individual.

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

Aqua Blazing – By-passing a section of the trail in favor of floating along a waterway that parallels the trail.

Aquamira – A two-part chemical water treatment. Aquamira is the most common brand.

AT – Appalachian Trail.

ATC – The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is a volunteer-based, private, nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation, management, and promotion of the Appalachian Trail as a primitive setting for outdoor recreation (on foot) and for learning. ATC is both a confederation of Trail-maintaining clubs and an individual-membership organization.

AT Guide – The full-trail handbook for the Appalachian Trail. In this guide are landmarks, mileage, elevations and town information for the entire AT.

AT Journeys –The monthly magazine of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Avery, Myron (Myron Avery, 1931-1952)–The first 2000 miler, and the man credited with building the Appalachian Trail. Chair of the ATC from 1931 until his death in 1952.

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

AYHAmerican Youth Hostels.

Backcountry - Area where there are no maintained roads or permanent buildings, just primitive roads and trails.

Backslope – Trail construction term.  Describes the cut bank along the uphill side of the trail, extending upslope from the tread.

Bald – Describes a treeless, rocky summit in certain areas of the Appalachians. A "bald" is usually a treeless summit in the southern region that is not necessarily above timberline, but the peak is still open at the summit. Has more of a pastoral feel than the treeless summits of the Whites or Adirondacks.

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

Baseball Bat Shelter – An old style of shelter construction in Maine where the floor would be constructed out of parallel logs each with diameters not much greater than that of a baseball bat.

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

Base Weight The weight of your pack and its contents, not including consumable items (food, water, and fuel).

BaxterBaxter State Park, where Katahdin is, and the AT's Northern terminus on Baxter Peak.

Bear Bag – A bag used by hikers to hang their food out of reach of bears and other critters, see 'Food Bag.'

Bear Box – Metal containers found at trail heads where bears are active.  The idea is to take all food and other smelly stuff out of your car and leave it in the bear box. Boxes use latches, pins and other devices to keep the bears out.

Bear Burrito – Hammock.

Bear Cable – A permanent cable rigged high between two trees specifically for hanging bear bags.

Bear Canister – A portable container used to secure food from bears.

Bear Fortune Cookie – Tent.

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

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.

Benton MacKaye TrailBMT. This trail is complete from Springer Mountain to US Hwy 64 near the Ocoee River in Tennessee, a distance of 90.9 miles.

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.

Bivouac – To sleep outdoors without a tent or proper gear, usually done only in emergency situations. Though alpine climbers may do planned bivouacs on long and difficult routes, carrying gear known as a bivouac sack.

Bivy Sack – A lightweight and sometimes waterproof bag that covers a sleeping bag.

Black Blazer – Someone, usually a disgruntled townie, who paints over or otherwise removes trail markers and blazes to prevent hikers from finding the trail.

Black Flies – Tiny biting insects that breed in running water and flourish in late May and June.

Blaze – Mark on a tree, rock, sign, etc. indicating the trail route. The Appalachian Trail is blazed with painted, 2-inch by 6-inch, vertical white rectangles that are placed at eye height on trees and other objects, in both directions, to mark the official route of the trail. Side trails are marked with blue blazes. You see horizontal, diagonal, arrows, and other blazes along the trail.

Blaze Orange – A very bright, visible in low light, hue of orange. The color to wear during hunting season.

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

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

Blowout – Epic failure of a portion of your trail running shoes (soles, upper, toe guard), usually resulting in unsightly duct tape repairs and haggard sewing jobs in the field.

Blue Blaze – Spur trails off the AT to bad-weather routes, views, shelters, water sources etc. are often marked by AT-style blazes painted Blue.

Blue Blazer – A long-distance hiker who substitutes a section of blue-blazed trail for a white-blazed section between two points on the trail.

BMTBenton MacKaye Trail. This trail is complete from Springer Mountain to US Hwy 64 near the Ocoee River in Tennessee, a distance of 90.9 miles.

Boardwalk – Planking built on piling in areas of wet soil or water to provide dry hiking.

Bog Bridge – Narrow wooden walkway placed to protect sensitive wetlands.

Bollard – Round post barrier, often metal, usually 4' high to prevent vehicles from entering a trail.

Bomber – An item of gear that is extremely durable.

Bonk – Running out of energy to hike due to eating too few calories.

Bonus Miles – Miles walked that are not on the trail, such as miles to and from resupply points or to and from off-trail water sources or non-trail miles walked due to bad navigation.

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.

BRPBlue Ridge Parkway.

Buffer Zone – Areas important to, but not part of, the Appalachian trail.

Bushwhack – To hike where there is no marked trail.

Cache (pronounced cash) – A supply of water, food, or supplies hidden for later retrieval.

Cairn – An obviously manmade pile of rocks erected as a trail marker, chiefly used above timberline. Should be close enough to see the next one in heavy fog and high enough to see above fallen snow.

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

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

Canister Stove – The type of small backpacking stove that uses metal canisters of fuel.

Canopy – Upper layer of leaves in a forest, covering the ground below.

Caretaker – The person who maintains and collects fees at certain shelters and campsites.

Casa de Luna – The home of Joe and Terrie Anderson, about one day's hike north of Hiker Heaven on the PCT. The Andersons are well known trail angels who allow hikers to stay at their home. Terrie Anderson has described the atmosphere in their home as hippy day care. While not as popular as Hiker Heaven, many hikers do choose to stay at Casa de Luna. It is reported that those who do not stop at Casa de Luna will often have some sort of problem on the next section of trail that will force them to turn back to Casa de Luna.
The Andersons also maintain a cache along the trail. Terrie is said to make the best taco salad available anywhere along the trail.

Catenary Curve – The natural curve an object takes on when supported on both ends, used in tarp/tent construction to make taught pitches easier.

Cat Hole – A small hole dug by a hiker for the deposit of human waste.

CBS – Cold Butt Syndrome. When your butt gets cold while sleeping in a hammock.

CDT Continental Divide Trail.

Cirque – A group of mountains that form a circle.

Class - Usually referred to in terms of technical climbing, for example: Class 1 is a simple mountain that can be climbed wearing a pair of sneakers; little more than a nature loop. Class 2 includes minor handholds, more or less to steady yourself as you clamber up the mountain. Class 3 includes some vertical climbing, and perhaps use of a rope. Class 4 is any climb that requires use of a belay, in which another climber is required to remain stationary to take up slack and arrest the fall of the active climber. Class 5 is any climb that requires ropes to be attached to fixed objects, such as a tree or piton. The attachment is not to aid in ascent, but rather to protect in the event of a fall. Class 5 is the one with the most "variables." A Class 5.0 has two handholds and two footholds. Class 5.4 is missing a hold. Class 5.8 has a hold available for one hand and one foot only. Class 5.12 has no visible holds. Class 5.13 is a surface with no holds and is under an overhang. Class 5 is often further broken up, such as 5.13a, but this arcana is really in the climber's arena...not ours. Class 6 is any climb that requires artificial assistance to be carried out, whether it is ropes dropped from above or other mechanical aids.

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

Col – Dips in the ridge without a road, while Gap and Notch are typically larger dips that have a road going through. Sag is a typically southern term, as is Gap, while Col and Notch are typically northern terms. Water Gap is, of course, a Gap with a river.

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.

Companion – The ALDHA Thru-hikers' Companion is an AT guidebook compiled by AHLDA volunteers for the ATC.

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.

Corridor – The Appalachian Trail is a long and narrow Park, sometimes less than 100 feet wide. The Area set aside for the AT to pass within is called the Trail Corridor.

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.

Cove – A Southern Appalachian word meaning a high, flat valley surrounded by mountains. Cades Cove in the Smokies is the one most people know about.

Cowboy Camping – Where one camps without any shelter - just spread one's pad and bag out under the stars and putting one's faith in their opinion about the weather staying dry.

Cowboy Coffee – Coffee made the old-fashioned way.

How to make cowboy coffee:

  1. Boil water in a pot.
  2. Add enough ground coffee to make it strong enough for your needs.
  3. Return to boil.
  4. Remove from heat source.
  5. Cover pot.
  6. Wait for grounds to sink to bottom (approximately five minutes, depending on outside temperature). Do NOT add cold water to help the grounds sink faster; you must be patient.
  7. Serve and drink. 

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.

Croo – The crew of caretakers who man the Appalachian Mountain Club Huts. For the most part, the summer Croo will be college students.

Crotch Rot – The cumulative effect of neglecting hygiene in the downstairs region of the body.

Cryptosporidium – A Waterborne pathogen, Cryptosporidium is a parasite commonly found in lakes and rivers, especially when the water is contaminated with sewage and animal wastes. Cryptosporidium is very resistant to disinfection, and even a well-operated water treatment system cannot ensure that drinking water will be completely free of this parasite.

Cuben Fiber – Now Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF), a material originally manufactured for high-end boat sails, high in strength/low in weight, used in ultralight tents, stuff sacks, and backpacks. It is a matrix of UHMWPE fibers sandwiched between two Mylar layers.

Data Book – Published for over 25 years by the ATC the Data Book is a consolidation of the most basic guidebook information into a lightweight table of distances between major Appalachian Trail shelters, road-crossings, and features--divided according to the guidebook volumes and updated each December to account for trail relocations, new (or removed) shelters, and other changes. Keyed to both guidebook sections and maps.

Day Hiker – A hiker out for the day that usually carries a small backpack or no pack at all.

DCF – See Dyneema Composite Fabric

Dead Fall – A maintainer's term for fallen dead trees across the trail.

Death March – Unusually long, not very interesting hike. Term often applied when forced to take a dull trail to reach the one you really want to be on.

DEET – A powerful insect repellant.

DIAD – Done In a Day backcountry trips.

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.

Dirtbagging – The art of thrift shopping and other techniques for providing equipment and clothing inexpensively.

Ditty Bag – Small stuff sack of personal items.

DOC – The Dartmouth Outing Club, maintaining 70 miles of AT in Vermont and New Hampshire.

Dodgeways – V-shaped stiles through fences, used where the Trail passes through livestock enclosures.

Double Blaze – Two blazes, one above the other is an indication of an imminent turn or intersection in the trail. Offset double blazes, called Garveys, indicate the direction of the turn by the offset of the top blaze.

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.

Dry Camp – A waterless camping spot.

Duck – A small cairn constructed to have a “beak” pointing in the direction of the route.

Duct Tape – A wide, heavy duty, and multi-purpose tape used by hikers for everything from covering blisters to repairing gear.

DWR – Durable Water Repellant, a type of fabric coating.

Dyneema Composite Fabric – Formerly Cuben Fiber, a material originally manufactured for high-end boat sails, high in strength/low in weight, used in ultralight tents, stuff sacks, and backpacks. It is a matrix of UHMWPE fibers sandwiched between two Mylar layers.

Endangered Services Campaign – A decade old ALDHA response to preserving the positive relationship between hiker and service provider.

End-to-Ender – An alternative term for 2,000-Miler.

Escape Velocity – The will to walk away from a vortex.

FAK – First Aid Kit.

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

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.

Fastpacking – A term for carrying less gear and hiking more miles per day.

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

FKT – Fastest Known Time.

Fletcher, Colin – Often referred to as the Spiritual Godfather of the wilderness backpacking movement. Author of The Complete Walker (1968).

Flip-flop – A hiker that starts hiking in one direction then at some point decides to jump ahead and hike back in the opposite direction. Some hikers on the AT will start hiking northbound from Springer Mt. and usually at Harpers Ferry they may decide to go to Katahdin and hike back down to Harpers Ferry, thus completing their thru-hike. This is a good way for someone to still get their hike completed if they are behind and their time is limited due to the oncoming winter.

Floater – Debris floating in a water source that needs to be filtered out, even if the water quality is such that filtering the water is not otherwise necessary.

Flyer – A box of supplies you mail to yourself, to a location farther up the trail.

Food Bag – A bag a hiker carries in their pack specifically for keeping all their food in. It is typically suspended from a tree at night so bears and varmints don't get into it. Also called Bear Bag.

Footprint – A ground sheet for a tarp or tent and of course, a mark left behind by a foot.

Forty-Sixer – Peakbagger slogging up the 46 highest peaks in New York's Adirondacks. One of the better-known peakbagging milestones.

Fourteener – Peakbagger pursuing the Colorado mountains exceeding 14,000' elevation.

Freehiking – Hiking off established trails. Unlike "bushwhacking" which is usually done as a short-cut, freehiking intentionally seeks a complete hike experience free of artificial boundaries. Some speedhikers are also freehikers.

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

FSO – From Skin Out. Total weight of everything worn or carried, including pack and contents, consumables (food, water, fuel), and everything worn or carried in your hands or pockets. When considering the weight of gear, it’s important to remember that your total gear weight 'from skin out' is as important a total as what your pack weighs.

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

GAME or GAMEr – A hike or hiker going from Georgia to Maine.

Gap – A southern term for a low spot along a ridge line, called a col by northern individuals.

Garvey – A double blaze where the top blaze is offset to indicate the direction of a turn in the trail. Named after Ed Garvey.

Garvey, Ed (Ed Garvey, 1914-1999) – Celebrated friend of the AT, conservationist, thru-hiker, author of 1971s 'Appalachian Hiker' an adventure story that offered practical advice for AT hikers, and widely credited with popularizing backpacking and the Appalachian Trail.

Gathering – The ALDHA Gathering, held each October alternating between Hanover, New Hampshire and Athens, West Virginia.

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.

Glissade – A way to quickly descend a snow slope, sitting and sliding down, usually holding an ice axe to be used to slow or stop the slide.

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

GMC – Green Mountain Club, established in Vermont in 1910 for the purpose of constructing the Long Trail, the first section of the Appalachian Trail.

GORP – Good Ole Raisins & Peanuts, or trail mix.

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.

Groundling – Anyone who sleeps on the ground, on purpose.

GSMNP Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Half Bench – Type of trail where half of it is excavated out of the slope and the outside of the trail tread contains the excavated material. Trail looks as if it were chipped out of the side of the hill, which is what it is.

Hammock – A sleeping system that combines a tent and sleeping bag, hung between two trees.

Handbook – The Thru-hiker's Handbook is an AT guidebook.

Happy Camper – One who loves what they are doing.

Harpers Ferry – The ATC's National Headquarters and Information Center is located in Harpers Ferry, WV, about 1000 AT miles north of Springer Mountain. A short blue blazed trail leads to HQ, where AT hikers traditionally sign the register and have their photo taken.

Headlamp – A small flashlight attached to a band or strap and worn on the head.

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.

HEET – Liquid used during the winter in automotive gas tanks, it is used in substation of denatured alcohol as it burns cleaner and is usually more available at gas stations.

Herd Path – An unofficial but obvious route hikers use to get from one place to another. Sometimes refers to an official path that is extremely overused.

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

Hiker Box – A cabinet or box at hostels where hikers donate unwanted food for the hikers coming behind them.

Hiker Funk – After a few hundred miles on the trail it becomes difficult to wash the sweat and dirt out of your clothes. The resulting smell is called hiker funk. The reason the person giving you a ride into town has the windows down is not because the air conditioning is broken.

Hiker Heaven – The home of Jeff and Donna Saufley in Agua Dulce, California. Jeff and Donna go out of their way every year to act as trail angels on the PCT. A stop at Hiker Heaven is almost a must during a through hike. The Saufleys do laundry, handle resupply packages, and provide trail information to hikers.

Hiker Hunger – That empty feeling in your stomach that results from eating 4000 calories per day, but burning 6000 calories per day. After about a month on the trail, it becomes difficult to carry enough food.

Hiker Midnight – 9:00 PM. The time by which thru hikers are usually asleep.

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

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

Home Free – Literally, without a home; also: so close to reaching trail's end that you're already there.

Hostel – An establishment along the trail that has bunks, showers, and sometimes cooking and mail drops, for hikers.

Hydration System – A plastic bladder, hose, and mouth piece/valve that allows hands free drinking.

HYOH – Hike Your Own Hike, and not imitate someone else's.

Hypothermia – Potentially fatal condition caused by insufficient heat and a drop in the body's core temperature. Classic symptoms are called the 'umbles', as the victim stumbles, grumbles, mumbles, and fumbles with confused thoughts.

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

International Appalachian Trail – The IAT runs north and east from Maine's Katahdin to the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec, and now across to Newfoundland.

Jardine, Ray Ray Jardine is an adventurer who was an early proponent of lightweight backpacking techniques. He authored The Pacific Crest Trail Hiker's Handbook and Beyond Backpacking. Ray's techniques were controversial when he first wrote about them. Many of his techniques, or similar techniques, are now standard practice.

Katahdin – The AT's northern terminus is at Baxter Peak on Maine's Katahdin. Katahdin is a Penobscot Indian word meaning Greatest Mountain.

Kick Off, The Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off. An annual event organized by former thru hikers for the benefit of current thru hikers called Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off or ADZPCTKO for short. The Kick Off is held at Lake Morena, 20 miles from the southern terminus of the trail, during the last weekend in April. The purpose of the Kick Off is to offer information, encouragement and camaraderie to the current year's thru and section hikers. Also known as the ADZ.
In an effort to spread out the pack, some thru hikers will begin their hikes before the Kick Off, hitch a ride back to Lake Morena to attend the Kick Off, and then hitch back to the point where they left the trail. Kick Off participants offer rides to and from points as far north as Warner Springs.

Knob – Prominent rounded hill or mountain. Common term in the southeastern USA.

Krumholtz – Literally "crippled wood", the stunted and gnarled trees found near treeline, especially in the White Mountains.

Lead (pronounced leed) – Appears to be a trail.

Lean-to – One- to three-sided structure, usually with a single slanted roof, designed to provide minimal shelter for backpackers. Used primarily in New England.

LNTLeave No Trace. A philosophy and skill used to pass as lightly as possible when backpacking.

Long-distance Hiker – A somewhat indeterminate term applied to anyone who is hiking more than a few weeks, and who usually has to resupply at least once during his or her hike; often used interchangeably with the term thru-hiker. At Baxter State Park, a LDH is someone who has hiked in from 100 or more miles south.

Long Trail – Vermont's Long Trail runs from the Massachusetts to Canadian border, the southern third in conjunction with the AT.

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.

Lyme Disease – A debilitating illness carried by small ticks.

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.

MacKaye, Benton (Benton MacKaye) – (rhymes with high, not hay) The man who in 1921 proposed an Appalachian Trail as the connecting thread of a 'project in regional planning’. MacKaye envisioned a trail along the ridge crests of the Appalachian Mountain chain from New England to the Deep South, connecting farms, work camps, and study camps that would be populated by eastern urbanites needing a break from the tensions of industrialization.

Mail Drop – Mail drops are a method of resupply while hiking. A mail drop is usually arranged ahead of time, before the hike starts, and a person not hiking (usually a spouse, relative, or friend) mails the package according to a pre-arranged schedule so that it arrives on time for the hiker to receive it at the post office.

Maintainer – A volunteer who participates in the organized trail maintenance programs of the ATC and its member clubs.

MATCMaine Appalachian Trail Club. The trail maintaining club responsible for trail maintenance from Grafton Notch, Maine to Baxter Peak on Katahdin.

MEGA or ME-GA – A hike or hiker going from Maine to Georgia.

Meths – Short for methylated spirits, usually referring to various liquid fuels (denatured alcohol or HEET) used in lightweight stoves.

Mid – Referring to a pyramidal-style shelter pitched with one or two poles.

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.

Mouse Hanger – The cord with can contraption used to discourage mice from entering a pack when hung in a shelter.

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.

MYTH – Multi-Year Thru Hike. A hike of the entire trail over several summers.

Nalgene – A water bottle.

National Scenic Trail – The official designation for one type of trail protected by the National Scenic Trails System Act of 1968.

Nero – Almost a Zero other words, a very short mileage day.

Nesting – When a kit fits nicely together, as in a stove nesting inside a cook pot.

NoBo – Northbound thru-hiker, also a GAMEr (Georgia to Maine on AT, Mexico to Canada on PCT).

NOCNantahala Outdoor Center. A lot of folks make the mistake of referring to Wesser, NC as NOC.

Notch – A New England term for a Pass.

NPS – National Park Service.

NPT – Northville-Placid Trail, laid out in 1922, 138 miles long.

Pack, The – The bulk of thru hikers who are hiking within a few hundred miles of each other. As interest in the trail grows every year, the size of the pack increases. By the time the pack has reached Virginia, it is more spread out and has less impact on local resources. Also known as the herd.

The reasons for the existence of the pack:

  1. More people are attempting to thru hike the trail every year.
  2. The narrow window of opportunity to thru hike the trail every years causes most hikers to begin their hikes in March and April.

Adding to the pack effect is the fact that hikers like to congregate at trail towns and trail angel's homes, and tend to leave these places in groups. So, rather than spreading out on the trail, hikers tend to hike in clumps or "bubbles".

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

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

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

PCT – Pacific Crest Trail.

PCT-L – The Pacific Crest Trail e-mail List. A source of communication about the Pacific Crest Trail on the internet.

Peak – A point higher than all adjacent points.

Peakbagging – Chasing your personal checklist of peaks. Organized peakbagging lists, such as "White Mountain 4000 footers" are popular; there are a number of clubs that promote and recognize peakbagging accomplishments.

Philosopher's Guide – The original guide for thru-hiking the AT, first a few sheets of info passed around in hiking circles, later a book published by the ATC.

Pink Blazing – Changing your hiking pace in order to follow a girl. Usually it means that a guy is slowing down his pace or distance every day to hike with a girl; or, in some cases, he yellow blazes to catch up with a girl.

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.

Posthole – To hike in deep snow without snowshoes or skis, leaving large holes in the trail. Postholing is considered bad form and makes subsequent snowshoeing or skiing unpleasant and hazardous.

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.

Prescribed Burn – Intentional fires conducted by forestry services to clear underbrush and eliminate some of the fuel for potentially larger unintentional fires. These used to be called "controlled burns" but since they seldom are, the name was changed.

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

PUDs – Pointless Ups and Downs. Where the trail goes up and back down for no reason other than the amusement of whoever laid out the trail. Several PUDs in a row are MUDs, which is short for Mindless Ups and Downs.

Puffy – Down jacket.

Pulaski – Half axe, half adze hand tool, the Pulaski is a multi-purpose trail building and maintaining tool.

Puncheon (also called a Bog Bridge or Boardwalk) – A wooden walkway built to provide a stable, hardened tread-way across bogs, mud flats, and marshy areas.

Purist – 1. A hiker who wants to pass every white blaze on the trail. 2. A hiker who wants others to pass every white blaze on the trail.

Quilt – Specifically coined as a backpacking term by thru-hiker Ray Jardine in the 1990's, it is a sleeping bag that drapes over the top of you in order to save weight. The philosophy is that there is very little insulating property in the underside of a sleeping bag because you are laying on the insulation resulting in no loft.

Rainbow Blazer – Term used by thru-hikers to describe people who hook together all sorts of routes to complete a trail, including hitchhiking.

Ray Day – June 15th. In an average snow year in the Sierra Nevada mountains, Ray Day is the best date to leave Kennedy Meadows on a northbound PCT thru hike. Named for Ray Jardine, the Author of the Pacific Crest Trail Hikers Handbook. This date is based on two factors. It is late enough to allow sufficient snowmelt in the Sierras for a safe hike. It is early enough to allow time to reach Canada.

Register – A log book normally found at a trail shelter or a trail head. The original intent was for hikers to sign in so a searcher needing to find a lost hiker could tell where they last were.

Relo – A section of trail recently relocated.

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

Resupply – Going into town to get more food, pick up a mail drop, stock up, or repair gear.

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.

Ridge Runner – A person paid by a trail-maintaining club or governmental organization to hike back and forth along a certain section of trail to educate hikers, enforce regulations, monitor trail and campsite use, and sometimes performs trail maintenance or construction duties. Such persons are most often found in high-use areas of the trail.

Rime Ice – White super-cooled water droplets that stick to surfaces and freeze into the direction of the wind.

RMC – The Randolph Mountain Club, maintain the Perch and Crag Camp in The Presidentials of New Hampshire.

Ruck – Originally small informal gatherings of past and future AT hikers, they have evolved into larger annual scheduled events.

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

Sag – Dips in the ridge without a road, while Gap and Notch are typically larger dips that have a road going through. Sag is a typically southern term, as is Gap, while Col and Notch are typically northern terms. Water Gap is, of course, a Gap with a river.

SAK – Swiss Army Knife.

Scat – Animal dung.

Scramble – Generally, to climb in a hurried, helter-skelter fashion, having to use your hands.

Scree – The sort of stuff found on a talus slope...loose rocks, scrabbly, hard to get good footing on. Some claim that scree is smaller than talus. All we know is that it's tough to walk on.

Section Hiker – A person who is attempting to become a 2,000-Miler by doing a series of section hikes over a period of time.

Shaffer, Earl (Earl Shaffer, 1918-2002) – "The Crazy One," the first person to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. Poet, WW2 veteran, author of 'Walking With Spring,' and 'The Appalachian Trail, Calling Me Back To The Hills,' and three time thru-hiker, northbound in 1948, southbound in 1965, and northbound again at age 79, 50 years after his first hike.

Shale – Sharp-edged loose rock.

Shelter – 1. A three sided wooden or stone building, spaced out a half day's hike apart, near a water source, and with a privy. Common on the Appalachian Trail. 2. A tent or tarp.

Shelter Rat – Hikers who camp exclusively in trail shelters.

ShenandoahShenandoah National Park. About 100 miles of the AT runs through the Blue Ridge Mountains in this park in Virginia.

Shuttle – A ride from town to trailhead or vice versa, usually for a fee.

Sil-Nylon – Silicone-impregnated nylon used for single-wall tents and tarps.

Single Track – A narrow section of trail just wide enough for one person.

Single Wall – A type of tent construction that is lighter by using waterproof fabric and no tent fly, but can result in increased condensation if not vented properly.

Skin Out Weight – Base weight plus the weight of clothing and gear worn and carried.

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.

Slabbing – Going around a mountain on a moderately graded footpath, as opposed to going straight up and over the mountain.

Slackpacking –Thru-hiking without your backpack while someone transports it to your end destination for the day.

Smokies, TheGreat Smoky Mountains National Park.

SNP Shenandoah National Park.

SoBo – Southbound thru-hiker (AT or PCT), also a MEGA (Maine to Georgia).

Social Trails – Unofficial shortcuts that connect individual sites to each other, restrooms, etc. at campgrounds.

Soloing – Going alone.

Speedhiking – Intentionally running the length of a hiking trail to establish and compete against your personal best time and sometimes to compete against times established by others.

Spork – An eating utensil, which serves as both a spoon and a fork; It is a spoon with small fork-like tines protruding from it.

Springer Mountain – The southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

Springer Fever – The almost uncontrollable urge to be back on the Trail that hits thru-hikers of past years each spring.

Spruce Trap – When snow is deep enough that it covers the top of a spruce tree, beware. Since there will be voids in the snow pack, you can fall into those voids and get caught. When you appear to be above timberline, but you know that the trees are 8 feet high at this place in summer, then beware. Since you can't see where the trail is, you cannot stay on it, and you cannot avoid the spruce traps.

Stealth Camp – A manner of camping where there is no indication that you are there, and no trace of your being there is left when you've left. Sometimes used as a term for camping illegally on public or private land.

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

Stile – Steps constructed over a fence to allow people, but not livestock, to pass.

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

Stupid Light Taking too little to stay safe, warm, fed, and hydrated.

SUL – Super Ultra Light. Generally considered to be a base weight of less than 5 lb.

Summit – The highest point of a mountain.

Sun Cups – Uneven surface of snow resembling a giant egg carton. As the snow melts in the spring, pockets of water form on the surface of the snow. This water warms up in the sun and causes the snow under it to melt faster than the surrounding snow. The resulting uneven surface is difficult to walk on.

Swag – The lowest connecting point between two ridges in the South.

Sweep – Last hiker in a group by design. Person follows all others, ensuring that no one falls behind or is left needing assistance.

Switchback – A method of building a trail that forms a zig-zag of trails up a mountain. The strategy is to make the climb easier and prevent erosion.

Talus – Loose jumbled rocks with poor or dangerous footing on the side of a mountain. A slope covered with small individual rocks. Allegedly, talus is larger than scree.

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.

Tent Pad/Platform – At some camping sites, tenting is restricted to built-up earthen 'pads' or wooden 'platforms' to ease impact on the area.

Three Season – Gear that is intended for Spring, Summer, and Fall, not having enough insulation to safely camp in Winter weather.

Thru-Hiker – A person who is attempting to become a 2,000-Miler in a single, continuous journey leaving from one terminus of the trail, and backpacking to the other terminus.

Thru-Hiking – The act of attempting to become a 2,000-Miler in a single, continuous journey.

Ti – Titanium.

Ticks – Small parasitic insects that can carry Lyme disease and other illnesses. Photo of the tick and the 'bullseye' rash from Lyme Net. More on Lyme from the ATC website.

Tin Can or Pepsi Can Stove – Another name for an alcohol stove.

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.

Town Food – Anything to eat you wouldn’t pack out with you e.g. fruit, salad, onion rings, pizza, ice cream, etc. Also, food from a restaurant.

Townie – Someone who lives near, and perhaps lurks about, a popular trail. Some townies help thru-hikers; others go out of their way to hassle hikers. In either case, the expression "get a life" comes to mind.

Trail Angel – Someone who provides unexpected help, food, or water to a hiker.

Trail Bum – A “hiker” who “lives on the trail”: Usual found with a bottle of vodka and no backpack. If found with pack, it’s undoubtedly a 1970′s external frame ripped to shreds pack with matching meager gear inside. These people do not hike; they carry a pack and soak up all the angel’s kindness undeservingly. See Trail Legend.

Trail Candy – A good looking woman or man on the trail.

Trail Gorilla – A person who helps maintain the PCT with sweat equity.

Trailhead – Where the trail leaves a road crossing or parking lot.

Trail Legend – In most cases see “trail bum”, in the rare occasion these are people who have hiked all the long trails multiple times, have good advice and “pretty much live on the trail”. Typically little critical judgment is needed, the crazies show themselves (or balls) early.

Trail Legs – Legs that have a lot of stamina. Once you start averaging above 20 miles per day, you know you got your trail legs on.

Trail Magic – When good things happen to hikers, usually spontaneous and unexpected. It might be a ride offer from a passing stranger, free food courtesy of tourists, having a lost piece of gear found by a fellow hiker, or any other acts of serendipity.

Trail Name – A nickname adopted by or given to a hiker.

Trail Runners – Lightweight trail-running shoes used by hikers.

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.

Trail Town – Towns that are very close to the trail and are popular resupply and rest stops because they have what hikers need and/or are especially friendly to hikers.

Trail Virgin – A first time thru hiker.

Tramper – Hiker dedicated enough to plod along stoically regardless of weather conditions. Not surprisingly, this term is popular in New England.

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.

Triple Crown –To hike all three major National Scenic Trails—Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail.

Triple Crowner – Someone who has hiked all three major National Scenic Trails.

Trustafarian – An 18 to 50 year-old child who's never worked a day in his/her life; found often on National Scenic Trails.

Turnpike – A trail used by a lot of folks that goes quite directly from one place to another.

UL – Ultralight, generally considered to be a base weight of less than 10 lbs.

Ultralight – A style of gear or hiking that focuses on using the lightest gear possible.

Understory – Forest vegetation growing under the canopy.

Undulating Trail – Trail that goes up and down like a series of waves.

USFSUnited States Forest Service.

USGS United States Geological Survey. These are the folks who've measured and mapped everything, and make those cool topo maps.

Vitamin I – The nickname for Ibuprofen, an over the counter anti-inflammatory drug that many hikers use while backpacking.

Volunteer – A person who works for the ATC, one of the local AT clubs, or other organizations without pay, usually a maintainer, but not necessarily so.

Vortex – Anything off trail that draws hikers into it and hikers find difficult to leave. Usually a town stop, restaurant or trail angel's home. From time to time a vortex, such as a hot spring, will be found along the trail, rather than off the trail.

Wag Bag – A container used to carry your poop in areas where cat holes are not allowed.

Walk-up – A high altitude summit that requires no climbing skills to reach the top; a "class 2" at most. Mt. Rainier is one of the best known "walk-ups." This term is often used derisively by accomplished climbers to describe the mountains the rest of us are hopefully able to climb.

Waterbar – A log or rock barrier that diverts water off the trail to prevent erosion.

Water Report, The – The Water Report is an on-line resource where hikers can post the condition of various water sources along the trail. Hikers farther back in the pack can use that information to determine which water sources are reliable, and which are dry.

Weekender – A hiker that is on the trail for 1-4 nights. Also called a Weekend Warrior.

Wetted Out – When a materials waterproofing properties fail, such as a rain jacket.

White Blazer – A term from the Appalachian Trail to describe a person hiking pure (see purist), that is, hiking past every white blaze - which are the standard trail markers on the AT. Also what members of are called.

Whites, The – The White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Widowmaker – Limbs or whole trees themselves that have partially fallen but remain hung up overhead and so pose a danger to a person below.

Wilderness Area – Public lands set aside to be protected from humans.

Work for Stay – Some hostels, the AMC Huts in the Whites, and a few other places along the AT allow some hikers to work instead of paying the fee for lodging.

Yard Sale – The complete unpacking of one’s backpack spread out on a surface so it looks like a backpacking gear yard sale.

Yellow Blazer – Someone who hitchhikes around sections of trail by following yellow blazes.

Yellow Blaze – The yellow center-line that is painted on a highway.

Yogi-ing – The good-natured art of "letting" food be offered cheerfully by strangers without actually asking them directly (If you ask, it's begging!). Think of Yogi bear.

YMMV – Your Mileage May Vary. Hiker jargon for 'this worked for me, but your results/opinions might not be the same.'

Yo-Yo-ing – The act of completing a thru-hike in one direction, then immediately turning around to begin another in the opposite direction.

Yurt – A round semi-permanent structure, tent like in form.

Zeek – A week in which no miles are hiked.

Zero – A day in which no miles are hiked, usually because the hiker is stopping in a town to resupply and/or rest.

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

Z Rest – A closed cell sleeping pad that folds into a rectangular block, rather than rolling up.