When I first became interested in long-distance backpacking, I soon realized that thru-hikers were using their own quirky language to communicate with one another.
Here is my ever-expanding list of “trail talk”:
base weight: Weight of a hiker’s pack excluding their food, water, and other consumables.
bear canister : Portable bear-proof food container designed to be carried on a backpack. A bear can is required on some sections of the trail.
bonus miles: Extra miles that are not officially part of the trail but nevertheless hiked during the course of a thru-hike.
bounce box: Package that a thru-hiker sends or forwards to themselves up-trail to receive supplies.
brown blazing: Taking a detour off trail to go poo.
bubble, the: Dense cluster of northbounders who depart from the southern terminus the last week of March or the first week of April. The Bubble is also referred to as The Herd.
cache: Supplies of food and drinks stored away at certain locations along the trail.
cairn: Manmade stack of rocks serving as a trail marker that indicates where the trail continues.
camel up: Drinking as much water as you can while at the water source.
cat hole: 6-8″ deep hole dug into the ground with a trowel for to deposit human waste. Cat holes must be at least 200 feet from the trail and water sources.
cowboy camping: Sleeping under the stars in the wilderness without a tent or tarp.
cryptosporidium: Waterborne parasite found in streams, rivers, and lakes that causes gastrointestinal illness.
dodgeway: V-shaped stile through livestock fences to allow hikers to pass through.
dry camping: Camping in an area where there is no water source.
flip-flop: Method used by “flip-floppers” to complete the trail in a single season whereby the hiker starts by completing one section of the trail in one direction and then at some point skips ahead and hikes back in opposite direction.
food bag: Bag that a hiker carries designed to keep food in that is usually suspended from a tree while in bear country.
giardia: Microscopic intestinal parasite that causes upset stomach, chronic diarrhea, and nausea.
glissade: To purposely slide down a steep slope of snow or ice in a controlled manner on one’s feet or buttocks with the support of an ice axe. From the French “to slide.”
gorp: Good ole raisins & peanuts, more commonly referred to as Trail Mix.
herd, the: Thick cluster of northbounders that leave together from the southern terminus. The Herd is also referred to as The Bubble.
hiker box: Commune box whereby long-distance hikers donate unwanted food or gear for other hikers usually found at resupply locations along the trail.
hicker: Person who fiddles around with their gear and is not prepared for trail life.
hiker funk: Offensive smell that is the result of profuse sweating, irregular showering, and an outright disregard for personal hygiene.
hiker hunger: Insatiable desire to devour food that comes from a caloric deficit when hiking so many miles.
hiker hobble: Noticeable imp or wobble that a hiker has upon removing their pack.
hiker midnight: Lack of artificial light in the backcountry makes it feel as though it is midnight as soon as the sun goes down. Usually 8 or 9:00 pm.
hiker trash: Thru-hikers whose absence from civilized life has led them to abandon social norms, becoming disheveled in appearance and often mistaken for a filthy homeless person.
hostel: Establishment along the trail with bunks, showers, and other accommodations.
HYOH: Hike Your Own Hike. Respect for individual choices since everyone is different in personality, gear choices, hiking pace, and so on.
logbook: Guestbook found at shelters along the trail in which all hikers can write entries and communicate their thoughts with other hikers along the trail.
maildrop: Packages of food and supplies sent for general delivery to post offices in towns along the trail where they are held until they are picked up by the hiker.
nero: Almost a Zero. A day when very few miles are hiked.
NoBo: Northbound hiker.
nouthern terminus: The Northernmost point of trail.
pack-splosion: When all the contents are taken out of the backpack in a disorderly fashion and it appears as though an explosion took place.
postholing: Phenomenon that occurs when hiking across snow and the hiker’s feet break through the snow and their legs resemble poles sticking out of the snow.
power hiker: Hiker who covers exceptionally long distances each day.
privy: Outhouse or compostable toilet found at shelters.
PUDS: Pointless ups and downs.
puffy: Down jacket.
purist: Long-distance hiker who believes they must walk every inch of the trail.
Ray day: June 15th. Named after Ray Jardine, a popular PCT writer, Ray Day is regarded as the ideal date to leave Kennedy Meadows on a northbound thru-hike. For an average snow year in the Sierras, this date is based on the fact that it is late enough to allow sufficient snowmelt in the Sierras for a safe hike yet early enough to allow time to reach Canada before snow falls in Washington.
resupply: When hikers reload with new food and other supplies for the next stretch.
ride bride: Female hiker that accompanies a male hiker when attempting to hitch a ride to town to increase their odds of getting a ride.
shelter: Three-sided structure for lodging in the wilderness.
Sierra cement: Hardened snowpack of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
slack-packing: To leave the bulk of one’s belongings elsewhere and hike with just a day pack during a long-distance backpacking trip.
SoBo: Southbound hiker.
southern terminus: Southernmost point of trail.
stealth camping: Camping in an unestablished site or on land without permission with the intention of not being seen.
stick snake: Annoying stick that, upon stepping on it, jumps up and snaps at you like a snake.
stump bear: Tree stump that resembles a bear from a distance.
thru-hike: Continuous hike from one end of a trail to another in one hiking season.
thru-hiker: Hiker who is attempting to complete a Thru-Hike. Any long-distance hiker who walks the length of a particular trail in one setting or within one year.
TP: Toilet paper. If you pack it in, you must always pack it out.
trail angel: Person who performs Trail Magic and expects nothing in return.
trail family: Group of close-knit hikers that live together on the trail. A trail family is also known as a Tramily.
trail legs: About six weeks into a thru-hike when a hiker’s legs become accustomed to grueling long days.
trail magic: Random act of kindness made to thru-hikers by Trail Angels.
trail name: Nickname or pseudonym used by a hiker for the duration of their thru-hike, typically given by other hikers.
trail register: Logbook for documenting hikers passing that point on the trail.
triple crown: The Triple Crown of Hiking consist of three major long distance hiking trails in the United States: The Appalachian Trail (AT) to the east, The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in the west, and The Continental Divide Trail (CDT) in the middle.
ultralight hiker: Hiker that has a base weight of 10 pounds or under.
vitamin I: Ibuprofen.
vortex: Anything off of the trail that sucks a hiker in and is difficult to leave.
water crossing: Inevitable obstacle of water (streams and rivers) that must be crossed in order to continue the hike.
widowmaker: Tree limbs that have only partially fallen and pose a risk to the hikers below.
yellow-blaze: To skip a section of trail by hitching a ride.
Yogi: Act of cleverly soliciting food, drinks, or other desirable things from strangers without directly asking them. Yogi’ing comes from Yogi the Bear.
yo-yo: To hike the entire length of the trail in one direction and then turn around and complete the trail in the other direction.
zero: A rest day when zero trail miles are walked.