The world of long distance hiking/thru hiking is an intriguing one. It’s a tight knit and dare I say… quirky community that takes care of its own. Aside from taking care of its own, you might even call it a subculture, or a counterculture of conventional society – full of even more sub/countercultures within it. As with any culture, they usually come with their own customs, traditions, sayings, dialects, or ways of communicating or getting information across. If you were a fly on the wall listening to a few thru hikers banter back and forth about various trail related things, you may find yourself with more questions than answers. Many jobs, hobbies, cults, clubs, religions, factions, creeds, ideologies, political affiliations, and certain circles of friends have their own unique methods of communicating through various slang/jargon that makes it easier for those familiar with the group (harder for those unfamiliar) to understand them; the thru hiking community is no different. Here I’ve compiled a list of some of the most common and not so common hiking/thru-hiking terms/jargon you might hear or use while out on the trails. I don’t have absolutely everything listed here, but I’ve got most of it. As you might suspect, many people end up creating their own terms for certain things and wind up using them exclusively among their close trail friends/family. Enjoy!
-Trail magic: Kind deeds from thoughtful strangers in the form of food, rides, favors, or anything that impacts your hike positively.
-Thru-hike(r): The official spelling and term that describes completing the entire length of a long trail in a single attempt. To be considered a single attempt, the hike must be completed the same year it was started. Some believe in order to be a thru-hike, you cannot leave the trail for an extended period of time, regardless of whether you complete the entire thing in a year or not.
-Thorough Hike: This is a term that refers to completing a “thru- hike” in a slightly slower than average time, due to intentionally taking your time to “smell the roses” and enjoy yourself.
Aqua blazing: This refers to traveling by water while on your thru- hike. The most popular aqua blazing area is in Virginia on the Shenandoah River, just west of the Shenandoah National Park. You will miss the entire 100 or so miles of the National Park if you Aqua Blaze here.
Brown blazing: This refers to hiking off the trail in search of a place to defecate.
Yellow blazing/ Yellow blazer: This refers to an individual that skips portions of the trail by driving around or past them.
Blue blazing: This is the act of hiking the blue blazed trails. These are trails that branch off of the AT, but aren’t the AT. They lead to shelters, water sources, towns, privies, roads, around mountains, and bypass dangerous terrain sometimes.
Pink blazing: This refers to a male or female following their partner on the trail. Sometimes (most of the time) this term refers to a guy that follows a girl down the trail in hopes of getting lucky. It can also refer to a guy “getting lucky” out on the trail.
Green blazing: This has two meanings. It can refer to cutting straight through the forest in an attempt to bypass switchbacks or bends in the trail. It can also refer to hiking while simultaneously smoking marijuana, or hiking while “high.”
Deli blazing: This term mostly applies to the New York section of the trail. There are so many delis near the trail in New York that it’s called “Deli Blazing” when you stop at each one of them to eat or resupply.
Stump bear: A large tree stump, or uprooted tree that you momentarily mistake for a bear when you first see it. This is usually accompanied by a slight heart attack, depending on who you are and how close the stump bear is when you notice it.
Stick snake: Simply put, it’s a stick that looks like a snake when you first see it, or notice it in your peripheral vision. Depending on who you are, this can give you a bigger heart attack than a stump bear.
Zero: Also, referred to as a “Zero Day,” hikers say “Zero” for short. It refers to a day in which you hike zero miles. Zero basically means you took the day off for whatever reason.
Nero: Pronounced “Near-O,” this is a shortened term for “Nero Day,” or a day in which you hike almost zero miles. Depending on who you are, a Nero Day will usually constitute hiking less than five or ten miles.
Vitamin “i”: This is what “Ibuprofen” is referred to out on the trail. This is the go to medicine for most people when they are “hurting” or in pain.
Vitamin M: The “M” stands for Marijuana. When people smoke marijuana in attempt to dull any hiking related pain, or in an attempt to relax at night, it’s referred to as “Vitamin M.”
Hiker Medicine: This is a broad term that can refer to anything that makes you feel better, dulls any pain, or improves your hiking (in your own opinion) in one form or another. Ibuprofen, Marijuana, alcohol, and most other substances are sometimes referred to as Hiker/Hiking Medicine.
Pack in: This term refers to hiking an item into a town, shelter, or campsite. It could be food, trash, alcohol, anything.
Pack out/Packing out: This refers to hiking an item out of a town, shelter, campsite, or the wilderness in general. It could be food, trash, alcohol, anything.
Blazes: Rectangular shapes painted on trees, rocks, roads, posts, buildings, etc., to mark trails and paths. They can come in all different colors, but the blazes marking the AT are white.
Bald: A low elevation mountain surrounded by forest, yet devoid of trees on the crown. They’re often covered in meadows, and offer great views of the surrounding landscape.
Baseball bat shelter: Old style shelter construction in Maine where the floor is constructed of parallel logs, each with the diameters not much greater than a baseball bat.
Bear bag: A bag that hikers use to hang their food out of reach of bears and other wilderness critters.
Bear burrito: This is a term that refers to people that sleep in a hammock. The hammock being the tortilla of the burrito, and the hiker being its tasty contents. Sometimes sleeping bags are also referred to as bear burritos.
Blow down: A tree that falls across the trail as a result of being “blown down” in a storm.
Bog Bridge: A narrow wooden walkway that has been placed to protect sensitive wetlands. You encounter most of these in New Hampshire and Maine.
Bounce box: A mail drop type box containing seldom used necessities that is “bounced” ahead to a town where you think you might need the contents.
Bush whack: To hike where there is no marked trail
Trail-blaze: To “blaze” or make your own trail.
Cat hole: The hole you dig to burry your feces.
Caretaker: A person that maintains, as well as collects fees at certain shelter and campsites. Most common in New Hampshire and Maine.
Camel up/Cameling-up: The act of drinking lots of water, carrying extra water (or both), in anticipation of a long dry stretch of trail without water. This can also be done when you’re in a hurry and don’t want to take the time to stop and filter/collect water while on the way to wherever you’re going.
Cairn: An easy to spot, manmade pile of rocks that serves as a trail marker. They are usually found above tree line. They are normally close enough to see the next one in heavy fog, and high enough to see above fallen snow.
Cowboy camp: This refers to camping out in the open without a shelter. Usually with nothing more than a pad and sleeping bag.
Double blaze: Two blazes, one above the other are an indication of an imminent turn or intersection in the trail. Offset double blazes indicate the direction of the turn by the offset of the top blaze. If the top blaze is offset to the right of the bottom blaze, then the trail is about to make a right turn.
Fence stiles: A set of wooden steps, or a ladder that helps you to climb over the fences of pastures and private lands the trail passes through.
Flip flop: A term used to signify a hiker that begins hiking in one direction, then at a later point decides to jump ahead and hike back in the opposite direction.
Gear head: A hiker that likes to talk about gear all the time, or a hiker that’s very knowledgeable about different gear.
Gap: A low spot along a ridgeline.
Giardia: Officially known as Giardiasis, it’s an infection of the lower intestines caused by an amoebic cyst, Giardia Lamblia. Giardia resides in water, so it’s smart to always filter or treat any water you collect. Symptoms include; stomach cramps, diarrhea, bloating, loss of appetite, and vomiting.
Food bag: A bag that you keep in your backpack that is specifically for storing your food.
Gorp: Acronym for “Good Ole Raisins and Peanuts, or anything similar.
Hicker: A person who is still trying to figure out the whole hiker/gear aspect, while out on the trail.
Hiker box: A box or cabinet that can be found at hostels, some hotels, and many other places where hikers can leave unwanted food and gear for anybody hiking behind them.
Hiker trash: This is an endearing term that thru-hikers use to describe themselves, as well as other thru-hikers out on the trail.
HYOH: An acronym for “Hike Your Own Hike.” Simply meaning, do your own thing, don’t worry about what others are doing, and don’t let other people try to influence/affect the way that you hike the trail.
Knob: A prominent rounded hill or mountain.
LNT: Acronym for “Leave No Trace.” Refers to leaving only footprints, and taking only photographs.
Lyme disease: A debilitating illness carried by small ticks.
Mail drop: A method of resupply while hiking. The boxes they are packaged in are usually prepared ahead of time, then mailed to the individual later on by relatives or friends. Usually timed to arrive in a town before the hiker gets there. They can be received at post offices, hotels, or hostels.
Maintainer: A volunteer that helps to maintain sections of the trail through organized trail maintenance programs of the ATC (Appalachian Trail Club).
Mountain money: Simply put…toilet paper.
Privy: A wooden outhouse usually found around shelters, except in Tennessee.
Purist: A hiker that wants to pass every single white blaze on the trail.
Ultra-Purist: A hiker that won’t take bypasses or even walk around blown down trees if it means leaving the trail. A true ultra-purist can claim to have walked every single inch of the trail without ever having left it or missed even a miniscule section the size of the width of a tree.
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, as well as sometimes performing trail maintenance or construction duties.
Shelter: There are more than 200 shelters set up along the Appalachian Trail. They are usually nothing more than a three-sided wooden or stone building that’s open to the elements on one side. Usually spaced out no more than a day’s hike from each other, they normally reside near a reliable water source and will have a privy.
Shuttle: A ride from town to the trail head, or the trail head to town, usually for a fee.
Slack packing: This refers to hiking without a backpack, or hiking with a nearly empty or “slack pack.”
NOBO: The name used to describe a Northbound Thru-Hiker.
SOBO: The name used to describe a Southbound Thru-Hiker.
Silk Blazing: This is what early risers tend to do. If you’re the first person to begin hiking from a certain location in the morning, you’ll be the first person to knock down all the spider webs that were strung across the trail the night before.
Switchback: A turn in the trail that takes a hiker 180-degrees in the opposite direction. They can usually be found on long climbs south of New England, in an effort to lessen the steepness of the climb.
Stealth camp: This refers to camping off the trail in areas that are not shelters or designated campsites.
Trail Angel: A person that provides trail magic, or does any kind deed for a hiker.
Trail candy: A good looking man or woman.
Trailhead: Where the trail leaves a road crossing or parking lot.
Tree line: The point of elevation on a mountain above which the climate will no longer support tree growth.
Widow-maker: Limbs or whole trees that have partially fallen, but remain hung up overhead, posing a danger to anybody below.
Work for stay: Hostels, AMC huts, personal residences, and sometimes other places will allow hikers to do chores or work, in place of a fee for lodging.
Yogi-ing: The art of getting things (food, services, anything) for free, without directly asking for them.
Yoyo: Finishing a thru-hike, then immediately turning around and completing another in the opposite direction.
Trail name: A nickname given to you by your peers (or chosen by you), that you go by while hiking the trail.
Active hitch hiking: The art of hitchhiking while simultaneously walking in the direction of wherever you are trying to hitchhike to.
Register: A log book normally found at a shelter or trail head. Originally intended for rescuers to use for figuring out lost hikers last known location.
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