Just as with any sport or activity, hikers, backpackers, and thru-hikers have their own language. Between the acronyms, jargon, and peculiar phrases, keeping up with the hiker lingo and backpacker slang can seem impossible.
Some of these hiking terms were coined by hikers while others are “regular” words that may have different meanings in the hiker world; therefore, these words may be unknown to new hikers.
So if you come across hiking terminology on my blog, an acronym etched on a trail sign, or hiking slang spoken directly from the mouth of a hiker, consult this ultimate hiker dictionary to find out what it means!
Mastering the physical part of hiking is half the battle. Learning to talk the talk after you walk the walk will make you look and sound like a true hiker. Are you ready to learn? Here we go!
Ultimate Hiker Dictionary
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A 14er is a mountain peak with at least 14,000 feet of elevation.
Mountain climbers chase these peaks for a massive challenge, and some brave souls even race to complete a series of 14er peaks in record time.
Some of the most popular 14ers in the United States are Mount Rainier (14,409’), Mount Whitney (14,497’), and Denali (20,308’).
NOTE: If you see the term 13er instead, it has the same meaning as a 14er but is referring to a mountain peak with at least 13,000 feet of elevation gain. Colorado has many 13ers that don’t quite reach 14,000 feet of elevation but climbers feel they deserve a title. Many compete to summit these peaks as well.
Alpenglow is the reddish glow on the horizon opposite the setting or rising sun that appears behind mountain peaks. Technically, it is an optical illusion that occurs when the sun is just below the horizon and its rays reflect moisture in the lower atmosphere.
An alpine region is an area of high elevation that lies above the treeline. Trees fail to grow in this type of elevation due to cold weather, harsh winds, and significant snowfall. If a hiker says they’re going to be hiking in an alpine region, they are most likely venturing into an elevation of about 10,000 feet or higher.
Short for Appalachian Trail, “AT” is the 2,190-mile trail that runs from Maine to Georgia along the crest and valleys of the Appalachian Mountains. The trail’s northern terminus is located at Katahdin, Maine, and after its fourteen-state journey, ends at its southern terminus, Springer Mountain in Georgia.
This scenic trail is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world. While millions access a portion of the trail every year, only 3,000 people attempt to thru-hike the entire trail annually.
Hikers use two basic terms to differentiate the outdoors: “backcountry” and “frontcountry.”
The backcountry is usually a wilderness area accessible by trails, not roads. While backcountry habitually indicates undeveloped wilderness land, park services do sometimes maintain certain sections of the backcountry. You usually won’t find amenities like flush toilets, potable water, picnic tables, and dump sites in the backcountry.
Backcountry camping is any form of camping in the backcountry. Backcountry campers could be camping in a designated backcountry campground or on a swath of unmaintained wilderness.
Backpacking has two meanings. One is a hiker term while the other variation is a term used by budget travelers in Europe. Among the hiker community, backpacking is the activity of hiking and camping in the backcountry with everything you’re going to need for the entire trip resting on your back.
Read my Beginner’s Guide to Backpacking to learn everything you need to know for your first backpacking trip including how to research and plan your route, what gear to use, how to efficiently pack your backpack, and how to quell some common backpacking fears.
Hiker clothing is typically divided into three categories: base layer, mid layer, and outer layer. The base layer is the layer closest to the skin and its job is to wick moisture and keep hikers dry. Base layer pants and tops are typically made out of merino wool or synthetic fabrics.
Backpackers use this term when measuring the weight of their packs. The “base weight” refers to the weight of all of their gear before the addition of food and water. Things like the tent, stove, clothes, and even the backpack itself all count toward the base weight.
PRO TIP: Your backpack weight (WITH food and water) should weigh no more than 20% of your body weight. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, your backpack shouldn’t exceed 30 pounds.
Bear country is a region where black or brown bears are known to inhabit. In these areas, proper bear storage is almost always required for backpackers.
→ READ NEXT: Bear Safety Tips for Hikers and Campers 🐻
A bear hang is a method of storing food in bear country. Hikers who use this method have their food, trash, and other scented items stored in a bear bag. Since the bear could easily snatch the bag and remove all of the camper’s food from the campsite, campers must hang the bear bag on a tree branch so that it is unreachable to the bear.
Bear bags should be hung on a branch that is at least 12 feet off the ground and 6 feet from the trunk of the tree. This takes a bit of practice and skill, but once mastered, it can be an effective way to keep bears from ravaging your campsite.
Bear storage comes in three main forms: bear bags, bear canisters (also sometimes referred to as bear cans or bear boxes), and bear lockers. When hiking in bear country, hikers and campers store their food, trash, and other scented items in the bear storage to keep bears and critters from roaming their campsites and ravaging their food supply.
Bear bags are designed with puncture-proof materials that protect your food and scented items from bears and other small critters. Though they are a major weight and space saver, these bags are not widely accepted or approved by many park and land management services.
Bear canisters are hard-shelled, bear-resistant containers made of sturdy plastic and secured with a complex lid. They are currently the safest and most effective way to store food in the backcountry. They are quite heavy and can be awkward to stuff in a backpack, but they are the most widely accepted method of storing food in North America.
Bear lockers are bear-resistant metal boxes often found at established campgrounds in bear country.
The “Big Three” refers to the three largest, heaviest, and most expensive pieces of backpacking gear: backpack, sleeping system (sleeping bag and pad), and tent.
A bivy is a lightweight, waterproof sleeping bag that, in the event of an emergency, can protect you from the elements.
Blazes are markers that are painted on trees to help hikers navigate the trail. Trails within the same area are often marked with different colors to aid hikers in distinguishing the multitude of paths.
BLM is an acronym for “Bureau of Land Management.” They are an agency within the United States Department of the Interior responsible for regulating federal lands.
BLM land is favorable in the hiking, backpacking, and van-life communities due to its vast swaths of unrestricted land. BLM land is found mostly out west in states like Utah, Arizona, California, and Colorado.
A blue blazer is a hiker on the AT (Appalachian Trail) who opts to take side trails instead of always sticking to the official route. The side trails on the AT are marked with blue blazes, hence the name “blue blazer.”
If a hiker says they are bonked, they are physically exhausted. Nothing a Twix bar can’t fix!
Book Time is the formula many hikers use to estimate how long a route is going to take to complete.
The formula: 30 minutes for each mile + 30 minutes for every 1,000 feet of elevation gain.
Break camp means to pack up camp. In preparation for leaving, breaking camp is the process of tearing down tents, rolling up sleeping bags, deflating sleeping pads, etc.
While BUFF is a brand name for a particular neck tube, the word buff is often used to generally describe any of the stretchy, breathable, moisture-wicking tubes that hikers wear around their necks to protect their ears, mouth, face, and neck.
These tubes, also sometimes referred to as gaiters, protect facial extremities from feeling the brutal effects of cold temperatures, gritty sand, blowing snow, hot sun rays, etc.
Bushwhacking is generally used to describe off-trail hiking that is riddled with dense, brushy terrain, but it can also be used to express a cut trail that is overgrown with vegetation.
A cairn is a stack of mismatched rocks – stacked from largest on the bottom to smallest on top – that help hikers navigate the trail. Typically, cairns are present in desert landscapes or high alpine zones where trees are infrequent. If blazes (trail markers) can’t be painted onto trees, and posts can’t be pounded into the rocky ground, hikers need an alternative way to be able to navigate the trail. Enter, cairns!
Camel Up is a phrase used to illustrate a hiker who chugs water at a source rather than schleps extra water between long water hauls. A water haul is the water hikers have to carry between two water sources on a trail. If they don’t fill up at the source, they won’t have any water until the next one.
Most people know that camping means sleeping outside but the term “car camping” can get a little confusing. Sometimes referred to as “frontcountry camping,” car camping refers to either sleeping in your car at a campground or sleeping next to your car in a tent at a campground.
It’s basically camping in or near your car at a campsite that is vehicle-accessible. You can be car camping if you’re sleeping in your car at a campground or in the parking lot of a casino. And you can also be car camping if you’re sleeping in a tent with your vehicle nearby at a campground.
A cathole is a small hole that hikers dig to poop in the backcountry. Leave No Trace practice calls for hikers to dig a 6-8-inch hole and stay at least 200 feet from all trails, water sources, and campsites.
Short for Continental Divide Trail, the “CDT” is the 3,100-mile trail that runs from Mexico to Canada along the spine of the Rocky Mountains. The trail traverses five states from Montana to New Mexico, and is the longest, least traveled, and most difficult of the trio of USA long thru-hikes.
While thousands per year visit a piece of the trail to day hike, only a few hundred attempt to thru-hike the entire trail annually.
Class 1-5 (Yosemite Decimal System)
Classes can be used to define many things like river rapids, vehicles, and weather. But in terms of hiking and climbing, here is the breakdown of Class 1-5 hikes on the Yosemite Decimal System.
A Class 1 hike is a low-risk hike on a well-marked trail and doesn’t require any technical gear.
Class 2 hikes might have sections that aren’t well marked, so some route-finding experience and devices will be necessary. You may have to use your hands because rock scrambles are likely, but no technical gear is required.
Class 3 hikes include sections with rugged terrain and exposure where you’ll need to use your hands to scramble across extreme terrains like steep slopes and large rocks. You don’t need technical climbing gear but ropes will help you feel safer. Falls on these trails will lead to injury and could be fatal.
Class 4 routes are trails that involve less hiking and more climbing and mountaineering. There will be unstable terrain and a high level of exposure, so ropes and harnesses are recommended.
Class 5 routes involve technical rock climbs and require climbing skills plus all the gear: ropes, harnesses, helmets, hardware, etc.
→ READ NEXT: Best Climbing Guides in Joshua Tree
Cold soaking is a method of preparing food without heat. Hikers who don’t want to carry a stove opt to use cold water to soak their food instead of hot water.
The cold soaking process does take longer than rehydrating food with hot water, so hikers tend to fill the bag or container of dehydrated food with water for several hours, usually while they’re hiking. By the time they reach camp or are ready to eat, the food is rehydrated enough to consume.
Cowboy camping is sleeping outside without a tent. Cowboy campers usually sleep with a sleeping bag or quilt, but nothing to protect them overhead from the elements.
Cowboy coffee is made by heating coffee grounds with water, allowing the grounds to settle, and then pouring it into a cup. Think French Press coffee but without the filter.
→ READ NEXT: Ways to Brew Tea and Coffee at Camp and on the Trail ☕️
Day hiking is hiking during the day. Day hikers begin their hike and end their hike on the same day with no overnight camping.
Magnetic declination is the angle between magnetic north and true north. The angle of declination is marked on topo maps so that hikers can adjust their compasses for accuracy.
Dirtbag has a negative connotation but hikers and backpackers have spun this term around. While dirtbags tend to be dirty and unkempt, hikers see this as a good thing because it means they are spending as much time as possible outdoors. Dirtbags live an outdoor-centric lifestyle, one that is cheap and hiking/camping/climbing-focused.
Dispersed camping is camping outside of a designated campground or campsite where there are little to no facilities. This could mean hike-in backcountry camping or drive-in car camping on back roads.
In some areas like BLM land, you can camp “wherever,” but in some places like National Parks and National Forests, you must have a permit and adhere to strict rules regarding where exactly you can go dispersed camping.
A dry bag is a stuff sack made of waterproof material with a roll-top closure that is designed to shield its interior contents from water even when completely submerged.
Dry bags are commonly used by paddlers but hikers like them too because they can keep essential gear like sleeping bags and food dry should it start to rain.
→ READ NEXT: 5 Tips For Hiking in the Rain ☔️
Dry camping is camping in an area with no water source. This involves carrying more water or having to hike further to retrieve large amounts of water at a time.
Elevation gain, or elevation change, is the total amount you will climb on a trail or route. You can calculate this number by subtracting the lowest point on the route from the highest point on the route. Cumulative elevation gain, on the other hand, is the sum of every gain in elevation on the route.
Exposure can mean a few things in the outdoor and hiking communities. It can be used to refer to an area where the terrain is steep and any falls would be fatal or result in injury. The term can also refer to an area that doesn’t have any shade. Or it can also refer to the physical condition of being exposed to severe weather conditions, usually involving high winds or cold temperatures and often resulting in hypothermia.
A false peak, or false summit, is a point on a mountain that, from below, appears to be the top. When you reach it, it turns out to be just a bump in the mountain, and you haven’t reached the peak after all. Hope is popped like a bubble, and hikers must keep on trekking to the actual summit.
Fastpacking is a sport that combines trail running with backpacking. Fastpackers carry ultralight gear allowing them to walk faster and hike more miles in a day.
FKT stands for “fastest known time.” It is the known speed record on a particular trail or route.
Flip-Flop is a thru-hiker term that refers to a hiker who does not travel the trail from one end to the other; instead, he jumps around to link two or more sections. Hikers usually do this to avoid crowds or bad weather.
A footprint is a piece of protective fabric that campers place below their tent. A footprint is designed to shield the tent body from ground abrasion. It’s cheaper to replace a footprint than a tent body.
→ READ NEXT: How to Set Up a Tent in EVERY Terrain! ⛺️
A ford is an unbridged river crossing where hikers have to wade through the water. If there are rocks to step on as you cross the river or stream, the activity of crossing the river would be referred to as rock hopping (mentioned below).
Hikers use two basic terms to differentiate the outdoors: “backcountry” and “frontcountry.” The frountcountry is an area of wilderness or nature that is accessible by road. Examples of frontcountry land are established drive-in campsites and viewpoints that are just a short walk from a parking lot.
Frontcountry camping is used interchangeably with “car camping.” It refers to any place you can camp that is easily accessed by road. If you’re sleeping in your car at a campground or sleeping next to your car in a tent at a campground, you’re frontcountry camping (or car camping).
Gaiters have two meanings.
One, gaiters are pieces of zippered or Velcroed fabric that protect the vulnerable skin above your boots and below your pants. Reasons for wearing gaiters would be to protect your skin from snow, rain, sand, rocks, or even snakes.
Or, as mentioned above, gaiters can refer to the neck tubes designed to protect facial extremities from feeling the brutal effects of cold temperatures, gritty sand, blowing snow, hot sun rays, etc.
Giardia is a tiny parasite found in water and soil that causes intestinal illness. This parasite is one of the main reasons backcountry hikers have to filter their water instead of drinking it directly from a natural source.
GPS is an acronym for “Global Positioning System.” This complex system is a constellation of satellites run by the U.S. Military that help drivers navigate roadways and hikers traverse the backcountry.
Greywater is wastewater resulting from washing dishes or people.
Guy lines are thin pieces of cord that are used to tie a tent to the ground, a tree, a picnic table, a log, a pole, or anything stable to keep it taut and secure. Guy lines are extra useful in the desert or on rocky ground where tent stakes aren’t easily able to be plunged into the ground.
→ READ NEXT: How to Set Up a Tent in EVERY Terrain! ⛺️
A headlamp is a small flashlight affixed to a stretchy headband. Hikers wear this to navigate trails and campsites in the dark.
→ READ NEXT: Night Hiking Tips 🔦
Hiker boxes are typically found at gear stores, trailheads, or small shops in towns that are right off the path of long-distance trails. The purpose of these boxes is to swap gear amongst the thru-hiking community. One hiker can put something in it that they no longer need while another might find something useful for their hike. It’s a way to lessen your load or snag something necessary without having to throw things away or make any extra purchases.
Hiker hunger is the feeling of being ravenous after a hike. This term is particularly used in the thru-hiking community when many of them go days without consuming substantial nutrients. So when they get into town, they stuff their faces at the AYCE (all-you-can-eat) buffets.
Hiker legs, also known as trail legs, are earned from repeated days of backpacking. When hikers obtain their trail legs, their leg muscles have reluctantly adapted to the strenuous daily exercise and cause the hiker less pain.
Hiker trash is a thru-hiker who has embraced the low-cost outdoorsy lifestyle and isn’t embarrassed about being dirty and stinky.
Hiker midnight is the time that hikers go to sleep, which is around 9 PM. After they’ve spent all day exerting their energy, hikers are exhausted and ready for some shut-eye after dinner.
HYOH (Hike Your Own Hike)
HYOH, the acronym for “Hike Your Own Hike,” was coined by thru-hikers.
Hike Your Own Hike meaning is basically “mind your own business” because there is no “right” or “wrong” way to backpack. Everyone likes to do things differently on the trail, and hikers shouldn’t judge other hikers for the way they choose to complete the trail.
A lean-to is a simple free-standing structure with three crude “walls,” a roof, and one side open to the elements. These shelters are scattered throughout the AT.
LNT (Leave No Trace)
LNT stands for Leave No Trace, a set of outdoor ethics that is designed to reduce human impact in natural spaces. The seven principles of LNT help navigate hikers and outdoor adventurers in the right direction in terms of how they should take care of these fragile, vulnerable outdoor spaces.
The Seven Leave No Trace Principles
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Others
A lollipop trail is an out & back trail that leads to a loop trail. Hikers will travel the out & back trail to the mouth of the loop, hike the loop, and take the out & back trail back to the trailhead.
If you look at the trail type on a map, you’ll see that it resembles a lollipop!
A loop trail is a route that starts and ends at the same point, traveling in a roughly circular path without backtracking.
Microspikes are ice cleats that strap to the bottom of boots to give hikers traction on icy surfaces. They are made of rubber and metal; the rubber stretches over the boots, and the metal grips the frozen surfaces.
Even though Kahtoola is the company that makes Micropsikes, their version of ice cleats, hikers use the term to reference every type of ice cleats.
Hiker clothing is typically divided into three categories: base layer, mid layer, and outer layer. The mid layer is the insulating layer that sits in between the base and outer layers. Mid layers are typically made of polyester, fleece, or down; their sole purpose is to provide warmth by keeping body heat from escaping.
Nearo is a term used by thru-hikers to describe a day in which they hiked almost zero miles. Reasons for nearos would be things like weather or injury.
NoBo is slang for “Northbound.” This term is commonly used by thru-hikers and is meant to indicate which direction they are heading. If they are heading NoBo on the PCT, they are heading north from Mexico to Canada.
NPS is the National Park Service, an agency of the United States federal government that manages and protects all National Parks, National Monuments, and other recreational properties. There are currently 63 National Parks and 425 National Park sites.
Out & Back Trail
An out & back trail starts and ends at the same point. It is a route that hikers must follow to the end, turn around, and retrace their steps back to the beginning on the same path.
Hiker clothing is typically divided into three categories: base layer, mid layer, and outer layer. The outer layer is the top layer that protects the body from wind and precipitation. This layer is typically a durable waterproof rain jacket.
Pack It In, Pack It Out
“Pack It In, Pack It Out,” is a phrase meant to inform hikers and campers that whatever they bring in must leave with them. There are no dump sites or garbage bins so be prepared to pack out all trash. Never leave any belongings or trash on the trail.
Pack weight is the weight of everything inside your backpack. Base weight, mentioned earlier, is the weight of your pack’s contents before food and water.
→ Read Next: Exactly How to Pack a Backpacking Pack 🎒
Packed weight refers to the weight of a tent and all its accessories and components. When a tent lists its packed weight, it indicates the entire weight of the tent and all its included parts, including the tent body, rainfly, stakes, guy lines, stuff sacks, patch kits, etc.
A pass is a gap or break in a mountain ridge that forms when a glacier or stream erodes the land between higher terrain.
The PCT is an acronym for “Pacific Crest Trail” and is the 2,650-mile trail that runs from Mexico to Canada. The trail crosses through three states: California, Oregon, and Washington, and traverses diverse terrains such as dry deserts, saturated rainforests, glaciated mountains, and volcanic peaks.
The PCT is considered the second-hardest of the three USA long hikes. Unpredictable weather and natural occurrences like wildfires and snow often tamper with the thru-hiker’s goals to complete the entire trail. So while thousands hike a piece of this trail yearly, only about 800-1,000 hikers complete the full trek.
Peakbagging is the activity of summiting mountains, particularly all in the same region. Hikers who aim to summit the tops of all of the Colorado 14ers or all of the 4000-footers in New Hampshire are known as peakbaggers.
A permit is an official document that grants someone permission to hike and/or camp in an area. In some areas, permits are required as a way to collect fees, reduce traffic in highly-impacted areas, or collect trail data to track how many people are visiting.
Permits have become more popular nowadays due to the increasing number of people visiting National Parks. Some permits can be purchased ahead of time online while others are first-come-first-served. Some have to be retrieved in person at a ranger station, trailhead, or visitor center. Some permits are free while others have a fee. Always check the area you’ll be visiting ahead of time to see if a permit is required to hike or camp.
→ Read Next: Park Permits 101
A pit toilet is a type of toilet that collects human waste in a pit or container. Some pit toilets’ waste is left to decompose while others require tank changing. An enclosed pit toilet is also called an outhouse.
FUN FACT: There are exposed pit toilets that are strategically placed in the wild, and the pit toilets with the best views are rumored to be in North Cascades National Park in Washington at the top of the Cascade Pass and in Washington’s Enchantments. Washington is doing something right!
A point-to-point trail is a route that begins and ends at different trailheads. Instead of retracing their steps to turn this trail into an out & back, hikers will park a car at each trailhead or arrange some sort of shuttle or transportation to take them back to their vehicle.
Postholing is the activity of hiking in deep, soft snow without snowshoes, and as a result, plunging at least calf-deep into the powder.
A purist is a thru-hiker who hikes the trail in what he believes to be the “correct” way. Purists don’t take shortcuts, they don’t skip sections, and they always stick to the trail no matter what. They complete every single mile in one attempt.
A quilt is a lightweight alternative to a sleeping bag. It is essentially a blanket filled with down or synthetic insulation.
Tents have two main layers. The first is the tent body, which is a waterproof floor with a mesh upper layer that protects against bugs, and the second layer is the rainfly, which is a waterproof fabric that protects sleepers from precipitation and wind.
Some campers prefer to pitch the tent without the rainfly especially if it’s going to be a clear night. You can watch the stars and feel the breeze. The rainfly can act as a buffer from wind, snow, and rain, is great for privacy, and keeps the tent a bit warmer on cool nights.
To resupply is to pick up gear or food at intervals along a thru-hike. Resupplying can mean shopping at a grocery or outdoor store or picking up packages from the post office that friends or family have sent you.
Rock hopping, or boulder hopping, is climbing or hopping from one rock to another to cross a river or stream or to traverse a rocky landscape.
R-value is a measure of insulation usually referring to sleeping pads in the hiking and camping community. The higher the number, the more insulation it has.
Cold-weather camping calls for a higher R-value while warm-weather camping calls for a lower R-value.
SAR is an acronym for search and rescue. They are an organization that finds injured and lost hikers in the backcountry.
→ READ NEXT: First Aid Basics For Hikers ⛑️
Scrambling is a method of maneuvering through steep, exposed terrain that falls somewhere between hiking and rock climbing, usually rated as a Class 2 or 3 on the Yosemite Decimal System. This type of travel commonly requires hikers to use their hands and feet.
Section hiking is completing a portion of a long-distance trail. This can either be done with the intent of finishing the entire trail – bit by bit – or simply hiking just a small section.
Shoulder-season looks differently from region to region, but essentially this period of time is the months before and after prime visitation season. Spring and fall are usually shoulder-season months as the prime season tends to be summer in most areas. Exploring during the shoulder-season gives visitors gifts like fewer crowds and lower costs.
Slackpacking is backpacking without all of your gear. Typically, the hiker just carries the supplies that he needs for the day while someone transports his overnight gear to that day’s finish point. This is done so that the hiker can move faster from point A to point B without the extra weight of a full backpack.
Snowshoes are large boards with traction claws that slide onto boots to provide flotation in deep snow.
→ READ NEXT: Beginner’s Guide to Snowshoeing ❄️
SoBo is slang for “Southbound.” This term is commonly used by thru-hikers and is meant to indicate which direction they are heading. If they are heading SoBo on the AT, they are heading south from Maine to Georgia.
When an area is “socked in,” the range of vision on a trail or route is minimal. Elements like fog or low clouds cause this obstruction in visibility.
A spur trail is a side trail off of a main trail. Spurs often lead to points of interest such as campsites, overlooks, waterfalls, pit toilets, water sources, etc.
Stealth camping is camping while trying not to be noticed. Typically, people who sleep in their vehicle in an urban area where overnight camping isn’t allowed (or is frowned upon) are said to be stealth camping.
Switchbacks are tight zigzags that allow hikers to ascend a steep trail without vertically climbing.
A tent body is the inner layer of a tent. It embodies the waterproof tent floor and mesh walls with zippered doors and buckles that attach to the tent poles.
A tent pad is a level area at a campsite designated for tent setup. It is usually a section of gravel or sand surrounded by wood planks.
Three-season is used to describe gear that isn’t suitable for winter.
Thru-hiking is completing a long hike from beginning to end continuously. While the PCT, AT, and CDT are the well-known long hikes in the USA, there are other shorter thru-hikes such as the JMT (John Muir Trail) in California, Long Trail in Vermont, the Arizona Trail in Arizona, and the Colorado Trail in Colorado.
Topo is an abbreviation for a topographic map. A topo is a detailed map of natural features that uses contour lines to illustrate the shape of the land.
A trail angel is someone who helps a thru-hiker. Ways trail angels can assist thru-hikers are by feeding them, driving them into town, giving them a place to sleep, etc.
Trail angels can be waiting for hikers at a section of trail ready to serve coolers of cold drinks and plates of fresh burgers. Trail angels can meet hikers at trailheads and give them a hitch into town, allowing them to resupply, eat a meal, and stay the night in local accommodations. Trail angels can allow hikers to stay the night at their house so they can take a shower, eat a hot meal, and recharge with a good night’s rest before hitting the trail again.
A trailhead is a point at which a trail begins.
Trail magic is a random act of kindness provided by trail angels on a thru-hike. Trail magic ranges from transportation and overnight accommodation to food and drink, free of charge to the hiker.
A trail name is a name given to a hiker on the trail, usually on a thru-hike. Hikers can give themselves a trail name, or someone else can grant them a name. Once someone gives a hiker a trail name, he is supposed to use that name (instead of his real name) to refer to himself for the rest of the trail and anytime he gets on a trail in the future. Trail names could be given because of something silly they did on the trail or something that makes them stand out among the other hikers.
For example, if someone religiously eats a Snickers bar every single day, another hiker might gift him the name “Snickers” or “Sweets.” If someone won’t stop singing Elton John, he might be granted the name “Tiny Dancer.”
Trail weight is the bare minimum that a tent can weigh with only its bare essential parts – the tent body, rainfly, and stakes.
A tramily is a trail family. Tramilies are usually formed on thru-hikes, and the group often decides to hike together once they are formed.
A treeline is a point on a mountain where no trees will grow any further above the line. Trees usually stop growing at this point because of the harsh climate related to the high elevation.
A Triple Crown is a prestigious title given to hikers who complete all three long thru-hikes in the USA: the PCT, AT, and CDT. As of 2021, only 525 hikers are Triple Crowners.
A trowel is a mini foldable shovel with a sharp edge that hikers and backpackers use to dig a hole in the ground to poop.
Ultralight means extremely lightweight. The ultralight method of backpacking is focused on each ounce of weight and aims to keep the gear load to the absolute minimum. With a base weight of around 10 pounds, a hiker is considered to be ultralight backpacking.
The USFS is an acronym for the United States Forest Service. The USFS is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that administers the nation’s 154 National Forests and 20 national grasslands.
Vitamin I is ibuprofen. Hikers pop these frequently to tackle pain and muscle aches.
Wag bags are bags that are used to pack out human waste in areas that don’t allow burying.
A weekend warrior is someone who works a 9-5 Monday through Friday job and is forced to hike only on the weekends.
A wilderness is any uninhabited area that has not been significantly altered by humans.
A yellow blazer is someone who hitches a ride on roads (with yellow lines) to avoid difficult sections of a thru-hike.
Yoyoing is hiking a long-distance trail in one direction and then turning around and hiking the trail again in the other direction.
A zero day is a day where thru-hikers don’t hike any miles. They rest either in town or on the trail.
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