Trail Slang

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I thought I’d finally explain some of the terms, acronyms, initialisms, and slang that are used by long-distance hikers on the great American trails. This list is in no way comprehensive. It’s just a sampling of some of the more popular nomenclature that I’ve encountered.

Aqua BlazeTo use a boat (usually a canoe or a kayak) to bypass part of the main trail. This is becoming more common now that guides and outfitters are offering thru-hikers a more diverse trail experience.
ATAppalachian Trail—the approximately 2200 mile trail that runs from Maine to Georgia.
AYCEAll-you-can-eat buffet restaurants. This is like dying and going to heaven when hiker hunger kicks in.
Base WeightThe total weight of your gear minus food, fuel, and what you're currently wearing. Hikers, especially ultralight hikers, obsess over base weight. The lighter the kit, the easier the hike.
Bear-BaggingThe act of hanging your food bag in a tree far away from camp so as not to attract bears and other pests.
Bear BoxA metal locker that is sometimes provided at trail shelters for hikers to store their food. It keeps everything from bears to mice away.
BlazeA marking—usually painted—on a tree, rock, or cairn that shows you which trail you're on and where to go next.
Blue BlazeTo take advantage of shortcut trails or easier sections to bypass part of the main (white blaze) trail. Not everyone cares about being able to say they hiked every foot of a long distance trail.
Bog BridgeA wooden walkway laid over a wetland area of the trail to protect the ecosystem—and your socks and shoes. (a.k.a. Puncheon)
Brown BlazeTo leave the trail to poop in the woods.
CacheA hidden stash of food or supplies that have been left for a specific hiker or group of hikers. If you're in a place where resupply is difficult, you might ask/pay a local trail angel to hide a cache halfway through that section for you to pick up during your hike.
CairnA pile of stones erected to mark the trail in places where it is difficult to otherwise leave a blaze, usually above the tree line.
Cat HoleA poop hole you dig with your trail trowel when you're Brown Blazing.
CDTContinental Divide Trail—the approximately 3100 mile trail that follows the Rocky Mountains from the USA/Canada border to the USA/Mexico border.
ContouringFollowing a particular elevation of a mountain rather than the actual trail.
Cowboy CampingSleeping on the ground beneath the stars—and within easy reach of mosquitos.
Double BlazeTwo blazes next to each other, signifying that the trail is about to make a sharp turn. If you miss a white double blaze, you may continue walking on a blue blazed trail without even knowing it.
Flip-FlopperSomeone who completes half of a long distance trail and then changes direction to complete the other half. For example, you might hike from Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, to Maine before Baxter State Park closes for winter. Then you'd drive/fly back to your starting point in Harper's Ferry to hike south to Springer Mountain in Georgia.
GORPOriginally known as granola, oats, raisins, and peanuts (a.k.a. good 'ole raisins and peanuts). It's the slang for trail mix, usually homemade.
HeroA near-zero day of hiking where you resupply in town but leave before allowing yourself to spend excess money at bars, restaurants, hotels, hostels, etc. The hero is the saving grace of budget-conscious hikers.
Hiker BoxA sort of "lost and found meets recycling box" on the trail. Hikers will leave and take supplies from the box. Trail angels will leave trail candy in the box.
Hiker MidnightHikers that walk all day tend to fall asleep very early. 9:00 pm is jokingly referred to as hiker midnight. Those not asleep by 9:00 are expected to be as quiet as they would after midnight.
HYOHHike your own hike. It means "good for you," "screw you," or "I don't care," depending on the situation. Outside of Leave No Trace, this is the most common refrain on the trail.
JMTJohn Muir Trail—the approximately 211 mile trail that runs (mostly in conjunction with the PCT) from Yosemite Valley to Mt Whitney, California.
LNTLeave No Trace. This is the guiding principle of good ecological stewardship. The idea is that the most basic preservation comes from leaving no trace that you were ever there in the first place.
Mail DropPackages sent to hikers at places along the trail, either by themselves in advance or by friends and family. Mail drops are often used in place of in-town resupplies, expecially if someone needs frequent medication or maintains a special diet.
NearoA near-zero-mile day of hiking where you allow yourself to recuperate. You might walk a few miles into town to resupply, but otherwise you're take a break from your usual pace.
NOBOSomeone who is hiking northbound on a long distance trail—usually referring to the AT, CDT,or PCT, which are all generally hiked in this direction.
OABOut and back. This never made sense to me. It's the same number of syllables? It's when someone is going somewhere (e.g. a supply run or a tourist attraction) on a blue or yellow blaze and is coming back to camp.
PCTPacific Crest Trail—the approximately 2660 mile trail than runs from the USA/Canada border to the USA/Mexico border.
Pink BlazeTo alter your hiking group, speed, or route to chase tail. This is often gender-specific, meaning a guy is chasing a girl.
Pot CozySimilar to a knitted tea cozy that wraps around a teapot. A pot cozy is a pouch, usually made from foil-based insulated wrap, that keeps a cooking vessel or freezer bag warm. This is most often used to rehydrate prepared meals.
PUDPointless up and down. For example, a trail that forces you to hike over a mountain peak when you could easily contour around it with no elevation changes. (a.k.a. MUD—mindless up and down)
Ridge RunnerSomeone who frequently hikes or runs a section of a particular trail. This is the trail iteration of the adopt-a-highway program. Ridge Runners move debris from their section of the trail, clean up after sloppy hikers, and clear unapproved campsites.
Section-HikerSomeone who is hiking a long-distance trail in several smaller sections over a long period of time.
SlackpackingHiking a section of a trail without the weight of a heavy or full pack. For example, you might climb Mt. Katahdin with just a CamelBak and snacks since you will be backtracking to the park where you left your real pack.
SOBOSomeone who is hiking southbound on a long distance trail—usually referring to the AT, CDT, or PCT, which are all generally hiked NOBO.
Stealth CampingCamping in the wilderness away from prepared shelters and campsites, especially in areas where wilderness camping is not allowed.
SweeperThe person who leads a group along the trail to clean it of spider webs. (a.k.a. Web Walking)
Thru-HikerSomeone who is hiking a long-distance trail from start to finish.
Trail AngelA person or people who do things that benefit hikers, especially thru-hikers. Angels give rides, receive and hold mail drops, prepare food, donate water, etc.
Trail CandyThe tangible offerings of trail angels and/or other hikers. This can take the form of free items left in hiker boxes, at shelters, or at trailheads.
Trail FamilyA groups of fellow hikers that share a similar culture, speed, and desire for days off. They usually connect somewhere on the trail and stick together throughout the remainder of the hike if possible. (a.k.a Tramily)
Trail GogglesWhen you've been on the trail so long that your gauge of physical attractiveness is relative rather than absolute. It's the isolation iteration of beer goggles.
Trail MagicGood deeds and favors that benefit hikers, especially thru-hikers. Trail magic is often performed by Trail Angels.
Trail NameA nickname adopted by, or given to, a hiker. This is part of a bonding process with other hikers and usually references something comical that has happened on the trail.
Trail RunnersLightweight hiking shoes that are more akin to sneakers than boots. Trail runners have become popular with 3-season (especially ultralight) hikers because of the short break-in period, the light weight, and the quick drying time.
Trail ShelterA three- or four-sided building meant to house hikers on the trail. The AT boasts enough shelters for hikers to spend almost every night in one if there is enough space. Other trails like the PCT and CDT have very few shelters.
TrailheadThe point where a trail (or a new section of a trail) begins. The trailhead often contains a sign post explaining which kinds of activities are allowed on the trail, such as hiking, camping, dog walking, biking, horseback riding, ATV riding, etc.
Triple CrownThe feat of hiking the AT, CDT, and the PCT.
UltralightA style of hiking that places a premium on a minimal weight of gear on the trail.
Vitamin BBeer. Hostels use this moniker to coyly advertise that they sell/serve beer without a liquor license.
Vitamin IIbuprofen. This is taken like a daily vitamin to help ease the pain of aches, splints, and pulled muscles.
White-BlazeTo strictly follow the main trial (marked by white blazes). Very vocal White Blazers are often derided as the "purists" or "hall monitors" of the trail.
Widow-MakerA dead tree branch that you want to look out for before pitching your tent/hammock beneath it.
Wind ScreenA small barrier, usually made of aluminum foil, that is used to block the wind from snuffing out cooking stoves.
Yellow BlazeTo hitchhike or otherwise use a car to bypass part of the main (white blaze) trail. Sometimes it's done to avoid harder sections and other times it's because you simply don't have the time necessary to hike the entire trail.
YogiMaking oneself available for free food without actually begging for it. Named for the antics of Yogi Bear.
ZeroA zero-mile day of hiking where you allow yourself to recuperate. It's easy and beneficial to take a zero when you're in a town or at a hostel and it's storming outside.

Can you think of anything I’ve left out?

I’m the C.C. in C.C. Hikes. I’m a strategic marketer by day, a bad guitarist by night, and an avid weekend explorer. I built this site to log my travels to nearby parks, trails, and attractions. You’re welcome to follow along. Use my travelog to discover fun places to visit and then use my interactive map to navigate there.

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