The hiking world can be a confusing place at times. Figuring out the acronyms, slang and ‘jargon’ can even be challenging for hiking veterans at times.
If you want to ‘sound the part’ on the trail, you better know what you’re talking about. Perhaps more importantly, you better understand what other hikers are telling you; especially if it’s a hiking guide.
In order to help you make sense of the lingo, we’ve put together this handy glossary of hiking terms. It translates the most common phrases you will often hear into plain English, helping you become a more competent hiker.
A-Z Hiking Terms Glossary
Access Trail: A trail that provides access to a campground, road or point of interest. It can also connect to another trail and is often well maintained.
Alpine Start: Beginning a mountain ascent early to avoid treacherous situations. The start time is usually in the early hours of the morning, or in some cases before midnight.
Alpine Zone: The area above the treeline of a mountain. It’s often characterised by rugged and rocky terrain.
AMC: The ‘Appalachian Mountain Club’ have a large presence in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. They’re known for maintaining the AT and running the hut system.
AT: Appalachian Trail. It’s a 2190 mile trail stretching from Georgia to Maine. On average, it takes between 5-7 months to thru-hike from start to finish.
ATC: The ‘Appalachian Trail Conservatory’ is a non-profit organisation that is tasked with maintaining and protecting the AT.
Awol: Also known as the ‘AT Guide’. It’s a ‘must-have’ map used by hikers on the Appalachian Trail.
Backslope: The angle cut into the hillside about a hiking trail during construction.
Balds: Exposed mountain top areas without trees or shelter.
Base Layer: A thin item of clothing that is worn closest to your skin. Often made from lightweight, moisture-wicking fabric.
Base Weight: The weight of your fully loaded backpack, minus the weight of ‘consumables’ like food, water and fuel.
Bear Burrito: Hiking slang term for a hammock.
Bear Canister: A bear-resistant food storage container that will keep unwanted paws off your hiking snacks.
Beta: Receiving credible information about a hike that has recently been completed. It’s usually insider information that can’t be found in a guidebook.
Biner: Short for ‘carbiner’. It’s a metal loop with a spring-loaded hook that’s used to secure ropes or attach things to your pack.
Bivy: Short for ‘bivouac sack’. It’s a small and lightweight single person shelter.
Bladder: A small collapsible water container that’s often used as part of a hydration pack.
Blaze: The hiking term for trail markers that are usually placed on prominent trees. It’s usually a 2x6in strip that’s painted onto the tree, with different configurations indicating which way the trail is going.
Blowout: A devastating break in your hiking shoes that requires temporary patching by any means necessary.
Bluebird Day: A weather condition marked by clear blue skies and no clouds.
Bog Bridge: A narrow wooden walkway that allows you to cross wetlands, swamps and ‘bogs’.
Bonking: Running out of energy while hiking due to a lack of calories.
Bonus Miles: Extra miles that you walk that aren’t part of the trail. Common causes are gathering supplies or recovering from a navigation error.
Book Time: An estimate of how long a hike should take. It’s based on 30 minutes for every mile, plus 30 feet for every 1000 feet of ascent.
Bounce Box: A supply package that is sent to a town on the trail you’re hiking for collection during your hike.
Bushwhacking: Hiking ‘off-trail’, where you often encounter dense undergrowth and bushes.
Cache: Chosen location to hide your food, water and hiking goodies.
Cairn: Manmade rock formation that acts as a trail marker. Often found where there are no trees present, such as balds or alpine zones.
Calorie Loading: Eating a significant amount of food at a town stop in the hope that it’ll energise you for a long time.
Camel Up: Drinking as much water as you can handle at a water source in preparation for the next section.
Canister Stove: A small type of hiking stove that uses metal canisters of fuel.
Cathole: A hole in the ground that is dugout to bury hiker poop.
CDT: ‘Continental Divide Trail’. A 3028 mile trail stretching from the Mexican border to the Canadian border
Col: The lowest point of a ridge or saddle between two peaks.
Contour Lines: Lines drawn on a map to show the elevation and shape of the terrain.
Corridor: The cleared space on either side of a tread that gives hikers enough room to pass.
Cowboy Camping: Slang term for sleeping under the open sky without any shelter. All you need to do is pray it doesn’t rain.
Cowboy Coffee: Coffee brewed by mixing course unfiltered coffee grounds with water.
Crampons: A metal plate with spikes that can be fixed to your hiking boots for added traction. Often used for walking on snow or ice.
Cuben Fiber: Also referred to as ‘Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCT)’. It’s an ultra-light material that is used for tents, tarps and sacks.
Day Hiking: Any type of hike that is completed in a single day.
Death March: An overly ambitious hike that seems to go on forever. It could also be a connecting trail or just have boring surroundings.
DEET: A powerful ingredient used in insect repellent.
Ditty Bag: A small stuff sack used to carry your personal belongings.
Dirtbag: Hikers who shun the luxuries of hygiene for extended periods of time. They are often seen with greasy hair and wearing old clothes, sometimes living in their van.
Dirty Girls: A brand of lightweight hiking gaiters that are lightweight with a colourful appearance.
Dodgeways: V-shaped hole in the fence that allows hikers to pass through without livestock escaping. Also referred to as a ‘stile’.
Double Blaze: Two vertical blazes (one above the other) that signal a sharp turn in the trail.
Downslope: The hillside below the outside edge of the trail. Often filled with vegetation and acts as the support for the tread.
Dromedary Bag: A large water container that’s strong and collapsible.
Dry Camp: A camping spot without a water source.
DWR: ‘Durable Water Repellent’. Often used as an outer coating on fabrics.
Fall Line: The fastest and most direct route when heading downhill.
False Summit: When you think you’re approaching the summit, but actually it’s just a plateau. It’s the worst type of false alarm.
Fast Packing: A slang hiking term for carrying minimal gear to save weight and hike more miles in a day.
FKT: ‘Fastest Known Time’. It’s the fastest recorded time that somebody has completed a hike and is usually associated with thru-hiking.
Flip Flop: A thru-hike that is started in an unconventional part of the trail, usually somewhere in the middle. They often return to complete the other half of the trail at a later date.
Footprint: The ground sheet for a tent. It’s pretty handy if you don’t enjoy sleeping on dirt.
Fourteener: Any mountain that’s taller than 14000ft. Often abbreviated to ‘14er’.
Freehiking: Hiking away from established trails. It’s comparable to ‘bushwhacking’, where you can expect to forge your own path with freedom.
Gaiters: Outer leggings that attach around your ankles and lower legs. They protect you from snow, mud, water and dust among others.
Gap: The low spot on a ridge between two mountains. Also known as a ‘col’.
Ghost Blazing: Following a trail that is no longer used.
Glissade: Sliding down a snow-covered slope on your backside. It’s probably the funniest, easiest and most dangerous way to descend a slope.
GORP: Translates as ‘Good Old Raisins and Peanuts’ or ‘Granola, Oats, Raising, Peanuts’, depending on where you’re from. Either way, it’s a bag of snacks you can munch by the handful.
Gray Water: The waste water left behind from dirty dishes. Usually grey in colour, doesn’t really taste that great.
Green Tunnel: Nickname for the Appalachian Trail. It references the green forest that the trail cuts through.
Guylines: Ropes and chords that are used to tie down your tent or tarp.
Herd Path: An unofficial path that is forged by constant footfall. It’s often a natural path between two trails or around an obstacle.
Hiker Box: Usually found in huts or hostels, it’s a box of food and gear that’s left behind by other hikers.
Hiker Funk: The generally ‘funky’ aroma of a hiker that has spent a long time on the trail. Usually at its strongest during long thru-hikes, where washing your clothes becomes a challenge.
Hiker Midnight: The time at which hikers go to sleep. Usually just after dark, almost always before midnight.
Hut: A rest stop that is found along a hiking trail. The term refers to anything from a simple shed to a fully functioning mountain lodge.
Hydration System: A ‘hands-free’ way of drinking water. It usually consists of a bladder, tube and mouthpiece; often as part of a backpack.
HYOH: ‘Hike Your Own Hike’. It means you should follow your own path and not copy someone else.
JMT: ‘John Muir Trail. A 217.3 mile trail in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. It has a total elevation gain of around 47000ft, with spectacular views of the surrounding peaks.
Kindling: Small pieces of wood that are used to start a fire.
Knob: An eye-catching rounded hill or mountain.
Lean-To: A basic yet sturdy shelter that can be found along some trails. Features a slanted roof and often a raised floor. Provides shelter from the elements on tougher days.
LNT: ‘Leave No Trace’ is a set of 7 principles that encourage hikers to protect the natural environment.
Lyme Disease: An infectious bacterial disease spread by ticks.
Mail Drop: Mail drops are a way to get supplies during a long hike. It’s usually organised before the hike even starts, mailing your care package to a town on the trail. It’s a tactic used mostly by thru-hikers.
Meths: ‘Methylated spirits’ refers to the fuel used in lightweight stoves.
Mountain Money: Hiking slang term for toilet paper.
Nalgene: Popular brand of water bottle.
Nero: Translates to ‘nearly zero’. It means that you hiked almost zero miles in a day.
NOBO: Short for ‘north bound’. It refers to thru-hikers that are heading north.
NPS: The ‘National Park Service’ that’s in charge of running the national parks across the U.S.
Pack Weight: The total weight of your pack when it’s fully stocked. Including consumables like water, food and fuel.
PCT: The ‘Pacific Crest Trail’ is a 2654 mile trail that’s aligned with the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges. It generally stays within 100-150 miles of the west coastline.
Peak: The pointed top of a mountain.
Peak Bagging: A type of hiking that involves attempting to reach the summit of a predetermined list of peaks. Most legitimate peak bagging lists are published by clubs, with lists like the ‘Colorado 14ers’ being highly coveted.
Pink Blazing: When a hiker intentionally speeds up, slows down or alters a route to pursue a romantic interest.
Platypus: A popular hydration system brand.
Posthole: Hiking through deep snow without the proper equipment (snowshoes, skis etc.). Every time you step on the snow, your foot sinks and leaves a large hole behind.
Power Hiking: A high-intensity form of hiking, performed at a fast and consistent pace. It’s often used by ultra-runners when facing challenging terrain.
Privy: Outhouse bathroom found at a shelter. Usually the most basic composting toilet is found here.
PUD: ‘Pointless Ups and Downs’ refers to the rolling nature of some terrain that doesn’t increase elevation.
Puncheon: A wooden walkway that provides hikers with a path to cross marshy and muddy sections. Also known as a ‘boardwalk’.
Purist: A hiker that diligently sticks to the trail without taking a single deviation.
Redlining: Hiking every part of every trail on a particular map.
REI: ‘Recreational Equipment Inc’ is one of the most popular hiking gear retailers.
Resupply: Heading into town to stock up on food, water and other essentials.
Ridge Runner: A volunteer who hikes up and down important sections of a trail, giving advice and promoting respect for the outdoors.
Rock Hop: The act of jumping from one rock to the next when crossing a stream. It’s an attempt to keep your feet dry and mistakes can have devastating or hilarious consequences.
SAR: ‘Search and rescue’ volunteers that help hikers in desperate need.
Scramble: The technique of using your hands and feet to climb a steep section in a hurried fashion. It can often look ungainly if the surface is unsecure.
Scree: The small loose stones that cover some mountain slopes. It can lead to a few falls if you’re not concentrating.
Section Hiking: Hiking a long trail in different phases. There is no time limit or distance specified, just the objective of hiking the whole trail. Some hikers might complete the trail in two sections, while it might be split into 10 trips for others.
Shelter: Basic wooden structure that’s found along a trail, allowing hikers to take temporary refuge. Can also come in the form of a ‘lean-to’.
Shuttle: Transportation used from the town to the trailhead.
Skin-Out Weight: The total weight of your entire load. It includes everything you’re wearing and everything you’re carrying, including food and water.
Slackpacking: Slang hiking term for not carrying enough gear for the entire day. In order to save weight, somebody else will usually carry your gear or it will be transported to a hut along the trail.
SOBO: Short for ‘Southbound’. It refers to a thru-hiker that is heading south.
Speedhiking: Covering as much distance as possible, as fast as possible. It’s often conducted over technical and rocky terrain.
Springer Fever: The yearning thru-hikers feel to get back on the trail. It comes around at spring time every year, when the pull for adventure is undeniable.
Stealth Camp: Finding a quiet spot to setup your campsite, making sure to leave no trace of your existence after you leave. It’s often associated with people camping illegally.
Stile: V-shaped gap in the fence with steps constructed either side. Designed to let hikers pass without releasing livestock.
SUL: ‘Super Ultra Light’ is a term used for a pack with a low base weight. Generally considered under 5lbs.
Summit: The highest point of a mountain.
Sweeper: The hiker at the back of the group that makes sure everyone is making it safely along the trail.
Switchbacks: Winding paths that make steep terrain easier to navigate. The trail will have a noticeable ‘zig-zag’ pattern as it ascends the hill.
Talus: A mountainside covered with loose rocks. The rocks are larger than scree, but smaller than boulders. Can be difficult to navigate, with scrambling often required.
Tarp: A plastic sheet that is used in place of a tent. It’s the most basic type of shelter, usually providing just a roof.
Tent Platform: Campsite floor designed specifically for pitching a tent upon. It proves a clean and even place to sleep, while also protecting the soil.
Three-Season: Hiking or camping gear that is designed for spring, summer and fall. However, it lacks the insulation for use during the winter.
Thru-Hike: End-to-end hiking a long and established trail. It should be completed in one hike, without deviating far from the trail. Thru-hikes often many months to complete and are a significant achievement.
Ticks: Small, blood-sucking insects that can attach to your skin. Some carry Lyme disease or other infectious bacteria.
Topo: Short for ‘topological map’ or ‘topographic map’. It generally shows the features and contours of the Earth’s surface.
Torso Pad: A lightweight ground sleeping pad that has just enough size for one person.
Townie: People from nearby towns who hang around the trails. Sometimes they are day hikers, other times they are just trying to annoy hikers.
Trail Angel: Any volunteer on the trail who is willing to help the hikers out. They often come bearing food and water, or might offer shelter and transport.
Trail Candy: A good-looking man or woman spotted on the trail.
Trailhead: Where a section of the trail begins. It’s often where you will find a car park full of hikers.
Trail Legs: A hiker that can walk all day, every day. They recover quickly, the walk fast and they cover a lot of ground.
Trail Magic: Valuable goodies that are received from trail angels or left by previous hikers.
Trail Name: The ‘nickname’ that hikers decide to adopt on the trail. It’s often provided by fellow hikers and is most prevalent on thru-hikes.
Tramper: Nickname for a hiker that will continue walking in any weather or situation.
Treeline: The area at the top of a mountain where trees are no longer able to grow.
Triple Crown: The coveted title given to a hiker that has thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail.
Ultralight: A term used for hiking gear that’s designed to be as lightweight as possible. Sometimes abbreviated to ‘UL’.
Undulating Trail: The smooth rising and falling nature of some trails.
USGS: ‘United States Geographical Survey’. They produce topographic maps for most of the U.S.
Vestibule: The added porch at the front or side of a tent. It’s a useful place to stash some of your gear if space is limited.
Vitamin I: The nickname hikers have given ibuprofen.
Wag Bag: The bag used to carry your poop in areas that don’t allow catholes.
Walk-Up: A summit that can be easily reached by walking, without the need for climbing or mountaineer skills.
Waterbar: A barrier created to prevent water eroding a trail. Usually created using natural objects, such as trees or rocks.
WFA: ‘Wilderness First Aid’ is a training course that focuses on prevention, assessment and for an ill or injured person in a remote environment.
White Blazer: An Appalachian Trail hiker who diligently adheres to the white blazed trail, without taking any detours or alternate routes. They would also be classed as a ‘purist’.
White Mountains: The White Mountains of New Hampshire. They are part of the Appalachian Mountains.
Widowmaker: A dead tree that could tragically fall on an unsuspecting hiker.
Woofer: This is the term for a ‘Wildlife First Responder’. It’s someone that has been trained in wilderness medicine, usually by taking a one-week course. Also known by its abbreviation ‘WFR’.
Work For Stay: Some hostels will allow you to perform volunteer work instead of paying for your stay.
Yellow Blaze: The yellow dashes down a highway.
Yellow Blazer: Someone hitchhiking further up the trail. This is viewed as ‘cheating’ by many thru-hikers.
Yoyo: ‘Yoyoing’ is when you thru-hike a trail, then turn around and start again in the opposite direction.
Zero Day: A day in which zero miles have been hiked.
Z-Rest: A type of sleeping pad that ‘z-folds’ into a rectangle.
James is the founder of SnowSunSee. He started skiing when he was five years old and has been a qualified ski instructor for 8 years. He has taught skiing in many countries, including UK, Europe, Japan, China and Malaysia. When he’s not on the slopes, James spends his time travelling the world one trail at a time.