Hiking Terms: Learn what these dirtbags are talking about

As a beginner hiker, you’re going to start hearing a lot of terms that are foreign. Be ahead of the game jump in the conversation like you’re a pro. These are only some of the commonly used terms in a hikers vocabulary.

The AT Appalachian Trail  located along the eastern United States that stretches from Georgia to Maine over almost 2,200 miles. Thousands of people thru-hike north from one end to the other averaging about 6 months to complete the entire trail. Most people start in Georgia and work their way “NOBO”  or north bound inversely “SOBO” is a term commonly used for southbound. If this is something you’re considering. A great easy read is A Walk in the Woods written by Bill Bryson. This is about his journey and experiences on the trail. Another term commonly used is a section hiker: one who will do sections/parts of a long trail who aren’t able to do the entire length of the trail at one time, but will return. If you’re looking for some statistics about the AT check this out for some info.

A blaze is usually a 4″ x 2″ marker nailed to trees along your trail. It is also common for trail markers to be in the form of flags, or even stacks of rocks alongside the trail called a carin.

Booktime: This is the equation often used to calculate how long a hike would or should take for you to complete. The general rule of thumb is to add a half hour for each mile of the trail along with an additional 30 minutes added to each 1000′ in elevation gain.

Cathole: this is a term used when a hiker talks about pooping alongside the trail. There are rules regarding this, obviously no one wants to see or step in your poop, so follow the rules and burry it appropriately.

Cowboy camping: skip the shelter and camp under the stars, a true rustic experience.

A dirtbag is a term that is often used to describe someone who is not well kept and chooses nature and living remote over proper civilization or working life.

The False Summit: This is a term when you are hiking that is used when you think you’re reaching the peak of a hike, when in reality you have another, or many more peaks to climb depending on the hike. We can picture ourselves as Miss America when Steve Harvey awards us the crown, only to take it away.

Ford: When a hike involves river crossings. Be mindful of this and check ahead of time if there are flash flood warnings as this could be very dangerous. Take this very seriously. If there are river crossings it is a good idea to bring a dry bag on your hike for valuables when you cross the river in case you go in along with a pair of water shoes or sandals so you don’t have to wear your wet shoes the remainder of your hike.

LNT: Leave No Trace: this is the idea based off of seven principles, centered around nature preservation and respect for the forest. Click to find out more information on the seven principles.

PCT: Pacific Crest Trail is a route over 2,600 miles along the pacific coastline states that is another popular thru-hike although this hike is not as popular as the AT trail. It can have very extreme  weather conditions. a 210 mile section of this trail is known as the JMT/ John Muir Trail it is 200 miles and is all in the alpine zone, (an area above tree line an area that you wont see much growth of large trees because of harsh conditions) this trail is all over 8,000′ in elevation.  If you are thinking of hiking this trail a great book recommendation is Wild, written by Cheryl Strayed. It was another entertaining easy read.

Peak bagging: This is a term associated with conquering alike trails in a specific area. I first heard this term when I was hiking Pikes Peak in Colorado and there was a discussion on what was included in the “peak bagging” category. Pikes Peak is considered a 14’er meaning it is over 14,000 feet in elevation. Hiking multiple challenging hikes in the same geographical location is considered peak bagging. It’s comparable to a shiny collection. Instead of collecting quarters from all 50 states in 2018, you can collect all 58 of the 14’ers in Colorado.

Redline: This term is used to essentially to show what trails have been covered by you in a specific area. If you are redlining the goal is to cover as much ground as possible, learning and knowing the area as if it were second nature.

Switchback: rather than heading straight up 1000′ in elevation the trail will switch back and forth across the mountain to lessen the degree of incline making it easier and more pleasant to climb. If you want to be a hero you can head straight up, but the switchbacks make for a much better day.

Trail Angel: This is someone who isn’t hiking, but is willing to lend a hand, a ride, food, or shelter for those that are, typically, thru hiking. They are a true blessing to us hikers and should never be taken for granted.

The CDT or Continental Divide Trail is a trail over 3,000 miles that divides the United States and goes between the rocky mountains and goes through Montana, south to New Mexico.

NPS: National park service: They are the park rulers. The ones who oversee all of the national parks.

A notch AKA col is a term used when you have the lowest point on a trail ridge between two peaks, be careful at these points as the ridge can often be very skinny with powerful winds whipping through the valleys. Check the wind advisory if you plan on doing hikes with ridges.

Zero/Nero: Someone who is taking a day off or hikes “nearly zero miles” this is vital to those thru hiking for rest, recovery and rejuvenation.

You know you’re the real deal if you’ve been given a Trail Name nickname on the trail. Typically given to those who are thru hiking given by another hiker along the way. It is almost a form of initiation and a special day when you are given your Trail Name.

I hope you have enjoyed this post and found it informative. This is by no means all of the terms, but it will give you a start to some commonly used hiker slang.




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