After the release of the Reese Witherspoon movie based on Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild and a movie version of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, long-distance hiking came into the media spotlight. Those not in the loop may be a bit lost as to all of the hiking terminology being thrown around.
As someone who has thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, I’ve created a handy guide to help you understand what the heck we long-distance hikers are talking about.
AT (spoken in individual letters: A-T)
The Appalachian Trail
The weight of the gear a hiker is carrying, not including food, water, fuel, and the clothes on his or her back.
A hiker who takes side trails, which are traditionally blazed in blue, instead of the main trail.
To drink as much water at a water source as possible, so as to not have to carry as much water to the next source.
CDT (spoken in individual letters: C-D-T)
Continental Divide Trail
To camp out under the stars instead of in a shelter.
To hike a large portion of a trail and then flip up to another location and hike back to where the first portion ended. This can be done to ensure the best weather along certain stretches of trail or to avoid large groups of other hikers.
Anger due to hunger; when one is hangry, poor decision making occurs.
A box kept at hiker locations (hostels, trail angel houses, etc.) wherein hikers can leave their unwanted items and pick up other hikers’ unwanted items.
The smell of a long distance hiker who wears the same sweaty outfit every day, does not wear deodorant, and showers maybe once a week at best. This smell attaches itself to all of the hiker’s belongings.
A massive hunger which kicks in after a few weeks of burning large amounts of calories on trail. Hiker hunger cannot be satisfied.
The state a hiker’s legs reach after a few weeks on trail in which they are strong and accustomed to big miles; could be characterized by amazing calves.
The time at which most hikers go to sleep, usually at dark or even earlier.
What thru hikers become after a certain amount of time on the trail, characterized by a complete lack of care for social niceties, a distinctive smell, and a pride in the aforementioned.
HYOH (Hike Your Own Hike)
A saying meant to express the idea that a hiker should do what is best for them on the trail and not worry about how other hikers do things.
JMT (spoken in individual letters: J-M-T)
John Muir Trail
LASHer (LASH: Long A** Section Hiker)
Someone who hikes a very, very long section of a trail.
LNT (Leave No Trace)
An ethics philosophy with seven principles that will leave the least impact on the land while recreating outdoors.
A day in which a hiker goes nearly zero miles.
A person who hikes northbound.
PCT (spoken in individual letters: P-C-T)
Pacific Crest Trail
A hiker who is more concerned with following women than following the trail.
A hiker who hikes every foot of the trail they are on; these hikers don’t deviate by stepping even an inch off the main trail for side trails.
A notebook kept at hiker locations (hostels, trail angel houses, etc.) wherein hikers can sign and leave notes for other hikers behind them.
Someone who hikes just a section of a trail at one time.
Carrying only the essentials instead of a full pack for a full day of hiking, then returning home or sleeping indoors for the night. The pack or the hiker is usually shuttled one direction to accomplish this. Slack packers often string together their day’s hikes to complete a longer trail.
A person who hikes southbound.
To camp in a location with the intention of not being seen.
To hike the entirety of a long–distance trail in one go.
Someone who helps hikers out in any way, e.g. rides, food, or trail magic (see below).
A random act of kindness or object found on the trail, anything from a cooler full of sodas sitting at a road crossing to someone inviting you to a home cooked meal and a chance to sleep in a real bed.
A pseudonym that a hiker takes on as his or her trail identity.
Someone who has hiked all three “big” long-distance trails in the US: the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail.
Ibuprofen, called thus because of the regularity with which some hikers take it.
A location hikers get sucked in to and have a hard time leaving, like fun towns or trail angel houses.
A hiker who hitchhikes around sections of the trail, following the “yellow blazes” of the highway.
To finagle treats from day hikers or picnickers, much like Yogi Bear.
To thru-hike a whole trail, and then turn around and go back to the beginning.
A day in which a hiker goes zero miles.
About the author
Kristin McLane says, “I got into backpacking in my early twenties, doing just a few one or two night trips with friends. I started thinking about thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) and in 2013 and I gave it a go, completing all 2,185.9 miles from Georgia to Maine.
“After the AT, I knew I had to find a way to keep the outdoor lifestyle going. I became a Leave No Trace Master Educator through a NOLS course in the Grand Canyon, and a Wilderness Guide the following year.
“In 2015, I took off on the Pacific Crest Trail hoping to hike all 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada.”
Find her online