Glossary of trail slang & lingo

Appalachian Mountain Terms

Gap/ notch/ hollow/ holler

(n) All of these terms refer to the same geographic feature: a cleft between two mountains or mountain ridges that is too narrow and small to be a valley but not steep or narrow enough to be a gorge or ravine. Sometimes a gap/ notch/ hollow/ holler can afford an easier path through a mountainous area, but they are not the same as a the high mountain passes of the Sierras. Their size varies from something large enough to fit a small town, to something only large enough to walk through. 


The different terms are regional but occasionally overlap so that two terms are used in the same area. "Gap" seems to be used mostly along the trail in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee. "Hollow" and its more heavily accented variant "holler" dominate in Virginia and West Virginia. "Notch" dominates in New England.



(n) Rather than a jumble of individual mountain peaks like in the Rockies, much of Appalachia looks like the folds of an accordion, with the earth seemingly folded into long thin mountains. The tops of these folds are not peaks or summits but ridgelines, and the AT is often routed onto a ridgeline where it stays without descending into a valley of gap for many miles, particularly in Virginia.  


(v) To cut a new path through forest or other natural lands

(n) The noun can refer to any marks made on trees to identify the location of a trail. Metal plates stamped with the AT logo were nailed to tree trunks in the early days of the Appalachian Trail. 

Today, blaze primarily refers to painted rectangles the size of a dollar bill, roughly 2x4 inches tall. The Appalachian Trail route is marked with white blazes. Short side trails to shelters, water sources, scenic spots, et cetera are invariably marked with blue blazes.


(v) From “blaze” comes a whole vocabulary to describe different actions while hiking. These terms are primarily used on the AT and they do not translate to other trails very well. 


  • White Blazing refers to staying on the main AT route and avoiding blue-blazed side and loop trails.
  • Blue Blazing refers to taking side and loop trails to see sights like waterfalls that are off the main trail. We suspect blue was first chosen to indicate a side trail to water, and later evolved to include any side trails, but have not been able to confirm that hypothesis.
  • Yellow Blazing refers to the yellow line in the center of roads. It is a derogatory term for thru-hikers hitchhiking to skip sections.
  • Green Blazing is a euphemism for smoking pot
  • Pink Blazing jokingly refers to a male hiker chasing after a female hiker


Bounce Box

(n) Refers to a package of gear, clothes, other items that a hiker does not need currently and so does not want to carry, but may want in the future. Rather than mail the stuff home, they address the box to themselves and send it to a location farther up the Trail. Usually this is Priority Mail box sent from post office to post office. As long as you do not open the package, Priority Mail boxes can be forwarded for free, and thus “bounce” down the trail from town to town with you.

(v) To bounce refers to the act of mailing a bounce box. “I bounced the second half of AWOL's book to Harper's Ferry since I won’t need it till then.”



(v) To hike off-trail and push into the undergrowth. To make progress you have to whack bushes and branches out of the way. Then they whack you back.


Camel Up

(v) Since water is heavy, hikers may decide to drink a lot of water while in camp or stopped for lunch, rather than carry a lot of water between stops. The hope is that their body will hold that water like a camel stores water in its hump, so they don’t become thirsty later. We have not found any scientific evidence that this actually happens, but hikers do it nonetheless. “Our packs are already so heavy from resupplying, let’s camel up and get more water at lunch.”


Stealth Camp

(n) The noun form is usually “stealth site.”

(v) To camp somewhere other than an officially designated campsite. Originally it referred to instances where you couldn’t find a place to camp legally or safely and so hid to avoid being seen by private property owners, motorists, land managers, rangers, et cetera. In addition to hiding behind thick cover, setting up after dark and leaving before dawn were techniques to avoid detection. Currently hikers use stealthing to refer to any unofficial campsite as in, “I wasn’t going to reach the shelter before dark so I stealthed somewhere near the trail.”


Cowboy Camping

(v) In the movies, cowboys of the old west slept out under the stars next to their campfires. They didn’t use a tent or even a canvas tarp, just stretched out on their saddle blankets. Today, when backpackers forgo their tent, put their sleeping pad directly on the ground, and pull on their sleeping bag, they are cowboy camping. Usually shortened to just “cowboying” or “cowboyed” as in, “It was so nice last night I just cowboyed.”


Zero Day

(n) A day spent off-trail or not hiking, and thus doing zero miles. Can be shortened to simply “zero,” as in “I’m going to take another zero tomorrow.”

(v) To spend a day off-trail or not hiking. Can be shortened to just “zero” as in, “You wanna zero again tomorrow?”


Nero Day

(n) A near-zero day where you hike a few miles before stopping. Can be shortened to just “nero” as in, “I took a nero yesterday and got all my resupply done, so today I’m just chillin.”

(v) To hike just a few miles, well below your daily average, before stopping. Can be shortened to just “nero” as in, “Let’s nero here, do a little resupply, and then zero in the next town.”




A thru-hike completed without going in a single direction the entire time, usually motivated by weather concerns. On the Appalachian Trail, for example, Mount Katahdin is often closed by October 15th due to extreme weather/snow. If a northbound hiker arrives in say, Harpers Ferry WV and decides he or she will not make it to Katahdin by then, they may drive up to Maine and hike south back to Harper's Ferry. In that way they hike the entire trail in one season, just not in a single direction. By hiking south as the season moves into fall, they hike away from colder temperatures toward warmer ones.


Hiker Bubble

(n) A large cluster of people hiking within a few days of each other. Between bubbles hikers are few and far between. Bubbles form as people make friends and synchronize their paces. Bubbles can also form if prolonged bad weather discourages hikers from leaving a town or a camp. As each day of bad weather passes, more and more people arrive in town and remain there. Hikers once separated by days are now in the same place, while no one is on the trail ahead of them. Once the weather clears, everyone leaves town on the same day, creating a massive bubble.


Hiker Friendly

(adj) Refers to any business, or even a whole town, that actively works to make hikers feel welcome and invited. Motels that will hold a package for you, restaurants that set aside a place to store your backpack, and outfitters with couches where hikers can chill out and charge their phones, are all examples of what can make something hiker friendly.


We wouldn't call any place hiker "unfriendly," however, since that would imply that a business was actively discriminating against hikers, which is illegal. "Hiker indifferent" is more accurate.


Hiker Hobble

(n) The limping wobble that hikers develop on zero-days from swollen knees, swollen feet, or blisters. Seems to go away when we're actually hiking.


Hiker Hunger

(n) It's self explanatory.


Hiker Midnight

(n) About 8:30pm. Thru-hikers become accustomed to getting into bed soon after nightfall. Staying up late while in town is tough.


“Hike Your Own Hike”

A expression used by hikers to emphasize the personal, unique, and idiosyncratic nature of a thru-hike. Often used as a rebuttal to "purists" or any other attempt to (see below). Can be used defensively as in, "Don't tell me what to do. Hike your own hike." Can be used to soften advice as in, "That's how I do it, but it may not work for you. Hike your own hike."



(n) acronym for “pointless up-down,” used to express frustration at long or steep uphill climbs that are not rewarded with views at the top. The term is primarily used on the AT, where PUDs are plentiful.



(n) A thru-hiker dedicated to hiking every foot of the primary trail and who will not take blue-blazed side trails or loop trails, let alone skip a section by hitchhiking. Some purists choose not to slackpack either, asserting it violates the spirit of the hike. Purists are most common on the AT and not often found on other trails.


We don’t like the word “purist” since it contains an implicit argument that any hiker who does not abide by this rigid orthodoxy is somehow impure, tainted, or otherwise corrupted. The purist positions himself as the benchmark by which all other thru-hikers are judged. The most strident purists argue that if someone takes a blue-blazed loop trail then they have not “hiked the whole trail” and thus do not deserve to say they are a thru-hiker or have thru-hiked. We believe this kind of orthodox adherence to arbitrary rules violates the spirit of the Trail.


Ride Bride

(n) Dirty, bearded men traveling alone can have a hard time getting a hitch. Women and couples traveling together get rides faster. A woman can help a man get a hitch simply by standing next to him while he has his thumb out. When that happens, she is his ride bride. This relationship can be thought of as one-way. After all, women don’t need men to get a ride, but women may feel safer hitching with another (male) hiker than when alone.



(v) Hiking without your full pack during a thru-hike. This is only done with assistance. The hiker takes a mostly empty backpack with lunch and maybe rain gear or an extra jacket, while someone else takes the rest of their stuff to a pre-determined point farther up the Trail.


Trail Magic

(n) Unsolicited, and often unexpected, gifts and assistance to hikers. Usually comes from strangers, but if your friends surprise you at a road crossing and take you to dinner, that's trail magic too.


Trail Angel

(n) Someone who dispenses trail magic. On the AT there are "professional" trail angels who host hikers in their home every year, off rides to the grocery, et cetera. They may even have business cards that say "trail angel" and pin them to trees near road crossings or in trail registers at shelters.


Trail Karma


(n) The use of "karma" here does not refer to the Hindu or Buddhists beliefs about "the sum of a person's actions in this and previous states of existence deciding their fate in future existences." Instead it is more like the vaguer, westernized version of the idea about cosmic cause-and-effect — that your actions will bring about inevitable results, good or bad, not directly but through vague, undefined cosmic forces. No one hiking the Trail likely believes in cosmic forces, however. The expression is often used as an admonishment for non-ethical behavior. If someone leaves trash in a fire pit, another hiker might say, "Bad trail karma, man." It is also used when referring to ethical behavior. If someone finds trash in a fire pit and decides to pack it out themselves, they might say, "Good trail karma, you know?"



(v) Besides wearing a tie, Yogi the Bear’s defining characteristic was that he concocted conniving schemes to steal picnic baskets from park visitors. While thru-hiking, you are — like Yogi the Bear — a creature living in the woods, different from day-hikers and weekend visitors. When you approach and chat up anyone besides your fellow thru-hikers in order to get a ride, meal, et cetera you are yogi-ing. It can be used in both a positive and negative way. Some people are just naturally charming and comfortable talking to strangers and so they amaze their shyer hiking friends by how easily they get offered rides or free Cokes. Critics see yogi-ing as scheming and deceitful, a tactic of using someone’s politeness to get what you want from them.



(n) A type of thru-hike wherein after completing their thru-hike in one direction, a hiker turns around and hikes the entire trail again, in the opposite direction.