Kristen Fuller | 10.27.2018

She wanted more, more slang, more figures of speech, the bee's knees, the cats pajamas, horse of a different color, dog-tired, she wanted to talk like she was born here, like she never came from anywhere else.

Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The other week I was perusing a hiking Facebook group and I literally laughed out loud when I saw a post on trail lingo, the words or phrases used on the trail that common folk would never understand. I have had so many conversations with friends, strangers, and my mom regarding the outdoors, and when I start dropping words like “trail magic," “cat hole,” “alpine start,” and “sweep,” I tend to get some pretty ridiculous looks. Usually I just ignore the looks and go about my conversation regarding my most recent adventure.

But seriously, how ridiculous are some of these terms? I think this would make the best drinking game around a campfire: whoever shouts out the wrong description to a term has to drink.

I thought I would drop some knowledge by sharing the meaning of some trail terms I often hear from others and use myself. Do you know the meaning to all these terms? I really hope my mom reads this!

cat•hole (n.)

A small hole (6 to 8 inches deep) a hiker digs to bury their poop in the wild.

al•pine start (n.)

Getting an early mountain ascent start (midnight to 3 a.m.) to avoid lightning or rock falls.

cow•boy camp•ing (n.)

Sleeping under the stars without any form of shelter. Just a sleeping bag and mat does the trick in warm weather (watch out for bugs).

scat (n.)

Animal poop.

scram•ble (n.), scram•bl•ing (n.)

Using your hands and feet to climb up rocks and boulders. I despise scrambling.

cramp•ons (n.)

Yes this term sounds like menstruation, but it actually refers to a spike-like traction device you put on your hiking boots in order to hike through snow and ice.

bear can•is•ter (n.)

A container that you store food and scented items in that is bear-proof if you use it correctly.

blaze (n.)

A colored mark, usually painted or nailed to a tree, about 4 inches tall by 2 inches wide. These are used to help guide hikers if the trail gets hard to follow or makes an abrupt turn. White blazes refer to the trail markers on the AT (Appalachian Trail). Pink blazers refer to guys chasing attractive women on the trail.

bon•us mi•les (n.)

Extra miles you end up hiking to re-supply or when you made the wrong turn. Nobody likes these!

wag•bag (n.)

A bag you carry your poop in when you are forbidden to dig a cat hole. One of the many reasons why I do not enjoy Mount Whitney.

scree•ski (n.)

That shitty, loose, tiny gravel that is difficult to walk on but would be more fun to ski on.

switch•back (n.)

Oh Lord no! The never-ending zig-zag pathways that lead to the summit (top of the mountain). These apparently make the climb easier and prevent erosion. Do people actually enjoy switchbacks?

cairn (n.)

Those ridiculous looking man made rock towers made to direct hikers in the correct direction on the trail (trail markers). They should be close enough to see the next one in heavy fog and high enough to see above fallen snow. Unfortunately the general public likes to build these for fun or as a form of expression without understanding the actual meaning behind them. This confuses hikers and breaks the rules of LNT (see below).

Dir•ty Girls (n., prop.)

The most colorful and best hiking gaiters on the market!

shut•tle hike (n.)

When you have to drop one car off at the end of the trail and leave one car at the beginning of the trail for a one-way hike. If you do not shuttle, you will have to hitch a ride back to the trailhead!

L•N•T (n. and imp., abbrev.)

Leave No Trace, a set of seven guidelines hikers must follow that prevents trail and outdoor destruction. Don’t pee in a river, please bury your poop, don’t camp on new green growth, and please carry out all of your trash (including toilet paper).

post•hole (n.)

Hiking in deep slushy snow usually without snowshoes or skis where you leave large holes behind. A sloppy way to hike, but sometimes unavoidable. When I was hiking Mount Bierdstat last spring in the snow, I was post holing to my waist the last 3 miles with snowshoes, and it was the longest and most painful 3 miles of my life. At one point I became stuck and had to dig myself out.

sin•gle•track (n.)

A trail made for one-way traffic. Think follow the leader and pull over for other hikers trying to pass you.

slack•pack (v.), slack•pack•ing (n.)

Lazy backpacking, like only carrying your daypack while porters, mules, or vehicles haul your gear.

trail can•dy (n.)

(slang, Amer., sometimes derogatory) Eye candy, but on the trail. Also known as an attractive hiker.

tri•ple crown (n.)

No, not a horse race! Hiking all three major national scenic trails: the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail. I am guessing this is just less than 8,000 miles.

ul•tra•light (n. and adj.)

Carrying the lightest backpacking gear possible. Usually base weight (sleeping bag, mat, tent, clothing) is less than 10 pounds.

fun fac•tor (n.)

The amount of fun you are actually having on the trail. I always say if there is no fun factor, it is not worth the hike, and it is time to turn around and go home.

ze•ro (n.)

The best term ever when you are on a long trip or thru-hike, taking a day to rest at camp or stay in town to eat, shower, drink, or do whatever you want that does not involve hiking.

wet•ted out (adj.)

When all your waterproof gear is no longer waterproof. Hope you have a trash bag handy!

al•pine zone (n.)

The zone above the tree line at the top of a mountain that is characterized by rocks and soil and that resembles the moon. This can range in elevation, usually between 9,000 and 11,000 feet above sea level.

dirt•bag (n.)

A dirty hiker. I was walking into El Pollo Loco to get my burrito fix after finishing a four-day hike on the Lost Coast Trail, I camped two nights beforehand, so I hadn't showered in six days. My clothes were dirty and my hair was a wreck. I basically resembled a homeless person wearing expensive brand-named hiking clothes ordering a burrito without a care in the world. This is the ultimate description of a dirtbag.

glis•sade (n. and v.)

An incredibly fun way to descend a snowcapped mountain slope, sitting and sliding down, usually holding an ice axe to be used to slow or stop the slide.

woof•er (n.)

WFR or Wilderness First-Responder, which requires a week-long course of moderate outdoor training on rescue scenarios and backcountry emergencies.

death march (n.)

A long boring hike with no views in 90-degree weather or an uninteresting trail you must take in order to reach the desired trail. I consider fire roads a death march, but yet we must take them in order to get to the beautiful trail.

Four•teen•er (n.),

(also 14•er, n.) A mountain that stands above 14,000 feet in elevation. My mom still thinks this refers to a hike that is 14 miles long no matter how many times I explain this concept to her.

bear bur•ri•to (n.)

Hammock. I have an obsession with burritos, so this is my favorite term.

blow•out (n.)

No, not a diaper blowout. When your hiking boots take a beating, and you need to repair them with duct tape or string to hold the sole and shoe together. It is now time for a pair of new shoes!

dry camp (n. and v.)

A waterless camping spot. In other words, you have to carry all of your water in. I have had my fair share of dry camping trips; some were fun, others were just plain aggravating.

trail ma•gic (n.), trail an•gel (n.)

When something spontaneously wonderful happens on the trail: you meet a fantastic person, someone gives you food or supplies (in my case, beer), or you are offered a ride from a passing stranger. Trail angels are often people who give out trail magic, and let me tell you, trail magic goes around and comes back around to you.

Go•girl (n., prop.)

A device women can use to allow them to urinate standing up and pee like a man. Also known as a Shewee.

sweep (n.)

The last hiker that takes up the rear in a group to ensure the entire group makes it safely to their final destination. (I love my sweeps on group hikes!)

trow•el (n.)

A shovel to dig a cathole.

sum•mit fe•ver (n.)

When a hiker will do anything in his or her power to reach the summit, even if they put themselves or others at risk of injury or illness (we have all been there).

GORP (n., abbrev.)

Good old raisins and peanuts.

SO•BO (adj., abbrev.) or NO•BO (adj., abbrev.)

Southbound or northbound in reference to the direction a hiker is traveling on a trail, usually on a thru-hike.

S•A•R (n., abbrev.)

Search and rescue volunteers that are trained in backcountry wilderness and give up their time to rescue lost or injured hikers.

wi•dow•ma•ker (n.)

Trees that have already lost limbs or have potential to fall. Don’t set up camp or sit under one of these!


Trail Muffin: Inedible leftovers found while clomping along behind a party of horseback riders.
"Above tree line" and "below tree line" -- Denotes general exposure and the chance of a lightening bolt to the ass after 1 PM on a summer day in the Colorado high country.

High Country -- Those mountains you see sticking up in the sky during a Denver sunset.

Red Snow -- Don't eat it, it'll make you go.

Yellow Snow -- Don't eat it, somebody already went.

Elk Duds -- They look like Milk Duds but you DEFINITELY don't wanna eat these.

Peak Bagger -- Hiker aiming to summit all of the 14ers in the Rockies.

False Summit -- It looks like the top...until you get there and realize there's one more, even higher. #%&*!

Dead Branch Tattoo/ Rock Tattoo/Trail Tattoo -- When you get scraped on the trail deep enough to be able to point to it and tell the story year after year.

War Wounds -- Injuries earned hiking and climbing stuff. (See Dead Branch Tattoo)

Rocky Mountain High -- Means something different now than what John Denver had in mind. I think. OK, not sure.

Altitude Sickness -- Variations include Acute Mountain Sickness, High Altitude Pulmonary Edema, High Altitude Cerebral Edema, and apoxia. Anybody can get it, from Weekend Warrior schlubs to Olympic athletes, and it sucks entirely. Best treatment? Get lower.

Weekend Warrior -- They only enter the wilderness on Saturdays and Sundays and are notorious for either attempting feats beyond their skill level or just lying about it Monday morning at the office while they show off their Dead Branch Tattoo.
A few others:

Blue bag / blue bagging = carrying ones waste back out
Choss = bad rock, overgrown, crumbly
Bivouac = camping without proper gear / improptu
Veggie Belay = using vegetation to climb up, stay on trail
Bomber = a solid anchor when rock climbing
Sketch = not bomber
Cache = Leaving a stash of food / water / gear
Blazing trail = leading usually in snow
Brown blazing = off to take a dump
Rack = rock climbing gear hanging on your harness.
Beta = info about the climb/hike you planning from someone that's been there.
Bushwacking = overgrown trail
Ford = crossing a stream / creek
Cirque = Group of Mtns. in a circle/half circle
PCT = Pacific Coast Trail (also known as a 'Thru-hike')
JMT = John Muir trail (part of PCT)
Talus = large rocks to scramble over
Topo = Topographical map
Declination = The diff. between Magnetic and True North
AYCE = All You Can Eat
Back Country = In an area without roads.
Mountain Money = toilet paper
Class = reference to the complexity of rock climb (1-6)
Base layer = clothing next to the skin
Ten essentials = don't leave home without them
Spork = One to share
Vitamin i = Ibuprophen (should be the 11th essential)
Trail Angels = People that do nice things along the trail.

Have updates, photos, alerts, or just want to leave a comment?
Sign In and share them.