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Ridiculous Trail Lingo That Every Hiker Must Know

11.08.18

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Ridiculous Trail Lingo That Every Hiker Must Know

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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 in regards to 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: A small hole (6 to 8 inches deep) a hiker digs to bury their poop in the wild.
  • Alpine start: Getting an early mountain ascent start (midnight to 3 a.m.) to avoid lightning or rock falls.
  • Cowboy camping: 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: Animal poop.
  • Scrambling: Using your hands and feet to climb up rocks and boulders. I despise scrambling.
  • Crampons: 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 canister: A container that you store food and scented items in that is bear proof if you use it correctly.
  • Blaze: 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 blazers refer to the trail markers on the AT (Appalachian Trail). Pink blazers refer to guys chasing attractive women on the trail.
  • Bonus miles: Extra miles you end up hiking to re-supply or when you made the wrong turn. Nobody likes these!
  • Wag bag: 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: That shitty loose tiny gravel that is difficult to walk on but would be more fun to ski on.
  • Switchback: 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: 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.
  • Dirty Girls: The most colorful and best hiking gaiters on the market!
  • Shuttle hike: 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!
  • LNT: 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: 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 three 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.
  • Singletrack: A trail made for one-way traffic. Think follow the leader and pull over for other hikers trying to pass you.
  • Slackpacking: Lazy backpacking, like only carrying your daypack while porters, mules or vehicles, haul your gear.
  • Trail candy: Eye candy but on the trail. Also known as an attractive hiker.
  • Triple crown: 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.
  • Ultralight: Carrying the lightest backpacking gear possible. Usually base weight (sleeping bag, mat, tent, clothing) is less than 10 pounds.
  • Fun factor: 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.
  • Zero: The best term ever when you are on a long trip/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.
  • Wetted out: When all your waterproof gear is no longer waterproof. Hope you have a trash bag handy!
  • Alpine zone: 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: 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 dirt bag.
  • Glissade: An incredibly fun way to descend a snow capped mountain slope, sitting and sliding down, usually holding an ice axe to be used to slow or stop the slide.
  • Woofer: WFR or Wilderness First-Responder, which requires a week-long course of moderate outdoor training on rescue scenarios and backcountry emergencies.
  • Death march: 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.
  • Fourteener: 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 burrito: Hammock. I have an obsession with burritos, so this is my favorite term.
  • Blowout: 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: 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 magic: 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.
  • Gogirl: A device women can use to allow them to urinate standing up and pee like a man.
  • Sweep: 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!).
  • Trowel: A shovel to dig a cat hole.
  • Summit fever: 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: Good old raisins and peanuts.
  • SOBO/NOBO: Southbound or Northbound in reference to the direction a hiker is traveling on a trail, usually on a thru-hike. FYI, I am hiking the John Muir Trail NOBO next summer =).
  • SAR: Search and rescue volunteers that are trained in backcountry wilderness and give up their time to rescue lost or injured hikers.
  • Widowmaker: Trees that have already lost limbs or have a potential to fall. Don’t set up camp or sit under one of these!
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