A-Z Hiking Terms Glossary

Access Trail: An access trail provides entry to a specific area, such as a beach or recreation spot, or quick access to another trail, facilitating exploration and adventure.

 

AT (Appalachian Trail): The Appalachian Trail (AT) spans over 2,100 miles from Georgia to Maine along the eastern United States, offering a challenging and rewarding hiking experience.

 

Backcountry: Backcountry refers to remote wilderness areas accessed by trails rather than roads, where amenities like shelters and bathrooms are scarce. It offers a rugged and immersive outdoor experience.

 

Base Weight: Base weight in backpacking refers to the total weight of gear excluding food, water, and fuel. It helps hikers gauge their carrying load, including essentials like tents, sleeping bags, and clothing.

 

Bear Cans (Bear Canisters): Bear cans or canisters are containers designed to secure food while camping or backpacking in bear country, preventing bears from accessing human food sources.

 

Bivy or Bivy Bags: A bivy bag, short for bivouac shelter, is a lightweight shelter used by solo backpackers for protection against the elements like rain and wind during outdoor adventures.

 

Blaze: A blaze serves as a trail marker commonly found in the eastern United States, aiding hikers in navigation by using painted marks on rocks or trees along the trail.

 

Bonk: Experiencing the bonk refers to a sudden loss of energy while hiking due to being under-fueled or dehydrated. Proper nutrition and hydration help prevent this energy depletion on the trail.

 

Bushwack: Bushwacking involves navigating through wild or uncultivated terrain off-trail, often requiring hikers to traverse dense brush and unmaintained areas during their outdoor explorations.

 

Cache: A cache is a hidden supply container of food, water, or gear stashed by hikers in the backcountry for emergency use. Properly managed caches prevent littering and wildlife disturbances.

 

Cairn: Cairns are stacked stone formations used as trail markers for navigation and safety purposes in outdoor environments, guiding hikers along their routes.

 

Cathole: A cathole is a hole dug for depositing human waste outdoors while hiking or camping. Proper cathole digging techniques ensure waste disposal is sanitary and environmentally friendly.

 

CDT (Continental Divide Trail): The Continental Divide Trail (CDT) is a renowned long-distance thru-hike stretching approximately 3,100 miles from Mexico to Canada, traversing along the Continental Divide of the Americas. As one of the Triple Crown trails, alongside the Appalachian Trail (AT) and Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), the CDT offers hikers a challenging and rewarding journey through diverse landscapes and terrains.

 

Cowboy Camping: Cowboy camping involves sleeping outdoors directly on the ground without a tent or shelter, opting for simplicity and immediacy in setting up for the night. While some hikers choose cowboy camping for its ease and connection to nature, it's essential to have a tent available for unexpected weather changes or safety concerns during the night.

 

Crampons: Crampons are traction devices worn over hiking boots to provide grip on firm snow and ice surfaces, particularly useful for navigating steep and slippery terrain. Unlike microspikes, crampons offer enhanced durability and stability on icy slopes, although they may not be as comfortable for extended walking periods.

 

Day Hike: A day hike is a shorter hiking excursion that can be completed within a single day, offering outdoor enthusiasts an opportunity to explore nature without the need for overnight camping. Day hikes provide a convenient way to enjoy scenic trails, experience the outdoors, and engage in physical activity within a limited time frame.

 

Fastpacking: Fastpacking combines running and backpacking, allowing individuals to cover more ground with an ultralight setup, ideal for those seeking speed and distance during their outdoor adventures.

 

False Summit: A false summit is a point along a trail that appears to be the mountain's peak but is not the actual summit, often surprising hikers with additional elevation gain beyond the deceptive high point.

 

Flipflop: Flipflop hikers start at a midpoint of a trail, hike in one direction until reaching the end, then return to the starting point and complete the trail in the opposite direction, offering a unique approach to thru-hiking.

 

Fourteeners (14ers): Fourteeners are mountain peaks exceeding 14,000 feet above sea level. Colorado boasts the highest concentration of 14ers in the United States, providing challenging and rewarding summit experiences for hikers and climbers.

 

Frontcountry: Frontcountry refers to more accessible and developed outdoor areas compared to backcountry locations. These areas are often well-marked, signed, and may not require hiking for access, making them popular destinations for day trips or car camping experiences.

 

Gaiters: Gaiters are protective garments worn on the lower legs to keep them dry, clean, and free from debris like dirt, snow, and water during hiking or backpacking adventures, enhancing comfort and protection.

 

Glissading: Glissading involves descending a steep snow or ice-covered slope by sliding in a controlled manner while seated, akin to sledding without a sled. Caution is crucial as glissading requires experience to avoid hazards like crevasses or rock fields.

 

Gorp: Gorp, short for "Good old raisins and peanuts," is a popular hiking snack also known as trail mix, typically containing nuts, seeds, M&Ms, and other ingredients for a tasty and energy-boosting trail treat.

 

GPS: Global Positioning System (GPS) is a satellite-based navigation system used by hikers through handheld devices to determine their location and navigate from one point to another accurately. GPS communication devices like Garmin inReach Mini offer two-way messaging for safety in remote areas.

 

Grade: Grade refers to the steepness of a trail, often expressed as a percentage. Trails with lower grades are milder, while those with higher grades pose more challenging terrain for hikers.

 

High Alpine: High alpine terrain refers to lofty mountains situated above the treeline, offering stunning vistas and unique ecosystems that characterize alpine environments.

 

Highpointing: Highpointing involves summiting the highest point in a specific area, such as states or national parks, serving as a goal for hikers to achieve notable peaks across different regions.

 

Hiker Box: A hiker box is a communal container where hikers leave items like snacks, supplies, or gear for fellow hikers on long-distance trails, fostering a sense of community and sharing among outdoor enthusiasts.

 

Hot Spots: Hot spots are irritated areas on the feet that precede blisters, signaling potential friction points. Treating hot spots promptly can prevent them from developing into painful blisters during hikes.

 

Hydration Reservoirs: Hydration reservoirs, also known as bladders, are water-tight bags with drinking hoses designed for hands-free hydration during hiking. They are commonly carried in backpacks or hydration packs for convenient access to water on the trail.

 

JMT (John Muir Trail): The John Muir Trail (JMT) spans 220 miles through California's High Sierras, offering an awe-inspiring wilderness experience that typically takes about three weeks to complete. Hiking the JMT is often described as a transformative and unforgettable journey.

 

LASH (Long A** Section Hike): LASH stands for "long a** section hike," a term used to describe hikers who tackle substantial portions of thru-hikes in extended segments, providing flexibility in completing long-distance trails.

 

Leave No Trace (LNT): Leave No Trace is a core principle emphasizing minimal environmental impact and respect for nature during outdoor activities like hiking, camping, and picnicking. LNT principles guide responsible decision-making to preserve the environment and promote sustainable outdoor practices.

 

Right of Way: Right of way dictates how trail users share space, with the principle that hikers going uphill typically have the right of way. Uphill hikers exert more effort, so it's courteous for downhill hikers to yield and allow them to pass.

 

Saddle: A saddle refers to the lowest point between two peaks or highlands, resembling a dip or valley in mountainous terrain, providing a passage between elevated areas.

 

Scramble: Scrambling involves navigating steep hills and rugged terrain by using both hands and feet for balance and progress, often encountered on challenging sections of trails requiring a mix of hiking and climbing skills.

 

Scree: Scree consists of small, loose stones found on slopes or at the base of mountains, posing a challenge for hikers due to unstable footing. Caution is advised when traversing scree, especially on inclines, to prevent slipping.

 

Section Hiking: Section hiking involves completing segments of a long-distance thru-hike over multiple trips rather than in one continuous journey. This approach allows hikers to tackle portions of a trail at their own pace and convenience.

 

Shoulder Season: Shoulder season refers to the transitional periods just before and after summer, typically in late fall and early spring. These times offer favorable weather conditions with fewer crowds, making them ideal for backpacking adventures.

 

SOBO: SOBO denotes a southbound hiker, someone trekking in a southward direction along a trail or route, offering a different perspective and experience compared to northbound journeys.

 

Spur Trail: A spur trail branches off from the main trail but doesn't loop back or connect with another trail, often leading to a viewpoint or campsite before ending abruptly, providing side excursions for hikers.

 

Switchback: Switchbacks are zigzagging trail sections that traverse back and forth horizontally up a hillside, reducing the steepness of ascents or descents by creating a more gradual path, enhancing trail sustainability and ease of travel.

 

Talus: Talus refers to a field of boulders or rock debris found at the base of a cliff, creating challenging terrain for hikers to navigate due to the uneven and unstable nature of the rocks.

 

The Ten Essentials: The Ten Essentials is a list of crucial items established in the 1930s to ensure climbers and adventurers are prepared for emergencies during outdoor activities. The essentials include navigation tools, illumination, sun protection, first aid supplies, fire-starting materials, shelter, water, extra clothing, and more.

 

Thru Hike: Thru-hiking involves completing an established end-to-end trail in a single trip, spanning days, weeks, or months without interruption. Popular thru-hikes like the Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and John Muir Trail offer immersive long-distance trekking experiences.

 

Topo Lines or Topo Map: Topographic maps display detailed and accurate representations of natural and man-made features on the Earth's surface, emphasizing elevation and terrain contours through contour lines. Understanding how to interpret topographic maps is essential for navigating backcountry landscapes effectively.

 

Trail Angels (or Trail Magic): Trail angels are individuals who provide acts of kindness or assistance to thru-hikers on trails, offering support such as leaving supplies in designated areas, providing rides, meals, or accommodations along the trail to enhance hikers' experiences.

 

Trailhead: The starting point of a trail is known as a trailhead, serving as the entry and exit point for hikers embarking on their outdoor adventures. For loop trails, the trailhead marks both the beginning and end of the hike.

 

Trail Junction: A trail junction occurs where two or more trails intersect or converge, providing hikers with different route options or directions to continue their journey.

 

Triple Crown: The Triple Crown refers to the collective term for the three major long-distance hiking trails in the United States: the Appalachian Trail (AT), Continental Divide Trail (CDT), and Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), representing significant challenges and achievements in thru-hiking.

 

Ultralight: Ultralight refers to a minimalist approach in backpacking, focusing on carrying lightweight gear to reduce pack weight significantly. Ultralight backpackers prioritize efficiency and simplicity, embracing the philosophy of "less is more" for enhanced mobility and comfort on the trail.

 

WAG Bag: A WAG Bag, short for "waste aggregation gelling," is a specialized bag used for containing human waste in wilderness areas where traditional restroom facilities are unavailable. Hikers must pack out their feces in WAG Bags to adhere to Leave No Trace principles and preserve the environment.

 

Waypoint: Waypoints are reference points used for navigation, aiding hikers in determining their location and guiding them towards specific destinations or landmarks along a trail. These markers can be natural features, man-made structures, or significant geographical points that assist in route finding.

 

Weekend Warrior: A weekend warrior is an outdoor enthusiast who engages in camping, backpacking, or hiking trips lasting 1 to 3 nights over weekends, balancing outdoor adventures with weekday commitments. Weekend warriors enjoy shorter excursions compared to thru-hikers but still relish the benefits of nature exploration.

 

Wicking: ,Wicking refers to the ability of fabrics to absorb and draw moisture away from the skin, promoting quick drying and breathability. Moisture-wicking materials are popular among hikers for their comfort, lightweight properties, and efficient moisture management during physical activities.

 

Widowmaker: A widowmaker is a term used to describe a large dead branch or tree that poses a potential hazard by potentially falling at any moment, especially in windy conditions. Hikers should be cautious of widowmakers and avoid setting up camp or lingering beneath them to prevent accidents.

 

Zero Days: Zero days are rest days taken by thru-hikers when they cover zero miles, allowing time for physical recovery, relaxation, exploration of local attractions, and socializing with fellow hikers. Zero days offer a valuable break from hiking routines and an opportunity to recharge before continuing the journey.

 

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