Trail Glossary


A glossary of terms used throughout the AT. I have collected these from other blogs/journals and books and do not profess to being the originator.

A.L.D.H.A.: The Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association began in 1983 as an off-trail family of fellow hikers who’ve all shared similar experiences, hopes and dreams on the Appalachian Trail and other long trails. ALDHA sponsers the Gathering each October and member volunteers compile the The THru-hikers’ Companion for the ATC. Membership in this nonprofit group is open to all.

Alpine Zone: The area consisting of all the land above tree line in New England. The alpine zone is best defined by its plant life. Conifers such as spruce and balsam grow as Krumholz near the tree line, giving way to tundra-type lichens, moss, and shrubs above.

A.M.C.: The Appalachian Mountain Club, maintaining the AT in the White Mountains of New Hampshire to Grafton Notch in Maine.

AMC Huts: In New Hampshire’s White Mountains, in heavy use areas and above treeline, the AMC provides buildings called Huts for backpackers to stay overnight.

A.T.C.: The Appalachian Trail Conservancy The Appalachian Trail Conference (ATC) is a volunteer-based, private, nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation, management, and promotion of the Appalachian Trail as a primitive setting for outdoor recreation (on foot) and for learning. ATC is both a confederation of Trail-maintaining clubs and an individual-membership organization.

AYCE: “All You Can Eat” Restaurants that offer all you can eat buffets are very popular with hungry hikers.

Bald: A low elevation mountain surrounded by forest yet devoid of trees on the crown. Typically covered with meadows, balds can offer great views and are a good place to find wild berries, they also attract much wildlife. A southern term.

Baseball Bat Shelter: An old style of shelter construction in Maine where the floor would be constructed out of parallel logs each with diameters not much greater than that of a baseball bat.

Baxter: Baxter State Park, where Katahdin is, and the AT’s Northern terminus on Baxter Peak.

Bear Bag: The bag used by hikers to hang their food out of reach of bears and other critters, see ‘Food Bag.’

Bear Cable: A permanent cable rigged high between two trees, specifically for hanging bear bags.

Blackflies: There are about 40 species of these tiny biting insects that breed in running water and flourish in late May and June in Maine. These critters are the cause for most people to hike the AT south to north; they are so aggressive that they tend to drive hikers off the trail.

Bivouac: To sleep outdoors without a tent or proper gear, usually done only in emergency situations. Though alpine climbers may do planned bivouacs on long and difficult routes, carrying gear known as a bivouac sack.

Bivy Sack: Is a lightweight and waterproof bag that covers a sleeping bag. Simple, sometimes cramped shelter.

Blazes: Are painted, 2-inch by 6-inch, vertical white rectangles that are placed at eye height on trees and other objects, in both directions, to mark the official route of the Trail. Side trails are marked with blue blazes. You see horizontal, diagonal, arrows, and other blazes along the Trail.

Blaze Orange: A very bright, visible in low light, hue of orange. The color to wear during hunting season.

Blow-Down: A tree or shrub that has fallen across the Trail. Trail Maintainers have dozens of words to describe each kind of fallen tree.

Blue Blaze: Spur trails off the AT to bad-weather routes, views, shelters, water sources etc are often marked by AT style blazes painted Blue.

Blue-Blazer: A long-distance hiker who substitutes a section of blue-blazed trail for a white-blazed section between two points on the Trail.

Bog Bridge: A narrow wooden walkway placed to protect sensitive wetlands.

Bounce Box: A mail-drop type box containing seldom-used necessities that is ‘bounced’ ahead to a town where you think you might need the contents.

Bushwhack: To hike where there is no marked trail.

BWRD: A term coined by Dr. Warren Doyle (16x AT Thru-hiker) meaning Bad Weather Rest Day. If the weather is bad and the hike ahead contains some great scenery then take a BWRD so you experience the vistas.

Cache: is a supply of food and/or supplies hidden for later retrieval.

Cairn: An obviously manmade pile of rocks erected as a trail marker. Chiefly used above timberline. Should be close enough to see the next one in heavy fog, and high enough to see above fallen snow.

Cannister Stove: The type of small backpacking stove that uses metal cans of fuel.

Caretaker: The person who maintains and collects fees at certain shelters and campsites.

Cat Hole: A small hole dug by a hiker for the deposit of human waste.

Col and Sag: Typically dips in the ridge without a road, while Gap and Notch are typically larger dips that have a road going through. Sag is a typically southern term, as is Gap, while Col and Notch are typically northern terms. Water Gap, is of course, a Gap with a river.

Companion: The ALDHA Thru-Hikers’ Companion is an AT guidebook compiled by AHLDA volunteers for the ATC.

Cove: A Southern Appalachian word meaning a high, flat valley surrounded by mountains. Cades Cove in the Smokies is the one most people know about.

Corridor: The Appalachian Trail is a long and narrow Park, sometimes less than 100 feet wide. The Area set aside for the AT to pass within is called the Trail Corridor.

Cowboy Camping: Where one camps without any shelter – just spread one’s pad and bag out under the stars and putting one’s faith in their opinion about the weather staying dry.

Croo: The crew of caretakers who man the Appalachian Mountain Club Huts. For the most part, the summer Croo will be college students.

Data Book: Published for over 25 years by the ATC the Data Book is a consolidation of the most basic guidebook information into a lightweight table of distances between major Appalachian Trail shelters, road-crossings, and features–divided according to the guidebook volumes and updated each December to account for Trail relocations, new (or removed) shelters, and other changes. Now keyed to both guidebook sections and maps.

Dead Fall: A maintainer’s term for a fallen dead tree across the trail.

DEET: A powerful insect repellant. Don’t leave home without it.

Double Blaze: Two blazes, one above the other as an indication of an imminent turn or intersection in the trail. Offset double blazes, called Garveys, indicate the direction of the turn by the offset of the top blaze.

Dead Fall: Fallen dead trees across the trail. This term is used by maintainers all the time.

Dodgeways: V-shaped stiles through fences, used where the Trail passes through livestock enclosures.

Duct Tape: A wide, heavy duty, and multi purpose tape used by hikers for everything from covering blisters to repairing gear.

End-to-Ender: An alternative term for 2,000-Miler.

Fall Line: The fall line is the most direct route downhill from any particular point. The Appalachian Trail runs the fall line in much of New England.

Flip-Flop: A term used to signify a hiker that starts hiking in one direction then at some point decides to jump ahead and hike back in the opposite direction. Some hikers on the AT will start hiking northbound from Springer Mt. and usually at Harpers Ferry they may decide to go to Katahdin and hike back down to Harpers Ferry, thus completing their thru-hike. This is a good way for someone to still get their hike completed if they are behind and their time is limited due to the oncoming winter.

Food Bag: A bag a hiker carries in their pack specifically for keeping all their food in. It is typically suspended from a tree at night so bears and varmints don’t get into it. Also called Bear Bag.

FSO ‘From Skin Out.’: When considering the weight of gear, its important to remember that your total gear weight ‘from the skin out’ is as important a total as what your pack weighs.

GAME or GAMER: A hike or hiker going from Georgia to Maine.

Gap: A southern term for a low spot along a ridge line, called a col by northern individuals.

Gear Head: A hiker whose main focus is backpacking and outdoors gear.

Giardia: More properly known as giardiasis, an infection of the lower intestines cause by the amoebic cyst, Giardia lamblia. Giardia resides in water so it is wise to always chemically treat or filter your water before drinking. Symptoms include stomach cramps, diarrhea, bloating, loss of appetite and vomiting. Also know as, a backpacker’s worst nightmare.

GORP: “Good ole raisins & peanuts”, or some other variation thereof. Also known as Trail Mix.

Gray Water: (Dirty dishwater.) Some campsites will have designated spots to dump your gray water. Such designated spots may be provided with a strainer so that you can remove your food particles from the gray water and pack those out.

Ground Control: Hiker support that handles the ‘real world’ concerns like bills and pets, and mails a hiker packages. Also known as Trail Support.

Handbook: The Thru-hiker’s Handbook is an AT guidebook compiled by Dan Bruce.

Harpers Ferry: The ATC’s National Headquarters and Information Center is located in Harpers Ferry WV, about 1000 AT miles north of Springer Mountain. A short blue blazed trail leads to HQ, where AT hikers traditionally sign the register and have their photo taken. This is the psychological halfway point on the AT.

Headlamp: A small flashlight attached to a band or strap and worn on the head.

Hicker: A person who is still trying to figure out the whole hiker/gear thing while on the trail.

Hiker Box: A cabinet or box at hostels where hikers donate unwanted food for the hikers coming behind them.

Hammock: A sleeping system that combines a tent and sleeping bag, hung between two trees.

Hostel: An establishment along the trail that has bunks, showers, and sometimes cooking and mail drops, for AT hikers.

Hydration System: An ‘improvement’ on drinking out of a bottle, consists of a plastic bladder, hose, and mouth piece/valve that allows hands free drinking.

HYOH: “Hike your own hike”, and not imitate someone else’s.

Hypothermia: Potentially fatal condition caused by insufficient heat and a drop in the body’s core temperature. Classic symptoms are call the ‘umbles’, as the victim stumbles, grumbles, mumbles, and fumbles with confused thoughts.

Iceberg: Icebergs are large rocks planted in the ground at an overused campsite to discourage any more tenting.

Katahdin: The AT’s northern terminus is at Baxter Peak on Maine’s Katahdin. Katahdin is a Penobscot Indian word meaning Greatest Mountain.

Knob: A prominent rounded hill or mountain. A southern term.

Lean-to: Another word for a three sided open shelter, used primarily in New England.

Long-Distance Hiker: A somewhat indeterminate term applied to anyone who is hiking more than a few weeks, and who usually has to re-supply at least once during his or her hike; often used interchangeably with the term thru-hiker. At Baxter State Park, a LDH is someone who has hiked in from 100 or more miles south.

LNT: ‘Leave No Trace’, a philosophy and skill used to pass as lightly as possible when backpacking. It also means that you pack-out all your trash and leave no visible signs that you were there.

Long Trail: Vermont’s Long Trail runs from the Massachusetts to Canadian border, the southern third in conjunction with the AT.

MacGyver: Based on an old TV show where the hero would construct useful devices out of common materials. To hikers it means to build or repair gear with imagination.

Mail Drop: Mail drops are a method of re-supply while hiking. A mail drop is usually made ahead of time, before the hike starts, and a person not hiking (usually a spouse or relative, but it can be a friend) mails the package according to a pre-arranged schedule so that it arrives on time for the hiker to receive it at the post office.

Maintainer: A volunteer who participates in the organized Trail-maintenance programs of the ATC and its member clubs.

MEGA or ME-GA: A hike or hiker going from Maine to Georgia.

Mountain Money: Toilet paper.

Mouse Hanger: A 12”-18” length of cord run through a tin can with a small stick tied to the end. Hung from a beam in the shelter, a hiker will hang his/her pack on the stick. Mice, attempting to climb down the rope to get into the pack are deterred by the tin can.

Nero: Almost a Zero …in other words, a very short mileage day.

NoBo: Northbound thru-hiker, also a GAMEr (Georgia to Maine)

NPS: National Park Service.

Pot Cozy: A foam or cloth wrap to keep a cooking pot warm while it finishes cooking.

Power Hiker: A hiker who habitually chooses to cover very long distances each day, often hiking late into the evening.

Privy: A trailside outhouse for solid waste.

PUDS: Thru-hiker shorthand for “pointless ups and downs”, referring to the less interesting sections of mountains thru-hikers encounter from time to time; several PUDS in a row are MUDS, which is shorthand for “mindless ups and downs”.

Puncheon: (also called a bog bridge) is a wooden walkway built to provide a stable, hardened tread-way across bogs, mud flats, and marshy areas.

Purist: 1. A hiker who wants to pass every white blaze. 2. A hiker who wants others to pass every white blaze.

Register: A log book normally found at a trail shelter or a trail head. The original intent was for hikers to sign in so a searcher needing to find a lost hiker could tell where they last were. Registers are now used for hikers to write information regarding their hike and other information that other hikers nay find useful.

Relo: A section of trail recently relocated.

Ridge Runner: A person paid by a trail-maintaining club or governmental organization to hike back and forth along a certain section of trail to educate hikers, enforce regulations, monitor trail and campsite use, and sometimes perform trail maintenance or construction duties. Such persons are most often found in high-use areas of the trail.

Section Hiker: A person who is attempting to become a 2,000-Miler by doing a series of section hikes over a period of time.

Shelter: A three sided wooden or stone building, spaced out a half day’s hike apart, near a water source, and with a privy. The AT has many kinds of shelters, from barns to cabins.

Shuttle: A ride from town to trailhead, usually for a fee.

Skunked: Failing to get a car to stop when hitch hiking.

Slabbing: A hiking term that refers to going around a mountain on a moderately graded footpath, as opposed to going straight up and over the mountain.

Slackpacking: A hiking term coined in 1980 to describe an unhurried and non-goal-oriented manner of long-distance hiking (i.e., slack: “not taut or tense, loose”), but in recent years has been used to refer simply to thru-hiking without a backpack. Recently called “Freedom Packing”.

Southbounder: A hiker who is hiking the AT from Maine to Georgia. A small minority of hikers actually hike this direction, primarily because of black flies.

Spruce Trap: When snow is deep enough that it cover the top of a spruce tree, beware. Since there will be voids in the snow pack, you can fall into those voids and get caught. When you appear to be above timberline, but you know that the trees are 8 feet high at this place in summer, then beware. Since you can’t see where the trail is, you cannot stay on it, and you cannot avoid the spruce traps.

Springer Mountain: The summit is the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

Springer Fever: is the almost uncontrollable urge to be back on the Trail that hits thru-hikers of past years each spring.

Stealth: A manner of camping where there is no indication that you are there, and no trace of your being there is left when you’ve left. Sometimes used as a term for camping illegally on public or private land.

Stile: Steps constructed over a fence to allow people, but not livestock, to pass.

Swag: The lowest connecting point between two ridges in the South.

Switchback: A method of building a trail that forms a zig-zag across the face of a mountain. The strategy is to prevent erosion and to make the climb easier. Switchbacks are not made to be short cutted, although some people do, which damages trail. Switchbacks are often appreciated by hikers.

Tarp: A simple tent with no floor or door.

“Ten Essentials”: Short lists of 10 or 12 items thought necessary to be carried by backpackers. An example of one list: Map, Compass, Water and a way to purify it, Extra food, Rain gear/extra clothing, Fire starter and matches, First aid kit, Army Knife/multi purpose tool, flashlight with extra batteries/bulbs, sun screen/sun glasses.

Tent Pad/Platform: At some camping sites, tenting is restricted to built up earthen ‘pads’ or wooden ‘platforms’ to ease impact on the area.

Thru-Hiker: Traditionally a person who is attempting to become a 2,000-Miler in a single, continuous journey leaving from one terminus of the Trail, and backpacking to the other terminus.

Trail Angel: Someone who provides unexpected help or food to a hiker.

Trailhead: Where the trail leaves a road crossing or parking lot.

Trail Magic: Unexpected, but welcome, help or food.

Trail Name: A nickname adopted by or given to a hiker. This name is used almost exclusively when communicating with others on the trail and in trail register entries.

Trail Police: A term I use for the thru-hiker observer who insists to inform you how you should, or should not, hike the trail. Usually found on WhiteBlaze and similar forums.

Trail Runner: A person who runs the AT, as opposed to walking it.

Treeline: The point of elevation on a mountain above which the climate will no longer support tree growth. Sometimes also referred to as the “alpine” area.

Thru-Hiking: The act of attempting to become a 2,000-Miler in a single, continuous journey.

Tour Hiker: A person who pretends to be hiking the entire AT, as a thru-hiker, but instead skips sections and usually looks for ways to spend more time lounging in towns and less time hiking the AT; usually scoffs at the traditions of thru-hiking and thinks that the phrase “hike your own hike” is an excuse for just about anything.

Ultra Light: A style of gear or hiking that focuses on using the lightest gear possible.

Vitamin I: Ibuprofin is an over the counter anti-inflammatory drug that many hikers use while backpacking.

Waterbar: A log or rock barrier that diverts water off the Trail to prevent erosion.

Webface: What happens to the first person on the trail each morning – they clear away all the spider webs across the trail with their face.

Web Master: The first person on the trail each morning – result (see Webface)

The Whites: The White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Whiteblazer: A term from the Appalachian Trail to describe a person hiking pure (see purist), that is, hiking past every white blaze – which are the standard trail markers on the AT. Also what members of WhiteBlaze.net are called.

Widowmaker: Limbs or whole trees themselves that have partially fallen but remain hung up overhead and so pose a danger to a person below.

Wilderness Area: An official designation for public lands set aside to be protected from humans.

Work for Stay: Some hostels, the AMC Huts in the Whites, and a few other places along the AT allow some hikers to work in stead of paying the fee for lodging.

Yellow Blaze: A term for a road due to the road markings

Yogi-ing: The good-natured art of “letting” food be offered cheerfully by strangers without actually asking them directly (If you ask, it’s begging!).

YMMV: “Your Mileage May Vary”, hiker jargon for “this worked for me, but your results/opinions might not be the same.”

Yo-Yo-ing: The act of completing one A.T. thru-hike, then immediately turning around to begin another in the opposite direction.

Z Rest: A closed cell sleeping pad that folds into a rectangular block, rather than rolling up.

Zero Day: A day in which no miles are hiked, usually because the hiker is stopping in a town to re-supply and/or rest.