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Thru-Hiker Slang & Lingo That Will Blow Your Mind

Thru-Hiker Slang & Lingo That Will Blow Your Mind

So, you find yourself interested in hiker slang, but have no idea where to start? 

Maybe you’re interested in a long-distance hike and you’ve realized thru-hiking slang makes no sense?

I’ve compiled a list of lingo and terms that I use frequently when discussing my adventures that might help you interpret my blog and other thru-hikers a little better.

Nobo: Northbound(er)

            Ex: I thru-hiked the CDT nobo in 2022.

Sobo: Southbound(er)

            Ex: I thru-hiked the CDT sobo in 2015.

Flipflop: A hike that starts at one end of the trail and hikes aways, then jumps to the other end and hikes the other direction to the point where they flipped.  Also a flipflop can refer to someone who starts somewhere in the middle of a trail and goes one direction, then goes to the opposite start/end and hikes the same direction toward the point at which they started.

            Ex: Many hikers on the CDT find a flipflop works best where they start nobo at the Mexican border to the Colorado border, then head to the Canadian border and hike south back to the Colorado border.

Thru-hiker: A person who hikes a whole long-distance trail within one year with NO gaps.  Sometimes a fire starts and hikers must skip around it.  They can choose to walk around the fire on other trails or road walks.  Sometimes they have no choice but to find a ride around it for safety.

            Ex: I have completed the whole CDT in one season; I am a thru-hiker.

Section hiker: A person who hikes one chunk of the trail at a time. It can be any sized chunk or any length of time.

            Ex: I have a buddy who has the summers off and he section hikes the CDT about 600 miles at a time.

LASHer: Long-Ass-Section-Hiker.  This hiker slang term refers to a person who will complete a massive section usually between 400-1400 miles in one go.

            Ex: My buddy is a LASHer; he hikes 600 mile sections at a time.

Weekender: A person out for a weekend on the trail with at least one overnight.

            Ex: I like to avoid popular areas near weekends because they’re full of weekenders.

Day hiker: You’ll smell them…their laundry detergent and deodorant are potent to a thru-hikers nose.  This refers to a person who does not sleep on trail, but visits by hiking only for the day.

            Ex: Popular areas are full of day hikers.

Zero day: A day when you don’t hike. Town zeros are common for some rest, resupply, dealing with something in the real world, gear problems, medical shit etc. Woods zeros are also great for rest.

            Ex: I had to replace my shoes, but the mail did not come on time, so I had to take a zero.

Nero: A near zero day. Basically, anything under 10 miles. Can be as low as a mile, high as 9 miles usually although exact definitions vary.

            Ex: I save money by taking a nero instead of a zero so I only spend one night in town but get a full day.

Woods Zero: This hiker slang term refers to taking a day off in the woods.  Usually done to enjoy a good swimming hole or very scenic area.

            Ex: I took a woods zero in an AT shelter when I had plenty of food and did not feel like walking in the rain.

Vitamin I: Ibuprofen

            Ex: I need some vitamin I because my feet hurt.

Camel up: When a hiker drinks a ton of water at one source because they don’t want to carry extra water or the distance between sources is far.

            Ex: The next water is in 20 miles, I’m going to camel up at this stream.

Yogi: The action of getting food from non-hikers, day hikers, or weekenders who bring too much food without actually asking but rather by looking pitiful and hungry because you’ve eaten most of your food.

            Ex: We’re coming up to a picnic area that will be an excellent yogi-ing opportunity.

Trail angel: A person who is not currently hiking, a former hiker, or any random person who go out of their way to help a hiker out in rides, food, beverages, medical help, place to stay etc.

            Ex: I really needed a new pair of shoes, but the gear store was far away so a trail angel drove me there and back.

Trail magic: This has many forms.  It often is food in coolers or sodas in a stream to cool them.  It’s usually food related.  It could also be when someone takes you into their home and helps you in any way. 

            Ex: As we neared the dirt road we spotted a cooler of trail magic with a variety of sodas.

Trail register: Usually notebooks in shelters used to write messages. Can be about your day, animal life, or a warning to other hikers, notes to hikers behind you (catch up!), drawings…whatever.  Mostly an AT thing.  When not on the AT, they can be at trailheads, post offices, trail angel houses, or gear stores.

            Ex: At the trailhead, I looked through the trail register to see who was ahead of me.

Trail name: This can be given or you can give yourself one. People are usually given them from something stupid you said, did, or ate, or a joke.  It’s generally frowned upon to give one to yourself.

            Ex: I got my trail name, Veggie, because I’m mostly vegan and I like to pack out fresh veggies.

Pack Explosion: This occurs when almost all the contents of a backpack find themselves mysteriously outside of the pack in odd piles surrounding the pack and the hiker.  Usually, this happens in a hotel room or when a hiker thinks they’ve lost something and has to find it.

            Ex: I thought I forgot my headlamp at my campsite, so I stopped and had a pack explosion to find it.

White blaze: Literally, this is a 2”x6” white stripe on a tree that became the Appalachian Trail markers.  It is an Appalachian Trail specific term which means following every single trail marker.  Someone who white blazes is a purist who does not do any side trails and only sticks to the marked route.

            Ex: Some thru-hikers get it into their heads that they have to see every white blaze and never bag an extra peak on the side.

White blaze on the AT in the fog showing a nice trail.
A White Blaze on the AT

Yellow blaze: This term also came from the Appalachia Trail where a hiker hitch hikes around a section of the trail to skip it. It is looked down upon greatly…Bill Bryson lost much of his credibility doing this. Its yellow blazing for the lines on the center of the road.

            Ex: Bill Bryson got lazy and started yellow blazing the AT and did not thru-hike it.

Blue blaze: This is another Appalachian Trail specific hiker slang term. Side trails from the AT are marked with a 2”x6” blue stripe.  If a hiker blue blazes a section, they are taking an alternate route.  Sometimes it’s done to see something cooler than the trail, and sometimes it’s done because people need to catch others and it will knock off some miles.

            Ex: I blue blazed the Presidential Range on the AT because I wanted to summit every peak on the ridge and the AT only summits some of them.

Aquablaze: Instead of hiking trail, a thru-hiker can sometimes canoe or kayak a section of trail.

            Ex: Some AT thru-hikers aquablaze the Shenandoahs because the trail crosses Skyline Drive 104 times.

Pink blazing: This is when someone hikes with someone for romantic interest. 

            Ex: That speed hiker dude is totally pink blazing that thru-hiker chick since she only averages 20 mile days and he’s keeping pace with her.

Brown blazing: This hiker slang term rarely leaves the Appalachian Trail.  It is when a hiker hikes from privy to privy. Often\, this happens when a hiker gets the shits which is very common when hikers continue hiking after Chinese food.

            Ex: He had to brown blaze after eating the AYCE Chinese buffet in Waynesboro.

AYCE: All You Can Eat.

            Ex: He had to brown blaze after eating the AYCE Chinese buffet in Waynesboro.

Cathole: When there is no privy, a hiker must dig a hole that is roughly 6 inches deep to poop in.

            Ex: Some hikers pre-dig their catholes at night to save time in the morning.

HYOH: Hike Your Own Hike. There are many ways to thru-hike a trail.  This term gets tossed around when someone thinks the way they hike is the only way to hike.

            Ex: Dude, I don’t want to hike 40 mile days, HYOH.

Choose-Your-Own-Adventure: This is a mostly CDT hiker slang term.  As it is still incomplete, there are many alternate routes.  Each hiker will have a slightly different trail because they constantly must make route choices.

            Ex: Because the CDT is a choose-your-own-adventure trail, many hikers choose between the Mack’s Inn Route and the Henry’s Lake Route.

24 Hour Challenge: A self-imposed challenge to hike as many miles as possible in a 24-hour period.

            Ex: The Great Basin in Wyoming is often considered a dull section, so many hikers try the 24 Hour Challenge there.

Bushwhack: This term is used when a hiker is hiking off-trail and having to go through shrubs and trees.  It’s often uncomfortable and slow-going.

            Ex: I took a wrong turn and ended up having to bushwhack back to trail through a bunch of spikey tamarisks.

Cross Country (X-Country): This term is used when a hiker is hiking off-trail but without having to go through large shrubs.  One simply moves across a landscape with no trail, but without much resistance.

            Ex: In the New Mexico desert, I accidently took a cow path and had to cross country back to trail.

Blowdown: This hiker slang term refers to a tree that has fallen down over a trail.  Because hikers must climb over them, it takes them more time than usual to hike a section full of blowdowns.

            Ex: The section between Ghost Ranch and Chama on the CDT was so full of blowdowns, we only went 1mph through some areas.

Scramble: When a trail goes up onto and through rocks, hikers will scramble.  This usually means the hiker must use their hands for balance as they make their way over the rocks.

            Ex: I took a side trail on the PNT that involved a scramble over large boulders peak a mountain.

Ultralight: This refers to the weight of a hiker’s gear.  The trend is to have gear as light as possible to make the impact on one’s body easier.

            Ex: My tarp is ultralight; it is only 16 ounces.

Cowboy Camping: This hiker slang term means that a hiker does not set up their tent, but rather lays their ground sheet down and sleeps in the open under the stars.  It takes much less time setting up and breaking down in the morning.

            Ex: I knew that there was no rain in the forecast, so I opted to cowboy camp.

Now that you’ve learned all the hiker slang, check out my post on How I prepare for a Thru-Hike. Cheers!

This post is full of hiker slang and terms EXPLAINED.  Ever read a thru-hiker's blog and had no idea what they were talking about? No more!  Read here and become in-the-know :)