10 Values of Hiker Trash Culture

For those of us that consider ourselves hiker trash we use the term with pride, as a statement of our beliefs and a testament to the miles we have under our hipbelts. We are a diverse group of individuals that come together and create our own dialect, customs and lifestyle. A simple definition of culture from the Cambridge dictionary is “the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time”. Based on this definition, hiker trash can definitely be considered a culture, or at the very least, a sub-culture of the human experience.

Recently, during one of my graduate school classes I was asked the direct question: What are the values of hiker trash culture? I threw out a few that came to mind but realized afterwards  there were so many more important values that I hadn’t considered. I was inspired to dive further into the concept, looked up a list of four hundred common values, painstakingly narrowed them down to ten and ordered them according to my own beliefs and experience. Without further ado, here they are:

Top Ten Values of Hiker Trash Culture


10. Adventure

If you aren’t up for an adventure and eager for the thrill of the unknown, you wouldn’t be on the trail in the first place. If the trail is anything, it is unpredictable. Going with the flow becomes the mentality of an ultimate fulfilling experience. On a hike you become the main character in your own adventure novel, never knowing what is around the corner but remaining brave and bold in your desire to see and explore as much as possible.

 9. Solitude

Even the most social of hikers appreciate the moments of solitude out in the woods. When you pop out of the green tunnel onto a ridge right as a golden sliver of sun is shining on a far ridge and realize you are totally alone, you are fully present in that moment. There are times when it is just you and the earth beneath your feet and perhaps a few sounds of the creatures around you. Solitude will allow you time to reflect on your past, your place in the world and what you appreciate most about your life. It may even give you direction into how you want to live in the future. Solitude, at times, is essential to a well examined and fulfilling life.

  8. Acceptance

As any long distance hiker knows, you don’t know who you are going to run into out on the trail. You will meet others that are very different from you in terms of economic background and cultural norms. Although trail life is still predominantly white (a truth that will hopefully continue to shift towards more diversity) the range of people out on trail is astounding. People who have nothing in common in real life suddenly have everything in common. Because of this fact you have to be open and willing to accept your differences while embracing your new similarities. You learn to live with your own stench as well as others, accommodate to trail etiquette and fully adopt the mentality of hike-your-own-hike.  You must also accept what nature gives you whether it be heat, bugs, rain, lightning, a hurricane while you are in the 100 mile wilderness or a lovely little bout of Giardia.

  7. Minimalism

On trail one is able to realize that money doesn’t buy happiness (but it does buy ice cream…). Some of your most beautiful moments will be the simple times you have in nature with good hearted people where money and material objects have no place of importance. In fact, as hiker trash, usually the less you acquire the better. You come to value experiences over possessions and will likely reevaluate the stuff you own once you get off trail. If you fully adopt the minimalist lifestyle you might even chose to be homeless the majority of the time and be able to pack up your car with all of your possessions in less than ten minutes.

  6. Adaptability

Evolving into hiker trash does not happen overnight. We all begin somewhere –  most of us take our first steps on our first trail with a pack too heavy and with items we don’t realize are completely frivolous. You grow, you learn and you adapt. Adaptability is your body becoming an efficient fuel burning, hiking machine. Adaptability is using your decision making skills in accordance with your surroundings and being flexible with weather and circumstance. Adaptability is realizing that one month into your hike, twenty-five miles a day doesn’t seem like a burden anymore on your body or psyche. You must adapt to your new life of eating, hiking and sleeping every day on repeat if you expect to make it all the way.

  5. Beauty

On the trail you are surrounded by beauty. You may witness some of the most glorious sunsets and sunrises you have ever seen, encounter streams and springs that erupt from the earth and meander down a mountain side or walk through low lying mist that hangs in the woods creating a fairytale-like scene. Our world is beautiful and is conveniently full of thousands upon thousands of miles of hiking trails. As a long distance hiker, beauty surrounds you and becomes the fuel for your soul. You will never feel so small in this infinite world until you have been completely enveloped and immersed yourself in its inescapable serenity day after day.

  4. Perseverance

Diligence, determination, persistence, tenacity – there are so many terms that are congruent with perseverance. Perseverance is essential to following through with a hike, whether it is fifty miles or five hundred. No one else besides you and your two feet (if you have two) are going to get you all the way to wherever you are going if you plan to hike there. Blisters and aches and pains might slow you down, but by god, you are determined to go that next mile. Perseverance is sitting down beside a stream, crying for three hours and then picking yourself back up to keep moving forward. Perseverance is hiking ten miles to a town on less than two hundred calories when you underestimated your voracious appetite three months into a thru-hike.

 3. Community

You don’t complete hundreds of miles of a hiking trail alone. One of the greatest aspects about the trail is the community. Trail magic becomes a saving grace whether it’s delicious free food, a couch to sleep on, or a simple conversation and laugh shared with another human being. Other hikers and trail angels have your back and will watch out for you, share their goods and help you in any way they can to become a confident hiker. The trials and tribulations of trail life mean that you get down to the heart of an individual quickly and will undoubtedly make wonderful lifelong friends along the way who will go on many hikes with you in the future.

 2. Freedom


With everything you need on your back to exist, you are truly free. When the world turns into a place where you can sleep anywhere, eat junk food at your leisure in town and put your feet into a cool stream at the end of every day you feel freedom. It is an opportunity to exist in a world that does not operate on the same level as mainstream society. Freedom means deciding to take a zero day in a middle-of-nowhere western town just so you can sit and eat burritos and drink beer all day long. Freedom means taking a three hour break during the hottest part of the day to sit down beside a glacial lake and try catching fish with a hook, a piece of dental floss and your trekking pole. Freedom is also dangerous because once you get a taste of it you may never want to go back to your other life.

 1. Gratitude

Gratitude is a wonderful thing even in normal life. On trail, it remains the most important value that I connect with. There are an infinite number of things to be grateful for while hiking. Gratitude is being rained on for days on end and then rejoicing when the sun decides to shine enough to dry everything you own and lighten your mood. Gratitude is getting into town and consuming a huge pile of nachos and a cold drink that you ingest faster than any thanksgiving dinner. Gratitude is being able to take a hot shower after being cold and smelly for a week and watching all the dirt and grime slide off your tired body.  Gratitude is simple yet profound and will change the way you view your privileges in everyday life.

As hiker trash we have our own vernacular that we adopt, clothes and gear that we claim as our own and a sense of time and space that becomes focused and centered on the trail we occupy. There are many ways in which we have become our own established community and culture. As a rather new cultural group, it might be worthwhile to further define what our values are or perhaps look into where we are as a collective entity. We could also think about how we hope to inspire and affect others with our beliefs. If nothing else, looking at ourselves through this lens is a fun way to flex our thinking muscle and consider what is important to us as long distance hikers.

So, as a challenge for fellow hikers out there:

What do you consider to be the top ten values of hiker trash?


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Comments 17

  • Zach : Oct 5th

    Is lack of hygiene a value? If so, I think that should be #11 🙂

    Love reading your writing, Sprout! You are a poet.

  • Carlos : Oct 6th

    Great article, I lived in Montana until recently but now have the pleasure of living in Kingsport TN (just down the road from you in VA) near the AT too which is convenient for training hikes since I will be doing a NOBO thru hike starting in April 2017. Thanks for the article hikers are definitely a unique and awesome culture all their own.

  • Nathan : Oct 7th

    While gratitude seems like a great idea, I don’t think it’s actually a shared value. There are some (many?) on the trail who seem forever ungrateful… disrespecting the natural surroundings they pass through, and the people they encounter along the way, bringing the ire of outsiders down on the whole hiking community. Granted, as Richard demonstrated above, there are a- holes in any culture, but it seems hard to distinguish those who act like human garbage from the rest of the culture when we all refer to ourselves as hiker trash already.

    • Richard Gregory : Oct 7th

      Im sorry i was so hard om sprout the feminist. Next time i will just open the door for her at taco bell.

      • Richard Gregory : Oct 7th

        Hiker Trash often appropriate others CULTURES!

  • alicia : Oct 7th

    LOVE this! All so true. -Alicia @ http://www.girlonahike.com

  • mike : Oct 9th

    Great read, some i might change in order but number 1: Gratitude, and your description is spot on!.

  • CARL HATTON : Oct 9th


  • Frankenfoot : Oct 13th

    I just let your words wash over me like waves. Beautifully written and so accurate. Thank you for sharing.

  • Doctari : Aug 1st

    I kept saying: 10 yep, 9 yep, etc.
    Well said!!!

  • Eddie : Aug 23rd

    Good post! I enjoyed it.

  • Trailtrekk : Oct 7th

    I will be sorting-thru my 400 HT values during my Nobo AT 2018. I know I can finish the trip, but wonder if 5 months is long enough to get to the top 10 values.

    Apparently I have a bigger challenge than hiking 2189.8 miles. You should know… Thanks!

  • Pat Paton : Nov 5th

    The thing is ten values are not enough and being of the “hiker trash” community it needs to be said our world will not last unless everyone unites in respecting other people. Their relationships, attitudes, capabilities, and most important respect of people and nature. Those who call themselves hiker trash should not force their wills upon others by destroying property or influencing less experienced with drugs, alcohol or illegal substances. There needs to be a semblence of dignity or the trail community is jeopardized resulting in sanctions and limitations of freedoms. I do not say any of this in anger only as an adult wanting to see the trails last for many years after I stop hiking.

  • Clayton Peirce : Nov 5th

    I’m so happy to be a part of hiker trash with these values! Great work; thank you for being a hiker trash ambassador.
    Leprechaun PCT ‘04


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