Dictionary of Trail Lingo: SOBO Days 51 – 58

You can spot a hiker from a mile away. And that’s if you don’t smell them first. If the pack isn’t a dead giveaway, maybe it’s the ball caps and fanny packs and their strange way of speaking.

What Do You Mean?

There is certainly a sub-culture for thru-hikers. As with any sub-culture, thru-hiking comes with a plethora of words that only make sense to a small group of people.

Think “tail press to nose butter” and “method grab” for snowboarding or “send it” and “smear” in rock climbing.

For Reference

A good friend of mine joined me from Killington to Bennington. She boosted my energy, provided positivity, and gave updates on Canadian news throughout most of Vermont.

Joining for just a section though, I had to let my friend in on all of the trail lingo so that she knew what we were talking about.

For Puddles’ reference, and for others, I present to you the unofficial dictionary of trail lingo.

Unofficial Dictionary

AT: Easy one. Abbreviation for the Appalachian Trail.

Blue blaze: Side trails that generally spur off from the AT. This often includes trails that lead to parking lots, shelters, water sources, or viewpoints. Purists always make sure to take the blue blaze back to the main AT exactly where they got off to walk every mile of the AT continuously.

Bubble: Used to describe a relatively large group of hikers moving along the trail at approximately the same pace. Not to be confused with a tramily.

Camel up: Used both to describe drinking an excess of water at a water source and the action of filling up a couple water bottles for water on the go.

Deli blazing: Similar to blue blazing, this involves taking a side trail to a deli. Commonly practiced throughout Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey where delis are plentiful and near to the trail.

Dialed in: An elite form of backpacking where the thru-hiker carries few, if any, extra luxury items. Their pack weighs very little, with a minimum amount of strategically chosen items. Unfortunately, this is definitely not me, as you’ll know from my post What I’ve Learned About Ultralight.

Flip flop: A form of hiking the trail that involves doing different sections in a non-continuous order, but still hiking all sections. Common practice is to hike North from Harper’s Ferry to Katahdin and then South from Harper’s Ferry to Springer.

Hiker hobble: Usually after sitting for too long, a hiker loses all ability to walk normally for a few steps due to stiffened muscles, sore ankles, and tight hips.

Hiker trash: An all-encompassing term for the breed of humans that choose to thru-hike this, or any long, trail.

Leap frogging: A social way of spending the day, passing fellow hikers, stopping for a break only to have them pass you, and so on in a loop. This occurs a lot within a bubble or tramily.

Nearo: An almost-day-off where few miles are hiked and the remainder of the day is rest. The threshold for a nearo depends on the person. I used to say sub-5-miles, now I’d say it’s closer to sub-10-miles, personally.

NOBO: A Northbound thru-hiker going from Georgia to Maine. The most common way to hike the trail. But not the only way, see flip flop, SOBO, and section.

Packs off: Often used in the context of a “packs off break”, typically meaning a slightly longer break where the packs are dropped momentarily.

Ramen bomb: A calorically dense trail dinner favourite (but not for me). Boil ramen and use the excess water to hydrate instant mash potatoes. All in one pot. Bonus points if you add hot sauce, ranch, mayo, taco seasoning, and/or Frito’s.

Section/sectioning: Self-explanatory. Hiking just one particular section of the AT. Anything less than the full length. Some will refer to multi-state sections as “long sections”.

Slackpack: Hiking without the full weight of your backpack. This involves sleeping off-trail before and afterwards, typically, since the pack probably only contains food, water, essential layers, and necessary emergency supplies.

SOBO: A Southbound thru-hiker going from Maine to Georgia. The right way. Oops, did I say that out loud?

Stealth site: Contentiously used to describe dispersed camping sites along the trail. This is any site that is not at a recognized tentsite or shelter. Others argue that this term only applies to dispersed sites that are not visible from the trail.

Trail angel: Someone who performs trail magic.

Trail magic: The best. Trail magic is usually food, but sometimes water, or a hitch, or supplies, given for free or by donation by a trail angel. Water and fruit are my personal favourite kinds of trail magic!

Trail name: A non-government name assigned to thru-hikers by other thru-hikers. Typically references a funny incident, a good story, or a unique part of their character. I’m Ducky!

Tramily: Unlike a bubble, a tramily explicitly chooses to hike together for extended sections of the trail. Generally this involves planning to stay at the same shelters, sharing hotel rooms in town, and generally looking out for each other.

Vortex: Broadly used to describe spending too much time in one place with a risk of not getting back on trail. Often used to describe time spent somewhere comfortable or with beer. Example: I’m really vortexing at this pub, I might not get back on trail tonight.

Yo-yo: A unique form of hiking that involves hiking the entire AT twice. Usually from Georgia to Maine and then immediately from Maine back to Georgia.

Zero: A glorious, but usually antsy day in town. These days involve hiking zero miles on the AT and are typically seen as rest days and days to accomplish town chores like buying new sneakers, calling family, and cleaning your water filter.

Closing Vermont

After oodles of trail magic, summiting Mount Killington, lovely hostels, and cute trail towns, Vermont is coming to a close. From Bennington, the Massachusetts border is just ahead! And with that, over a quarter of the trail, over 500 miles, and 3 states complete.

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Comments 2

  • thetentman : Sep 4th

    Did you know the term ‘Slackpacking’ was coined by a Thru from long ago O.D. Coyote. To him and his friends, Slackpacking meant going slow to see all there is to see. they would never hike without their packs. Its meaning has changed over the years.

    Thx for the post and good luck. Eh!

  • marsh : Sep 5th

    Add this one to your list:

    Stupid Check: after every rest break,a seasoned hiker steps away from the spot, turns around and looks to see anything is left on the ground before walking on.’


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