Dirtbag Dictionary for Dummies

Hiker Trash Talk

As a thru-hiker newbie, I was unaware of trail “lingo” in the early planning stages as I am a Pacific Crest Trail hopeful. As I write and upload videos for family and friends, I figured this may be helpful to those who are either also a trail virgin, or maybe you are following someone else’s thru-hiking journey! So my goal for you is to be able to talk in true thru-hiker fashion by the end of this blog post. If you think of any other terms, feel free to comment for our readers below! Big shout-out to my fellow PCT hopefuls from the PCT Class of 2020 Facebook page for helping me with this one. I had lots of giggles behind my screen and have realized there is plenty I still don’t know. So class, let’s begin! 

Trail virgin – first attempted thru-hike.

The Basics

Thru-Hike: Attempting to hike an established long-distance trail end to end with continuous footsteps and completing it within one calendar year. Thru-hiking requires logistics, strategic thinking, resupply, navigation, weather conditions, gear, etc.

Section Hike: Shorter parts or segments of an established long-distance trail that many attempt to thru-hike.  Does not need to be completed in a single hiking season or in any sequence. Someone who hikes a long-distance trail in sections over a long period of time rather than completing a continuous thru-hike in one year.

Flip-Flop: Someone who thru-hikes a long-distance trail, but in a non-continuous manner/footsteps. To start in one direction from a terminus and at some point you skipped to the other terminus and hike back to were you flipped.

Leapfrog/Skipping: To skip a section of trail without the intention of flip-flopping or coming back to it.

Yo-Yo: To do the entire length of a trail, then turn around and do it again in the opposite direction.

Triple Crowner: A thru-hiker who completes three of the National Scenic Trails: PCT (Pacific Crest Trail), AT (Appalachian Trail), CDT (Continental Divide Trail).  In no specific order or any specific time period.

NOBO: Northbound direction.

SOBO: Southbound direction

Southern Terminus / Northern Terminus: The beginning or end point of the trail. 

Base Weight: The weight of your pack containing all of your non-consumable gear (does not include water and food).

Ultralight: A minimalist thru-hiker mentality. The goal of being ultralight is to carry a base weight of less than 10 pounds, not including food, water, or fuel. The main benefit to being ultralight is to be able to hike faster and farther without getting as tired and with less chance of injury.

Luxury Items: An item, or items, thru-hikers could technically live without during their hikes, but wouldn’t want to. Could also be an item they invested in due to the high value of that item. (Examples: camp pillow, Kindle, ultralight tent, etc.)

Resupply: Mail it. Buy all of your resupply food at home and have someone mail you food, gear, and supplies along the trail. Buy in town. Save the money on shipping and take a chance that you will find food that suits you in town. (Most hikers do a combination of both.)

Bounce Box: A way for a hiker to take certain items along on an extended backpacking trip or thru-hike without having to carry them on their back. A bounce box usually consists of a single box containing extra gear, equipment, food, luxury items, medications, or any other supplies. You can mail this box to yourself multiple times at different resupply locations throughout the trail. 

Hiker Box:  Boxes found in towns along a long-distance hiking trail (usually at a post office, motel, restaurant, outfitter, or trail angel house) that contain food, gear, and any other items left behind by hikers in hopes that another future hiker will use it. (Often unwanted items that take up space and weight. Or a particular food they are tired of eating everyday.) 

Zero: A day off from thru-hiking. A day where zero miles are hiked during a long-distance hike. Zero days are typically spent in town resting, recovering from injury, or waiting out a storm.

Nero: Short for nearly zero. A partial day off or low-mileage day. A day where few miles are hiked during a long-distance hike.

LNT: Leave No Trace. The idea is simple—leave the places you enjoy as good or better than you found them.

FNT: Fastest Known Time

DNF: Did not finish

HYOH: Hike your own hike. Similarly, along the lines of “to each his own” and “stay out of my business.” The idea of HYOH is that there’s no one right way to hike a trail in regard to gear selection, food preferences, daily mileage, town stops, or side trips. It’s a hiker’s prerogative to hike their hike how they want to, regardless of anyone else’s opinion.

Purist: Attempting to hike an established long-distance trail end to end with continuous footstep along the designated route prescribed by the trail association. A term that is often used condescendingly. A purist is a hiker who believes every mile of the official trail should be hiked in order for it to be considered a thru-hike. 

Hiker TV – my favorite channel.

Trail Talk

Hiker Trash: A term sometimes directed as an insult, but is usually taken as a compliment. Hiker trash is used to affectionately describe thru-hikers who have abandoned certain social norms and expectations, such as taking a shower, wearing deodorant, shaving, and cleaning their clothes, causing them to become disheveled in appearance. 

Dirtbag: A person who is committed to a given (usually extreme) lifestyle to the point of abandoning employment and other societal norms in order to pursue said lifestyle.

Trail Name: A nickname or alias a thru-hiker earns on trail. A trail name is often given to a hiker by another hiker because of a particularly memorable experience and there’s usually an interesting backstory. Most thru-hikers use a trail name along their long-distance hike.

Trail Angel: Someone who provides trail magic for thru-hikers by offering a place to stay, a ride to/from town, cold drinks, food, and/or replenishing water caches on trail. Trail angels provide trail magic for the sake of helping other thru-hikers without expecting anything in return.

Trail Magic:  When a trail angel provides random acts of kindness to thru-hikers in the form of food, water, soda, beer, chairs to sit on, transportation, lodging, and gear.

Hiker TV:  The act of blankly staring into a fire as a form of entertainment. 

Tramily (Trail Family): The people thru-hikers meet on trail and grow to love like family along their hike. Often these people become lifelong friends long after the long-distance hike has been completed. 

Trailcest: No explanation needed.

Cowboy Camp: To sleep outside on the bare ground—no tent or tarp.

Slackpacking: To set out on a side trip, with only a few items, leaving your larger pack with someone or back at base camp. 

Blaze: Used to mark a trail when it becomes hard to follow, makes an abrupt turn, or comes to a junction with another trail. These are typically painted or nailed to a tree and located near eye level. Some areas use color-coded blazes to help hikers figure out which trail they’re on.

Blue Blazing: Side/spur trail or alternate route that could lead to a shelter, campsite, water, vista, or a scenic view.  Taking a shortcut along (presumably blue blazed) side trails instead of the longer prescribed route and will return to the primary route.

Yellow Blazing: Hitching ahead, usually skipping a difficult section of trail. (Roads have yellow stripes = yellow blaze.) 

Pink Blazing: Skipping the trail to hook up. 

Banana Blazing:  Females chasing men on the trail. 

Taco Trekking:  Males chasing women on the trail. 

Brown Blazing: When a hiker leaves the trail to dig a cathole when a privy is not available.  Also for a hiker who is battling a stomach virus or diarrhea that causes them to stop often.

Churning Butter: When you have to poop and continue to hike until you absolutely have to stop. 

Cathole: A hole in the ground dug for human waste in the backcountry.

Privy: Either an outhouse or a compostable toilet hole at a backcountry campsite.

Hiker Bath: Wet wiping. 

Ride Bride: When a male hiker befriends a female hiker to make hitching a ride easier. 

Hiker Midnight: Typically 9 p.m., or whenever it’s dark outside. 

Hiker Friendly: This usually refers to towns or stores that support hikers.

Goldilocksing: The art of respectfully spending the evening in unlocked/unattended cabins, structures, vacation homes, etc. 

Room Stacking: Cramming more hikers in a motel room than management would prefer or be aware of.

Stealth Camping: The act of secretly camping in a public or private area (sometimes legally, sometimes illegally) and moving on the next morning without being detected.

Trail Legs: A physical condition the body gets from repeated days of hiking several miles a day for an extended period of time without any major injuries. Once you start averaging 20 miles a day, you know you have received your trail legs. 

Vortex: A person, place, group of people, town, or trail angel’s house that sucks thru-hikers off trail and makes it challenging for them to get back on the trail. (Examples: Casa De Luna, Hiker Haven, PCT Days, etc.) 

Add a little trail spice for some extra flavor.

Food Lingo

Yogi/Yoggying: When a thru-hiker is able to drop hints, charm, persuade, or otherwise convince strangers and/or day hikers to provide trail magic for them, like giving food or drinks or getting a ride into town without directly asking for it. The concept comes from Yogi the Bear who managed to obtain picnic baskets from unsuspecting campers. Basically, one who begs for food. 

Hiker Hunger: A result of calorie deficiency that usually sets in after about 500 to 700 miles on the trail and doesn’t go away. Marked by constant hunger for the rest of your hike. This is generally due to consuming fewer calories than the body can burn, caused by repeated days of hiking and a limited food supply.

Water Cache: Another form of trail magic. Water caches are hidden stashes of water placed on long-distance trails by trail angels and are sometimes available for thru-hikers to use in areas where there might not be easy access to reliable water sources. Water is generally stored in individual bottles, gallon jugs, or water tanks, making it easy for hikers to refill their own bottles. Hikers are advised to only fill up what they need to get them to the next reliable water source.

Potable Water: Drinking water, also known as potable water, is water that is safe to drink or to use for food preparation. Potable water does not require filtering.

Camel Up: Drink your fill of water at the source until you’re filled up then hike on. Also called Tank Up.

Ramen Bomb: A mixture of ramen and instant mashed potatoes. 

Cold Soaking: It’s not a natural spring, it’s a way to “cook” your food without the use of heat. 

Trail Pad Thai: A broad word, but usually ramen, peanut butter, and Sriracha or soy sauce. 

Gorp: Good ‘ole raisins and peanuts. Really any mixture of raisins, M&M’s, peanuts, etc. Basically, trail mix. Some also refer to it as whatever you want to put in a tortilla; there have been some very innovative gorp creations.

AYCE: All you can eat; a thru-hiker’s dream. 

Bear Bait: Spilling food on yourself. 

Trail Spice: The unavoidable bits of leaves, twigs, and dirt that end up in trail food from dropping or otherwise.


Travel / Tactical Terms

Glissading: The act of sliding down a snow- or ice-covered hill, providing a shortcut down the trail. It’s kind of like sledding, but instead of being on a sled, you’re either on your feet or your butt. 

Ice Axe: A multipurpose hiking and climbing tool used by mountaineers in both the ascent and descent of routes that involve frozen conditions with snow or ice. 

Self-arrest: A technique employed in mountaineering in which a climber who has fallen and is sliding down a snow- or ice-covered slope arrests the slide by themselves without recourse to a rope or other belay system.

Microspikes: Used to provide traction on ice and packed snow. These are attached to the base of your shoes.

Break Trail: In winter, to hike in the lead position, forcing one’s way through untrammeled snow. It is far easier to walk in the tracks of someone else who has already broken the trail.

Boot Pack: A path in the snow that you beat down with your boots. It resembles a staircase and becomes easier to ascend with each pass. 

Posthole: When traveling over snow, a hiker can take a step and sink deep down into the snow, creating big holes, known as postholes. Postholing is extremely tiring and slow-going.

Sun Cups: Bowl-shaped open depressions into a snow surface, normally wider than they are deep. They form closely packed, honeycomb, often hexagonal patterns with sharp narrow ridges separating smoothly concave hollows. They are a bitch to hike on. 

Ice Bridge: A frozen natural structure formed over seas, bays, rivers, or lake surfaces. They facilitate migration of animals or people over a water body that was previously uncrossable.

Scree Field: A collection of broken rock fragments at the base of crags, mountain cliffs, volcanoes, or valley shoulders that has accumulated through periodic rockfall from adjacent cliff faces. Also a bitch to hike on.

Fording: A place where a river or other body of water is shallow enough to be crossed by wading. Can be very sketchy if the current is too strong. Could hinder hikers from crossing and continuing on trail.

False Summit: A peak that appears to be the pinnacle of the mountain but upon reaching, it turns out the summit is higher. 

Pass: A navigable route through a mountain range or over a ridge. 

Switchbacks: A method of building a trail that forms a zigzag of trails up a mountain. The strategy is to make the climb easier and prevent erosion.

Traverse: To climb a slope diagonally rather than a more direct approach.

Break Camp: Take down a tent or the tents of an encampment when ready to leave.

Again, if you think of any other terms, feel free to comment below!

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Comments 21

  • Mark Stanavage : Dec 9th

    You forgot ” hiker tan” the layer of filth that accumulates on exposed skin, normally the legs, that can wash off.
    And “LASH ” Long A$$ Section Hike.

  • Kevin Neft : Dec 13th

    This is gold you two! Definitely going to share this to my friends and family. This will help them understand what I’m saying finally.


    • Emily and Parkes : Dec 16th

      Haha glad we could help!


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