What Is a Trail Name and How Do I Get One?
If you’re new to the world of thru-hiking, you might be caught off-guard the first time an adult human being stumbles out of the woods and introduces herself to you as “Mrs. Potatohead.” But taking a new identity on the trail is a time-honored tradition among long-distance hikers.
So, what is a trail name, how do you get one, and why is this even a thing that exists?
What Is a Trail Name?
The Appalachian Trail Glossary defines a trail name as a special nickname adopted by long-distance backpackers, which has become a tradition on the AT and many other trails.
Why Do Thru-Hikers Take Trail Names?
Thru-hikers have been using aliases on-trail for decades. Even Earl Shaffer, the first thru-hiker of the Appalachian Trail back in 1948, had one. (He went by “The Crazy One”).
Whether the tradition began as a way for thru-hikers to identify and track each other more easily or as a means of preserving privacy, trail names are now mostly seen as a thru-hiker right of passage and a unique form of self-expression in the trail community.
Many hikers also view their off-trail lives as separate from their identities on the trail and see it as only fitting that they take a new name when inhabiting their alternate life on the trail.
What’s In a Trail Name?
When it comes to trail names, anything and everything is fair game. Your personality, something embarrassing you did, what you ate for dinner last night (and how much gas you produced afterward), a quirky habit, your backstory, your gear… the list goes on.
Trail names can be sweet or sentimental, but equally as often (if not more), they’re silly and/or downright ridiculous. True to form, many thru-hikers end up with food-related trail names.
“My friend Scrunch and I were at Boots Off around the fire, and we saw this really fat Tuxedo cat run towards the showers. We, of course, decided that we had to try to catch it, to you know… hold it and pet it. We split up for a bit and unfortunately could not find the cat, but because I ate a large portion of McDonald’s earlier in the day, I farted super loud, and she thought the cat was in distress. It’s fun to tell the story behind my trail name because it’s the exact opposite of what people would think and always gets a great laugh.”
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The Choice Is Yours
The majority of thru-hikers eventually accept a trail name, but some choose not to. Others still may feel like the right one never came along. But not having a trail name is rare enough that it can become an identity in its own right: the ranks of thru-hikers include many Just Steves, No Names, and other no-trail-name trail names.
There’s also the option of naming yourself like Earl Shaffer did. It’s not as common, but naming yourself is a great way to avoid the scenario of having to tell someone that no, you don’t want that dumb name. Some hikers find empowerment in taking ownership of their on-trail identities by choosing a trail name that has special significance to them.
Would you like to share the story behind your trail name? Feel free to drop us a line below.
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Featured image: Photo via Furiosa.
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