The Backpacker's Dictionary: Appalachian Trail Slang and Terms

Updated on October 26th, 2020
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Here are over 75 terms that thru-hiker's use on the Appalachian Trail. Some are just slang expressions and others are more technical gear terms. Let us know what we missed!
 AMC Appalachian Mountain Club. Mainly known as the organization in charge of the hut system in the White Mountains.
Alpine Zone Also known as 'above the treeline'. The high-elevation areas where trees are unable to grow.
AT Appalachian Trail
ATC Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Non-profit organization in charge of protecting and maintaining the Trail.
Awol 'The A.T. Guide'. The only map a thru-hiker needs.
Balds Barren areas on many mountain tops. Their existence is mostly a mystery.
Base Weight Total Pack Weight - Consumables (food, water, etc) = Base Weight
Bear Bag Hung in a tree to prevent attracting any bears. Usually contains food, trash, toiletries - anything with a strong odor.
Biner Short for 'carabiner' - the metal loop with a spring loaded opening generally used for ropes.
Bivy Short for 'bivouac sack' - a mini tent-like shelter.
Bladder Or 'water reservoir'. Smaller collapsible water container.
Blaze Used to mark the Trail. Typically a 2 x 6 inch strip of paint on a tree located near eye level.
(Aqua) Blazing Taking a waterway instead of the Trail.
(Blue) Blaze The blaze that leads to a water source. 
(Pink) Blazing Hiking with a female.
(Yellow) Blazing Driving to the next trail head and essentially skipping a chunk of hiking. Opposite of 'purist'.
(White) Blaze The iconic blaze that marks the Appalachian Trail.
Bluff Steep cliff.
Bounce Box Box of supplies you ship or 'bounce' forward to pick up in your next trail town.
Bushwhacking Hiking off trail. Done for the adventure of it or because you are lost.
Cache Hiding place. Typically where you or a trail angel would stash food and other goodies.
Camel Up Drinking as much water as possible at a water source to prevent from carrying it.
Cairn Pile of rocks or stones to mark the trail. Used instead of a blaze if there are no trees.
Cathole Hole in the ground dugout for human waste. Ideally at least 6 inches deep and at least 200 feet away from a water source.
Contour Lines Lines used on a topographical map to display variations in elevation.
Cowboy Camping Camping underneath the stars without a tent.
Cowboy Coffee Mixing water with unfiltered coffee grounds.
Crampons Metal frame used on boots for traction in snowy and icy conditions.
Cuben Fiber High-performance fabric, also known as "Dyneema", used as an ultralight material for some tents and bags. 
DEET Ingredient used in insect repellents - also known as 'diethyltoluamide'
Double Blaze Two blazes aligned vertically to signal a sharp turn in the Trail. 
Dromedary Bag Large collapsible water container.
Droppin' Trout Process of pulling down your pants. Generally shouted as a warning to other hikers in the shelter that you are about to change clothes.
False Summit Sense of approaching the summit and then realize it is only a small plateau.
FKT 'Fastest Known Time'. The speed record held for completing the Appalachian Trail either 'supported' or 'unsupported'.
Flip-flop Thought of as hiking the Trail in two separate 'halves' instead of one continuous stretch. Ex: ME>VA and then GA>VA or VA>GA and then ME>VA.
Footprint Separate 'floor' of your tent used as a groundcloth or additional protective barrier.
Gaitors Leggings used to protect your shins and ankles from thick brush or prevent water from draining into your feet.
Gap Low spot on a ridge line in between mountains.
GORP "Granola, Oats, Raisins and Peanuts" or "Good Ole Raisins and Peanuts". Also called 'Trail Mix'.
Green Tunnel The Appalachian Trail. Referring to the heavily wooded green forests that the Trail snakes through.
Guylines Chord or rope used to tie down the tent or tarp.
Hiker Box Box of freebies. Generally leftover food or gear from previous hikers located in hostels or shelters.
Hiker Trash Tongue-and-cheek term for thru-hikers. After a week on the Trail, we have been (proudly?) known to resemble vagrants.
Huts Large cabins mostly associated with being in the White Mountains and organized by the ATC.
HYOH 'Hike Your Own Hike' expression.
Kinlin Small firewood used to ignite a fire. 
Knob Small mountain or rounded hill.
Hostel Trail town lodging. Like a hotel with bunk beds.
Lean-to Simple shelter structure comprised of a roof angled at a 45 degrees. Generally only has 3 walls.
Logbook Also know as 'register'. Every shelter has one. Used as a record for safety of last known location. Also used to communicate with other hikers and vent about anything and everything.
NERO "Near Zero" day. Hiking only a mile or less.
NOBO Northbound hiker. Georgia to Maine.
Pocket Rocket Trademarked named for an MSR stove. Has become a generic term for a small foldable canister stove top.
Postholing Process of stepping in snow and leaving a hole. 
Privy Bathroom at a shelter. Most of the time a simple wooden outhouse with a composting toilet hole.
PUDs 'Pointless Ups and Downs'. Referring to the rolling nature of the trail.
Ridge-runner Somewhat like an informal Park Ranger. Generally a volunteer interested in promoting respect for the Trail.
Scramble Type of 'hands and knees' hiking in steep or rocky sections where walking is not an option. See Mihousac Notch.
Section Hiker Someone who hikes the Appalachian Trial in sections over a longer period of time than a continuous thru-hike.
Shelter Simple wooden structures scattered every 10-20 miles along the entire Trail. Most hold around 8-12 hikers.
Slack Packing Not carrying gear for the day. Generally this means leaving gear in town and getting shuttled to Trailhead A in the morning and picked up at Trailhead B in the afternoon.
SOBO Southbound hiker. Maine to Georgia.
Stealth Camping Camping in a site that has not been used as a campsite before.
Switch Back Used to zig-zag and lengthen the trail for a more moderate incline instead of hiking straight up a very steep incline.
Thru Hiker One who hikes the Trail in one continuous run or within a year time frame.
Townie 'Dayhikers', 'Bathers' or people from town.
Trailhead Where a section of trail begins. Usually at a road crossing.
Trail Angel Giver of Trail Magic. A volunteer who helps hikers with a place to stay in their house, a shuttle to the trail head, free food, anything. 
Trail Magic Given by Trail Angels. The goodies a Trail Angel offers out of goodwill.
Trail Name Name a hiker goes by on the Trail. A sort of 'alter-ego'. Almost all hikers go by a trail name.
Treeing a Bear Act of surprising a bear and it sliding down a tree.
Triple Crown Three major USA hiking trails: The Appalachian Trail, The Pacific Crest Trail, The Continental Divide Trail. One who completes all three is known as a 'Triple Crowner'.
UL 'Ultralight'. A minimalist backpacking mentality.
Vestibule Porch of a tent.
Widowmaker Dead tree waiting to fall and make a widow out of the unsuspecting hiker's wife.
Webwalking Taking the lead for the group and walking through all of the fresh spider webs.
Work For Stay Instead of paying for a room, at select hostels and huts, many hikers choose to work or volunteer for a few hours.
ZERO Day Lazy and luxurious days of hiking zero miles.
Chris Cage photo

About Chris Cage

By Chris Cage Chris launched Greenbelly Meals in 2014 after thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail for 6 months. Since then, Greenbelly has been written up by everyone from Backpacker Magazine to Fast Company. He wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail and currently works from his laptop all over the globe. Instagram: @chrisrcage.
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