Class is in session, and we’re covering all those bizarre (and at times downright unintelligible) phrases and abbreviations that permeate thru-hiker culture. Whether you’ve just decided to tackle your first thru-hike or, like my Mom, you’ve found yourself in the position of supporting a thru-hiker, this handy guide will make sure you’re in-the-know when it comes to trail lingo.
NOBO - Short for northbound; hiking from south to north on a long trail.
SOBO - The “other” direction to thru-hike; starting in the north and hiking southbound on a long trail.
Triple Crown Trails - Refers to the three most iconic thru-hikes in the US: the Appalachian Trail (AT); the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT); and the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). “Southbound hikers on the triple crown trails typically begin months after most NOBOs.”
Section-Hike - Hiking a long trail in sections, typically over the course of years.
Flip-Flop - A nontraditional method for a thru-hike, a flip-flopper hikes the trail in 2 large sections divided near the halfway point; once they finish hiking one direction from the middle, they shuttle back and begin the other half of their journey. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy says flip-flop thru-hikes “reduce overcrowding and sustain communities along the Trail”.
LASH - Stands for long-ass section hike. Any section hiker can claim this status, provided their mileage meets the “long ass” golden standard. For example, someone who thru-hikes 500 miles on the PCT, might refer to their hike as a LASH; because, while it wasn’t the entire 2,650 miles of the trail, it was still a long-ass hike.
Life on Trail
Zero Day - A day with no miles hiked; typically spent resupplying, doing laundry, catching up with family, or in a food coma.
Nero Day - A day that involves bagging some miles, but not enough to be called a full day of hiking; typically single-digit mileage and on the way into a town.
Camel Up - Said right before a long stretch of trail with little or no water available. “We’ve got a 16-mile water carry ahead, let’s camel up here!”
Hiker Hunger - Refers to the wild cravings and massive amounts of food that thru-hikers are capable of consuming once they begin their journey. (See Ramen Bomb for treatment.)
Tramily - The found family that you meet on trail. Tramilies are incredibly fluid and change frequently with pace, resupplies, obligations off-trail, and necessary reroutes.
Trail Name - The earned or given name that thru-hikers adopt while on trail. Whether you name yourself or step in some scat and are forever known as “Droppings”, true hiker-trash creativity is on full display with this aspect of life on trail.
Trail Magic - Anything serendipitous that happens on trail because of the kindness/ generosity of a trail angel. This can include a ride into town, an apple from a day hiker, or setting up an entire grill and table at a road crossing to sling burgers for drooling thru-hikers.
Trail Angels - Anyone who does trail magic for hikers. Some trail angels go so far as to open up their homes to hikers. The gratitude for trail angels in the thru-hiking community runs deep.
LNT - Leave No Trace involves 7 principles that guide good ethics in the backcountry, helping preserve our natural spaces for generations to come. For more on this, check out my last article for GGG, Leave No Trace 101.
Base Weight - Refers to the total weight of your pack and everything inside, minus consumables like food and water.
Shakedown Hike - A hike or backpacking trip before a longer thru-hike, with the specific purpose of testing the particulars of hiker’s gear setup. “My shakedown on the Foothills Trail really helped me hone my kit. My base weight dropped 2 lbs!”
Pack Shakedown - Scrutinizing every single item in a pack. This is often done after a shakedown hike, or more often than any of us care to admit … after our first few days starting out on a thru-hike. It can be helpful to ask a tramily member, or anyone with significant experience, to join you in this process.
Crushing/ Pushing Miles - Typically said if there is a promise of food at the end of the stretch. “We’re pushing big miles, but we’re so close to town I can almost taste the burgers.”
Ramen Bomb - A carb-ilicious concoction for wild hiker hunger, a ramen bomb consists of a package of Ramen noodles mixed into a package of instant mashed potatoes. Serving size: one very hungry hiker.
Trail-versary - The anniversary of the finish date of your thru-hike. Take a hike to remember the stinky, stellar times you had!
Cowboy Camping - Sleeping under the stars, no shelter necessary. Just a sleeping pad and bag will do.
Photo by Victoria Beltran for her article on Cowboy/ Cowgirl/ Cowperson Camping!
PUDs - Stands for pointless ups and downs. This refers to those days where your elevation profile is a rollercoaster and you don’t see any sights from the summits. Yeah, you know the days.
Yellow-Blazing - When hikers use connections off-trail, such as shuttles or trail angels, to drive them around sections of the trail. The yellow paint on the road coined the phrase. Purists DNI.
Safety Meeting - A communal smoking of marijuana, if you are so inclined. “We’re having a safety meeting tonight if you want to stick around. Make sure you bring some snacks!”
The Bubble - A high density of thru-hikers all in a fairly concentrated area. Hikers will often have an opinion on whether they would like to stay in the bubble, or completely avoid the bubble, and adjust their start dates accordingly. “Most of the bubble yellow blazed around the wildfires.” To track the bubble on the Appalachian Trail, check out this Where Are The Hikers? heat map from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
Hiker Trash - A thrifty, color-clashing lifestyle embraced by many thru-hikers. Expect these calorie-deprived hikers (clad in a Hawaiian shirt) to emerge from a trailhead near you.
“The trail provides!” - Referring to the possibility of trail magic at any moment and the trail’s innate ability to provide something that’s needed (motivation, a gear fix, a place to stay, M&Ms on the forest floor… ).
“Don’t quit on a bad day!” - Self-explanatory, but possibly the best advice I ever received on trail.
“No pain, no rain, no Maine” (AT) - Most often said during times of gnarly weather or injury; this reminds thru-hikers that their journey will have plenty of lows, but that it’s a part of life on trail, and eventually those white blazes do lead to Maine.
The Green Tunnel (AT) - A response to the question, “Why haven’t I seen a view in 50 miles?!” This occurs after the trees and plants have grown their leaves back for the season and hikers travel through a seemingly endless green tunnel as they make their way down the trail.
Photo by Connor 'Jackrabbit' Chapdelaine for his Carry or Bury? 3 Items to Keep or Ditch on the Appalachian Trail!
Trail Days (AT) - A multi-day celebration in Damascus, VA where hiker-trash style is on full display. Complete with gear giveaways, booths from your favorite backpacking companies, and a pop-up tent city for the weekend, this festival is usually held in the spring to coincide with the arrival of the NOBO bubble.
Thru-Hiking Triple Crown - Rightfully earned if a thru-hiker completes all three triple crown trails — the 2,192-mile Appalachian Trail, the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail, and the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail.
CYTC - Stands for Calendar Year Triple Crown. Refers to completing the three triple crown trails within a calendar year. “Did you hear about Bear Bag? He’s doing a CYTC next year!”
FKT - Fastest Known Time is an organization that manages the record-keeping for numerous trails and routes, both for supported trail runners and unsupported thru-hikers. You can check out all current routes and records on their website.
Half Gallon Challenge (AT) - At the halfway point, in Pine Grove Furnace State Park, thru-hikers attempt to eat a half gallon of ice cream. For added competitive spirit, see how fast you can stomach the full carton + a full pint, or choose a richer flavor to really put your hiker hunger to the test.
Four State Challenge (AT) - Hike 42.9 miles in 24 hours crossing the borders of 4 states on the AT: Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.
Oregon Challenge (PCT) - Hike all 430 miles of the PCT in Oregon in just 2 weeks.
Tehachapi Challenge (PCT) - Hike 48.8 miles in 24 hours between Hiker Town and Tehachapi on the PCT.
Were there any phrases or lingo that you and your tramily used that weren’t included in this roundup? Any other wild trail challenges you’d like to add to this list for those so inclined? Leave them in the comments below!