If you have ever been around a group of hikers on the trail, you might have left the conversation feeling a little like this:

Hikers have their own lingo that can seem confusing and frustrating to newbies. Unfortunately, there isn’t a google translate option for this language. So here are a few terms that will give you some clarity the next time you engage with other hikers.


Appalachian Trail, a 2,184 mile long trail between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine.

Base Weight

The weight of your backpack plus all the gear that’s inside it. Doesn’t include consumable weight such as food and water. Most backpackers have a base weight of 20-40 lbs. Lightweight backpackers aim for a base weight under 20 lbs. Ultralight backpackers shoot for a base weight of 10 lbs or less.


A colored mark – usually painted or nailed to a tree – used to help guide hikers while on the trail.


A structure made of stacked rocks used to mark a trail where trees aren’t present for blazes.

Camel Up

Cameling Up is a process to help you stay hydrated without needing to carry lots water during your hike, which will help save weight. When you reach a water source, you refill your water bottle using a filter, and then gulp down all the water immediately before heading off down the trail again. This technique is commonly used by ultralight hikers.

Cat Hole

A small hole that you dig in order to bury poop and toilet paper. Hikers will carry a small shovel to help them dig their cat hole.


Continental Divide Trail, a 3,100 mile long trail between Mexico and Canada, traversing five states: New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. .

Cowboy Camping

Cowboy Camping is setting up camp the way the cowboys did, under the wide, open sky. Usually, it is a sleeping bag on the ground with no tent overhead. This is a great way to enjoy a starry night, but make sure there’s no rain in the forecast.


Flip-Flop is when a thru hiker hikes the trail going one direction, finish that section and drive or fly back to where they started, and then flip around to hike the other direction. The most widely understood Flip Flop is where hikers will hike North from Harper’s Ferry, WV, to Katahdin, then travel back to Harper’s Ferry by some means other than hiking and hike South to Springer. Most thru hikers will do this to avoid the crowd since it is more popular to hike South to North than North to South.


John Muir Trail, a 210 mile trail in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California, passing through Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks.

LNT (or Leave No Trace)

Leave No Trace is 7 principles designed to help outdoor users think about ways to minimize the impact that their presence has on the natural environment.


Short for “North Bound.” A term used to describe thru hikers that start at the southern terminus of a long trail and head north.


Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,654 miles long trail through Washington, Oregon, and California.

Section Hike

When someone isn’t able to complete a thru hike in a single trip, they may instead choose to complete the trail over a longer period of time by hiking smaller pieces of it.


Short for “South Bound.” A term used to describe thru hikers that start at the northern terminus of a long trail and head south.


When a trail zig-zags back and forth up a very steep section of terrain. It adds distance to a trail but also makes it easier to hike. Switchbacks help prevent erosion on steep slopes, so be sure to follow the trail and avoid the temptation to cut straight up, even though it might seem easier.

The Big Three

The three most essential pieces of gear that any backpacker carries: sleeping bag, backpack and shelter. These items also tend to be the heaviest, so those looking to go ultralight often look to these 3 items to cut the most from their base weight.

Thru Hike

Hiking a long-distance trail end to end within one hiking season. Popular thru hikes include the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail..

Thru Hiker

Someone who is in the process of completing a thru hike.

Topographic Map

A map showing topographic features, usually by means of contour lines.

Trail Angel

A local who isn’t actively hiking the trail but does nice things for hikers who are. Trail Angels may run van shuttles from the trailhead into town or offer snacks or beer along the trail.

Trail Name

Often thru hikers will adopt a nickname while they’re on the trail. It usually has an interesting backstory and tends to be given by a fellow thru hiker.

Trail Magic

Trail Magic is a surprise treat left on the trail for fellow hikers to enjoy. These surprises are left by trail angels.


The trailhead is the place where your hike starts or stops. Most trailheads have a parking lot and many offer free maps or signs with information about the hikes you can access from them.

Triple Crown

A designation given to hikers who thru hike the AT, PCT. and CDT. The total length of the three trails is about 7,900 miles.


The goal of being ultralight is to carry a base weight of 10lbs or less. Most hikers go ultralight so they can hike farther, faster, and see more without getting as tired and having less chance of injury.

Hopefully after reading all of that you feel a little more like this:

See you on the trail.