Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Trail Lingo

As with all subcultures, there is a whole jargon associated with the hiking culture and an even more specific vocabulary linked to the Appalachian Trail. The best way to learn the language is to get on your hiking boots and immerse yourself in it. We’ve been in and out of the outdoors/hiking culture for the past several years while we were in AmeriCorps and doing Trail Crew, but there was a lot left for us to learn.

Here’s an attempt at a mini dictionary:

Hiking Styles:

White blazing: Hiking on the AT. It refers to following the white blazes (rectangular white markings that mark the trail, usually on trees and rocks).

Blue blazing: Hiking on a trail that is not the AT. There are a lot of side trails that parallel, cut off and lead into the AT. These are often marked with blue blazes. Blue blazing refers to hiking on one of those trails rather than the AT for a section. We enjoyed doing this as a change of pace, especially at the end.

Yellow blazing: Catching a ride via road rather than hiking a section. The yellow in yellow blazing refers to the yellow dotted lines on the roads, which look similar to the white and blue trail blazes. It usually is done by hitchhiking from one town to another and skipping a section of the AT. I guess we technically did this 3 times… in NJ, VA and TN. Twice because of weather issues and once because of food shortage.

Green blazing: Bushwacking. Although it takes a really ‘gifted’ individual to lose the trail completely, some really do. Green blazing gets its name from having to hike through the forrest. It’s usually the result of being lost, but it might be done on purpose by some.

Aqua blazing: Using a boat of some kind to travel via river rather than the trail. This is possible going northbound on the Shenandoah River and the Housatonic going south.

Pink blazing: Changing your hiking pace in order to follow a girl. You get the idea with the “pink”. Usually it means that a guy is slowing down his pace or distance every day to hike with a girl; or, in some cases, he yellow blazes to catch up with a girl. It will become more clear why this is common whenever I get around to the Sausage Fest 2011 post.

Pole blazing: I think we were with a couple of people when they made this one up. It’s the counterpart to pink blazing. It’s when a girl changes her pace or skips a section to hike with a guy.

Types of Hikers:

Thru hiker: Someone hiking the entire AT in one go.

Section hiker: Someone who has an extended plan to finish the entire AT in several trips over several years. We met people who were on the 20+ year plan, and some who had the 5 year plan. Quite often these are groups of men who are friends from work or church, although we also saw a lot of guys who are doing it alone with the ground support from their wives. Yes, mostly men.

NOBO: This is a hiker that is hiking northbound on the trail (much more common). Usually it’s reserved for thru hikers.

SOBO: Hikers hiking southbound, like us.

Flip floper: Someone who starts at some point in the middle of the trail, hikes in one direction to the end and then returns to that point and hikes in the other direction to the other end. We mostly met people who started between VA-PA and hiked up to Katahdin in the Spring-Summer, then returned to that point and hiked down to Springer in the Fall. These are people who plan to complete it in one year. We met several people that we passed in VT and NH going north again down in TN and NC going south at the end.

Yo yoer: Why anyone would do this...I’m not sure. It’s when you start at a certain point on the trail, hike to one end, then turn around and hike back.

Day hiker/weekender: These are hikers that are out purely for fun without any goal of completing the trail. Maybe “for fun” is an assumption. A lot of kids and friends were pretty miserable being dragged out by their one enthusiastic hiking friend.


Trail name: A nickname that you receive on the trail. You are not supposed to name yourself, someone else has to give it to you. However, I think probably about half the people name themselves. You go by this name the entire trail, you introduce yourself with your trail name and you sign the trail logs with your trail name. A lot of times you don’t know someone’s real name. My trail name was JTree and Sol’s was Whiskey.

Slack packing: When you hike for a day with a light pack (usually just a day pack), because you will be either returning to the same place at night or someone is dropping off your big backpack at your end point for the day. It require someone to shuttle you or your pack at some point in the day. It’s one of the best things to do once in a while because it feels aweeessooommmee to hike with just a day pack after months of a heavy pack. We did it only a couple of times- in CT with the help of Elsa, in VA when the weather was bad through a B&B we were staying at, and in TN just for the hell of it through the help of another hostel. It usually costs money to be shuttled/have your pack shuttled so it’s a treat. Usually you push for a longer distance since you’re not weighed down.

Trail magic: A treat that is either left for you on the trail by a stranger or receiving some treat from someone you meet on the trail. It could also be a ride when you need it or someone buying you a meal in town when they find out you’re a hiker. We found beer, cookies, crackers, candy bars, etc. in many random places along the trail that someone local left for hikers. The best trail magic was a tent set up on the side of the trail outside of Franklin, NC by a guy who stocked it full of soda, candy, cookies and a stove for making hot chocolate, coffee and hot dogs. Awesome.

Trail Angel: People who perform trail magic. They may do it once on a whim when they meet a hiker, while others basically make a career out of it. There are a few well known Trail Angels that live in towns along the AT and take in hikers as they pass through, or are available to give rides to and from the trail for free.

Zero: A day that you hike zero miles. An off day.

Nero: A day that you hike “nearly zero” miles. The amount of miles that qualifies as a nero varies by hiker, but we considered it as a day of 10 miles or less. Usually we had neros in or out of town.

Triple Crown: Thru hiking the AT, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail. It doesn't matter what order you do it in and it doesn't matter how many years apart you do each trail. We met several people who are triple crowners... crazy/impressive.

That’s about it. Now we can talk freely about our trip with any of you and use the vocabulary freely without a bunch of confused looks.


  1. So Em and Sol, when will you become a Triple Crowner? :)

  2. I think we're on the lifetime plan. We'll see if we're ever crazy enough for that.