Glossary of Thru-hiking Terms

There are now exactly 3 weeks left until my Pacific Crest Trail adventure begins! I cannot believe how close it is, and I feel like I still have a ton of little things to do before departure day arrives. This also means that before too long, the posts on this blog will probably be filled with hiker jargon that, if you haven’t thru-hiked before, may get confusing. But never fear! I have prepared this handy guide to common thru-hiker terms to help you figure out what the heck we are all talking about.

Base weight (noun) – the weight of everything in a hiker’s pack, minus consumables (water, food, fuel, etc.)

Bushwhack (verb) – to travel off-trail, often requiring fighting through thick brush or trees


Backpackers Bushwhacking in Donoho Basin

Camel up (verb) – to drink a large amount of water at once (usually while at a water source) in order to decrease the amount of water one has to carry to the next water source (whether this actually works or not is rather dubious)

Cat hole (noun) – a hole one digs to poop into

Cowboy camp (verb) – to camp under the stars, with no shelter (the solution to being too lazy to set up your tent at the end of the day)

Dry camp (verb) – to camp away from a water source

Flip-flop (verb) – to skip a section of the trail, to later return and hike it in the opposite direction

Glissade (verb) – to slide down a snowy slope (usually on one’s butt) in order to avoid having to walk down instead (butt-sledding)


Hikers glissading in the French Alps

The herd (noun) – the large group of hikers that start at peak time for thru-hiking (mid to late April), known to pass through towns and clear them out of instant mashed potatoes and Snickers bars

Hiker box (noun) – a box similar to a ‘take a penny leave a penny’ jar, where hikers can deposit gear/food/etc. that they no longer need and future hikers may be able to use (typically located in places such as post offices or motels in trail towns)

Hiker hunger (noun) – the all-consuming hunger that takes over a hiker’s body after a while on the trail, cannot be satisfied by even the largest amounts of food

Hiker midnight (noun) – the time of night when most hikers succumb to their exhaustion (most commonly known as 9 p.m.)

Hiker trash (noun) – a term used to (affectionately) refer to thru-hikers (probably inspired by the overwhelming hiker stench and generally filthy quality)

HYOH – “Hike Your Own Hike”, an important trail philosophy that encourages hikers to hike in the way that works best for them, regardless of what other hikers may be doing

LNT – “Leave No Trace”, the all-important guide to trail ethics that hikers should follow in order to minimize the impact they have on the natural environment


Sign encouraging LNT principles at a Canadian National Historic Site

Nero (noun) – a day during which a hiker hikes “near zero” miles, or a significantly smaller number of miles than what one would normally cover in a day

NOBO/SOBO (adjective) – describes the direction a thru-hiker travels on their journey, with NOBO being short for northbound (from Mexico to Canada) and SOBO being short for southbound (from Canada to Mexico)

Posthole (verb) – to hike in deep snow that sucks in your leg with each step

Puffy (noun) – a name for the down jacket that most thru-hikers carry

Shakedown (noun) – when a more experienced hiker goes through someone else’s gear in order to help them bring down their pack weight by telling them what to ditch in the hiker box or send home

Slackpack (verb) – to hike without your full pack by sending someone else ahead with most of your gear, or stashing your gear somewhere for an out-and-back trek

Sun cups (noun) – cup-shaped depressions that form in snow when it begins to melt

Sun cups in a snow field near Gibby Beam (UK)

Trail angel (noun) – a beautiful soul that does something to help out thru-hikers (ex. providing rides to/from trailheads, a place to sleep, food, etc.) (see Trail magic)

Trail legs (noun) – the appendages of pure muscle that a hiker develops after spending a while on trail, that allow them to hike seemingly endless miles

Trail magic (noun) – a random act of kindness experienced along the trail, may take the form of a cooler full of cold drinks, a trail angel cooking up a hot meal, or an offer to sleep in a real bed

Vortex (noun) – something that hikers get sucked into and find it difficult to leave, typically a particularly fun town or trail angel’s house

Water cache (noun) – a place where trail angels keep water stored along the trail for thru-hikers to use

Zero (noun) – a day where a hiker hikes zero miles (most often taken in town)

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