Say What?

Trail journals often contain terms that make no sense to non-hikers. The following is a list of terms and commonly used words, phrases, abbreviations, and slang used in the Appalachian Trail community. See the complete-but-always-in-progress list at

2000 Miler: A person who has hiked the entire distance between termini of the official (white-blazed) A.T., either by thru-hiking or section hiking.

AYCE: “All You Can Eat” Restaurants that offer all you can eat buffets are very popular with hungry hikers.

Bald: A low elevation mountain surrounded by forest yet devoid of trees on the crown. Typically covered with meadows, balds can offer great views and are a good place to find wild berries, they also attract much wildlife. A southern term.

Base Weight: The weight of your pack and its contents, not including consumable items (food, water, fuel).

Baxter: Baxter State Park, where Katahdin is, and the AT’s Northern terminus on Baxter Peak.

Bear Bag: The bag used by hikers to hang their food out of reach of bears and other critters, see ‘Food Bag.’

Bear Cable: A permanent cable rigged high between two trees, specifically for hanging bear bags.

Big Three: Your backpack, shelter, and sleep system. These are typically the heaviest, most expensive, and most critical categories of items carried, and thus tend to get the most attention during gear discussions.

Blazes: Are painted, 2-inch by 6-inch, vertical white rectangles that are placed at eye height on trees and other objects, in both directions, to mark the official route of the Trail. Side trails are marked with blue blazes. You see horizontal, diagonal, arrows, and other blazes along the Trail.

Blue Blaze: Spur trails off the AT to bad-weather routes, views, shelters, water sources etc are often marked by AT style blazes painted Blue.

Blue-Blazer: A long-distance hiker who substitutes a section of blue-blazed trail for a white-blazed section between two points on the Trail.

Bounce Box: A mail-drop type box containing seldom-used necessities that is ‘bounced’ ahead to a town where you think you might need the contents.

Camel Up or Tank Up: Drink your fill of water at the source until you’re filled up, then hike on

Cat Hole: A small hole dug by a hiker for the deposit of human waste.

Flip-Flop: A term used to signify a hiker that starts hiking in one direction then at some point decides to jump ahead and hike back in the opposite direction. Some hikers on the AT will start hiking northbound from Springer Mt. and usually at Harpers Ferry they may decide to go to Katahdin and hike back down to Harpers Ferry, thus completing their thru-hike. This is a good way for someone to still get their hike completed if they are behind and their time is limited due to the oncoming winter.

Food Bag: A bag a hiker carries in their pack specifically for keeping all their food in. It is typically suspended from a tree at night so bears and varmints don’t get into it. Also called Bear Bag.

Gap: A southern term for a low spot along a ridge line, called a col by northern individuals.

Giardia: More properly known as giardiasis, an infection of the lower intestines cause by the amoebic cyst, Giardia lamblia. Giardia resides in water so it is wise to always chemically treat or filter your water before drinking. Symptoms include stomach cramps, diarrhea, bloating, loss of appetite and vomiting. Also know as, a backpacker’s worst nightmare.

GORP: “Good ole raisins & peanuts”, or some other variation thereof. Also known as Trail Mix.

Gray Water: (Dirty dishwater.) Some campsites will have designated spots to dump your gray water. Such designated spots may be provided with a strainer so that you can remove your food particles from the gray water and pack those out.

Harpers Ferry: The ATC’s National Headquarters and Information Center is located in Harpers Ferry WV, about 1000 AT miles north of Springer Mountain. A short blue blazed trail leads to HQ, where AT hikers traditionally sign the register and have their photo taken. This is the psychological halfway point on the AT.

Hiker Box: A cabinet or box at hostels where hikers donate unwanted food for the hikers coming behind them.

Hammock: A sleeping system that combines a tent and sleeping bag, hung between two trees.

Hostel: An establishment along the trail that has bunks, showers, and sometimes cooking and mail drops, for AT hikers.

HYOH: “Hike your own hike”, and not imitate someone else’s.

Katahdin: The AT’s northern terminus is at Baxter Peak on Maine’s Katahdin. Katahdin is a Penobscot Indian word meaning Greatest Mountain.

LNT: ‘Leave No Trace’, a philosophy and skill used to pass as lightly as possible when backpacking. It also means that you pack-out all your trash and leave no visible signs that you were there.

Mail Drop: Mail drops are a method of re-supply while hiking. A mail drop is usually made ahead of time, before the hike starts, and a person not hiking (usually a spouse or relative, but it can be a friend) mails the package according to a pre-arranged schedule so that it arrives on time for the hiker to receive it at the post office.

MEGA or ME-GA: A hike or hiker going from Maine to Georgia.

Nalgene: Refers to drinking bottle as that is what bottles are usually made of.

Nero: Almost a Zero …in other words, a very short mileage day.

NoBo: Northbound thru-hiker, also a GAMEr (Georgia to Maine).

Privy: A trailside outhouse for solid waste. You shouldn’t pee in the privy.

PUDS: Thru-hiker shorthand for “pointless ups and downs”, referring to the less interesting sections of mountains thru-hikers encounter from time to time; several PUDS in a row are MUDS, which is shorthand for “mindless ups and downs”.

Register: A log book normally found at a trail shelter or a trail head. The original intent was for hikers to sign in so a searcher needing to find a lost hiker could tell where they last were. Registers are now used for hikers to write information regarding their hike and other information that other hikers nay find useful.

Section Hiker: A person who is attempting to become a 2,000-Miler by doing a series of section hikes over a period of time.

Shelter: A three sided wooden or stone building, spaced out a half day’s hike apart, near a water source, and with a privy. The AT has many kinds of shelters, from barns to cabins.

Shuttle: A ride from town to trailhead, usually for a fee.

Slackpacking: A hiking term coined in 1980 to describe an unhurried and non-goal-oriented manner of long-distance hiking (i.e., slack: “not taut or tense, loose”). Currently used to indicate someone who does a section without a pack by having someone else transport the pack to the next point.

SoBo/Southbounder: A hiker who is hiking the AT from Maine to Georgia. A small minority of hikers actually hike this direction.

Thru-Hiker: Traditionally a person who is attempting to become a 2,000-Miler in a single, continuous journey leaving from one terminus of the Trail and backpacking to the other terminus.

Trail Angel: Someone who provides unexpected help or food to a hiker.

Trailhead: Where the trail leaves a road crossing or parking lot.

Trail Magic: Unexpected, but welcome, help or food.

Trail Name: A nickname adopted by or given to a hiker. This name is used almost exclusively when communicating with others on the trail and in trail register entries.

Trail Runners: Light weight sneaker style hiking shoes.

Work for Stay: Some hostels, the AMC Huts in the Whites, and a few other places along the AT allow some hikers to work instead of paying the fee for lodging.

Yellow Blazes: Term used to denote the yellow center-line that is painted on a highway

Yellow Blazer: Someone who hitch hikes around sections of trail by following yellow blazes.

Yogi-ing: The good-natured art of “letting” food be offered cheerfully by strangers without actually asking them directly (If you ask, it’s begging!).

Zero Day: A day in which no miles are hiked, usually because the hiker is stopping in a town to re-supply and/or rest.


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