Glossary of Trail slang & Lingo


Blaze

(v) To cut a new path through forest or other natural lands

(n) The noun can refer to any marks made on trees to identify the location of a trail. In the nineteenth century, the US Calvary marked trails in the Sierras by carving shapes and letters into tree trunks that can still be seen today.


Today, blaze primarily refers to painted rectangles the size of a dollar bill, roughly 2x4 inches tall. AT veterans will be surprised to find the PCT is not blazed. In one sense this is because marking the Trail with painted blazes from start to finish is impossible. Whether in the desert or the snow-covered peaks of the Sierras, there just aren’t many trees to paint blazes on. Moreover, blazes simply are not necessary. Vegetation grows slowly in the American West, and so it would take decades for plants to overtake and obscure the footpath. The PCT route is unambiguous except at (very infrequent) intersections with other trails. When this happens, the PCT shield logo has been nailed to a tree, stamped onto a wooden post, or placed on a fiberglass marker to guide you. (examples below)


Blazing

(v) From “blaze” comes a whole vocabulary to describe different actions while hiking — white blazing, blue blazing, yellow blazing, green blazing, and pink blazing. These terms are primarily used on the AT, and since the PCT does not have colored blazes, the expressions are a bad fit. They are only used by hikers who have previously thru-hiked the AT. 

 

Bounce Box

(n) Refers to a package of gear, clothes, other items that a hiker does not need currently and so does not want to carry, but may want in the future. Rather than mail the stuff home, they address the box to themselves and send it to a location farther up the Trail. Usually this is Priority Mail box sent from post office to post office. As long as you do not open the package, Priority Mail boxes can be forwarded for free, and thus “bounce” down the trail from town to town with you.

(v) To bounce refers to the act of mailing a bounce box. “I bounced my heavy jacket to Kennedy Meadows since I won’t need it till then.”

 

Bushwhacking

(v) To hike off-trail and push into the undergrowth. To make progress you have to whack bushes and branches out of the way. Then they whack you back.

 

Camel Up

(v) Since water is heavy, hikers may decide to drink a lot of water while in camp or stopped for lunch, rather than carry a lot of water between stops. The hope is that their body will hold that water like a camel stores water in its hump, so they don’t become thirsty later. We have not found any scientific evidence that this actually happens, but hikers do it nonetheless. “Our packs are already so heavy from resupplying, let’s camel up and get more water at lunch.”

 

Stealth Camp

(n) The noun form is usually “stealth site.”

(v) To camp somewhere other than an officially designated campsite. Originally it referred to instances where you couldn’t find a place to camp legally or safely and so hid to avoid being seen by private property owners, motorists, land managers, rangers, et cetera. In addition to hiding behind thick cover, setting up after dark and leaving before dawn were techniques to avoid detection. Currently hikers use stealthing to refer to any unofficial campsite as in, “I wasn’t going to reach the shelter before dark so I stealthed somewhere near the trail.”

 

Cowboy Camping

(v) In the movies, cowboys of the old west slept out under the stars next to their campfires. They didn’t use a tent or even a canvas tarp, just stretched out on their saddle blankets. Today, when backpackers forgo their tent, put their sleeping pad directly on the ground, and pull on their sleeping bag, they are cowboy camping. Usually shortened to just “cowboying” or “cowboyed” as in, “It was so nice last night I just cowboyed.”

 

Conditions on the PCT are very favorable to cowboy camping.

 

Zero Day

(n) A day spent off-trail or not hiking, and thus doing zero miles. Can be shortened to simply “zero,” as in “I’m going to take another zero tomorrow.”

(v) To spend a day off-trail or not hiking. Can be shortened to just “zero” as in, “You wanna zero again tomorrow?”

 

Nero Day

(n) A near-zero day where you hike a few miles before stopping. Can be shortened to just “nero” as in, “I took a nero yesterday and got all my resupply done, so today I’m just chillin.”

(v) To hike just a few miles, well below your daily average, before stopping. Can be shortened to just “nero” as in, “Let’s nero here, do a little resupply, and then zero in the next town.”

 

Flip-Flop

(n or v) A thru-hike completed without going in a single direction the entire time, usually motivated by weather concerns. On the Pacific Crest Trail, if one arrives at the Sierras too early in the season, too much snow can make the Sierras impassable. Hikers often choose to drive/ hitch north to Ashland, OR and then hike south. By the time they reach the Sierras the snow has usually melted enough to the make the Trail passable.

 

Glissading 

(v) Quickly descending a steep snow-covered slope by sliding on your ass, hopefully on purpose. This is done in the High Sierras during snowy years in order to get down a slope quickly, or just for fun.

 

Hiker Bubble

(n) A large cluster of people hiking within a few days of each other. Between bubbles hikers are few and far between. Bubbles form as people make friends and synchronize their paces. Bubbles can also form if prolonged bad weather discourages hikers from leaving a town or a camp. As each day of bad weather passes, more and more people arrive in town and remain there. Hikers once separated by days are now in the same place, while no one is on the trail ahead of them. Once the weather clears, everyone leaves town on the same day, creating a massive bubble.

 

Hiker Friendly

(adj) Refers to any business, or even a whole town, that actively works to make hikers feel welcome and invited. Motels that will hold a package for you, restaurants that set aside a place to store your backpack, and outfitters with couches where hikers can chill out and charge their phones, are all examples of what can make something hiker friendly.

 

We wouldn't call any place hiker "unfriendly," however, since that would imply that a business was actively discriminating against hikers, which is illegal. "Hiker indifferent" is more accurate. 

 

Hiker Hobble

(n) The limping wobble that hikers develop on zero-days from swollen knees, swollen feet, or blisters. Seems to go away when we're actually hiking.

 

Hiker Hunger

(n) It's self-explanatory.

 

Hiker Midnight

(n) About 8:30pm. Thru-hikers become accustomed to getting into bed soon after nightfall. Staying up late while in town is tough.

  

“Hike Your Own Hike”

An expression used by hikers to emphasize the personal, unique, and idiosyncratic nature of a thru-hike. Often used as a rebuttal to "purists" (see below). Can be used defensively as in, "Don't tell me what to do. Hike your own hike." Can be used to soften advice as in, "That's how I do it, but it may not work for you. Hike your own hike."

 

P.U.D.

(n) Acronym for “pointless up-down,” used to express frustration at long or steep uphill climbs that are not rewarded with views at the top. The term is primarily used on the AT, where PUDs are plentiful. In contrast, uphill climbs on the PCT are almost always rewarded with views. However, the stretch north of Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp does have some PUDs.

 

Purist

(n) A thru-hiker dedicated to hiking every foot of the primary trail and who will not take blue-blazed side trails or loop trails, let alone skip a section by hitchhiking. Some purists choose not to slackpack either, asserting it violates the spirit of the hike. We have found very few purists on the PCT — it mainly seems to be an AT phenomenon. Perhaps this is because every year the PCT has multiple sections that are closed due to fire damage, mud slides, et cetera. Rangers don't hesitate to write huge fines if they catch hikers in a closed area, and so it's not worth the risk simply so you can say, "I hiked the whole trail."

 

Ride Bride

(n) Dirty, bearded men traveling alone can have a hard time getting a hitch. Women and couples traveling together get rides faster. A woman can help a man get a hitch simply by standing next to him while he has his thumb out. When that happens, she is his ride bride. This relationship can be thought of as one-way. After all, women don’t need men to get a ride, however women may feel safer hitching with another (male) hiker than when alone.

 

Slackpacking

(v) Hiking without your full pack during a thru-hike. This is only done with assistance. The hiker takes a mostly empty backpack with lunch and maybe rain gear or an extra jacket, while someone else takes the rest of their stuff to a pre-determined point farther up the Trail.

 

Trail Magic

(n) Unsolicited, and often unexpected, gifts and assistance to hikers. Usually comes from strangers, but if your friends surprise you at a road crossing and take you to dinner, that's trail magic too. On the PCT, trail magic often appears in the form of a cooler filled with sodas, candy bars, fruit, et cetera stashed along the trail somewhere.

 

Trail Angel

(n) Someone who dispenses trail magic. On the PCT there are "professional" trail angels who host hikers in their home every year, offers rides to the grocery, et cetera. They may even have business cards that say "trail angel" and pin them to trees near road crossings.

 

Trail Karma

(n) The use of "karma" here does not refer to the Hindu or Buddhists beliefs about "the sum of a person's actions in this and previous states of existence deciding their fate in future existences." Instead it is more like the vaguer, westernized version of the idea about cosmic cause-and-effect — that your actions will bring about inevitable results, good or bad, not directly but through vague, undefined cosmic forces. No one hiking the Trail likely believes in cosmic forces, however. The expression is often used as an admonishment for non-ethical behavior. If someone leaves trash in a fire pit, another hiker might say, "Bad trail karma, man." It is also used when referring to ethical behavior. If someone finds trash in a fire pit and decides to pack it out themselves, they might say, "Good trail karma, you know?"

Yogi-ing

(v) Besides wearing a tie, Yogi the Bear’s defining characteristic was that he concocted conniving schemes to steal picnic baskets from park visitors. While thru-hiking, you are — like Yogi the Bear — a creature living in the woods, different from day-hikers and weekend visitors. When you approach and chat up anyone besides your fellow thru-hikers in order to get a ride, meal, et cetera you are yogi-ing. It can be used in both a positive and negative way. Some people are just naturally charming and comfortable talking to strangers and so they amaze their shyer hiking friends by how easily they get offered rides or free Cokes. Critics see yogi-ing as scheming and deceitful, a tactic of using someone’s politeness to get what you want from them.

 

Yo-Yo

(n) A type of thru-hike wherein after completing their thru-hike in one direction, a hiker turns around and hikes the entire trail again, in the opposite direction. 


Western Mountain Terms

Forester Pass, Sierra Nevada
Forester Pass, Sierra Nevada

Pass vs Saddle

Passes are such important geological features that they are given names and identified in the PCT Data Book and Halfmile's maps. So what is a pass? Basically, it is the lowest point in a line of mountain peaks or ridges. Since it requires the least amount of climbing, it is the easiest way over the range.

 

A similar feature in the Appalachians would be called a gap or notch but pass is distinctly western and evokes snow-covered routes at high altitudes above the treeline. Indeed, the PCT takes hikers over 8 named passes above 11,000 feet and reaches its highest point when it crests Forester Pass at 13,153 feet. In the picture of Forester above you can see how the mountain range is like an incredible wall of rock and the pass is a V-shaped notch, not that much lower than the peaks and ridges around it. (The picture was taken in 2015, a year of severe drought and little snowfall. Expect much more snow when you reach Forester Pass.)

unnamed saddle in Northern California
unnamed saddle in Northern California

The nomenclature of the West denotes similar low points that appear below treeline as saddles  rather than passes. Saddles often have a gentle saddle shape as well, rather than being shaped like a deep V. 

 

Like passes, saddles are the lowest, easiest way over a mountain formation and the PCT takes hikers over many of them but while every pass has a formal name, only some saddles are named. Perhaps this is because they are less distinct features of the landscape or because they were less crucial to exploration and settlement.

 

Passes and saddles can funnel fierce, steady winds in ways unparalleled in Appalachia. Upon reaching a pass or saddle it is not uncommon for PCT hikers to feel like they have stepped into a wind tunnel. While not every saddle or pass has bad winds all the time, it's best to take caution when approaching one so that you are not blown over and do not plan on taking a break at one.