45 Essential Hiking Terms You Need To Know

45 hiking terms you need to know

Like any other activity, hiking comes with its own jargon, and can be confusing. So, here’s a handy guide to the basics.


AT -- The Appalachian Trail. This footpath extends from Georgia to Maine, stretching a total of 2,178 miles.


Backcountry -- a geographic area with few paved roads or maintained buildings; typically with nonexistent or patchy cell service.

Backpacking -- hiking with gear, often involves camping out.

Bivouac -- a temporary shelter designed to shield hikers from inclement weather.


Cache -- the act of storing food or supplies for future use.

Cairn -- a man-made pile of stones used as a navigational marker

Cat hole -- a 6-to-8-inch deep hole used for pooping; dug off-trail, out of sight, and at least 50 yards away from the nearest water source.


DNC --  Delaware North Corp., a group that controls the High Sierra Camps and most of the lodging in Yosemite National Park.


Exposure -- this refers to the steepness of the terrain’s incline and risk level on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being relatively flat to 5 being vertical and possibly life-threatening.


False Lead -- A path that looks like the trail but but quickly peters out.

Flail -- hikers use this word euphemistically to describe getting turned around by a false lead, or for the stopping/starting exhaustion near the summit of a peak.


Gaiters -- protective mudproof and waterproof gear designed to fit snugly over hiking boots and socks, keeping feet dry and comfy.

Glonk --  a term for an unaware hiker who doesn’t realize that uphill hikers have the right of way. Don’t be a glonk.

GORP -- “Good Old Raisins and Peanuts”. A trial snack comprised of nuts and dried fruits designed to keep up stamina and energy while on the trail.


Herd Path -- an unofficial but obvious path hikers use to get from one place to the other. Alternatively, an overused official path.

HSC/High Sierra Camp -- a group of popular camps in Yosemite National Park, featuring canvas cabins, bedding, and hot meals.

Hump -- to carry a heavy pack over a long distance.


Junction --  the point at which two trails intersect


Karst -- limestone landscapes marked by bluffs, caverns, and escarpments

Krummholz -- bent, stunted trees


Littoral -- directly adjacent to the shoreMassif -- a distinct mass of interconnected mountains


Moraine -- an accumulation of debris formed by glaciers


Nobo --  a northward-bound hiker on the AT or PCT

NPS (USNPS) --  U.S. National Park Service; the federal agency that cares for and manages America’s national parks and monuments.


Orienteer -- using a map and compass to determine a route through unfamiliar terrain.


PCT --  Pacific Coast Trail, a hiking and equestrian trail that runs from just south of Campo, California, to the edge of Manning Park in British Columbia.

Peak Bagger -- a hiker obsessed with reaching the highest point in each state, country, or continent

Point --  the lead hiker in a group.


Ramble -- to walk the countryside without a designated destination.


Slackpacker --  a backpacker that carries a light pack, or none at all, and ‘camps’ at hotels/motels. It’s kind of like glamping, but can also be a good way to ease into backpacking.

Sobo --  a south-bound hiker on the AT or PCT.


Thru-hiker -- Thru-hiker, or through-hiker, is hiker who hikes a long-distance trail end-to-end within one hiking season.

Townie -- a person who lives near a trail and often lurks about it.  

Trail Angel -- someone who offers a hiker unexpected but much-appreciated assistance.

Trailhead --  the starting point of a trail; typically marked with a sign.

Trail Name -- A pseudonym used by thru-hikers and backpackers when they’re on the trail.

Trek --  a multi-day hike in an exotic or remote location, often requiring a guide.


Universal Trail --  sometimes also referred to as Universal Design, this type of trail is typically wide and flat, with little to no barriers and a gentle slope atmost. They are designed for maximum accessibility.

USGS --  United States Geological Service, the federal agency that monitors and assesses the overall health of America’s ecosystems; also the publisher of popular and highly-detailed topographical maps used by backcountry hikers.


Verglas --  A thin coating of ice on rocks formed overnight, or when snow melts and refreezes.


Walk Up --  a mountain peak that requires no special gear or climbing skills to reach the top.

White Gas -- a specially formulated fuel for burning in camp stoves.


Yo-yo -- the act of thru-hiking a trail, then turning around and hiking back to the starting point.


Zero-Mile Mark-- the place where a measured trail begins; not necessarily the trail head.