How to Talk the Walk and Walk the Talk

It has been brought to my attention that, over the past few months, I have adopted a whole new vocabulary that hardly anyone else seems able to understand. All too frequently I find myself nonchalantly dropping expressions such as Nero, NoBo and Bounce Box into conversations. My long-suffering audience politely smiles and nods before glazing over and switching off completely. So, in an effort to be heard and understood, I have compiled a glossary of the most commonly used hiker jargon. I hope it will serve as a useful reference to all …

The A to Z of trail talk
The A to Z of trail talk

ADZPCTKO (acronym): Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick-Off … Either way, it’s quite a mouthful! The annual kick-off party is held at Lake Morena County Park (20 miles from the southern terminus) some time around the third week of April and marks the unofficial start of the thru-hiking season. For a nominal fee, prospective NoBo thru-hikers get to attend seminars, receive up-to-date information about trail conditions, last-minute equipment advice and of course there’s opportunity to meet a lot of fellow thru-hikers, both past and present. Several lightweight gear manufacturers also pitch up to help you shed a few more pounds and dollars! Past thru-hikers love attending these events because it gives them an opportunity to reminisce and reconnect with their Trail Family. First time thru-hikers may or may not find the kick-off useful. In fact, some choose to actively avoid these dates and the ensuing Herd that sets off from Lake Morena once the kick-off has, well, kicked-off I guess. UPDATE: There will be no kick-off in 2016!

AYCE (acronym): All-You-Can-Eat as in a buffet … Somewhat unsurprisingly, the concept of the AYCE buffet seems to have originated in Las Vegas. For a thru-hiker in the grip of Hiker Hunger an AYCE buffet will feel like nirvana!

Base Weight (noun): The total weight of your pack plus everything that you carry in it, except for consumables (food, water and fuel) as these will vary considerably throughout the hike. A base weight below 20lbs is considered lightweight, under 10lbs is ultra-lightweight and anything sub 5lbs is, in all probability, farcical and fictitious! Gram Weenies are obsessed with their base weights.

The ubiquitous BV500 … portable bear proof food store.

Bear Box (noun): Bear boxes are generally found in established campgrounds along areas of high bear activity. They are lockable bear proof boxes where you can store food and anything else that might smell attractive to a bear (cooking pots, toiletries etc.). The boxes are usually located a safe distance from tent pitches.

Bear Can (noun): Short for bear canister. Similar to a box except that it is portable and designed to be carried along the trail by hikers. A bear can is mandatory on several sections of the PCT, mostly through the High Sierras. It should be stored at least 30 metres from your campsite but also well away from cliffs, ledges and rivers … the bear will probably bat your can about for a while before losing interest and moving on! Bear cans are typically loathed by hikers because they are bulky, rigid and heavy. It requires careful packing to fit everything in and to fit it in your pack. On the positive side, they may also be used as a convenient camp stool and an impromptu washing machine.

Bogey Man (noun): Encounters with the Bogey Man have been reported along the entire length of the PCT and indeed throughout many other wilderness areas. The Bogey Man has never actually been seen but can regularly be heard moving around in the darkness. Has a tendency to prey more persistently on solo females and less experienced hikers. Generally thought to be responsible for just about every strange and unexplainable noise and happening during the course of a thru-hike.

Bonus Miles (noun): These are all the extra miles that aren’t officially part of the PCT but will nevertheless need to be hiked during the course of a typical thru-hike. These include miles to and from re-supply points, post offices, lodgings and other potential vortices; off-trail water sources, scouting for sheltered and/or flat campsites, prospecting for a nice Cat Hole and of course the inevitable navigational cock-up. Over the course of a 5-6 month thru-hike these can really add up, often putting an extra hundred or more miles on the total length of the hike.

Bounce Box (noun): The Bounce Box is a package that you continually mail to your future self as you travel along the trail. You can put pretty much anything into the box that you want or need on the trail but don’t fancy lugging around in your pack. It is really useful for people who need medication along the trail or those with very specific dietary requirements. Many thru-hikers also use it for luxury personal items such as town clothes, climate specific needs (e.g. ice-axe and crampons) and maps or guides for specific sections. A 5 gallon plastic bucket seems to be a popular form of box. However, if you think that a Bounce Box sounds like a splendid idea, beware! Not only does using a Bounce Box become very expensive, it also ties you to Post Office opening hours, forces you off-trail to deal with it and increases the likelihood of being sucked into a Vortex.

Bubble (noun): See Herd.

A water cache in the SoCal desert

Cache (non):  A bunch of stuff that is stored or squirreled away in a secret or inaccessible location, for use at some point in the future. The use of caches on the PCT is a source of some controversy. In years past, Trail Angels and hikers themselves have increasingly cached food and water along the trail, particularly in the dry desert sections of Southern California. Although happening across these well-intentioned pockets of Trail Magic can be a source of great joy for many thru-hikers, they also cause complications. First off, caches can harm wildlife, trash accumulates around the cache and, perhaps of most concern, hikers have started to rely on them (particularly water caches). If a cache is not maintained, not where you expected it to be or scavenged by animals, the unprepared hiker can be seriously caught out and left in a very life threatening situation! The PCTA is working hard to address these issues and you can read more about what they are up to here … “The Problem of Water Caches on the PCT”

Camel Up (verb): The act of drinking as much water as you can physically stomach when you are at a plentiful water supply. The theory goes that, if you over-hydrate when you have the opportunity, you will be able to get away with carrying or consuming less through the long waterless stretches. “Cameling Up” at a Cache is not considered good trail etiquette. Hikers are encouraged to only take what they really need, leaving plenty of this most precious commodity for a potentially more desperate hiker behind you.

deuce of spades
A lightweight trowel helps to get the job done!

Cat Hole (noun): Out on the trail, when a composting privy or toilet is not available (which is most of the time on the PCT), thru-hikers will need to dig a Cat Hole to take care of their “business”. This whole process is one of the cornerstones of the LNT philosophy and more complicated than one might imagine. Firstly, give yourself plenty of time to find a good spot (at least 200ft from campsites, trail and water sources). It takes a lot longer than you think to dig a hole 6-8 inches deep and 4-6 inches across … you really don’t want to be caught short so start digging at the very first hint of urgency! Practice your aim and use a small lightweight trowel to get the job done more efficiently. Check out this great article for more information on how to dig a Cat Hole.

Cowboy Camping (verb): Absolutely nothing to do with Brokeback Mountain! The art of sleeping outside in the wilderness without an overhead shelter (i.e. no tent or tarp). Changeable weather conditions, bugs and other nocturnal pests can seriously dampen what should otherwise be a truly amazing experience.

Dry Camping (verb): Camping without a nearby water source. For the most part thru-hikers will want to camp close to a water source to save the hassle of lugging water to cook with, as well as drink. However, if you are Stealth Camping you will more than likely also be dry camping. Often thru-hikers will cook their dinner close to a water source and then carry on hiking for a few hours after dinner. This technique works well in bear country and in the desert where it is advantageous to walk in the cool of the evening.

Escape Velocity (noun): The amount of will power and determination needed to escape a Vortex.

Flip-Flop (noun): A tactic used to complete the trail in a single season whereby you do a section of the trail then skip a bit with the intention of going back and doing that bit later. For example, in a heavy snow year a thru-hiker might skip the Sierras, finish the rest of the trail and then return to the Sierras once the conditions are more favourable to finish off the missing link.

Flipping (verb): See Flip-Flop.

Giardia (noun): A nasty intestinal parasite that causes acute stomach upset, chronic diarrhoea and all of the other associated unpleasantries. This unsavoury little character is transmitted outside of the body via our poop and seems to somehow find its way into our water sources … Yuk! Needless to say, Giardia is a major incentive for thru-hikers to practice good trail hygiene, adhere to the LNT philosophy and always filter or treat questionable drinking water. The most effective treatment for Giardia is a course of antibiotics and a few Zeros.

Glissade (verb): From the French word for sliding. In theory, glissading is a controlled way to expedite ones path down a steep slope of snow or ice by gliding gracefully on the feet or buttocks. By contrast, my limited glissading experience has been mostly out of control and far from elegant … but it was the most fun!

Gram Weenie (noun): A hiker who becomes obsessed with reducing her (or his) Base Weight. Gram Weenies meticulously weigh every piece of kit and are often willing to trade a 100 gram item for a 95 gram item without regard for other factors such as cost, durability, practicality and safety.

Herd, The (noun): A gaggle of thru-hikers that sets off together along the trail. The main herd forms at ADZPCTKO and remains intact through much of Southern California. Once into Northern California the herd starts to thin out, although clumps can still for around re-supply towns and Trail Angel’s homes. The herd can cause congestion and over-crowding. Some might argue that it detracts from the solitude of the trail and for this reason they try to stay ahead of the herd. Being behind the herd has the benefit of bountiful Hiker Boxes.

Hiker Boxes at legendary Trail Angels' ... The Saufleys.
Hiker Boxes at legendary Trail Angels’ … The Saufleys.

Hiker Box (noun): A box, shelf, area or receptacle of some kind where hikers can exchange food or gear. They are typically found at re-supply points along the trail. Some say that it is possible to hike the entire PCT and re-supply yourself out of hiker boxes along the way. This may indeed be possible, but probably only if you are prepared to live on a diet made up almost exclusively of peanut butter, oatmeal instant noodles!

Hiker Funk (noun): The tangy aroma of a fully ripened thru-hiker. This obnoxious whiff is the result of a unique combination of excessive sweat, economical use of laundry, irregular showering and a generally scant regard for personal hygiene. Some thru-hikers embrace and grow to love their funk … Eeeewwwww!!

Hiker Hunger (noun): An insatiable, bottomless hunger that torments thru-hikers. This voracious gluttony is fuelled by an acute calorific deficit and inspires monumental food binges in trail towns and at re-supply. The best remedy for Hiker Hunger is a good AYCE!

Hiker Hobble (noun): A curious phenomena that bedevils thru-hikers after any lengthy period of rest. The afflicted are most noticeable at towns and re-supply points when they can be seen doddering around like an arthritic octogenarian. Thru-hikers move like gazelles out on the trail but once they stop everything seizes up and they struggle to get going again. Hiker Hobble may lead to hikers becoming trapped in a Vortex!

Hiker Midnight (noun): Hotly debated but generally considered to be around 9pm. Most serious and well-mannered thru-hikers will be tucked up by this time so that they can get a good 8 hours of sleep and still be up at the crack of dawn.

Hiker Trash (noun): Often misinterpreted as a derogatory designation when in actual fact it is a bizarre term of endearment.  Hiker Trash is an all-encompassing epithet that attempts to describes the consequences of living in the wilderness, surrounded by your own funk for months on end. The typical thru-hiker becomes feral and starts to display the peculiarities of an itinerant hobo surprisingly quickly. Hiker Trash is a bit like porn, not the easiest thing in the world to describe but you will definitely know it when you see it!

HYOH (acronym): Hike Your Own Hike! … One of the most contentious aphorisms in the world of thru-hiking. On the one hand it might be considered an overused cliche that allows hikers to treat genuinely sound and well-meaning advice with utter disdain and contempt. On the other hand it could be regarded as a magnanimous philosophy which fosters an attitude of permissive approval, allowing hikers to do pretty much anything they fancy. I’ll let you Read Your Own Read and decide for yourself which camp you want to bed down in.

LASH (acronym): Long Arse Section Hike … See Section Hiker. A very long section of trail but not a Thru Hike, a failed attempt at thru-hiking can become a LASH.

LNT (acronym): Leave No Trace … A super-duper set of ethics and a basic code of conduct that aims to minimise the negative impact that us humans seem to have on our natural environment. It is built upon seven fundamental principles:

  1. plan ahead and prepare,
  2. travel and camp on durable surfaces,
  3. dispose of waste properly,
  4. leave what you find,
  5. minimize campfire impacts,
  6. respect wildlife,
  7. be considerate of other visitors.

This is why we dig Cat Holes and pack out TP!

Lyme Disease (noun): An alarmingly prevalent bacterial infection that lives in mice and deer and is transmitted to humans by tiny ticks who burrow their way into your skin and pass on the infection from the aforementioned animals. Although it is not deadly, for chronic sufferers (known as Lymies) it can mean a life sentence of pain and suffering that makes death feel like a pretty attractive alternative. Long term symptoms mimic other debilitating illnesses such as arthritis, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. As a consequence Lyme Disease is often misdiagnosed and mistreated. Even when it is correctly diagnosed, there is currently no clear consensus on how to treat chronic cases so the best thing seems to avoid getting it in the first place.

Lymie (noun): A person suffering from chronic Lyme Disease. The afflicted often liken the symptoms of Lyme Disease to that of a zombie. Those of you who are familiar with The Walking Dead will need no further explanation!

resupply boxes
Boxes of re-supply waiting for their owners to hike into town

Mail Drop (noun): A common way for thru-hikers to re-supply themselves with food, equipment and other essentials while out on the trail. Packages are sent for general delivery to post offices in towns along the trail where they are lovingly held until collected by the eager and hungry hiker. However, there are a number of disadvantages to this method of re-supply, namely cost and inconvenient opening hours. As a result, an increasing number of thru-hikers choose to use a hybrid strategy of mail drops, buying along the trail and raiding Hiker Boxes.

MYTH (acronym): Multi-Year Thru-Hike. A thru-hike completed in sections over a number of years. Purists would argue that this is not a true Thru-Hike.

NoBo (noun): Short for northbound. A thru-hiker starting in Campo and heading north to Manning Park, Canada. A northbounder.

Nero (noun): Nearly a Zero. A day in which you walk very few miles or significantly less than your average daily distance. Neros often occur when a thru-hiker arrives in a trail town and needs to take care of re-supply, laundry etc. before heading back on to the trail. Can be combined with a Zero but doing so increases the risk of getting stuck in a Vortex!

Pee Rag (noun): A pretty gross sounding piece of kit which is actually one of the most indispensable items a female thru-hiker can carry. Basically it is a small piece of (preferably) fast drying, absorbent cloth that saves you having to use TP or drip dry every time you take a pee. It is carried on the outside of your pack, often on a length of shock cord so that it can be used without detaching. Simply rinse it through once a day and it will help to keep the Hiker Funk at bay.

The joy of postholing!

Postholing (verb): Absolutely nothing to do with Mail Drop! Postholing is a most disagreeable and deeply frustrating way to travel across a snow-covered trail. The term is derived from the hole that would be dug to sink a fence post into. Hold that image in your mind and now try to imagine walking across a 4 foot snow pack that is beginning to thaw. With each step you break through the crisp surface layer of snow and sink up to your thigh into the slushy underbelly. Postholing slows forward progress to an agonising crawl, saps a ludicrious amount of energy and can be dangerous because it’s often impossible to know what rocky perils lurk beneath the surface. Postholing is the thing that hikers dread as they head into the Sierras.

Ride Bride (noun): After weeks on the trail, male thru-hikers begin to look (and smell) pretty grungy. They are often wrongly identified as hobos and this can make it hard, if not impossible to score a ride into towns and re-supply points. This is where the Ride Bride comes to the rescue. A male thru-hiker who is accompanied by a female is far more likely to pick up a ride. In fact, this is a mutually beneficial and symbiotic relationship because the otherwise solo female hiker will also be afforded a greater degree of safety than if she were to hitch alone.

Section Hiker (noun): Not everybody has the time or resources to dedicate to a thru-hike. However, it is still possible to hike the entire trail over a number of seasons (see MYTH), completing a different section each season. Many hikers tackle the PCT in this way and they are called Section Hikers.

Slack Pack (verb): This might more accurately be described as extreme section hiking. Basically it is hiking without a pack or with a very minimal amount of equipment (i.e. just food, water and perhaps rain gear). It is possible for thru-hikers to slack pack during their hike and it happens when a friend or relative takes the bulk of your gear for you and meets you further along the trail … Slackers!

SoBo (noun): The opposite of a NoBo. Short for southbound. A thru-hiker starting at Manning Park, Canada and heading south to Campo. A southbounder.

Stealth camping on a recent training hike
Stealth camping on a recent training hike

Stealth Camping (verb): In the UK and Europe it is more commonly known as Wild Camping and is most definitely my preferred style of camping. It is the term given to camping in an unestablished site or on land without permission from the landowner. LNT is imperative for successful Stealth Camping. Beside offering a greater degree of solitude, Stealth Camping can also reduce the chances of bear encounters … and I’m all for anything that helps in that department!

TP (acronym): Short for toilet paper. LNT code of conduct requires that if you pack it in you MUST pack it out … DO NOT stick this shit in your Cat Hole it is not biodegradable and will cause an unsightly minefield!

Thru-Hike (noun): Traditionally a contiguous hike from one end of a trail to another. For reasons that I don’t fully understand, the term thru-hike seems to only be applied to trails that are longer than 1,000 miles. On this basis the Pacific Crest Trail (2,660 miles) would obviously qualify but the John Muir Trail (215 miles) would not! To make matters even more confusing, in recent years the term has also been used to describe any method of covering the entire trail, such as Flipping and MYTH. Use of the term still causes much controversy and purists would insist on the miles being contiguous within a single season … these people have clearly spent too much time in the woods and have nothing better to worry about!

Thru-Hiker (noun): A hiker who is attempting to complete a Thru-Hike.  Of course using the thru-hiker epithet is merely conjecture. Many hikers call themselves thru-hikers without knowing for certain if they will ever actually become thru-hikers. By definition, you cannot be considered a thru-hiker until you reach the end of the trail and at which point you cease to be a hiker completely, unless of course you Yo-Yo, which would also make you insane. With such endless philosophising I am sure that the cool campfire evenings will simply fly by!

Trail Angel (noun): An unfathomably generous non-hiker who provides Trail Magic!

Trail Family (noun): A group of hikers that stick together and become very close as a result of their shared experiences along the trail. Often hikers will put in big miles and long days or take an extra zero to keep the family together. The bonds of thru-hiking are intense and can be established remarkably quickly. Be prepared to meet and become life long friends with the most unlikely bunch of people.

Trail Legs (noun): A level of fitness that was previously thought to be unattainable. About 4-5 weeks into a thru-hike and hiker will become incredibly strong and become capable of walking miles and miles up steep hills with fully loaded pack. Once a hiker get her Trail Legs, day hikers will stare in wonder!

Trail Magic (noun): Any random act of kindness that is offered or provided to thru-hikers. These amazingly generous deeds are like magic because they seem to always occur at a time or in a place when they are most needed; a water cache in a desert, a ride into town on a rainy day etc.

Trail Name (noun): Tradition dictates that thru-hikers adopt and use a trail name during their time on the trail. There are a few unwritten rules when it comes to trail names. Generally you don’t get to choose your own trail name, it is bestowed upon you by your thru-hiking peers and will reflect your personality, appearance, style of hiking or some quirky thing that you do on the trail. Although you have the right to refuse a trail name by simply not adopting it, be aware that people will still call you what they want to call you!

Triple Crown (noun): The Triple Crown of Hiking is an informal title awarded to those who complete all three of the major U.S. long-distance hiking trails; The Appalachian Trail, The Pacific Crest Trail and The Continental Divide Trail. Only about 500 people have completed this 7,910-mile feat of endurance and a handful of unhinged individuals have, by some miracle of the human anatomy, managed to get the job done in a single calendar year!

The Triple Crown of Hiking
The Triple Crown of Hiking

Vitamin I (noun): Trail vernacular for Ibuprofen. This much coveted pain-killer and anti-inflammatory is carried in vast quantities by most thru-hikers and is consumed liberally in an effort to stay on trail in the face of persistent pain and suffering. Can also be combined with an antihistamine to induce sleep when the Bogey Man is keeping you awake!

Vortex (noun): Anything off of the trail that sucks a hiker in and is difficult to leave. A vortex will keep a hiker off of the trail for an extended period of time or until they reach Escape Velocity. The homes of famous Trail Angels and the AYCEs around Lake Tahoe are famous vortices.

Yo-Yo (verb): For most people a thru-hiker is challenging enough. However, for a very select bunch of crazies this just isn’t enough and upon reaching the end of the trail they simply turn around and head back to where they started! This is known as Yo-Yoing and is unsurprisingly rare.

Zero (noun): A rest day when zero miles are walked. Zeros are typically spent in cheap motels in trail towns or at the home of a Trail Angel. Less frequently they are taken on the trail. Some zeros are planned, others are forced upon the hiker by injury or exhaustion.

10 thoughts on “How to Talk the Walk and Walk the Talk

    1. Hi Jennie … Thanks for your comment. I don’t pretend to be an expert when it comes to Lyme Disease. I just wanted to just offer a basic light hearted explanation (tricky because I know its not a lighthearted matter). Please feel free to steer the post back on track with a more informed comment.


      1. I’ll offer a more informed comment when you do a little work on the topic. I don’t need to do the research for you. His response would’ve been more friendly if yours didn’t come off so shitty. Cheers.


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