Ultimate Beginners Guide to Hiking and Camping Terminology

We've all been there. You decided to start your own hiking adventure, take on a new backpacking challenge or just pursue hiking as a hobby. Then the seasoned hikers show up speaking a language you don't understand.

“Camel up ya dirtbags. Here’s the beta. There’s no herd path below the east face to the col since a storm buried the switchbacks with blowdown and duff. We’re trailblazing. No cairns to save ya. It isn't gonna be easy. Slackpacking is a no can do for this backcountry hump. We’re peak bagging the cirque and not taking neros or zeros. Relax, book time to C1 says there'll be enough daylight to sway in the bear burrito and acclimatize before hiker midnight." - Joey Dirtbag

First of all, nobody talks like that and neither should you. However, from time to time, you'll catch a word or phrase that derails you from what you thought was being talked about. Don't get lost in the lingo. Here is your beginners guide to crack the code.

10 Essentials - A list of the 10 essential item you should always have to aid your survival should an emergency occur. See our blog - Rule #1: Do Not Die! - The 10 Essentials


Acclimatization - Gradually becoming accustomed to thiner air at higher elevations or extreme conditions.

Alpine Start - Beginning a high altitude mountain ascent in the early hours. usually started to complete a long, single day hike or to avoid summit storms, lightning and other environmental risks. Alpine starts are between 12a.m. - 3a.m.

Alpine Zone - Terrain above the treeline

Apron - Turning point or direction change on a switchback

Aqua Blazing - Floating a waterway that parallels the trail instead of hiking it


Bald - A rocky or treeless summit below the treeline.

Base Layer - The layer of clothing closest to your skin.

Beta - The insider information on a trail, destination or route

Backcountry - Wild areas with no permanent buildings or maintained roads, just trails

and wide open spaces.

Banana Blazing - Altering your hiking pace or distance to hike with a guy.

"Biner" - Short for carabiner. A coupling link with a safety closure. Predominately used

in rock climbing but has many uses for all outdoor enthusiasts.

Base weight - The weight of your backpack fully packed excluding water, food and fuel

Bear Bag - A method of storing food, cooking supplies and other scented items away

from camp by hanging them from tree branches or established hangs when staying in

areas where bears, other scavengers and rodents are present.

Bear Canister - Storing food, cooking supplies and other scented items on the ground

in a non-pliable container away from camp.

Bear Box - A storage box found in established campgrounds for storing food, cooking

supplies and other scented items where bears, other scavengers and rodents are


Bear Burrito - That's a hammock.

Bear Pinata - A poorly hung bear bag

Bivouac - A temporary camp without shelter or cover

Bivy sack/bag - A lightweight, waterproof covering for a sleeping bag.

Blaze - indicator on a tree or other object at eye level in both directions on a trail

signifying the official route.

Bliss Index - Measuring your bliss on a scale 1-10. 10 is absolute bliss. 1 is death by boredom.

Blowdown - Uprooted or snapped trunks of trees as a result of wind.

Bonk - Running out of energy due to the lack of eating enough calories.

Bonus Miles - Any miles hiked off trail to resupply in town, to water sources or because

you got lost and so on

Bounce Box - Seldom used supplies mailed ahead for future use to lighten your load.

Book Time - The estimated time a hike should take based on this formula: 30 minutes

for every mile plus 30 minutes for every 1,000ft of elevation gain on the trail.

Brown Blazing - Going off trail to blow mud.

Bushwhack - hiking off-trail, sometimes but not always, through more dense brush.

Bluebird Day - Hiking with clear blue skies


C1, C2, C3... - Campsites in sequential order on a long distance or multi-site hike.

Cache - a supply of water, food or other various items hidden near or on a trail.

Cairn - A manmade stack of rocks identifying unestablished route, connecting a break in

trail, (river crossing) or signifying a trail direction.

Camel Up - To fill, drink or load up on water.

Camp Host - A seasonal resident at campgrounds who maintains the grounds and collects fees.

Cat Hole - A six to eight inch hole dug by hikers for use when a restroom is not present.

Cirque - A grouping of mountains in a circular formation.

Cobknocker - Whoever is leading, is likely clearing the trail of spider webs

Cowboy Camping - Sleeping under the stars without shelter.

Cowboy Coffee - Making coffee by boiling water, then adding grounds, return to boil, remove heat and cover. Let grounds sink to the bottom before drinking. Enjoy the sunrise.

Crampons - A metal plate with spikes attached to boot for aid in climbing or hiking over ice and snow. Crampons are used more often in mountaineering or climbing, however, less "intense" styles are are available on steep or icy trails for less technical hiking.

Crash Camp - An improvised camp when expected miles aren't made or other challenges prevent hikers from reaching the days final destination.


Day Hike - hiking with a small back pack without the intention of camping overnight.

Death March - A long, boring hike usually forced from a re-route of the intended path.

Declination - The difference between magnetic and true north.

Detritus (Duff) - Decomposing vegetation that covers the forest floor usually consisting

of leaves, needles, bark and sticks

Dip n' Sip - Drinking straight from a water source, unfiltered.

Dirtbag - Those committed to the hiker lifestyle and abandon social norms in pursuit of

that lifestyle. They aren't hippies. Just a little rougher around the edges but generally a

good time.

Ditty Bag - A small bag of personal items.

Dry Camping - Camping where there is no water source.


Elk Duds - Naturally produced by Elk, likely tastes just as bad as Milk Duds. Do not consume.


False Summit - Looking ahead on trail, terrain may appear as the summit. Upon

reaching that spot in reality it is a hill or other land feature and the true summit is still

ahead. Mountains can have multiple false summits.

FKT - Fastest Know Time. A speed record for completing a hike end to end continuously.

Ford - A river, stream or creek crossing that involves getting your feet wet.

Fourteener - Mountains with summits over 14,000ft in elevation.


Giardia - A parasite that typically is found in water. Consumed it can cause intense cramping, diarrhea and vomiting. Not a place any hiker wants to be in. Dip n' Sip is not recommended. Filter or treat your water.

Glissade - Sliding down a steep slope of snow or ice with a tool such as ice axe, knife, stick or elongated rock to slow or stop the slide.


Glissading in Rocky Mountain National Park

Heel Stepping - hiking downward on a snowy slope by digging your heels in, creating steps to prevent slipping.

Herd Path - A unofficial trail formed by hikers following a similar path over time around an obstacle.

Hiker Box - A box at common areas like trailheads, campgrounds and resupply points where unwanted

items are left or taken by hikers.

Hiker Funk - The acquired scent after many, many, miles of hiking with limited opportunities for hygiene.

Hiker Midnight - The time when hikers go to sleep. Usually much earlier than midnight. 9p.m. is the unofficial midnight hour.

Hiker Trash - Hikers deeply committed to hiking culture and the hiking community. This group is boisterous, fun-loving and "wild". Not just weekend warriors, they have the beta. Your social status off the trail means little to them.

"Hike Your Own Hike" - To each his own. Hike how you want to hike.

Hump - Hiking with a heavy pack, extra gear or excessive weight.

Hut - A general reference to a built structure along or near the trail. Conditions will vary.


Leave No Trace - 7 ethical practices to minimize our environmental impact as we enjoy the outdoors. See our blog - Do You Practice No Trace Ethics?

Loop - A route that starts and ends at the same location following a single trail or connecting multiple trails to form the loop.


Mail Drop - Resupply boxes made before a long distance hike is started. Individuals not on the hike mail the resupply to locations at arranged times for the hiker to pick up.

Monorail - Remaining snow in late spring to early summer on the trail forcing hikers to

walk on it like a rail.

Mountain Money - Toilet paper


Nero - Nearly zero miles hiked in a day.

NoBo/SoBo - Northbound hiker or southbound hiker.


Out and Back - A route that starts and ends at the same location following the trail or multiple trails to an end point and returning on the same route. Mileage is measured in total. A 4 mile out and back trail would be 2 miles out and 2 miles back.


Pack Weight - The total weight of your backpack including consumables.

Peak bagging - The collection of summits of mountains in an area. Example: Colorados

53 fourteeners.

Pink Blazing - Altering your hiking pace or distance to hike with a girl.

Point to Point - A route that starts in one location and ends in another. These are often multi-day or long distance thru-hikes

Post-holing - Hiking in fresh deep snow burying a significant portion of your leg.

Privy - An outhouse in the backcountry or off the trail.


Redlining - Hiking every step of trail in an area or on a map. Trails on maps are lined

with red marker until all trails are covered.

Register - A log book at a trailhead or established shelter. Registers are used for trail

data and in search and rescue operations for last know locations of hikers.

Rock hoping - Crossing shallow rivers or streams to avoid getting boots wet.


SAR - Search and Rescue. These are well trained individuals or teams who rescue people lost, injured or worse in wilderness areas. Your in a bad spot if these folks are called in.

Section hike - Hiking a long distance trail one section at a time sporadically.

Scramble - Hiking somewhat erratically through a section with no specific trail that may require the use of hands. For example, a boulder field.

Shuttle Hike - Leaving a vehicle or taking a form of transport at one end of a hike and shuttling back to the start.

Slack-packing - Hiking without your backpack while it is transported to your final

destination for the day.

Stealth Camping - Setting up a "leave no trace" campsite in wilderness area or away

from heavily traffic sites.

Switchback - A zig-zag portion of trail that makes a steep climb easier as opposed to a

direct line up or down.

Sweeper - The last hiker in a group who accounts for everyone making it to the destination. With beginners or inexperienced hikers usually the fastest or most experienced hiker brings up the rear so others don't get left behind or lost.


Talus - Steep slopes with loose debris mostly consisting of rocks.

Thru-hike - A point to point continuous backpacking trip over a long distance. Thru-hikes are in the hundreds to thousands of miles.

Topo - Short or slang for a topographical map.

Trail Angel - Anyone who gives a hiker unexpected help, food, water or other aid.

Trail Candy - Eye candy but for hikers.

Trailhead - Where a trail begins.

Trail Magic - When when fortunes suddenly and unexpectedly change for the better. This could be actions of a trail angel, items left by other hikers for hikers or simple good fortune.

Trail Muffin - Ever hiked behind horses or in open ranges?... not good with your morning coffee.

Trail Name - Nicknames given to thru-hikers that often have a backstory of some kind.

Triple Crown - Completing the first three designated National Scenic Trails, The Appalachian Trail, The Pacific Crest Trail and The Continental Divide Trail. Covering 22 states, just shy of 8,000 miles and over 1,000,000 feet of elevation gain, only 525 people have accomplished this monumental task to date. The American Long Distance Hiking Association - West is the only organization that officially recognizes this feat and award plaques for its accomplishment.

Trowel - A small, lightweight hand shovel for digging cat holes.


Ultralight - Hiking with a base weight of no more than 10 - 12 lbs.


Veggie Belay - Using vegetation as aid to climb or stay on trail.

Veggie belay on talus at Devils Chasm

Vitamin I - Ibuprofen


Wag Bag - A bag used to carry human waste when cat holes are not permitted.

Wetted Out - When your waterproof gear is no longer waterproof.

Widowmaker - Limbs or entire trees that are dead, broken, unstable or hung up and may fall, posing a threat to hikers or campers below.

Wilderness First Responder - A certification after completing a course in backcountry emergencies and rescue training.

Windsnap - Tree trunks broken by wind.

Windthrow - Trees uprooted by wind.

Woofer - Slang for an individual who has completed a wilderness first responder course.


Yellow Blazing - Hiking on road ways, taking roads as a short cut, to catch up with another hiker or to skip trail. Following the yellow lines on the road. Hiking purists will say this is a cardinal sin.

Yoyo - Completing a thru-hike in one direction, immediately turning around and starting

back in the other to complete again.


Zero Day - Zero miles hiked in a day.

Now you know.

Keep Killin' It!

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