AT Glossary

  • 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. [Term was coined by Ed Garvey.]
  • ALDHA – the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association.
  • AMC – the Appalachian Mountain Club, which non-profit organization, among other things, maintains the “AMC Huts” in the White Mountains in New Hampshire.
  • AT – the Appalachian Trail (or the “Trail
  • AT Guide – see AWOL.
  • ATC – the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), which is a volunteer-based, private, nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation, management, and promotion of the Appalachian Trail as a primitive setting for outdoor recreation (on foot) and for learning. ATC is both a confederation of Trail-maintaining clubs and an individual-membership organization.
  • AWOL – the trail name of David Miller, who is now known best as the author of the AT Guide (or “AWOL’s AT Guide”). He is also author of his own memoir about his 2003 thru-hike, titled AWOL on the Appalachian Trial.
  • aqua-blazing – when a thru-hiker opts to use a waterway that runs along the trail instead of hiking the actual, white-blazed trail.  Sometimes inaccurately referred to as “blue blazing.”  [Realistically,
 the only place where this is arguably possible for any meaningful length is to skip much of the AT through central Virginia and move north using the Shenandoah River.  This is not “sanctioned” by ATC and its pretty hard to say someone has completed a thru-hike if he or she has skipped hundreds of miles of the Trail by aqua-blazing.]
  • Avery, Myron – Washington, D.C. maritime lawyer and avid hiker who in 1930 took the lead in mapping and organizing efforts to build the initial Trail; an AT pioneer and early inductee into the AT Hall of Fame.
  • bald – refers to the top or crown of a mountain surrounded by forest yet devoid of trees on that crown, often covered with meadows (e.g., Wayah Bald in Tennessee). Balds often provide great views and are a good place to find wild berries, they also attract much wildlife.  The term is used primarily in the south.
  • “Baltimore Jack” – until his death in 2016, a regular on the trail and at many hostels or trailhead providing trail magic and encouraging hikers; for many, king of hiker trash, he completed AT nine times, including eight thru-hikes.
  • bandit camping – most commonly used to refer to camping at an unauthorized (or even illegal) site. See “stealth camping.”
  • base weight – often used in different ways, but most typically refers to the weight of a backpackers fully-loaded pack WITHOUT food and water.
  • bear bag – a bag (typically waterproof nylon or cuban fiber) used by hikers to hang their food out of reach of bears and other animals;  bear bagging refers to the process of hanging a bear bag.
  • bear canister – typically a hard-sided canister used to store food while camping safe from interference by bears and other animals.  An alternative to bear bagging.  Bear canisters are typically (and increasingly) required on hiking trails in western U.S.  Although use of bear canisters is encouraged by the ATC, their us is generally disfavored by thru-hikers when not required due to the weight of the canisters.
  • Benton MacKaye – see MacKaye, Benton
  • blue blaze – the color of blazes on side trails along the AT marking trails that connect to or cross the white-blazed Trail. Typically these blue-blazed side trails lead to water, shelters, scenic overlooks, or other points of interest. Often blue-blazed trails provide an alternative or easier (sometimes a bad weather or an “emergency”) route between two points on (around a difficult section of) the AT.
  • blue blazer – a hiker who substitutes a blue-blaze trail in place of a section of the white-blazed AT. See “blue blaze” above.
  • blue blazing – see “blue blaze” above.
  • bivouac – to sleep outdoors without a tent or other proper shelter, usually unplanned and often done only in emergency situations; but see “cowboy camping.”
  • blow-down (or “dead fall”) – a tree that has fallen across the Trail.
  • bounce box – a manner of obtaining the use of items needed from time to time without carrying the weight by mailing a box to yourself that is “bounced” ahead to a future stop where such items might be used again.
  • bog bridge – a narrow, wooden walkway placed in overly swampy land and/or to protect sensitive wetlands.
  • bubble or “hiker bubble” – refers to the presence of a large number of thru-hikers on or about the Trail at the same time; typically in the south around March 15 to April 15.
  • bushwalking – the primary term given to hiking and backpacking in Australia
  • bushwhack – to hike where there is no marked trail.
  • CDT – the Continental Divide Trail; a National Scenic Trail consisting of 3.100-miles running from Mexico to Canada through the United States generally along the Continental Divide.  One of the three trails, with the AT and the PCT, making up the “Triple Crown.”
  • cache – a supply of food and/or supplies buried or otherwise hidden for later retrieval, typically for resupply purposes.
  • cairn – a manmade, conical stack of rocks marking the direction of the AT, typically above the tree-line. Cairns substitute for white blazes and, therefore, should be close enough in proximity to see the next one in heavy fog, and high enough to see above fallen snow.
  • “camel up” (or “tank up”) – taking a large drink or series of drinks of water at a water source until you’re full (“filled up”) before hiking on.  This helps the thru-hiker to remain hydrated, while potentially being required to carry less water or to assist the thru-hiker getting through areas where water is scarce.
  • canister stove – a type of small, backpacking stove that uses metal cans of butane and/or isobutene pressured fuel.
  • cat hole – a small hole dug by a hiker for the deposit of human waste.
  • col (or sag or gap or notch) – a dip in the ridge typically without a road, while gap and notch are typically larger dips that typically have a road going through; sag and gap are typically southern terms; col and notch are typically northern terms; a water gap, of course, is a gap with a river.
  • cowboy camping – when one camps without any shelter; typically just rolling out one’s sleeping pad and bag “under the stars” and putting one’s faith in their opinion about the weather. “Cowboy camping” may also, but does not necessarily, include “stealth camping.”
  • croo – name given to the workers (the “crew”) at the AMC huts in the White Mountains of New Hampshire
  • Damasc-a-Thon – somewhat like the Four-State Challenge, the name given to hiking the entire 42 miles from Watauga Lake Shelter to the town of Damascus in a single day. (Much of this hike is on the Tennessee Turnpike.)
  • day hiker – someone who walks or hikes portions of the AT during separate days typically without an overnight stay camping in the wilderness.
  • dodgeway – see stile.
  • double blaze – two blazes, one above the other as an indication of an imminent turn or intersection in the Trail. Offset double blazes, called “Garveys” (named after AT pioneer Ed Garvey), indicate the direction of an upcoming turn in the Trail by the offset of the top blaze.  If the top blaze is offset to the right, it indicates that the hiker should look for the Trail to tun to the right.
  • Doyle, Warren – sometimes famous, sometimes controversial AT figure, who has completed the AT 17 times, including 9 thru-hikes (more thru-hikes and other Trail completions that any other person).  Doyle also runs the “Appalachian Trail Institute” for would-be thru-hikers and he leads groups of hikers on thru-hikes with a very high success rate.  (These group hikes are typically partially supported.)
  • end-to-ender – an alternative term for 2,000-Miler.
  • FKT – this abbreviation refers to “fastest known time.”
  • fall line – the most direct route uphill or downhill from any particular point without regard to the direction of (or whether there is) a trail.
  • flip-flop – hiking one direction then driving to a different location to hike back in the opposite direction (e.g., a person hikes from Georgia to Virginia but then skip ahead to Maine and hike back to where they got off the trail in Virginia)
  • gap – see “col.”
  • Garvey, Ed (1914-1999) Conservationist widely credited with popularizing backpacking and the Appalachian Trail in the 1970’s; particularly through his book Appalachian Hiker: Adventure of a Lifetime, which recounts Garvey’s own thru-hike in 1970.
  • Garvey – see “double blaze
  • Gatewood, Emma (“Grandma”) –
  • Ghost-blazing – following old, superseded trails or trail blazes
  • giardia – more properly known as giardiasis, an infection of the lower intestines cause by the amoebic cyst, giardia lamblia. Symptoms include stomach cramps, diarrhea, bloating, loss of appetite and vomiting. One of the primary reasons thru-hiker should filter and/or purify their drinking water.
  • GORP – a snack mix consisting generally of dried fruit, nuts, and chocolate, but can include almost anything including yogurt drops, sesame sticks, M & Ms, etc. (Originally, “GORP” was an acronym for “good old raisins and peanuts.”)
  • green tunnel
  • Halfway Hangover – a feeling of melancholy some thru-hikers experience upon arriving in Harper’s Ferry or the actual halfway point on a NOBO thru-hike arising from the realization that the aches, pains, boredom, rain, heat, bugs and expenses are only (or not even) half over. (Some suggest that Halfway Hangover is a major cause of some hikers dropping their thru-hike.)
  • hiker box – a box where hikers may leave extra/unwanted food and equipment for other hikers; hiker boxes are found at many hostels and outfitters.
  • hiker bubble – the collection of thru-hikers moving northbound from Springer Mountain due to the relatively similar start dates for so many NOBOs. This bubble ultimately dissipates as the NOBO hiking season heads in April and May. This crowdedness is invigorating for some, but also cited as a major reason to prefer a SOBO.
  • hiker midnight – sometime shortly after sundown for most thru-hikers.
  • hiker trash – a term of endearment used typically by thru-hikers to describe thru-hikers.
  • hut – see “shelter.”
  • HYOH – refers to the general, well-accepted philosophy that every thru-hiker should make their own decisions as to when to stop, how far to go, when to take a rest, etc. Hence, everyone should “Hike Your Own Hike”.
  • Ice Cream Man – famous trail angel, Bill Ackerly of Lyme, NH, opened his property free to thru-hikers for water resupply, camping, conversation croquet; and fed them with ice cream; sadly he died in 2016
  • International Appalachian Trail – a long distance hiking trail that runs north and east from Maine’s Katahdin to the Gaspé Peninsula in New Brunswick, and across to Newfoundland.
  • Katahdin, Mt. – the northern terminus of the AT located in Baxter Park in Maine. Katahdin is a Penobscot Indian word meaning “Greatest Mountain.”
  • lean-to – see “shelter.”
  • LNT – abbreviation for “Leave No Trace,” referring to a philosophy, discipline and skill of passing through the wilderness as lightly as possible when hiking or backpacking. An organization exists by the same name (“Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics”) to promote adherence to LNT principles, see
  • Lyme disease – a debilitating illness carried by small ticks. Considered by many thru-hikers as the most dangerous aspect of a thru-hike.
  • MacKaye, Benton (“MacKaye” – Scottish; rhymes with high, not hay) – the man who is credited with the idea of creating  the Appalachian Trail in 1921.
  • mail drop – a method of re-supply where prepackaged boxes are sent to post offices, hostels, hotels and/or outfitters “in care of” the named thru-hiker to assist the thru-hiker in obtaining food and sometimes gear to aid the continuation of a thru-hike.
  • nero (or “nearo”) – essentially, a rest day; a day where the thru-hiker does little hiking; a very low mileage day; a little more than a “zero” day or nearly “zero”
  • Norovirus – unfortunately common on the AT; highly contagious virus that is the primary cause of gastroenteritis; typically spread by contaminated food or water.
  • notch – see “col.”
  • PCT – the Pacific Crest Trail; a National Scenic Trail consisting of 2,659-miles running from Mexico to Canada through the United States generally along the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountains ranges.  One of the three trails, with the AT and the CDT, making up the “Triple Crown.”
  • Peoples, Bob – legendary trail maintainer and AT advocate from Tennessee and owner/operator of Kincora Hostel.
  • pink blazing – when one hiker is following another along the trail in some romantic pursuit.
  • platinum blazing – reducing some of the discomfort of a thru-hike by paying for taxis and staying in nicer hotels (and bed & breakfast inns) and generally purchasing more luxurious meals and comfort items during town visits.
  • privy – a toilet or outhouse for solid waste on the AT
  • PUDS – places on the AT where the trail ascends and descends for seemingly no purpose other than to challenge mentally the Thru-hiker (i.e., “Pointless Ups and Downs
  • purist – see white blaze (and white blazer)
  • register – a log book kept in shelters and trail heads to account for hikers and a way of communication between hikers
  • re-supply – acquiring additional food, fuel, and/or gear typically through a trip into a trail town or by mail drop.
  • ridge runner – a person paid by a trail-maintaining club or governmental organization to hike back and forth along a certain section of trail to educate hikers, enforce regulations, monitor trail and campsite use, and sometimes perform trail maintenance or construction duties.
  • sag – see “col.”
  • section-hike – a series of shorter hikes (“sections”) of the AT that over time (usually over many years ) may combine to include the entire AT; section-hiker is an individual who takes section hikes.
  • Shaffer, Earl (1918-2002) – the first person to have recorded a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Also first to complete both a NOBO and SOBO. Author of Walking with Spring and The Appalachian Trail: Calling Me Back to the Hills. Three-time thru-hiker, northbound in 1948 (leaving from Mt. Oglethorp), southbound in 1965, and northbound again at age 79, 50 years after his first. Sometimes called the “Crazy One,” he said a major reason he did the hike in 1948 was to “walk the Army out of his system.” Coined the term, “thru-hiker.” (See Waiting on Spring)
  • shelter – typically, a three-sided wooden/stone structure, usually by a water source and a privy 
for overnight stays on the AT. Shelters may be called “huts” in the Shenandoah National Park and in New Hampshire and “lean-tos” in Connecticut and Maine.
  • silk blazing – what the first hiker out on the trail does in the morning when he or she walks into and through the spider webs left behind the prior evening or early morning
  • SOBO – a southbound thru-hike; a thru-hike that begins at Mt. Katahdin and finishes at Springer Mountain
  • slabbing – a hiking term that refers to going around a mountain on a moderately graded footpath, as opposed to going straight up and over the mountain.
  • slack-pack – hiking with only a day pack while the rest of your gear is held or shuttled.
  • Springer Mountain – the southern terminus of the AT in northern Georgia; typically where almost 90% of thru-hikers begin their thru-hike.
  • stealth camping – camping where there is no established site for camping; sometimes used as a term for camping at an unauthorized location on public or private land, however, as used by the ATC, “stealth” camping does not connote use of an illegal or unauthorized site. Sometimes also referred to as “wild” or “bandit” camping (in the United Kingdom – typically referred to as “wild” camping). Sometimes confused with “cowboy camping.”
  • stile – a V-shaped ladder or steps constructed over a fence to allow people, but not livestock, to pass; used often where the Trail passes through enclosures of livestock; prominent in Virginia. (See dodgeway.)
  • swag – the lowest connecting point between two ridges; a term used primarily in the South. (See col.)
  • switchback – where the a hiking trail turns continually back against itself (in the opposite direction) in almost 180-degree turns; a “zig-zag” of a trail up a mountain, which typically is longer, but easier than hiking straight up the fall line of the mountain.
  • Tennessee Turnpike – a term often attributed to Bob Peoples, that refers to the last 25 miles of the AT in Tennessee (northbound), which is often thought to be fairly easy miles with modest ups and downs; it is fairly easy to “cruise down the turnpike.” [See Damasc-a-Thon].
  • thru-hike – hiking the entire AT in one season.
  • thru-hiker – a person who has completed, or is attempting, a thru-hike. 
(The ATC refers to “2,000 Milers” for those that have completed the entire Trail, whether as a thru-hike or a series of section hikes over years).
  • (the) Trail – the AT.
  • trail angel – an individual who offers/provides trail magic.
  • trail family – a group of thru-hikers who come together as a “family,” such that rather than being casual, fellow hikers for a few days a concerted effort is made to hike at the same pace, stay together, look out for each other (which may include the “tramily” all waiting if a member has an injury, etc.), and hopefully complete the thru-hike together.
  • trail magic – unexpected, random acts of kindness and generosity given by strangers (“trail angels”) to thru-hikers, typically some form of hospitality, especially such as food and drink or rides to town; frequently near trail heads/road crossings.
  • trail name – the name you go by on the AT; an adopted or given nickname
 on or for the Trail.
  • trail town – a town where the Trail is near or goes through such that thru-hikers use it for rest and resupply. (The ATC has a program where Trail towns can receive a specific designation as a “AT Community.” See page XX above for listing of AT Communities.”
  • “tramily” – see “trail family”
  • tramping – the primary term given generally to hiking and backpacking in New Zealand
  • treadway – a trail or path constructed for foot traffic.
  • trekking – generally the name given to hiking and backpacking in Australia
  • triple crowner – an individual who has thru-hiked the AT, the PCT, and the CDT (i.e., the “Triple Crown” of long distance hiking)
  • vitamin I – ibuprofen
  • white blaze – standard trail markers, 2” by 6”, painted white, along the AT marking the Trail from end to end
; white blazer – a hiker (see purist) who attempts to complete the AT by hiking past every white blaze. Hence, a thru-hiker who does not take any blue blaze trails in lieu of the white-blazed trail. Also a term used to refer to website where a community of hikers discuss issues concerning the AT and related hiking, backpacking and camping matters —
  • widowmaker – limbs or whole trees themselves that have partially fallen but remain hung up overhead and so pose a danger to a person below.
  • wild camping – see “stealth camping.”
  • YMMV – “Your Mileage May Vary” – hiker jargon for “this worked for me, but your results/opinions might not be the same.”
  • yellow blaze – reference to the yellow center line on a road or highway; yellow blazer – a hiker who hitch-hikes or otherwise uses a vehicle to bypass mileage on the AT, essentially by following the yellow center line on roads.
  • yogi-ing – attempting to look sad enough to get free food and drinks without actually asking for it
. (Obviously taken from the cartoon character Yogi “smarter than the average” Bear.)
  • yoyo-ing – a back-to-back thru-hike, once in each direction 
(i.e., starting a SOBO thru-hike right after completing a NOBO thru-hike, or visa-versa)
  • zero (or “zero day”) – a rest day; a day where the thru-hiker does no hiking (i.e., where the thru-hiker hikes zero miles










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