Hiking Dictionary

At the end of a long day on the trail, when everyone gathers around the campsite to cook and converse, no one wants to be the person nodding and smiling awkwardly. Instead, learn the lingo and get in the conversation by giving our hiking dictionary a read. As with any compilation such as this, it will forever be a work in progress, and we’ve surely missed more than a few terms. Please get your suggestions on the list by commenting below or completing our contact form. Don’t forget to include your name, and, if you’d like, a social media profile we can reference to give you full credit.

The alpine zone in the Presidential Range on the Appalachian Trail approach of Mt. Washington.
The alpine zone in the Presidential Range. Hikers are strongly encouraged to stay on trail to protect the fragile plant life.

Alpine Zone — A high-altitude mountainous ecozone devoid of trees where rare and fragile alpine vegetation — often called alpine tundra — grows.

AMC — Acronym for Appalachian Mountain Club.

AT — Acronym for Appalachian Trail.

Bivy — Short for bivouac sack, bivies are small, lightweight and waterproof structures intended to provide space/weight efficiency over a tent while maintaining protection from the elements.

Blaze — The six-inch paint swath appearing mostly on trees and rocks to mark the trail. Blaze colors vary from trail to trail, but remain constant throughout a trail. The most famous of which is the Appalachian Trail’s white blaze. Two blazes, one displaying on top of the other, indicate a change in direction.

Blue Blazing — An act of “cheating” on the Appalachian Trail where hikers take side trails as shortcuts.

Mt. Adams cairns on NH Appalachian Trail
Cairns along the Appalachian Trail on Mt. Adams.

Book Time — The estimated amount of time to complete a hike as suggested by the guide book. Northeast Hikes also lists times on each of our trail reviews. Before hitting any of the trails found on this site, please read our trail rating policy.

Cairn — Rock piles used above treeline to mark the trail.

Cirque — Per the Eastern Alpine Guide, “Cirques are mountain amphitheatres, surrounded by steep cliffs or slopes, with the open side facing downstream.” Most northeast cirques were formed by glacial melt in mountainside depressions. Tuckerman Ravine and Huntington Ravine on Mt. Washington are two of the most widely hiked cirques in New England. See also: Gulf.

Cowboy Camping — Camping “under the stars” without any form of shelter.

Day Hike — A single day hike.

DOC — Acronym for Dartmouth Outing Club.

Mt. Washington's Great Gulf
Mt. Washington’s Great Gulf is the largest alpine cirque in New England.

Flip-Flopping — Hiking a trail in one direction for a period of time, then getting transport to the other end and finishing in the opposite direction. For example, NoBo Appalachian Trail thru hikers who realize they won’t make it to Katahdin before the October 15 deadline, will often get off trail and travel to Katahdin, and then complete their hike SoBo.

Grid, The — Hiking the New Hampshire 48 mountains during each month of the year for a total of 576 summits. Those who complete the grid are, in good nature, referred to as “gridiots.” See the rules, those who have completed The Grid, and download an application on the official Grid site.

Gulf — A common name for “cirques.” Also often referred to as “ravines.” Mt. Washington’s Great Gulf is the largest alpine cirque in New England. See also: Cirque.

Hanger — Someone who hammock camps.

Hut Hiking — In New Hampshire’s White Mountains, this refers to people who hike from one Appalachian Mountain Club hut to another in lieu of camping out. While significantly more expensive than traditional camping, hut hiking is popular amongst families as it lessens pack weight both in camping gear and food.

Frozen krummholz on Mt. Lafayette
Frozen krummholz on Mt. Lafayette’s Old Bridle Path.

Krummholz — The stunted trees, typically conifers, that “grow” at treeline along alpine zones. From the German word meaning “twisted wood.” In eastern Canada krummholz is called “tuckamore.”

Landslides — When surface material gives way and slides down a mountain slope. Landslides are common in the Northeast, especially in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, where bedrock on steep slopes is stripped of its cover soil, sand, gravel and vegetation by large amounts of precipitation. Sometimes this natural devastation is converted into opportunity for hikers, as is the case with Mt. Tripyramid’s North Slide, which was uncovered by a storm in August of 1885.

Lean-to — Three-sided shelters available to hikers on the Appalachian Trail and other popular trail systems.

MATC — Acronym for the Maine Appalachian Trail Club.

New Hampshire 48 or White Mountain 48 — Officially named the White Mountain Four Thousand Footers, this refers to the Appalachian Mountain Club’s recognized list of 48 mountains in New Hampshire over 4,000 feet. Hikers who complete all 48 mountains can apply to the AMC’s Four Thousand Footer Club.

NoBo — North bound thru hiker on the Appalachian Trail.

Red-Lining — Completing all trails in the AMC White Mountain Guide. See the official rules, the esteemed list of redliners, and download an application on the White Mountains Red-Lining site.

Register — The notebook often left in a lean-to or trail head where hikers post observances of the trail and pass messages to others they’ve met along the way.

Ridge Runner — People whose job it is to patrol busy sections of trail to make sure hikers are following leave no trace principles, staying on trail, being safe, etc.

Rime ice on Mt. Adams
Rime ice on a Mt. Adams trail sign.

Rime Ice — Also known as “frozen fog,” rime ice forms when water droplets in clouds freeze to cold surfaces such as rocks, trees and trail signs. Rime ice has a distinct feathery appearance.

Section Hike — Hiking a portion of a long trail such as the Appalachian Trail. For example, hiking the Maine portion of the AT would be considered a section hike, as would only hiking a segment of Maine such as the 100-Mile Wilderness.

Slackpacking — Hiking a portion of trail without a backpack.

SoBo — South bound thru hiker on the Appalachian Trail.

Stealth Camp — Camping out in a non-designated spot.

Tarn — A mountain lake or pool, typically formed in a cirque by glacial melt. Katahdin’s Chimney Pond is an example of a tarn formed at the foot of a cirque, while Mt. Washington’s Lakes of the Clouds is one that wasn’t.

Katahdin’s Chimney Pond is an example of a tarn.

Thru or Through Hike — Completing a long hike such as the Appalachian Trail or Long Trail in one continuous hike.

Trail Angels — People who provide hikers with assistance by leaving food and drinks trailside, offering rides, providing medical care, etc.

Trail Legs — The point where hikers bodies adjust to the daily grind of thru hiking and their legs gain the strength and stamina for high mileage days.

Trail Magic — Assistance received along the trail, often in the form of food and drink left trailside by trail angels.

Trail Name — The name assumed by frequent hikers or thru hikers when on the trail. Similar to nicknames, trail names are often fun, unique, and easier to remember than traditional names, allowing hikers to keep track of the people they’ve met in trail log books.

Triple Crowner — Someone who has completed the Appalachian Trail (AT), Continental Divide Trail (CDT) and Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).

Yellow Blazing — Similar to “blue blazing” (above), yellow blazing is when Appalachian Trail hikers “cheat” by getting driven further up the trail.

Zero Day — Often referred to as “taking a zero,” this applies to rest days on long hikes where zero miles are covered.

2 responses to Hiking Dictionary
  1. ambleve says:

    Thank you for this.

  2. Just FYI – Blue blazing is traveling via water, it’s not cheating, that’s reserved for yellow blazing.

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