Hiking, like any other sport, has its own set of terms and jargon that are used to describe it. But for somebody new to the hobby, these terms can be an intimidating, impenetrable wall of slang and acronyms. But fear no more- come bushwacking with us through the jargon jungle. We’ll tell you everything you need to know!
From AT to YMMV, here are the most important and common acronyms in hiking.
- AT: The Appalachian Trail, which runs from Mount Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia, a total of 2,184 miles. Less commonly, it stands for “alpine touring,” a kind of ski-hiking hybrid.
- BLM: The Bureau of Land Management, the US government agency responsible for administering federal lands.
- CDT: The Continental Divide Trail runs along the Rocky Mountains’ Continental Divide and the states of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico, totaling 3,100 miles.
- DCF: Dyneema composite fabric, also known as cuben fiber. This is a high-performance laminated material that’s commonly used in ultralight gear.
- DWR: Durable Water Repellent, a type of coating applied to waterproof fabrics like jackets and tents to stop them from becoming saturated with water.
- FKT: This stands for “fastest known time,” the record for completing a trail, climb, or section of trail. This type of tracking is community-based and new records are sometimes controversial, so keep that in mind if you’re trying to set one.
- FSO: From skin out, this is the total weight of everything a backpacker is carrying and wearing. Ultralight backpackers will often consider the weight of the clothes they’re wearing when packing.
- FUD: Female urination device, also sometimes called a pee funnel or stand to pee (STP) device. This makes it a lot easier for women to relieve themselves on the trail.
- GORP: Trail mix. This might stand for “Good Old Raisins and Peanuts” or “Granola, Oats, Raisins, Peanuts.” Whatever it stands for, it’s a delicious snack that packs an energetic punch.
- GPS: Global positioning system. This satellite service is used for directions and location tracking in navigational devices.
- HYOH: This stands for “hike your own hike,” and it’s a way to express that everybody’s on their own journey and enjoys the outdoors their own way– so live and let live.
- JMT: The John Muir Trail is a 215-mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail (or PCT).
- LASH: Some section hikes can be completed in a day. But others cannot, and for these hikes, we have the term LASH: Long-ass section hike.
- LNT: Leave No Trace, a framework of 7 principles designed to help you enjoy the outdoors without leaving a negative impact.
- MPD: Miles per day– how far you’ve gone or are planning to go.
- NOBO: If you’re headed north on a trail, you’re NOBO– “North Bound.” Usually used by thru-hikers.
- NPS: The National Park Service is a federal agency that manages all national parks, monuments, conservatories and historical properties.
- PCT: The Pacific Crest Trail is a 2,654 mile trail that runs through the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Ridge through the states of Washington, Oregon and California.
- PLB: Personal locator beacon. An emergency radio beacon that transmits your location to rescuers in case of an emergency.
- SAR: Search and Rescue. You don’t want to have these folks called for you. SAR units are run by volunteers, and the best way to avoid needing their assistance is knowing how to navigate, how to properly prepare for a hike, and how to stay safe in the backcountry.
- SOBO: If NOBO is north bound, do you wanna guess what SOBO is? Yup, this means “south bound.” Why don’t we have EABO and WEBO? Simple. The long trails these are usually used on- the AT, the PCT, and the CDT are all primarily north-south trails.
- UL: Ultralight. If you’re packing UL, you’re carrying a base weight of less than 10-12 pounds.ce more of the landscape. However, Ultralight hikers must trade gear for experience.
- USGS: Another government agency, the United States Geological Survey is a valuable resource that produces free topo maps of the entire US.
- WFA: Wilderness first aid, which encompasses life-saving knowledge such as how to take care of wounds, how to address dehydration, and how to identify and treat shock and heatstroke.
- WFR: Also known as a “woofer,” WFR stands for “Wilderness FIrst Responder,” who is somebody who has an intermediate-level certification in wilderness medicine.
- YMMV: An abbreviation for “your mileage may vary,” meaning that your experience may be different from other peoples’. A lot of advice is often YMMV, given that everybody hikes differently.
Types of Hiking and Camping
These are different terms that refer to types of hiking and camping. They can help you identify the type of hiking you plan on doing. If you’re new to hiking, it’s important to know the type of hiking you will be doing– that way you can make sure to pack appropriately and prepare yourself for the experience.
- Alpine: Originally referring to the Alps in France/Switzerland/Italy, today alpine refers to hiking above the treeline.
- Backcountry: The backcountry is wilderness that is generally accessed via trails, not roads. “Backcountry” and “frontcountry” don’t have official definitions, and closer to roads, it may be hard to tell the difference.
- Backcountry is also an adjective that defines a version of an outdoor sport that is practiced in the backcountry, like backcountry skiing.
- Backpacking: Backpacking is multi-day hiking where you carry everything you need to survive in the backcountry. Note that in Europe, “backpacking” refers to budget travel where you stay in hostels and keep your belongings in a backpack instead of a suitcase. What we call backpacking in the US is frequently called trekking in the rest of the world.
- Bivouac: To go bivouacking is to go camping without a tent. It’s similar to cowboy camping.
- Bushwhacking: Cutting your own path through dense shrubs and trees. This type of off-trail travel is usually slow, since you’re literally making the trail as you go. It is also commonly used for hiking not on an established trail (even without whacking bushes).
- Car Camping: Car camping can mean sleeping in your car or RV at a campground. It can also refer to the type of camping where you can drive your vehicle right to your campsite.
- Cowboy Camp: To sleep outside with just a sleeping bag– no tent, no tarp. Best done in warm, dry weather.
- Day Hiking: A day hike is short enough to be completed in a single day, and day hiking is completing one of those hikes.
- Frontcountry: A natural area or wilderness area that is accessible via road. This can include drive-in camping spots for car camping, a short walk to a scenic location, or a picnic area in the forest, among many other natural locations.
- Loop: Loop hiking follows a route that travels in a loop to start and end at the same point without backtracking. A loop where you hike in a straight line to a junction that turns into a loop trail is called a lollipop loop.
- Mountaineering: Mountaineering is an outdoor sport that involves climbing mountains. It requires technical equipment like ropes, harnesses, crampons, and axes. Mountaineering typically occurs in places without trails– if you’re on a mountain, you aren’t necessarily mountaineering.
- Out and Back: Out and back hiking follows a route to a turn-around point and retraces the same route back to the start.
- Peak Bagging: Climbing or “bagging” a collection of peaks within a surrounding area. Common bag lists include the 48-peak New Hampshire 4000 Footers and the 53 (or 58) -peak Colorado 14ers.
- Point-to-Point: Point to point hiking starts and ends at different trailheads. Car shuttles and key swaps are common arrangements for transportation between trailheads. (Read on for what those are!)
- Section Hike: Section hikes are part of a thru-hike. Hikers often choose to complete longer trails like the AT through smaller section hikes. Section hikes can be day hikes, or they can be longer amounts of time.
- Thru-Hiking: Completing a long-distance trail like the AT from beginning to end in a single, continuous journey.
- Traverse: Another term for point-to-point hiking.
This glossary includes some of the most important terms in hiking.
- 10 Essentials: Also spelled out as the “Ten Essentials,” this is your must-have hiking gear to keep you safe in the event of an emergency.
- Base Layer: The layer of clothing worn closest to your skin. It should be moisture-wicking, no matter what season you’re hiking in.
- Base Weight: Your base weight is your backpack’s total weight when it’s full of gear including your tent and sleeping bag, not counting consumables like food, water, and fuel.
- Bivy Sack: A protective, heat-retaining waterproof sack or shelter that covers sleeping bags. These are highly packable and lightweight, making them great for emergencies and ultralight camping.
- Blaze: Painted symbols on trees that help you stay on a trail. Knowing how to read trail blazes is important for safe navigation.
- Cache: This is a spot along a trail where a resupply of food and other necessities can be stored.
- Cairn: If you don’t have trees to blaze, cairns can help you navigate. Cairns are large, at least around two feet wide by three feet tall. Smaller cairns that are just stacks of 3 or more rocks are called “trail ducks.” They indicate that you’re still on the trail.
- Campground: This is an area intentionally designated and reserved for camping. These are often maintained by the NPS or another parks department. Campgrounds are a part of frontcountry camping, although there are some backcountry trails with designated campgrounds.
- Campsite: In frontcountry camping, this is the plot of land you rent that often includes a fire ring, a picnic table, and open space to pitch your tent. In backcountry camping, this is just wherever you decide to pitch your tent.
- Class: This term refers to the classes used by the Yosemite Decimal System to describe the difficulty of hikes and rock climbs. Class 1 involves hiking on a trail, Class 2 is scrambling with the occasional use of hands. Class 3 requires more technical rock climbing skills. Class 4 and above are rock climbs. For more information, check out our complete guide to the Yosemite Decimal System.
- Compression Sack: A stuff sack with compression straps that can be used to reduce the size of packed gear.
- Double-Wall Tent: A tent with two layers of fabric. The inner layer is just like a single-wall tent, but an outer layer called a rainfly is draped over the tent poles. This type of tent creates less condensation.
- Dry Bag: A stuff sack made of waterproof material with a roll-top closure that keeps the contents dry, even if the bag ends up soaked.
- Ford: To cross a river with high water.
- Glissade: Sliding down a hill on your butt. It looks funny, but it’s a good way to traverse tricky terrain without risking your ankles.
- Hut: This is a preexisting shelter for hikers. It is a relative term– a hut could mean a simple shack or something more akin to a cabin. Some “huts” even offer full hotel service! Before planning a long hike, ask around about the trail’s hut availability.
- Lean-To: Sometimes seen without the hyphen, a lean-to is a (sometimes temporary) shelter that can provide shelter while sleeping or cooking.
- Moleskin: An extremely thin and super-soft fabric with a sticky backing for padding and preventing blisters. Not the skin of an actual mole, and not a fancy notebook (that’s Moleskine). You should definitely carry some of this with you in your first aid kit.
- Mummy Bag: A type of sleeping bag with a tapered fit and a hood. You’ll be wrapped up all snuggly like an Egyptian mummy in one of these bags.
- Rainfly: A piece of waterproof fabric stretched above a tent. It keeps the tent dry and also offers enhanced wind protection.
- Single-Wall Tent: A tent without a rainfly.
- Stuff Sack: A simple bag, usually with a drawstring closure, for holding… your stuff. These are invaluable for backpack organization, keeping your clean and dirty clothes separate, protecting your food, and so much more.
- Switchback: Sharp turns in a trail that allow you to ascend or descend a slope at an easier angle.
- Temperature Rating: The temperature at which a sleeping bag will keep its occupant warm. Good sleeping bag brands use a standardized ISO test to determine temperature ratings, and to find out more about what that means, check out our guide to the best sleeping bags.
- Three-Season: Good for any season except winter. You’ll usually hear this in reference to tents and sleeping bags.
- Topographic Map: Often abbreviated “topo,” this is a map that displays hills, rivers and other natural features of the region, along with elevation expressed with contour lines.
- Trailhead: Where the trail begins, usually close to a parking lot or staging area. You’ll usually leave your car at the trailhead. Trails can have multiple trailheads, so pay attention to which one you’re starting at.
- Waterproof: To be considered waterproof, the coating on your hiking gear must be capable of holding back at least 20,000 millimeters of water. However, there are different waterproof ratings that can hold up to different rain conditions.
- Waterproof Breathable: The holy grail of rain jacket fabric, waterproof breathable fabric is waterproof but also allows water vapor from sweat to pass through. Typically this is achieved by using a breathable membrane laminated to a more durable outer fabric, which is then treated with a DWR coating.
- Water-Resistant: Water-resistant fabrics are resistant to the penetration of water, but not waterproof. A water-resistant fabric will soak through eventually, while a waterproof one will not. The term water-resistant can be applied to fabrics that are naturally water-resistant like polyester, or to fabrics that have a DWR treatment.
- Widowmaker: A detached or broken limb or tree top that’s still in the tree. Avoid these and do not set up camp under one, as they are unpredictable and deadly.
Jargon and Slang
If you’re talking to other hikers, here are some of the common slang terms that get thrown around when discussing trip planning and trail conditions.
- Beta: A piece of slang that means “good info.” You can ask other hikers for good beta about a trail and find out about challenging spots, shortcuts, detours, and other helpful information.
- Big Three: Your three largest pieces of gear: your sleeping bag, your tent, and your backpack.
- Biner: Short for carabiner, a metal clip used to secure ropes, attach gear to your pack, hold your water bottle, and about a million other uses for hikers.
- Bio Break: A bathroom break.
- Bladder: Not the organ! A flexible pouch of water with a drinking hose. Sometimes called a Platypus or Camelbak.
- Cameling Up: This refers to drinking a lot of water when you reach a water source. This lets you stay hydrated for longer before you have to drink from your refilled water bottle.
- Car Shuttle: When a hike starts and ends at different locations, a group of hikers may travel in two cars to one trailhead and park one car. Then, they drive to the other end in the second car. At the end of the hike, they leave in Car 2 and pick up Car 1 on the way.
- Cat Hole: A hole that’s at least 8 inches deep where you bury your poop. This needs to be at least 200 feet from your campsite, the trail, and all water sources.
- Deadfall: Also called blowdown and windthrow, these are trees that have fallen in a windstorm and are blocking your trail or campsite.
- Detritus: The accumulation of “stuff” on the forest floor. Think leaves, pine needles, seeds, branches, and other organic material. In fall, this can be several inches thick, and after rain it can be very slippery.
- Dirt Bag: Somebody who loves the outdoors and regularly escapes civilization to go hiking and camping. This is a term of endearment, not an insult!
- Duff: Another term for detritus.
- Key Swap: On point-to-point hike, two groups of hikers may coordinate starting at opposite ends and meeting in the middle to exchange car keys. After the hike is over, they meet and swap back. This is less time-consuming than a car shuttle, but can be more tricky to coordinate, especially if the groups don’t finish at the same time.
- ‘Mid: Short for “pyramid.” This is a type of tent or tarp shelter in a pyramid shape with a central pole.
- Rock Hop: An easy river crossing when the water is low.
- Scree: A rocky debris field made of small stones, frequently found on slopes. Scree fields are dangerous because they can lead to rolled ankles and other foot injuries. Avoid heavy scree you can, and when you can’t, be careful.
- Slackpacking: This happens when hikers carry minimal food, water and gear. This is often done when you can leave your gear at a hut, or when you have a guide carrying your stuff.
- Talus: Scree with bigger stones. You may need to cross talus on all fours, scrambling, or glissade your way through this type of debris.
- Tarn: If you hear a hiker talking about a tarn, they’re talking about any small mountain lake. If you’re hearing a geologist talk about one, it’s a much more specific kind of lake, but in general hiking terms, it’s just a lake and potential water source for alpine camping.
- Vitamin I: Ibuprofen. Keep Vitamin I in your first aid kit!
- Wetting Out: This is what happens when your clothing fabric gets saturated with water.
- Yard Sale: When you empty out your pack onto a surface to sort, repack, resupply, or find that tiny thing that fell to the bottom, you’re having a yard sale.
- Zero Day: A day where you stop and rest while on a long hike.
What other hiking terms have you heard? These are some of the most common and important for everyone to know, especially beginners. Keep it handy when you’re on forums or Facebook so that you know what people are talking about!
Max DesMarais is the founder of hikingandfishing.com. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor adventure, travel, and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. Max grew up hiking all around New Hampshire and New England. He became obsessed with the New Hampshire mountains, and the NH 48, where he guided hikes and trail runs in the White Mountains. Since moving out west, Max has continued his frequent adventures in the mountains, always testing gear, learning skills, gaining experience, and building his endurance for outdoor sports. You can read more about his experience here: hikingandfishing/about