During their long treks, distance hikers have developed a unique shared vocabulary. Here are some of the terms we have learned from reading about the PCT:

  • Thru hiker – Somebody who hikes a long-distance trail from end to end.
  • Section hiker – Somebody who hikes portions of a long-distance trail, in separate pieces at different times, which eventually add up to the full trail length.
  • Trail name – A name given to you by the trail community. Each name is unique and often reflects an aspect of your personality or a memorable event on the trail. Some examples: Rockin, Wired, and Chinchilla. Once you receive a trail name, you assume that name, and that name only, for the duration of the hike, and for future hikes.
  • Trail angel – A kind, generous stranger who assists hikers, providing rides to town, coolers of cold drinks on the trail, stocking water caches, offering their home for the night, or performing other sorts of trail magic.
  • Trail magic – Unexpected wonderful surprises along the trail.  Many of these are provided by trail angels.
  • Purist – A hiker who doesn’t flip flop, take alternative routes, or follow detours. The purist walks the main trail from beginning to end.
  • Flip flop – Temporarily skipping a section (often due to snow) and returning to finish the skipped section later.
  • Slack packing – Hiking a portion of the trail without overnight gear. This requires somebody with a car to shuttle you or your gear.
  • Triple crowner – Someone who has hiked the entire Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), Appalachian Trail (AT), and Continental Divide Trail (CDT).
  • Base weight – The weight of a hiker’s backpack, full except for food, water, and fuel.
  • Cowboy camping – Falling asleep under the stars without setting up a tent.
  • Water cache – A spot along the trail where trail angels leave large bottles of water. Water caches are located in areas where hikers have little or no access to natural water sources. Without caches, hikers would sometimes have to travel 40 miles or more between water sources.
  • Dry camp – Camping in a location that does not have water.
  • Bounce box – A box or bucket which a hiker mails to themselves repeatedly, “bouncing” it ahead along the trail. A bounce box might contain spare gear, a laptop, and/or clean clothes to wear in town.
  • Hiker box – A container in town, into which hikers can place unwanted food, clothing, or other items. Other hikers are free to take these items.
  • Zero day – A zero-mileage day. These are important periodically for healing and recharging. If a zero day is taken in a town, it often includes resupplying food, eating, repairing gear, doing laundry, and more eating.
  • Nero day – A partial zero day.  A nero day might involve hiking half the day and spending the rest of the day in town.
  • HYOH – An acronym meaning Hike Your Own Hike. Each hiker walks at their own pace and develops their own methods for living in the wilderness. Hikers encourage diversity in approaches by telling each other to HYOH.


  1. Thanks Anna & Chris!

    I was only aware of half of these. I particularly like the concept behind HYOH! Thanks for the education…..and may there be much “trail magic” on your journey!


  2. This is a great list of terms. Thanks for keeping us informed of the lingo. I can’t wait to see what your trail names will be. :-)


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