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A beginner's glossary to hiking and camping

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From switchback to USGS


switchback — an established hiking trail that zigzags across steep terrain.


trailhead — the starting point of a trail, usually marked with a sign.

tread — the pattern on the outer soles of hiking boots or trail running shoes.

trek — a multi-day hike in remote and exotic locations, often requiring the assistance of a guide.


understory — refers to vegetation (ferns, shrubs, saplings) growing beneath the forest canopy.

USGS — U.S. Geological Service, the federal agency tasked with monitoring and accessing the overall health of America’s ecosystems. Publishes highly detailed topographical maps frequently carried by hikers in the backcountry.