That pile of rocks and gravel on a mountainside? There’s a word for that.
Wilderness travel takes more than a pair of strong legs; it requires common sense. An ability to read the land and a basic understanding of trail conditions can be the difference between embarking on a hard slog and pure bliss. Learning the lingo is part of the process, saving novices from grief and providing veterans with a cool vocabulary for the miles shared in the backcountry. Before you go, boost your outdoors IQ with this glossary of hiking terms.
acclimate — period of time required for the body to adjust to altitude and trail conditions.
AT — Appalachian Trail, a long distance footpath extending 2,178 miles from Georgia to Maine.
backcountry — an isolated geographic area with few paved roads or maintained buildings and erratic or nonexistent cellphone coverage.
bivouac — a temporary or makeshift shelter meant to protect hikers from inclement weather.
cache — to store or stow away food and supplies intended for future use.
cairn — a man-made pile of stones used as a navigational aide in locations with little to no vegetation.
cat hole — a 6- to 8-inch-deep hole to poop into, dug off-trail and out of sight, at least 50 yards from the nearest water source.
dirtbag — a subculture consisting of ski bums, vagabonds and climbers well practiced in the ways of avoiding work, while spending as much time as possible pursuing their outdoor passions.
exposure — refers to the steepness of terrain and the level of risk involved while hiking in the backcountry. The scale ranges from Level 1 (almost flat) to Level 5 (vertical and possibly life-threatening).
foul weather gear — garments designed to keep hikers warm and dry during inclement weather conditions.
4-season tent — a sturdy tent designed to withstand the elements associated with camping above the timberline and in winter conditions.
gaiters — protective gear designed to fit snugly over hiking boots meant to keep mud and debris from fouling socks, thereby keeping feet dry and comfortable.
GORP — “Good Old Raisins and Peanuts” is snack food designed to boost stamina and maintain energy levels while hiking, composed of dried fruits and nuts.
holloway — a sunken path worn down due to foot traffic, rain and erosion that has fallen significantly below the vegetative banks on each side.
hump — to carry a heavy pack over a long distance.
hypothermia — a dangerous physical condition possibly leading to death, in which body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, impeding brain and body functions.
itinerary — a planned trip or intended route of travel used to estimate miles traveled and destination.
isthmus — a narrow strip of land bound by water on two sides.
junction — the point at which two trails intersect.
karst — refers to limestone landscapes marked by bluffs, caverns and escarpments established by the dissolution of slightly acidic water coursing over soluble bedrock.
kindling — highly flammable materials used to start fires, such as pine cones, twigs, dry bark.
krummholz — bent, stunted trees found in mountainous and arctic regions, twisted by steady winds and short growing seasons.
littoral — directly adjacent to the shore ranging from tide pools to ocean bluffs.
Lexan — a trademarked polymer favored by campers and hikers for its durability in canteens and utensils.
massif — a distinct mass of interconnected mountains.
moraine — an accumulation of debris (rocks and dirt) formed by glaciers.
NPS — U.S. National Park Service, the federal agency responsible for the care and management of America’s national parks and national monuments. Tasked with the preservation and conservation of public lands and protecting wildlife for the benefit of current and future generations.
orienteer — using a map and compass to determine a route through unfamiliar terrain.
primitive campsite — a campsite that offers few basic amenities to hikers, such as shelter, pit toilets or running water.
potable water — water source that poses few health hazards to humans without prior treatment.
peak bagger — a subgroup of hikers obsessed with reaching the highest point in each state, country or continent.
quill — the shaft of a bird’s feather.
ramble — to walk the countryside without a predetermined destination.
rain fly — the outer shell of a tent used to shed water and blunt the wind, protecting occupants.
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.
vestibule — a covered chamber, usually an extension of the rainfly, designed to stash wet gear in before crawling into a dry tent.
verglas — a thin coating of ice that forms on rocks overnight, or when snow melts and then refreezes.
walk up — an accessible mountain peak requiring no technical gear or advanced climbing knowledge.
white gas — a specially formulated fuel designed to burn in camp stoves.
yogi-ing — the friendly art of letting hikers and other park visitors offer food or other forms of assistance without asking them directly for it (otherwise it’s called begging).
zigzag — the act of hiking along a switchback trail to reach a destination.