Even More Lingo from Hiking the AT

I wrote about many of the acronyms and lingo from the folks hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) several weeks ago and I realize I left out some. It’s amazing how much of the lexicon I have been using for the last year. And it’s increased as my boyfriend, Roy, started training and then began his 6-7-month odyssey going from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine. By the time this piece publishes, Roy should be over halfway through his ambitious 2,192-mile hike.


Most, if not all, the lingo is used on any long thru-hike like the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington), the CDT (Continental Divide Trail from Mexico to Canada along the continental divide), the JMT (John Muir Trail in the Sierras in California) and the Long Trail (a trail that winds through Vermont through the Green Mountains).

Here is even more lingo from the AT:

Hiker Hobble – If you have ever run a long-distance race, you know what this feels like. In the case of thru-hiking, it’s stiff muscles, lost toe nails, bruises from a fall, blisters from hiking boots, chafing from a pack strap or your clothes, and carrying all your worldly goods on your back. Oh…and most hikers sleep on the ground with about two inches of air between them and the cold hard ground. These are all causes of the Hiker Hobble.

Camel Up – Water is the heaviest item you carry on a thru hike. To camel up is to load up by drinking as much water as practical, instead of carrying it in bottles. For most of the AT, finding a water source is not a big issue, depending on whether or not there has been a drought. There tend to be many springs and creeks along the route.

Bonus Miles – These are the extra miles a hiker has to walk to resupply, stay at a hostel or get back to the trail after heading into a town. It’s a misnomer to call them “bonus” because they are extra miles that are not adding to your total towards Katahdin. The extra miles that are off the trail towards a scenic overlook or a waterfall are also considered bonus miles, because they are miles that don’t “have” to be walked to complete the trail. You can imagine that if it’s 2 tenths of a mile for a scenic overlook, you may think twice about adding any bonus miles. You also need to wager that if a town is six miles away from the trail, will you be able to hitch hike or will you have to walk all six miles (and back to the trail)?

Cold Soak – Roy and I watched dozens of YouTube videos on people that hiked the AT and PCT, and many of them save the weight of a small stove and pot by cold soaking their food. One hiker named Darwin cold soaks while in hot climates, like the Mojave desert or mid-summer in Pennsylvania. Roy is not a fan, as he looks forward to a hot meal at the end of the day. Apparently, there are all kinds of things you can cold soak. So, if you cold soak oatmeal, you just put in room temperature water over the oatmeal in a sealed jar and let it soak until is edible (or as edible as possible).

AYCE – I didn’t know this acronym until Roy texted me from trail towns saying that he was at an AYCE Chinese restaurant. I was thinking, well that’s an odd name for a Chinese restaurant. It stands for All You Can Eat and there isn’t a hiker on the trail that won’t stop at an AYCE restaurant in town. Roy told me that four hikers were in one restaurant and each of them ate 4-7 plates each.

Hiker Box – This is a box where hikers discard unwanted items. These can be at hotels or outfitters close to the trail. Sometimes it’s at an actual shelter on the trail, where someone gives up a piece of gear or clothing that they have decided they don’t need due to weight (most likely) or they have found unnecessary to have.

Shake Down – Many outfitters will shake down your pack, especially at the beginning of a thru hike and will help newer, less-experienced hikers reduce weight for their pack. They will weigh the pack and then pull everything out and explain that while three pairs of socks are important, three pairs of underwear are not.

Vortex – This is when you get sucked into something that is not on the trail. Say you head into a town to resupply and next thing you know, you’ve decided to stay at a hotel, take a zero, hang out with other hikers, spend too much money and aren’t making forward progress on the trail. The vortex sucks you in and you have a hard time getting back to the trail.

Vitamin I – This is ibuprofen. Tons of hikers eat it like candy to stave off the hiker hobble.

Stealth Camping – This is when you stay at a non-designated camping spot. This might be on someone’s property or any flat spot on the trail. This can happen because you are too far from a shelter site to make it before nightfall or the shelters are full of campers and you need to move on farther to camp. It’s apparently a good way to stave off bear activity since it’s a non-established site.

Hiker Midnight – Thru-hikers typically go to sleep around 9 PM. Hikers want to get their sleep before waking up at dawn to head back on the trail.

Hiker Trash – Frequently hikers are seen as homeless since they are technically homeless and all that accompanies that, like long beards and the funky smell associated with not showering for days (sometimes weeks).

Yogi – This is when hikers intentionally seek food, drink, or rides from sometimes unsuspecting people. Roy gave a ride to some thru-hikers some years back and they went to a restaurant and they hoped that Roy would pick up the check. It comes from Yogi the Bear and all of those picnic baskets he received.

It’s an entire subculture out there on the trail and I am living vicariously through Roy on his great adventure. I’m sure a week from now, I’ll use more trail-related lingo and feel compelled to write about those as well. In the meantime, Roy is out there in the long green tunnel, hiking his own hike and looking for trail magic along the way.

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