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Hiking is just like walking, except uphill or for crazy long distances while carrying a backpack full of snacks, right? If you're familiar with shoes, rocks, and "Watch out for that snake!" you might assume you're up-to-speed on hiking lingo.
Maybe that's enough if you're hiking around the hills just outside of town for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon. But if you're talking about a thru-hike, you're going to need a lot more than that. To begin with, thru-hike: to hike a long-distance trail in a single trek that lasts days, weeks, or months.
If you're taking to the trails, you might want to brush up on these five hiking terms (as well as a few associated terms). That way you'll know what the heck your experienced hiker friends are talking about so they don't leave you behind on the A.T. (See what we did there? Time to study.)
If you don't want to carry a heavy bag with days or weeks worth of supplies, you might be a slack packer. According to the Outdoor Women's Alliance, slack packers are those minimalist hikers who carry only what they need for the day, then they return to the great indoors to sleep.
This often means they have a kind, patient friend who is willing to drive them to and from each point on the trail each day as the slack packer completes the trail, or whatever particular section of the trail they're doing, one day at a time. This is a great way for people who are outdoorsy enough to go for a vigorous walk, but not outdoorsy enough to sleep on the ground, to see some of the country's beautiful scenery.
Related to wanting to keep that pack as light as possible is the idea to "camel up." This means drinking a whole lot of water when you get the chance so you don't have to carry as much with you along the trail.
A thru-hike is a challenging endeavor, and thru-hikers rely on the kindness of trail angels. As Greenbelly explains, trail angels are the good-hearted people who offer assistance to thru-hikers in the form of free accommodations, food, a ride to the trailhead, a place to do laundry, or anything like that.
Trail magic is a closely related term. Trail magic is the stuff of trail angels, the random acts of kindness themselves. Sometimes, these might go uncredited to a particular trail angel, and it becomes even more magical to the hiker who finds that surprise stash of snacks or drinks along the way. Thru-hiking would be a lot more uncomfortable without trail angels and the magic they bring.
Zero and Nero Days
Although many of your days on the trail will be spent on the move, you will also have zero and nero days. A zero day is when you make no measurable progress along the trail. This might be because you're chilling in a nearby town, enjoying luxuries such as taking a shower and sitting at a table to eat. A gym rat might refer to this as a "rest day," and you deserve it.
A nero day is nearly the same thing. Instead of zero miles walked along the trail, you walk nearly zero miles. That might mean just one or two, choosing to spend the rest of the time relaxing, showering, reading, etc.
If you don't take advantage of that shower time, you become familiar with hiker funk, the unique smell associated with going days between showers and wearing the same clothes for a few days in a row. When you get comfortable with the funk, you earn the title of hiker trash: someone who smells less than sweet, knows it, and doesn't much care because, in addition to stinking, you're pretty stinking proud that you're hiking such a long way. And you should be.
When taking a long thru-hike, it's impossible to carry all the gear you'll need on your back. The terrain and weather changes alone may necessitate certain equipment in certain areas that isn't required in others.
REI explains that a bounce box is a supply box that you send ahead of you. That way, it's waiting for you down the trail when you get there and need it. This is useful for extra food or any gear you know you'll need for a certain section of the trail.
This is not to be confused with a hiker box. Whereas the bounce box is your own (unless you decide to share, which is a nice idea on the trail and in life), a hiker box is for the community. They exist at various spots along the trail, and hikers (like you!) can leave extra food or unwanted gear for other hikers (like you!) to take.
Leave No Trace
You'll want to be familiar with the idea of "leave no trace," or LNT. This means being aware of your impact on the environment and doing what you can to limit that impact, leaving no trace that you were on the trail. This helps ensure the hikers who are five days behind you — and those who are five decades behind — can enjoy the same trail you're enjoying today.
At its simplest level, this clearly means "don't litter, you dummy," but it goes far beyond that. There's an entire LNT website, the Center for Outdoor Ethics, that explores the seven principles of LNT — Plan Ahead & Prepare, Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces, Dispose of Waste Properly, Leave What You Find, Minimize Campfire Impacts, Respect Wildlife, and Be Considerate of Other Visitors. The site also offers resources and education on how to follow those principles.
Oh, and the A.T.? That's the Appalachian Trail, the 2,190-mile trail running from Georgia to Maine. A thru-hike on the A.T. can take up to seven months, and many intended thru-hikers don't finish it. Together with the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, it makes up the Triple Crown: three north/south trails in the United States each stretching for more than 2,000 miles.