10 Phrases Thru Hikers Use

September 24, 2018

A comprehensive catalog of vernaculars and mantras that you should know before a Thru-Hike.

Zero

Zero is a day for rest. It is called a zero because you hike zero trail miles. Most zeros are done in towns during resupplies. Most zeros are spent laying in a hotel or hostel bed. A lot of times hikers grab a hot meal prepared by someone else. A lot of debaucheries can happen during a zero, and it’s an opportunity to blow off some steam after days and miles of pushing your body to its limits.

Zeros are most tranquil in the mountains. It’s nice to “live in the wilderness rather than just walking through it” as veteran Thru-Hiker, Cameron Hall puts it. There is no better way than to relax in a mountain range, next to a roaring river or beside a serene lake.

HYOH

HYOH stands for Hike Your Own Hike. This is my favorite rule on the trail. It’s saying “to each his/her own” or “mind your damn business.” It started as a tongue and cheek thing to say when you wanted to be left alone, but it can be translated directly to life. HYOH showcases everyone’s unique story, and everyone has their journey. No one should get to tell you how to enjoy life, just like no one should be able to tell you how to enjoy your hike. HYOH is my favorite way of reminding yourself that you can be whoever you want, even yourself.

Trail Magic

You know that feeling you get when you see the waiter bringing out your food at a restaurant? That’s what Trail Magic feels like, but tenfold. Trail Magic is a random act of kindness provided by anyone during your Thru Hike. You encounter Trail Magic from a camper at a trailhead, a day hiker at a tourist trap or another random hiker. Trail Magic could be anything from a tortilla, a ride into a town, a bed to sleep on, a beer, Gatorade, a meal at a restaurant, etc. If you are not a Thru-Hiker and you provide a Thru-Hiker with Trail Magic, you become a Trail Angel.

Trail Angel

Trail Angels are the divine people that conduct Trail Magic. There are rookie Trail Angels that have no idea they’re even executing Trail Magic. For example, after hiking through Forester Pass, I ran into a woman and her boyfriend at the summit. They noticed my unkempt beard, my heavy and dirty backpack and probably smelled my musk from 6 days in the mountains without a bar of soap. They asked me if I was a Thru-Hiker, to which I confirmed. We proceeded to hike down the pass together into the trailhead. They had tons of questions for me. They asked me what kind of tent I used, what kind of shoes I had, what kind of food do I pack? I explained I mixed up my diet. Before I left for the trail, I mailed myself care packages at 26 different post offices in towns that were near the PCT. I had a box waiting for me in Bishop, CA. Bishop was 30+ miles away, so they offered me a ride. They may have appreciated my journey more than I enjoyed that ride and I appreciated the hell out of that ride. They stopped off at the post office and bought me a beer while I Google a place to bunker down at for the night. I explained to them that, to me, they became Trail Angels.

Day Hiker

These guys smell really nice. A Day Hiker merely is someone hiking for the day. Sometimes Thru Hikers refer to anyone hiking less than 500 miles (Thru-Hiker status is achieved once you surpass 500+ miles on your journey) as a Day Hiker.

Long distance trails are filled with amazing sites that attract people from all over the world. You tend to run into Day Hikers when you are close to towns, trailheads, and campsites. Day Hikers are always fascinated to hear about your excursion and, more often than not, they hook you up with some sort of Trail Magic.

Trail Name

A Trail Name is a nickname bestowed upon you during your thru-hike. , and it’s usually for some frivolous action, a tongue-and-cheek response or something about your appearance.

Trail names give you an opportunity to start over. It gives you a chance to no longer exist as “Jon Doe” the 29-year-old accountant from Portland, OR.

I met a Russian guy, Catch Em, Catch Em earned that name because he wouldn’t shut up about Pokemon. A Philadelphian woman named Wild because, at the start of her hike, her backpack was enormous like Reese Witherspoon’s character in the PCT inspired, film Wild.

There’s a lot of freedom during a Thru-Hike, a lot of trail names are congruent with how you handle this freedom. Trail names also illustrate the care-free philosophy behind a Thru-Hike, we accept strangers calling us an odd name, because “Hakuna Matata.”

Trail Family

Northern Terminus

Trail Family is the group that hikes with you. When thru-hiking you get the opportunity to meet people from all over the world, all different ages with their own unique stories. As you stomp through the mountains and stop into towns to resupply food, you have conversations with other thru-hikers. You find out how different you are, yet at the same time, you find how similar you are to one another. Next thing you know your hiking with 5-6 other people, sharing campsites and campfires with them and waving down vehicles for rides into town. Trail family is the necessary support system you never thought you needed.

Vortex

South Lake Tahoe

Be careful with this one. Getting vortexed is anything that is off the trail and sucks a hiker in for more than one day because it’s difficult to leave. Hikers can get real comfortable at a hostel: with a warm bed, air conditioning, cable tv, refrigerator and fast food chains within walking distance. We call this getting “City Soft.” It’s pretty easy to get vortexed into a town where the Bubble is.

Bubble

The Hostel California. Bishop, CA

The bubble is the herd. A lot of people start hiking around the same time. Naturally, people separate as they walk at different paces. The average pace people typically form a herd, known as the bubble. “The bubble is near Bridge of the Gods as PCT Days approaches.”

Stealth Camping

Some of my greatest camping experiences have happened while I was Stealth Camping. It’s camping in unregistered or unestablished campsites. Your creative juices get flowing while devising a plan to stealth camp. All my stealth camping was done while I was in a town and I didn’t feel like forking over money for a hotel room, hostel or campground lot.