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The Hiking Dictionary: all the types, terms and lingo from the trail

Updated: Apr 2, 2022

Hiking can come in all shapes and sizes but with this complex universe of terms and types it can be hard to actually understand what others mean and what kind of hiker you are, so here is our growing dictionary of hiking trail terms, types of hiker and common names for hiking gear. If you think we are missing any from our list then feel free to comment below and we will review them to add to this list.

To find what you are looking for easiest you can skip to the sections below.


Types of Hiking:

Hiking: Well let’s start with the obvious one, hiking in a general umbrella term that refers to all kinds of long distance walking in nature that typically is difficult and under unpaved terrain.

Bushwalking: This type refers to hiking exclusively in the bush and is most commonly used in Australia, this term tends to exclude urban hiking and general walking but does include most other forms of hiking.

Backpacking: This type is often interchanged with hiking but is only intended to act as an umbrella term exclusively for multi-day hikes where all gear required for the journey is carried on your back in your pack.

Urban Hiking: This type refers to hiking exclusively within or around urban population centres and can be on paved and non-paved surfaces.

Day Hiking: This type of hiker is for people who hike in any location and any difficulty but exclusively within the span of one day and does not include camping overnight.

Overnight Hiking: Overnight hiking refers to hikes that are over two days and require you to camp overnight for one night, this usually happens on weekends or public holidays.

Multi-day Hiking: This type of hiker refers to someone who hikes over multiple days and camps for a minimum of 2 nights and usually does not last longer than 7 days.

Thru-Hiking: This type of hiking is typically the longest form of hiking and consists of walking an established trail from end-to-end usually in one direction.

Section Hiking: This is very similar to thru-hiking but instead of completing a trail end-to-end it focuses on completing sections of the larger trail, this is a popular activity for those who are not able to complete and full thru-hike.

Speed Hiking: As this type implies, it is about competing a hike as fast as possible, most times people who speed hike do not carry a full pack but instead complete a full trail over one day.

Trekking: This type focuses on more challenging walks and is intended to describe long, hard and uneven terrain in often inaccessible places.

Ultralight Hiking: This type of hiking is all about trying to minimise the weight of your pack at all cost in order to make hiking a easier and more fun experience.

Solo Hiking: This type is pretty straight forward and refers to someone who completes a hike of any kind alone, hence the name ‘solo’ hiking.


Trail Terms:

False Peak: This term refers to a perceived peak while looking up a hill that turns out to be only a flat break in the track which continues going.

Peak: A point that sits higher than all of the surrounding area, note that there is no limit to the number of peaks that can sit on a mountain.

Summit: The single highest point of a mountain, unlike a peak there can only be one summit on a mountain.

Goat Track: This type of track is usually narrow and steep and got its name from the trails formed by goats, these trails are typically made overtime from the trampling of the terrain and are on most occasions unplanned.

Social Track: This type of track is typically a non-official trail which is formed by other hikers making short cuts or new tracks by walking and treading the ground along where they would like to go.

Fire Track: A track that runs through bushland to allow easy access to emergency services in the event of a bushfire, they are also typically useful in creating firebreaks to holt the fire.

Yo-yo: The act of completing a thru-hike end-to-end and then proceeding to turn around and hike the trail back the other direction, this is typically something only done by extreme hikers.

Zero Day: This term refers to a day of hiking where no distance is covered and you remain at the same campsite as the previous night.

Nero Day: This term refers to a day of hiking where very little distance is covered and you camp at the same location as the previous night.

Contours: These are the lines on a topographic map that indicates how steep the terrain on the ground is.

Base Weight: This is the weight of your pack without any perishable and consumable items such as food, fuel and water.

Bushwhack: The act of walking off the trail and forcing your way through the bush and forging your own path, this is usually only undertaken by the most experienced hikers.

Carin: A common sight on the trail of stacks of rocks which are intended to guide hikers in the direction of the trail, these can cause environmental damage due to removal of rocks from habitat but are still widely placed on many major hiking trails.

Trig Station: A fixed point on a mountain such as a pole or pillar which indicates the highest point on the mountain, It is an abbreviated term for Trigonometrical station.

Switchbacks: These are a type of track which use a Zig-Zag shape to scale up and down large hills and mountains, this helps create more of a ramp than a major hill climb.

Slackpacking: This is the act of packing as little as possible due to someone else in your group of hikers carrying a significantly larger amount of gear, food and water who is called a hump.

Ford: A large flat area in a river that allows you to make a river crossing which keeps the water below your knees.

Hump: A person who carries a significantly larger amount of the groups gear, food and water due to other members of the group slackpacking.

Windchill: The feeling of cold even in forecasted warm temperatures due to the cold wind moving up against your body and increasing the rate of heat loss.

Circuit Hike: A hike that returns to the same location as it started, this typically comes in the form of loop and can be over a day or multiple days.

Out-and-Back Hike: A form of hike that requires you to walk back along the same trail you started on to complete it.

Backcountry: An area of wilderness that is typically away from any main roads, occupied buildings or any other form of civilisation.

Frontcountry: An area of wilderness that is typically within sight of a main road, occupied building or any other form of civilisation.

Leave No Trace: 7 principles that are intended to be followed by hikers and nature enthusiasts to minimise their impact on the natural landscape. More info here.

Bonking: The sudden fatigue felt by hikers once all reserves of energy has been used in the body, this can cause a rapid feeling of sleepiness and making you want to eat and sleep.

Cowboy/Cowgirl Camper: Someone who sleeps on nothing but a mat/groundsheet under the stars, this term is common throughout North America.

Peakbagging: The act of planning a hike around summiting as many mountains and hills as possible.

Scramble: The climbing of a hill that does not require the assistance of rope or climbing apparatus but does require the use of both hands and feet to scale.

Scree: Are large loose rocks such as gravel typically around fist sized and can cover an entire field or cliffside.

Talus: Are large loose rocks that are typically much bigger than scree but still remain smaller than the average boulder, they can cover an entire field or cliffside and shift under your feet far less than scree does.


Hiking Gear:

Bivvy/Bivouac: A small one person shelter that is often used by solo hikers.

Bladder: The water storage device often referred to as a water bladder which carries water in a flexible bag with a tube attached to drink from.

Crampons: Metal plates with spikes that can be attached to your boots to give more traction in snow and on ice.

Gaiters: Small Fabric leggings attachments that sit around your ankles and lower legs to protect you from sharp grass, snakes and other dangers on the trail.

Guylines: The cords that are connected to your tent or shelter that are pegged down in order to stop it from blowing in high winds.

PLB: Which stands for ‘Personal Locator Beacon’ and is an emergency device used to contact emergency services out in the bush in the worst circumstances.

GPS: Short for Global Positioning System, GPS is a satellite-based radio navigation system that allows for precise tracking of ones location.

Z-Mat: A hiking sleeping pad that folds up in a ‘z’ type way to make a rectangular shape once fully folded.

Trekking Poles: The poles that hikers carry in order to improve balance and make walking up and down hills easier.

Hiking Tarps: The ultralight hiking shelters often carried by ultralight hikers who want to minimise the weight of their pack as much as possible.

Tent Body: The first layer of a tent in which you sleep inside, this layer is often made of lightweight fabric which is not waterproof.

Tent Fly: The outer layer of a hiking tent which covers the base layer, this is layer is typically waterproofed and has hooks that attach to the base layer.

Dilly Bag: A small bag which contains all your eating utensils including a bowl, an optional plate, cup and cutlery.

Biner: A common slang word that is short for carabiner which is a small metal ring that comes with a latch used to attach things such as ropes and hang canopies.

Spork: A eating utensil that includes a fork, knife and spoon in the one tool, this is a piece of gear often carried by ultralight hikers as it cuts down on weight.

Pit Zip: A common feature on hiking rain coats that provides for a zipper around your arm pit, this allows for better ventilation and more breathable clothing.


So that is our hiking dictionary so far, we are always looking for more common terms to add so if you think we are missing anything make sure to add it in the comment section below so we can review your suggestions.

Written by Josh Welch


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