appalachian_trail_mapIt occurs to me that my last post does contain a few terms widely used among thru-hikers, which the general public might not understand. I thought I’d add a post to shed a little light on trail terms.

Like any collection of humans interested or engaged in, a specific type of activity, people who hike the AT have come up with their own jargon. It’s how you differentiate yourself from the masses. Though in the case of a thru-hiker, the smell alone is more than sufficient to separate them from well, everyone else. But I digress, here are some definitions, as promised.


Thru Hiking – hiking the entire Appalachian Trail in one continuous journey, all within a single calendar year. You can get off for short breaks, but you have to pick it up where you left it. Interestingly, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the overriding authority for the whole trail does not actually recognize thru-hiking per se. It does recognize a category of hikers called 2000 Milers. These are people who have hiked the entire trail, but it can be broken up into multiple years, extending even to decades. And the designation is awarded on the honor system. In this day and age, I think that’s really kind of cool.

NOBO – NOrth BOund. Hiking the AT, starting at Springer Mountain in Georgia, the southern terminus and proceeding north to finish on Mount Katahdin, in Maine.

SOBO – SOuth BOund. Exactly what it sounds like – hike the AT going from north to south.

NOBO hikers can start as early as January, if they are completely insane, and willing to brave the periodic ice and snow storms that lash the mountains of Georgia and North Carolina till April. Most NOBO hikers, the slightly more sane ones, start in the period, March thru May.

SOBO hikers generally have to wait till late June to start hiking, as the snow in the Maine mountains can be quite deep and the going treacherous till then. The vast majority of hikers are NOBO’s.

Flip Flopper – A hiker that does a little from menu A, and a little from menu B. A flip flopper might start in late spring in the south, and hike till mid-summer heading northwards. Then they’ll travel to the other end of the trail and start there, heading south, eventually reaching the spot where they originally got off and thus completing the thru-hike. There’s some advantages with this system, as you miss the cold weather that is not uncommon in the southern mountains, even into May, and switching over to the northern route in summer means you’ll miss a lot of the heat and humidity of the central states.

Trail Names – one rather unique aspect of the AT is the acquisition of a trail name. This will be the name that all other hikers will refer to you by, for your entire journey. A trail name is completely voluntary (in that you don’t have to accept it), and you don’t have to go by one. The assignment of a trail name is usually done as the result of some action, piece of clothing or gear, or personal tick that people recognize. Trail names can be quite scatological, though that seems to be pretty rare. Most appear to be pretty PG. Many names are downright strange but that is, I am told, part of the charm. I thought about preemptively assigning myself a trail name, like Studmuffin, Coolium or FriskyKat, but Mary dissuaded me from that course of action.


Mail Drops – back in antediluvian times, when dinosaurs like Ronald Reagan and Johnny Carson still roamed the Earth, resupplying oneself on the AT was a good bit more difficult. Many small towns in the South near the AT did not have grocery stores, and the offerings of the typical grocery store back then were often not suited for hiking. So, people would make up resupply boxes containing dehydrated food, snacks, and small luxuries, and mail them ahead of time to locations just off the trail. These could be held at local post offices, care of General Delivery for several weeks and picked up by hikers as they passed through town. This is still seen as a viable alternative by many people who like to keep costs down, or distrust the vagaries of small town grocery stores. I don’t intend to do mail drops. I’m just going to go the serendipitous route, and see what the local Dollar General has to offer as I pass through the various trail towns.





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