hiker trash

The Hiker Trash Dictionary

A few days ago I was leading a private day hike up to Mt. Cammerer in the Smokies.  After the first three miles of climbing you reach Low Gap on the Appalachian Trail.  This gap is a popular resting spot for hikers coming from all directions and there are often a few people sitting around chatting.  I greeted a fellow hiker here and discovered he and I follow each other Twitter. We swapped a few stories and discovered we had both thru hiked the Appalachian Trail before.  My client was super impressed by our "hiker speak" and how the language we were speaking quickly turned from English to some undecipherable hiker language for her.  For the next mile or so, while teaching her some facts about the Appalachian Trail, I also taught her a few hiker terms.  We decided it would definitely be helpful to see some of these terms written down somewhere, so I've dedicated this post to all wannabe hikers and the terms they'll be using soon. 

+NoBo - A Northbound thru hiker (on the AT this is someone hiking from Georgia to Maine)

+SoBo - A Southbound thru hiker (on the AT this is someone hiking from Maine to Georgia)

+Flip Flopper - someone who starts somewhere other than either terminus and is hiking either direction.  This hike is getting more and more popular on the AT due to the overcrowding on trail. 

+Section hiker - someone who isn't hiking the entire trail at one time

+Thru Hiker - a person hiking the entire trail at one time

+YoYo - hiking the entire trail in one direction, turning around, and going back the way you came in one season

+Triple Crowner - someone who hikes the "big 3" hiking trails in the US, consisting of the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and Pacific Crest Trail

+Yellow Blazer - someone who claims to be a hiker but skips ahead by hitchhiking (and always seems to somehow get the last spot at the hostel before you get there!)

+Pink Blazer - a hiker who chases a woman up the trail looking for love

+Purist - a hiker who insists on not missing a single white blaze, no matter the circumstances. Example - two trails lead out of a campsite or shelter, a purist will take the same trail out he took in to ensure not missing one single step of trail

+Zero - a rest day, often taken in town or at a hostel

+Nero - meaning you hiked nearly zero miles to get someplace to take a break

+Yogi - when you use your thru hiking powers to get free stuff. Example: when you approach a campground and find a large family, ask them if they know where a store is so you can go buy some snacks. They usually give you some!

+Trail Angel - someone who helps hikers in need. This could be in the form of a free ride to town, does a load of laundry, or gives you a place to stay when you're injured. Trail Angels come in many forms!

+Trail Magic - getting something for nothing, usually when you need it most. Common forms of trail magic include getting free sodas, snacks, or candy at trail heads. 

+Trail Name - the alias a hiker goes by during a hike

+Slack Packing - when you leave most of your gear in your hostel/hotel room and get a ride out of town. Then, you hike back to your hotel/hostel for another night. 

+Hiker Midnight - the time hikers go to bed, which is usually after sunset, but can be any time a hiker determines based on how many long miles were hiked

+Hiker TV - the rare instance a long-distance hiker decides to build a campfire. We all sit at stare at the fire, AKA hiker TV

+Hiker Hunger - the ability to eat massive quantities of food due to the sheer number of calories you're burning on trail

+Hiker Box - a box set up at a hiker-friendly business that is kind of like "take a penny, leave a penny"; you can discard unwanted food or packed items and find someone elses' cast offs

+Hiker Trash - the way hikers describe themselves, a term of endearment. Hiker Trash refers to not only the bedraggled appearance, but also the terrible smell hiker carry on them at all times. 

+Bounce Box - a box you mail to yourself at different locations on trail; example - it's too hot to keep your puffy coat, so you bounce it ahead to where you'll be a month from now to avoid carrying it

+Mail drop - a box full of supplies mailed to yourself at a post office or hiker-friendly business

+Resupply - going into a town or store to stock up on food or fuel for your stove

There you have it - a list of commonly used hiker terms on distance hiking trails.  Are there any terms I forgot to mention here?  What would you add to the list?  Do you have a hobby with it's own "language?"

Trail Trash - Why You Should Pack it Out

I recently linked to a really inspiring group hiking the PCT in 2016 called Packing it Out.  These guys hiked the AT in 2015 and packed out over 1000 pounds of trash during the duration of their hike.  Recently, the Packing it Out crew got 126 pounds of garbage in one haul making it their record breaker!  While it's really inspiring to hear of someone doing work like this, it makes me wonder as a guide and a hiker myself why in the world it's necessary to need hikers to have to do this in the first place.  My post today is more of a rant about why I feel like it's getting more and more important for all hikers and walkers to pack out their garbage. 

Chances are you've been on a hike for a few hours or maybe even an overnight backpacking trip and you've seen what I have dubbed to be Charmin Flowers - blooms of used toilet paper women leave behind on the side of the trail after they pee.  Recently, I was at a campsite in the Smokies where an active bear warning was posted.  Imagine my shock when I wandered into the woods and found panty liners stuck to the base of trees!  No wonder animals are a problem at this particular campsite!  The next night on our trip we had a problem bear wandering through camp several times.  He was not afraid of us and even kept digging holes at the further edge of the campsite and eating something.  After we finally pelted him with rocks to let him know he wasn't welcome, I went to investigate.  Yep.  It was a hole someone threw their toilet paper into and hardly buried at all.   Living in the US we are all used to living in a disposable society now.  You throw your garbage in the can and someone comes once a week and picks it up and you never have to think about it again!  You can flush things down a toilet and they're magically gone!  However, when it comes to heading out into the woods people often have this same disposable mentality.  Your toilet paper and small trash isn't magically gone at all - someone else has to pick up after you... and isn't going to be happy if they're the ones peeling your panty liners off a hemlock tree!

Another way we are seeing garbage in the woods is by people who truly mean well.  A former thru hiker will hike a cooler full of goodies, maybe with a few bags of snacks as well, out to a trail junction and leave it for other grateful hikers.  Unfortunately, our former thru hiker isn't coming back to pack that cooler and garbage out - he has just left a note on the cooler and trail magic for hikers to pack out their trash to the trailhead.  How many hikers do you think are going to do this?  Chances are, the hikers will leave their trash inside that cooler, which will sit in the sunshine and cook for a period of a few days or even weeks.  Animals may come by and tear apart the cooler trying to get to the sweet smelling food trash inside.  The cooler may get knocked over and the trash will blow into the nearby woods.  Either way, our well-meaning hiker has created a problem for someone else to deal with.  

My most common place to find garbage, however, isn't either of these two, although the toilet paper is becoming a bigger and bigger problem where I'm at now that it's summer time.  The most common place I get to pick up someone else's inconsiderate litter is from a fire ring or a fireplace.  If you're the kind of person who is burning garbage on your backpacking trip I have some advice for you - STOP IT.  If you're a person who believes it's the best way to deal with trash let me offer you some statistics on black bears.  Black bears can pick up and track a scent for two miles.  There is no better way to invite an animal to your campsite than to burn your trash.  Also, I guarantee your fire isn't anywhere near hot enough to burn the things you're tossing in there.  The most common culprit would be Mountain House freeze dried food bags.  Next would be aluminum foil, followed by tin cans, beer cans, and the pop tops from glass bottles.  Why you'd pack glass bottles in a backpack and carry them is beyond me, but I can promise you the items you're attempting to burn aren't going to be gone completely.  It turns out someone like me has to dig through that fire pit and pack it out for you.  Meanwhile, you were out for just one night and were capable of doing it on your own.  

The final thing I want to talk about is something I don't see a lot in the Smokies but I do see a lot in the neighborhood I live in - dumping.  I live in an area only a few miles from a small local trash collecting facility.  This facility was recently closed for a few months to repave it and bring in better collection and recycling systems.  Instead of driving on a few more miles to a larger trash facility, people around here decided the remote, curvy road I lived on was a much better place to dump their tires, recliners, fast food trash, and even leave their entire trash cans filled with garbage in front of an empty house at the end of the cul-de-sac.  Dumping is a problem on distance trails as well, especially at remote trailheads where road access sees sparse traffic.  Either way, again, this trash isn't disappearing.  Someone else has to pick it up for you.  

I went on this rant for a reason.  I want people to start thinking about what truly happens to your trash in the woods when you leave it behind.  Someone else has to walk behind you to pick it up.  If you're big, bad, and strong enough to go out for a hike into the woods you are definitely big, bad, and strong enough to pack out everything you brought in with you - even apple cores, orange peels, peach pits, etc.  I am a strong advocate for packing out your own toilet paper as well.  By packing out your garbage, you're not only keeping the woods a prettier place, you're also helping keep animals wild by not allowing them to get access to human garbage.  

How do you feel when you see litter out on the trails?  Are you the kind of person who picks up microtrash?  What's the most bizarre thing you've seen discarded? 

Trail Hygiene - So Much More Than Just Clean Hands!

Backpackers who have been on trail for more than a few days know that we don't smell like roses.  Your days have been spent sweating your way up and over mountains, across streams, and into camp.  If you've not been out on trail for a few months chances are it's harder than you remembered to walk those miles with a pack on.  All you want to do is make your supper, climb in your tent, and sleep like a log.  In fact, many long-distance hikers do the same thing! We push through long days to eat, sleep, wake, and repeat.  One thing that I definitely saw fall by the wayside was personal hygiene.  This post will be about how to keep yourself a little bit cleaner with minimal effort - which means so much more than just using hand sanitizer once a day!

First of all, I want to talk about the Norovirus.  Norovirus is a nasty little bug that seems to make an appearance every single season.  If you click the link you'll see a post I wrote about the terrible symptoms and ways you can contract the virus on trail. You really don't want this - so let's talk about the things you can do to keep yourself clean on trail.  

Hand Washing - Not Just Sanitizer!

Hand sanitizer - so easy!  You just slap some of this stuff on your hands and go on your way.  Well, it might be easy, but it's not so fail-proof these days!  I personally hate the stuff and pretty much only use it as fire starter.  It always leaves me feeling sticky.  Because it felt sticky and I was already grubby I just quit using it.  Hand sanitizer also encourages the breeding of super viruses and bacteria, which I won't go into in great detail here about those things - just know that we as a society are teaching bacteria and viruses to evolve and are doing more harm than good by over sanitizing everything we own making the bad bacteria breed stronger and the good bacteria (probiotics that naturally live on our skin) die off.  One thing we do as guides in my company is hand washing before meals.  We heat up just a small amount of water with our stoves, lather up, and rinse.  It takes less than 4 ounces of water and only a drop of Dr. Bronner's soap to wash up.  Now that I know how easy it is, I make it a priority every day at least once! It doesn't take much time and having clean fingernails is definitely a plus!  You can see the Center for Disease Control's recommendations on Norovirus here

Brushing Your Teeth

You're tired and it's been a long day.  You want to eat and go to sleep.  I recently wrote an entire post about how important it is to take care of your teeth on a long hike, especially since your body is getting poor nutrition and is stressed more than it would be back at home.  Please check out this post for more info about dental hygiene and why it's important on a long hike! 

Laundry Day is Worth the Money

While doing your laundry may start to seem like a moot point after you've settled into smelling like a funky hiker, it actually can do a lot of good for you and your hygiene!  As you've read in my Norovirus post, lots of nasty things can live in your clothing.  Even if you don't want to pay for doing a load of laundry at a laundromat, just rinsing your clothes clean when you shower on trail can help tremendously.  You'll find that on those hot summer days, your sweat will dry and form salt crystals.  These can really hurt when they rub your skin directly.  Washing your clothes with detergent in a laundromat is definitely worth the few dollars to get rid of the pain!

Washing Your Pack

When we were taking a near-o day in Daleville, Virginia (a day when you don't hike very many miles and stay in town for the night), some friends of ours were taking the afternoon to wash and dry their packs.  Not only does it help with that funky thru hiker smell, it will help wash off the salt crystals and whatever else happens to be living on your pack.  If you're doing a longer hike, chances are you have tossed your pack around in a few shelters, in patches of dirt, on the side of the road, etc.  You can pick up more than a few microorganisms this way!  All you need to do to wash your pack on trail during a near-o or zero day is some Dr. Bronner's and a bathtub.  Prerinse your pack - rinsing until it runs more clear, scrub it down with the soap using your hands, and rinse again until water runs clear.  Let it drip dry in your tub or outside in the sunshine. 
**I shouldn't even have to say this, but please make sure to clean up your mess if you're doing this in a hostel! Hostel owners, especially during the hiking season, already have a full schedule of cleaning up after you - don't make them clean up your mess!**

When All Else Fails - Baby Wipes!

Baby wipes are one of the most important things I carry on a long hike.  They can be used for their usual purpose or a quick wipe down when you're feeling funky.  In the hot summer months, when the bugs were at their highest swarms, we often found ourselves applying too much bug spray multiple times a day.  Add this to the layers of dirt forming on your legs and you've got what NoKey and I like to call "human varnish".  We'd have layers of dirt alternating with bug spray in thick, nasty chunks.  The baby wipes at the end of the day helped clean all this off and leave your skin feeling a little less funky.  We always went with the unscented version, which also work great at wiping residue out of your cook pot.  

While we all know smelling bad is just a part of being a backpacker, taking a few moments each day to clean yourself up a bit can not only be good for your mental state after a long day, it can really help keep you healthier!  What are some ways you keep clean when you're taking a backpacking trip or a long hike? Is there anything you'd add to the list?  I'd love for you to leave me a comment or connect with me on Facebook and let me know!

How to Score Great Deals on Gear on a Hikertrash Budget

Hikers love their gear - that's no secret.  Any time you get a group of hikers together chances are they're talking about their gear or their food!  As with any hobby, the deeper you get into it the more money you're likely to spend on the latest and greatest gadgets and clothing to help you perform better.  Here are some tips for scoring gear at great prices when you've got a not so great budget. 

Buying Last Year's Color/Model or Factory Seconds

Sierra Trading Post is one of my favorite websites for outdoor clothing items.  I always buy my Smartwool socks and bras from them.  I've yet to find another website that not only has consistently low prices, but if you do a google search in another tab, chances are you'll find a coupon for free shipping or an additional 20-40% off your entire order.  This site is also where I bought SEVEN pairs of trail runners at one time for my AT thru hike in 2012.  At 65% off retail, I can definitely rock last year's model shoe. 

Flash Sale Sites

My absolute favorite flash sale site is Steep and Cheap. While years ago they specialized only in flash sales, now they have deals you can buy for weeks at a time.  I've scored Procompression socks on there for 70% off retail and I've gotten some other great workout equipment on there for as much as 90% off retail.  One of my favorite features on Steep and Cheap is the "hold shipment" option.  You can hold off on having your order shipped for up to a week if you're still looking for something.  This way, if you find more stuff later you can add it to your order and not pay for additional shipping.  I've also used The Clymb for gear, but I haven't shopped it in a while. 

Backpacker Flea Market Groups - Facebook

If you're a backpacker, chances are you're already a part of so many backpacker flea market groups on Facebook you don't need me to mention this.  If you are new to backpacking, trust me when I say GET INTO FACEBOOK GROUPS!  Join not only the flea market groups, in which people will sell used gear for discounted prices, but also any group for trails that interest you. People in nearly every group will have some kind of gear they're trying to unload for one reason or another.  Use the search bar feature on Facebook and type in "hiker flea market" and join!


Come on.  You guys knew I was going to list this one.  Seriously though, I have found stuff on Amazon cheaper than I can get it as a hiking guide.  Not only is Amazon great for gear deals, they often have great deals on food - Clif Bars, ProBar, Kind Bars, Honey Stinger, etc. - for close to closeout pricing.  Sometimes you'll be ordering it in bulk, but if you do a lot of hiking, chances are you'll fly through that multipack of bars in no time. 

So there you have it - my tips for buying great gear at great prices.  Where do you shop to save money on that new piece of gear you're trying to buy?  Is there a great website I've forgotten to list?  Leave me a comment below or connect with me over on Facebook to get the conversation started!

Reflections - What I Would Have Done Differently on My Thru Hike - Appalachian Trials

Five Pieces of Gear You WON'T Need on an Appalachian Trail Thru Hike

With the holidays upon us, most of the 2015ers are getting their gear research finished and updating their wish lists with the gear they’d love to have on their AT thru hike.  As someone who was in your shoes a few short years ago (and who worked in a hostel doing pack shakedowns for a season in 2013), I’d like to give you some advice as to what gear you can skip adding to your list, as chances are you won’t need it anyway. 

A solar charger for your electronics

Doesn’t a solar charger sound cool? You can charge your phone up every day and keep the battery full for those Kodak moments you’ll be sure to have every single day!  In reality, the Appalachian Trail is called “The Green Tunnel” for a reason.  You’re actually  not going to be spending much time in direct sunlight, which is how these things get their charging power in the first place.  I would say more than half of the people on the trail in 2012 that had these chargers sent them home at Neel Gap (only 30 miles in).  I would say by Damascus, VA (mile 470ish) 99% of people had sent theirs back home.  In Maine if we hadn't convinced hikers to send them home in their initial pack shakedown in Millinocket, I would say most, if not 99% or so, had sent them home in Monson. If you’re turning off your phone at night and keeping it in airplane mode during the day, you can easily get 5-7 days on a full charge from going into town (I've done this on an iPhone 4S and an iPhone 6; NoKey has done this on a Galaxy S3 and S5).  Trust me, you don’t want to be the guy who is always on his phone in camp at night anyway. If you really think you need the extra power for your devices, consider getting an external battery pack that can hold a full 2 charges for your specific device. 

Rain pants

Rain pants are good for pretty much one thing on the AT - an extra layer to keep you warm, especially when it’s windy or chilly.  I know, I know, you’re probably thinking that warm and dry sound like a good thing… but the fact of the matter is if you hike in rain pants you’re going to sweat.  You’re going to sweat and that moisture you’re repelling from the rain is pretty much canceling itself out.  A good rain jacket will really be all you need most of the time.  Rain ponchos that also cover your pack are starting to become wildly popular due to their breathability and double usage (always a big plus with thru hikers) and can be found online with a simple google search. 

Bear “anything” - bell, canister, spray, etc.

The bears we have here on the east coast are black bears, which are normally very afraid of humans. While there are always exceptions to this, black bears are often smelling you and hiding from you before you even ever see them.  If a product has the word “bear” in front of it, chances are you aren’t going to need it on the Appalachian Trail.  Granted, a bear canister is required for camping in Georgia between Jerard Gap and Neel Gap, but this short stretch can easily be done in one day by even the most fresh-footed new thru hiker.  The ATC is also starting to recommend hikers carrying a bear canister from Springer to Damascus, but I honestly don't see this catching on for thru hiking.  Canisters are heavy, cumbersome, and often don't hold the amount of food you need it to on a long-distance hike.  Bear spray is just added weight and a bear bell is just annoying to all the other people around you.  The bear line, while useful, is seldom used correctly by hikers anyway.  If you’re planning to keep using your bear line to hang your food and toiletries, I highly recommend learning to use it and do a proper hang by watching videos on YouTube.  Otherwise, maybe look into getting an Ursack for your food bag if you’re really concerned about protection from animals.  I've found that on trail the most common animal "attack" on a food bag is a mouse or a squirrel in the middle of the night.  

Deodorant and most first aid items

If you’re going 5-7 days between a shower, you’re going to stink anyway -and everyone else stinks too. This is just a fact of doing a long-distance hike.  Trying to put on deodorant isn’t going to help that set-in hiker funk that comes from wearing the same clothing day in and day out.  Save yourself the melting stick and leave it at home.  While you’re at it, I’m pretty sure 90% of your first aid kit can go home too.  While when you’re first starting out some Second Skin for blisters could be great, but Band-Aids can all be left at home.  Duct tape/Gorilla Tape and Leuko tape will be the only thing that comes even remotely close to sticking to your skin during a long day of hiking.  Other than ibuprofen and the occasional emergency Benadryl, pretty much all other over-the-counter meds can stay home too.  Obviously, if you’re taking prescription meds you should always bring those.  If you've bought a pre-assembled first aid kit and there are items in there you don't know how to use, chuck them.  (And if you want to know how to treat a few common hiking injuries, check out a post I wrote back in November 2015 here.)

Extra clothes

This sort of goes along with the deodorant.  You think it’d be nice to have an extra set of clothes to hike in, but in reality extra weight on your back isn’t worth it.  For my thru hike, I wore the same outfit to hike in every single day with three pairs of socks rotated - right side out, the next day inside out. I’d leave the dirty ones inside out in my clothes bag and put on a clean pair for day three.  This way, I could get away with only doing laundry every 6 days at the minimum.  I had a dress I’d wear in town while I was washing my one set of clothes and three pairs of socks. Obviously, you’ll have a layer for cooler days at the beginning and possibly at the end of your hike, but an extra set of clothes, sleeping clothes, etc. can all be left at home. (If you want to see an example of the clothes I carry for a thru hike, please check out my gear list here). 

When it comes to long-distance hiking, the mantra “hike your own hike” is oft-repeated and the same goes for this blog post.  If you’re willing and able to carry the extra weight from some of the items listed above then by all means go ahead and carry them.  These are just some of the things I saw nearly all thru hikers ditching in the first 100 miles, both northbounders and southbounders.  Of course, every hiker will have their luxury item they just won’t part with, be it a pillow or a titanium trowel to dig cat holes.  I hope this list has helped you to narrow down your gear for your upcoming long distance hike. 

Special thanks goes out to 2012 Hiker Trash Anonymous for helping me to confirm the items listed in this post.