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Beginner’s Guide to Hiking Terms

Beginner hiking terms

Since I am a Floridian by birth, all of this hiking jargon was new to me. I am still trying to figure it out, so what’s that saying –  “fake it till you make it?” While trying to be a bad ass hiker, I always just smiled and laughed like I had a clue what was going on. I thought you all might enjoy my hack of hiking words…. Here’s a list of hiking terms I wish I knew when I started…..

Hiker’s dictionary

Alpine zone – according to Wikipedia – A natural region or biome that does not contain trees because it is at high elevation. (See treeline)

Backcountry – Area where no there are no maintained buildings or roads. Or cell phone service. You’re on your own!

Blaze – Term used when referring to a trail indicator found on a tree. Maine trails have blue blazes, while the AT has white blazes.

Bouldering- according to Wikipeda – a form of rock climbing that is performed on small rock formations or artificial rock walls, known as boulders, without the use of ropes or harnesses. People who are bouldering are often seemed carrying large pads on their backs, walking through Acadia National Park. This confused me often, early on. 

Bushwhacking: To travel through an area where no path or markers exists; such as through the woods. Most of the time this requires clearing your own path (usually with a machete or other instrument). Don’t do this unless you have to.

Cairn – Used as trail markers, they are a human-made pile of stones.  Be a good trail citizen and leave cairns as they are.  Do not remove or add rocks.


Cathole – A pit to bury your poop in, typically 6-8 inches deep. Wondering how to poop in the woods? We’ve got you. Read more here.

Col– The low point between two mountain peaks or a gap in a ridge, usually saddle shaped.

Erratic – a rock or boulder that differs from the surrounding rock and is believed to have been brought from a distance by glacial action.


Krumholz – from Wikipedia –  (German: krumm, “crooked, bent, twisted” and Holz, “wood”) s a type of stunted, deformed vegetation encountered in subarctic and subalpine tree line landscapes, shaped by continual exposure to fierce, freezing winds. Under these conditions, trees can only survive where they are sheltered by rock formations or snow cover. As the lower portion of these trees continues to grow, the coverage becomes extremely dense near the ground.[1]

Lean-to – a type of shelter that is typically freestanding, consisting of 1-3 walls and a slanted roof. Awesome for camping in Baxter State Park.  Leave No Trace – an outdoor ethic meant to protect our natural resources for generations to come. DO THIS.  Notch – Similar to a col, a notch is a “V” shaped pass between two high points.

Peak bagging –  Peak bagging, also known as hill bagging, mountain bagging, or simply bagging, is an activity in which hikers, hillwalkers and mountaineers attempt to reach the summits of a collection of peaks, usually those above some height or prominence in a particular region, or having a particular feature. Many climbing clubs around the world have created lists of peaks with various attributes, often used by peak-baggers. Two examples of such lists are Colorado‘s 54 fourteeners, New York’s Adirondack 46ers, and New Hampshire‘s 48 four-thousand footers.

Postholes – Postholing is a miserable way to spend a winter hike. Imagine the type of hole a fencepost sinks into — narrow, straight, deep. Now imagine taking a step on what you think is hard-packed snow, only to hit a soft spot and sink straight down into it. Your leg creates, then immediately occupies, a posthole in the snow. Get it? Breaking through the top layer of snow into the mushy stuff below, typically up above the knees and into the crotch.

Our friends !

Prominence – from Wikipedia – In topography, prominence[a] characterizes the height of a mountain or hill’s summit by the vertical distance between it and the lowest contour line encircling it but containing no higher summit within it. It is a measure of the independence of a summit. A peak’s key col is a unique point on this contour line and the parent peak is some higher mountain, selected according to various objective criteria.

Rime – noun: rime ice – frost formed on cold objects by the rapid freezing of water vapor in cloud or fog. literary – hoarfrost –  noun – a grayish-white crystalline deposit of frozen water vapor formed in clear still weather on vegetation, fences, etc.

Mt. Waumbeck – Starr King Summit – Original Post here
Rimrocked – Being too frightened to climb back down from where you climbed up to. Being frozen in fear so to speak. Scat – Animal droppings + feces

Scree – Scree is a collection of broken rock fragments at the base of crags, mountain cliffs, volcanoes or valley shoulders that has accumulated through periodic rockfall from adjacent cliff faces. 

Switchbacks – a 180° bend in a road or path, especially one leading up the side of a mountain. Like when you think you’re making headway but you’re really just zig zagging up the mountain. (Spoiler alert – I HATE switchbacks – I’d rather just get up there!)

Talus– Broken rock and boulders that line the side of a hill.   This can be some of the most challenging terrain to hike on, but also beautiful.

Tarn – a tarn is a mountain lake or pool, formed in a cirque excavated by a glacier. Check out the Tarn on Tumbledown

Trailhead – Entry point of the trail from a road or parking lot. Typically this is where the trail begins.
Mt. Tecumseh Trailhead.  Original post here!
Trail Name – A nickname adopted by or given to a hiker. This name is used almost exclusively when communicating with others on the trail and in trail register entries. Treeline – The point of elevation on a mountain above which the climate will no longer support tree growth. When youre hiking a big mountain, this is where you want to be!
Cannon Mountain treeline.
Are there hiking words you wish you knew when hiking? Or things you’re afraid to ask? Comment below and we’ll give you the LMA Version 🙂 Cheers! -dd #lovemaineadventures Pin this post so you can read it later! Hiking Terms for Beginners Want to read more of our tips for beginners? Some of our top posts are listed below! What you should have in your emergency hiking kit? Beginner’s Guide to Katahdin


Florida born, Maine living. Outdoor life is for me. I love adventures - hiking -photography - running - camping - reading - creating - learning - traveling - deep eddy vodka - cats and living, basically. Follow me on social - @DanielleDorrie