Glossary of Hiking Terms – what do all those words mean?

glossary of hiking terms
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Are you a new hiker? Or do you want to brush up on your hiking skills? If so, you’ve come to the right place! Whether you’re looking forward to a short hike around town or an all-day adventure in the woods, understanding common hiking terms can help make your experience easier and more enjoyable. In this post, we’ll provide a comprehensive glossary of key terms so that you can stay informed and aware out on the trail!


Altitude: The height above sea level, which can be an important factor in hiking as it affects factors such as temperature, oxygen levels, and weather conditions.

Appalachian Trail: A famous long-distance hiking trail that stretches over 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine in the United States.

Approach: The route taken to reach the base of a climb or the start of a hiking trail.

Aréte – a very narrow rocky ridge with steep drops on both sides

Ascent: The act of climbing or going uphill on a trail or mountain.

Avalanche: A sudden and rapid flow of snow down a mountainside that can be very dangerous for hikers.

Altimeter: A device used to measure altitude, which can be useful for hikers to determine their elevation on a trail or mountain.

Aid station: A designated spot on a hiking trail or in a race where hikers can stop for water, food, medical assistance, and other supplies.

All-fours: A term used to describe a hiking technique where hikers use their hands and feet to climb steep or rocky terrain.


Backpacking: A type of hiking that involves carrying all necessary gear and supplies in a backpack for an extended period of time.

Barefoot – to walk without shoes or socks

Basecamp: A central location used as a starting point for a hike or climb, often where gear is stored and equipment is prepared.

Bear bag: A bag used to store food and other scented items high in a tree or away from camp to keep bears and other wildlife from accessing it.

Bear canister: A hard-sided container used to store food and other scented items, which can be required in areas with high bear activity.

Bear spray: A type of pepper spray used to deter bears and other aggressive wildlife in the event of an attack.

Beck – a stream

Bimble – A leisurely journey on foot
Brook – a stream
Buttress – a rock face flanked by gullies


Cairn: A pile of rocks used to mark a trail, route, or summit.

Camelbak: A brand of hydration system that allows hikers to carry water in a backpack with a built-in drinking tube.

Carabiner: A type of metal clip used to attach ropes and gear to harnesses and other anchor points.

Circumambulate: to walk around a mountain rather than to walk up it

Cirque: a large depression in a mountain side, usually with a steep back wall and often with a tarn in the bottom

Class: A system used to rate the difficulty of a hike or climb, with Class 1 being the easiest and Class 5 being the most difficult.

Clint: A block of limestone forming part of a limestone ‘pavement’.

Crag: a cliff


Dale: a large valley
Daypack: A smaller backpack used for day hikes that carries necessary gear and supplies for a shorter period of time.

Deadfall: Trees or branches that have fallen across a trail or route, often requiring hikers to climb over or around them.

Decent: The act of descending or going downhill on a trail or mountain.


Edge: a very narrow rocky ridge with steep drops on both sides

Elevation: The height of a location above sea level, often an important factor in hiking as it affects factors such as temperature, oxygen levels, and weather conditions.

Emergency whistle: A small, loud whistle used to signal for help in the event of an emergency or injury on the trail.

Endurance: The ability to sustain physical exertion over a long period of time, often important for longer hikes or climbs.

Erratic: A piece of rock that deviates from the size and type of rock native to the area in which it rests

Expedition: A long, organized trip or journey, often used to describe a challenging hiking or climbing trip.


Fell: a mountain or hill

Fleece: A type of lightweight and warm synthetic fabric often used in hiking clothing.

Flora: The plants and vegetation in a particular area, often of interest to hikers and nature enthusiasts.

Footpath: A designated trail or route for hikers, often marked with signs or blazes.

Footprint: The impact of hikers on the natural environment, including damage to vegetation, soil, and trails.

Force: waterfall


Gaiters: Protective covers worn over hiking boots and pants to keep out water, mud, and debris.

Geo (or Gio): an inlet, gully or narrow and deep cleft in the face of a cliff. Geos are common on the coastline of the Shetland and Orkney islands. They are created by the wave driven erosion of cliffs along faults and bedding planes in the rock. Some Geos have sea caves at their heads.
Ghyll: a ravine with a stream
Gore-Tex: A brand of waterproof and breathable fabric often used in hiking clothing and gear.

GPS: Global Positioning System, a technology used to determine location and navigate on a trail or in the wilderness.

Grade: The steepness of a trail or slope, often measured in degrees or as a percentage.


Hag: an isolated ‘pedestal’ of peat topped with grass
Hammock camping: A method of camping that involves using a hammock as a tent and sleeping platform.

Hiking poles: Lightweight and collapsible poles used to assist with balance and reduce stress on the joints during hiking.

Hiker box: A designated area at a trailhead or campsite where hikers can leave or take unwanted gear and supplies.

Hike: to walk vigorously; to go for a long walk
How: a small hill


Insect repellent: A spray or lotion used to repel insects and ticks while hiking.

Incline: A slope or upward angle of a trail or slope.

Intersection: A point where two or more trails or routes meet.


Junction: A point where two or more trails or routes meet.

Jetboil: A brand of lightweight and compact backpacking stoves used to heat water and food on the trail.


Kilometre: A unit of measurement used to indicate distance, often used to measure the length of a hiking trail.

Knife: A tool or multi-tool used for a variety of tasks while hiking, such as cutting rope or preparing food.

Knott – a rocky hill


Leave No Trace: A set of principles that encourage hikers and campers to minimize their impact on the environment and practice responsible outdoor ethics.

Lightweight hiking: A style of hiking that involves carrying minimal gear and supplies to reduce weight and increase speed and agility on the trail.


Map: A visual representation of a trail or area, often used for navigation while hiking.

Merino wool: A type of wool that is soft, breathable, and insulating, often used in hiking clothing.

Moss: level, marshy area

Mudlark: a person who scavenges in river mud for objects of value
Munro: Scottish Mountains


National Park: A protected area of land set aside by the government for preservation and public enjoyment, often featuring hiking trails and outdoor recreation opportunities.

Navigation: The act of finding and following a trail or route while hiking, often using maps, GPS, and other tools.

Noctambulate: to go for a walk at night

Nordic walking: activity that involves walking cross country with the aid of long poles resembling ski poles


Out-and-back: A type of hiking route that involves traveling a certain distance along a trail and then returning the same way.

Overlook: A viewpoint or scenic spot along a trail or summit.

Orienteering: A type of navigation that involves using a compass and map to find specific locations and points of interest on a trail or in the wilderness.


Pass: a relatively easy route from one valley to another between two mountains

Peak bagging: The practice of hiking or climbing to the summit of as many peaks as possible within a certain area or timeframe.

Perambulation: officially walking round an area to record it’s boundaries

Pike: a sharp, well defined mountain peak

Pilgrimage: a long distance journey to a sacred place
Pinnacle: a large rock face with a pointed summit
Pot-hole: cave

Promenade: to take a leisurely stroll in public, so as to meet others or be seen


Quadrangle: A section of a topographic map that covers a specific area, often used for navigation while hiking.

Quick-drying: A type of fabric or clothing that dries quickly, often important for hikers who may encounter rain or water crossings.


Rake – hillside path originally used for driving animals

Ramble – to walk for pleasure in the countryside
Resupply: The act of restocking on necessary gear, supplies, and food while on a longer hiking trip.

Ridge: A narrow and elevated strip of land along the top of a mountain or hill.

Rigg – a ridge

Rock scrambling: A type of hiking that involves climbing over and around large rocks and boulders.


Scrambling: A type of hiking that involves climbing up steep and rocky terrain, often with the use of hands and feet.

Section hiking: A type of long-distance hiking that involves completing a trail or route in smaller, manageable sections over time.

Snow shoe – footwear enabling you to walk over the surface of snow
Sough – drainage tunnel cut in lead mines
Stones – small outcrop of gritstone
Swallets – hole in limestone where streams disappear
Swallow Holes – hole in limestone where streams disappear

Switchbacks: A series of zigzagging turns or curves in a trail or road, often used to make a steep ascent or descent more manageable.


Tarn – a small lake

Thru-hiking: A type of long-distance hiking that involves completing an entire trail or route in one continuous journey.

Topographic map: A map that uses contour lines to show the shape and elevation of the land, often used for navigation while hiking.

Tor – a hill

Tramp – to walk steadily or heavily

Traverse – to move across a fellside without losing height

Trek – a long arduous journey made on foot

Trig Point – Typically the concrete pillars erected by the Ordnance Survey on the top (but not necessarily on the actual summit) of prominent hills and mountains.


Ultralight hiking: A style of hiking that involves carrying the lightest possible gear and supplies to reduce weight and increase speed and agility on the trail.


Vista: A scenic viewpoint or lookout along a trail or summit.

Vibram: A brand of durable and high-traction rubber used in hiking boots and shoes.


Wainwright – Lake District Hills and Mountains
Water filter: A device or system used to remove impurities and bacteria from water sources while hiking.

Walkathon – a long distance walk to raise money for charity

Waypoint: A specific location or point of interest on a trail or route, often marked with GPS coordinates or other identifiers.

Wilderness: A natural area of land that is protected and preserved in its natural state, often featuring hiking trails and opportunities for outdoor recreation.

Water – a lake


X-country skiing: A type of skiing that involves traveling across flat or rolling terrain, often using skis with lightweight bindings and boots.



Zipper pull: A small piece attached to the zipper on a backpack or clothing item to make it easier to open and close.

Closing thoughts – Glossary of hiking terms

We’ve come a long way in unpacking the language of hiking and outdoor adventure. Even if you don’t become an experienced hiker, having a basic understanding is invaluable when interacting with experienced hikers, reading trail reviews, or planning your own hikes.

So don’t be intimidated, just get out there, enjoy nature and explore the outdoors. Perhaps by knowing some of the jargon we expanded upon here, you’ll learn to appreciate it more fully.

Take every chance to unplug from technology and explore wilderness as much as possible—it’s truly life-changing! And finally: stay safe on the trails so you can keep returning time and time again. Happy hiking!

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