Random Hiking Information

Terminology, Food, Gear, Blazes, Trail Magic, etc.



northbound hiker


southbound hiker


I am not sure of the exact definition but it is either someone that hikes the entire AT in one calendar year or within 12 months of starting.


Someone who hikes shorter sections of the trail over a number of years. Maybe 100 miles this year, 50 next year, etc. until they complete the whole thing.


People who start going north late in the season will never make it to Mt Katahdin in Maine before they close the park on Oct 15th. Some people hike as far north as they can and then “flip-flop” and get themselves to Maine and hike south to where they dropped off the trail.  You can also start southbound and then flip down to GA and start hiking north.  


Pointless Ups and Downs. This is one or more hills that the trail is routed over that you feel are worthless. There are a lot of these down south as most of the hills have no views off the top. So, you do all this work to hike up and then immediately go down the other side. It can be frustrating sometimes.


In simplistic terms, you take everything out of your pack accept for water, snacks/food, headlamp and a trail guide. A shuttle driver takes you north and you hike back to your starting point. The other option is to have the shuttle driver take your gear north and you hike up to it with only a day pack with food, etc. The nice thing about this is you take a 30-40 pound pack and bring it down to 8-12 pounds. It generally allows for a faster and less strenuous hike and usually more miles that day. Its pretty fun and I have done it twice.

Zero Day

A day with no hiking miles.

Nero Day

A day where you hike a few miles to get into or leave a town. For example, we might hike into town and get a room for the night and the next day hike out in the afternoon for 3-8 miles. This is called a Nero.

Bear Bagging

Many parts of the AT have a lot of bears.  When camping, you want to make sure you protect your food and any items that smell strong like toothpaste, deodorant, cooking gear, etc.  Many shelters have either cables or bear boxes that you can use.  However, if you are cowboy camping or at a shelter without protection, you have to string up your gear by yourself.

Below, left to right, you have a shelter with cables, stringing my own gear up, and a bear box.

Trail Magic

The generosity of people on the trail or near the trail is amazing.  Trail magic is really random acts of kindness to hikers.  

I have come out of the woods a few times and had people waiting by the road to provide food and drinks, or rides into town or to a resupply store, etc.  

The Beer Stein restaurant and bar in Wind Gap, PA let hikers camp behind the restaurant.  Then, in the morning, he would let the hikers into the bar/restaurant kitchen and pretty much make whatever we wanted for breakfast!  The only part rally off-limits was the steaks, shrimp, etc.  But we could take as much bread, eggs, pancakes, oatmeal, cereal, etc. that we wanted and use the grill.  

In Duncannon, PA, we were looking for a ride to resupply and a hiker took us to see an little old lady in her apartment around the corner.  She asked where we were going and I replied to Walmart and Cabella’s.  She asked if I could drive a standard shift which I replied yes.  She then gave me a bottle of steering fluid and a set of keys, said her van was parked around the corner and to go ahead and take it.  I was shocked!  She didn’t know up but gave us her vehicle to use for I think $5 each.  

Sometime people near the trail or people who know about bad sections of the trial will leave coolers or boxes of supplies.  

Below you will see a couple examples of trail magic!

Blazes - how not to get lost?

Many people ask how do you know where the trail is?  

The AT is very well marked with white blazes.  

Side trails typically have blue or red blazes.   

Blazes are painted to that you can see them when you are going north or south.  They are no every 100 feet or anything, in fact, different sections of the trail may have better or worse markings than other sections. The key point to remember is if you think you are not on the trail, look both north and south to see if you can find any blazes.

If you see two white blazes, one on top of the other, that means a turn in the trail is coming up.  I believe the top blaze is offset to the direction of the turn if I remember correctly.


Doing a through-hike requires that you carry everything you need on your back.  For food, I usually carried 3-7 days.  However, I think once I had up to 10 days of food.  The picture below shows a typical 5-day load for me.

From the bottom up, the bottom row has pop-tarts, apple pie, protein bars, etc.  I only did one hot breakfast the whole trip when I had some oatmeal.  The rest of the time I liked to eat something quick and get hiking.

The next 5-6 rows have crackers, protein bars, nuts, GORP, beef jerky, etc.  These are the items I would snack on during the day.  I found that I need to eat something, anything, every 1.5 – 2 hours.  I have gone longer but found that I would start stubbing my toes or tripping as I got tired and lazy.

The top row or two has dinner.  I used a lot of Freeze-dried meals, along with mashed potato or pasta sides with salmon or tuna packs mixed in.  Sometimes I carried some spices like a small bottle of Tobacco.

I typically carried some type of electrolyte replacement powder to mix with water.  Gatorade, powdered lemonade, or something similar.  Anything to make water have a taste.

On many occasions I would buy some sausage, cheese and tortillas to carry for lunch snacks.  Some people make their own meals but I was not that ambitious!

Copyright © 2016 - 2023 | Mark 'Outback' Smith | All Rights Reserved