Trail names are a fun little park of hiking that most people don’t think much about. But how do hikers get their trail names?
If you’re just starting off with hiking, you may not even know what a trail name is. But trail names can make being on the trail fun, and keep you recognizable.
Hikers usually get their trail names from others, most often depending on the kind of gear they’re wearing, something about them that makes them stand out from the rest or an experience that is specific to them. Some hikers give themselves their trail names as well.
Trail names can be colorful and intriguing, and are more often used on longer hiking trips than short ones.
We looked into hikers’ experiences and what people have had to say about trail names while carrying out our research.
What is a Trail Name?
Trail names are a lot easier for identification on trails than your real one, because there could be multiple people with the same name. Unless you have a super unique name, you’re bound to find at least one other person who shares your name, especially since there are so many people on the trail itself.
Trail names are unique, and people are able to refer to you in a way that everyone knows it’s you. Trail names started back in 1948 on the Appalachian Trail because of the crowds in peak season.
Of course, you don’t have to have a trail name, if you don’t want to, but most people do often have trail names. However, there are downsides to these as well. Since people will most often know you by your trail name only, they won’t have any legal information on you for identification or emergencies if they arise.
Traill names should ideally be very unique so that you can be identified immediately. Still, assuming you have name tags and identification info on your person somewhere, trail names can be fun to have.
In fact, if you have a dog with you on your hiking trip, you can give them a trail name as well. But since dogs are trained to respond to their original name, they may get a little confused, which is something to keep in mind.
How Do You Get A Trail Name?
But the question is: how do you even get a trail name? It obviously doesn’t work the way it does with regular names, since there is no point in calling a person named John ‘Mark’ because if you were going for regular names, you might as well use the real one.
One way trail names get handed to you is by the kind of gear you use. Most trail names given by others are likely to be related to your gear, and are pretty good for identifying you. This is true in daily life as well - when looking for someone in a crowd, you look for the clothes they’re wearing. Similarly, when identifying someone on a trail, you look at their gear.
As a somewhat morbid and tragic example, Green Boots is a hiker who died on Mount Everest, whose body was frozen up there in the cold temperatures and remains there to this day as a location marker of sorts. The hiker has a name, but his bright green boots are much easier for others to recognize, thus making him Green Boots.
Fortunately, most people get their trail names when they’re alive. If you’re wearing a red parka, you may become Red Parka. Gear is a very common way to get your trail name, so you could potentially influence your trail name by picking out gear that stands out.
Where You Come From
Another way people give each other trail names is based on where you come from. This can become more likely if you’re very obviously not from the same area. For example, if you have a strong accent, facial features or skin color, people may be able to tell you’re not a local.
Sometimes, you could be given a trail name just because you mentioned where you’re from in a conversation with another hiker.
A Place You’ve Been to or Love
Another way to get a trail name, especially if you hike pretty frequently, is to mention a place you love or have been to in your conversation. You may even meet someone you’d met on a previous hike, and they may start calling you by the name of that place since they know you’ve been there. If you went hiking on the Kalalau Trail, you may just get called Kalalau instead.
Personality is another way to get a trail name. This can be very similar to how kids give each other juvenile nicknames in school, but comes with a lot less mean intentions. For example, if you stretch before every hike, you may become stretched. If you have a lot of cheese with you, you may become Cheese. If you don’t want to end up with an embarrassing trail name, you may want to watch what part of your personality shines through!
Sometimes trail names can also come from experiences you have on the trail itself. Of course, other hikers won’t know your backstory, so they can’t name you after anything that happened to you in the past, but they can name you after things they watch happen. For example, if you fall over and get burrs stuck on you, you may just become Burr.
Anecdotes and personal experiences (especially funny ones!) are very commonly used to make trail names - and are also very commonly used on school playgrounds.
Another way to get a trail name is through your profession. Not everyone’s profession will be used of course. After all, it’d be kind of strange to have your hiking trail name be ‘Marketing Manager’, just because that’s your day job.
However, some common professions can be used for trail names. For example, doctors can be ‘Doc’ or teachers can be ‘Teach’. These are easy to remember, and quite simple to call out. They also reflect some part of your own personality.
Can You Give Yourself a Trail Name?
Trail names don’t necessarily have to come from others. You can give yourself a trail name too. These names should be easy to remember, though and ideally something that actually suits you. People are more likely to remember the trail name if it actually fits your personality.
However, most people don’t give themselves a trail name, just like most people don’t give themselves their own nicknames. Still, some people do make them up themselves, or just let others know what they’d like to be called.
Don’t think too hard about what you want your trail name to be. Most people get a new trail name on every new trail, anyway. Since they come across new people and have new experiences, new gear, and show different sides of their personalities, they get their trail names accordingly.
You can pick a trail name for yourself if you like, or let others do it for you, but more importantly, you should just try to enjoy your hike while you’re out there.
About THE AUTHOR
I’m a hiker, backpacker, and general outdoor enthusiast. I started hiking out of college while working for the National Forest Service, and have been hiking ever since. I’ve been solo hiking and leading hiking groups for two decades and have completed hundreds of small hikes and some majorones such as the Appalachian Train and the Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked on four continents. I’d love to share some of my insight with you.Read More About Peter Brooks