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Trail names, or a nickname for you on the trail, are a trail tradition that has been around since traveling on trails first began. They started out as trail nicknames and evolved into something more. Nowadays, trail names can be picked up along the trail being given to you by other hikers, personally, or by friends, before you even start your journey, so how do you come up with a trail name?
Typically a trail name is bestowed upon you by fellow hikers while on the trail by a quirk, issue, or something that rings as distinctively “you” to others around. Self-given names are considered less in many circles because they don’t involve this scrutiny and may not actually ring true to you.
With so many creative and interesting trail names out there, it can sometimes be hard to come up with one of your own! But don’t worry – we’ve got some great ideas for how to pick a trail name if you’re having trouble deciding.
What Is a Trail Name Anyway?
Plenty of people, especially those new to hiking and to long-distance trail thru-hiking may have little experience in “trail names” due to the shorter nature of their typical hikes and the fact that those trips involve people they already know, so what is a trail name?
A trail name is a bestowed name from a fellow hiker that has more to do with you than a “given name” ever could. Trail names are unique to the hiker, and usually have a deeper meaning, physical trait, or story behind why they were given the name. Many come after something unique, interesting, or funny happens while out on the trail.
These names come to those looking for them, whether it be thru-hikers looking for a name to represent their hike or friends and family of the hiker to present a personality trait or their current life.
Simple Trail Name Guide or “Rules to a Trail Name”
The only hard and fast guideline that some hikers follow when considering trail names is to allow the term to come to you naturally. That implies rather than making yourself one, you wait until something happens and the name sort of picks you.
There are no restrictions or requirements, and you’ll find many people who have made their own decisions or altered their names over the years. Maybe in one phase of life, a name fit but over time you evolve and the name can then evolve with you.
Another guideline I agree with is that you don’t have to accept any name from anyone if you don’t feel it is appropriate. There’s no need to go by that name if someone gives you a trail name you dislike.
Choosing a moniker should be a fun experience and a way to introduce yourself to other long-distance hikers along with having amazing trail experiences. You’re not at work or school anymore so you don’t have to answer to any name but one you choose.
How To Get Your Trail Name?
Most trail names will come for you, the events or your characteristics lending themselves to a description of you coming from fellow hikers. But there are other options available to help you get your trail name.
One way is to ask friends and family before you go on your hike what they think would be a good name for you if something happens out there on the trail. This gives them a sense of ownership in your hike as well and might give you some ideas that hadn’t occurred to you yet.
Another way if you want to adopt your own trail name prior to leaving is to look into something like a trail names generator, this software will help blend words together in patterns that may produce something you find perfect.
There are plenty of websites online that offer a variety of trail name ideas, like this name art from AT finishers, to help you find that perfect name should you want to, personally I have held off to have the right one find me!
Why Don’t Some People Want a Trail Name?
For some, they are not interested in the adoption of a new name for use on the trail and they are happy to just travel via their birth name. This leads some to wonder if it is hard to pick a trail name?
The answer is no, it’s not hard to get a trail name. It just means that some people don’t feel the need for one or want one for different reasons than others might.
There are many thru-hikers out there with multiple trail names and sometimes they’ll even use a “muggle” name when off the trail in order to avoid confusion as they have to use cards and “official” documents like a drivers license, bank cards, and similar plastic.
Common Trail Names
If you want to look in on AT 2000 milers the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) has a semi-updated list of hikers who completed, or the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) 2600 Miler list, either of which may help you inspire a self-chosen name.
This is only the finishers though so it isn’t a consummate list of names used on the trail but even in the finishers, you can see some common trail names.
Tips and Tricks to a Good Trail Name
If you are looking to give a trail name or make your own there are some things you can look at to make sure you get a trail name that isn’t already in use and maybe even helps to avoid trail names with negative connotations or implications.
Look for existing trail names online or from hikers on the trail who have been before this will give you an idea of what is out there, popular, and unique at any given time.
Be aware that nearly all trail names are typically gender-neutral and can be used by anyone without issue. Yes, there are some trail names that are male or female based also but you won’t always know if a trail name fits your gender until you get to use it on the trail!
Here are some good guidelines to building a strong and long-lived trail name:
Must Be Creative
There are numerous names that are used repeatedly, even in a single year, let alone over several years. Wait until you come up with something fresh and innovative and don’t be rushed to choose nor make up your own.
Instead of generic names like “rabbit” you want to use that creative juice to come up with something more like “Dances with rabbits”. This may be that one morning the person woke and was chasing down rabbits that were in camp, or a similar event which makes the name way more creative.
Aim to be Unique
Your trail name should be one-of-a-kind, just like you. If it’s easily confused with another hiker’s trail name then there is no point in having one. This will also help to avoid any embarrassing mix-ups while on trail.
When you choose to take on a name make sure it is unique and not something that someone else is already using but you also want it to be easy to speak out loud and write.
Your trail name should roll off the tongue easily and be easy to say in any scenario. This will help when introducing yourself to other hikers or if you ever have to use it out loud for anyone on the trail along with someone who isn’t familiar with hiking culture.
Names May Tell a Story
As mentioned above, the more creative or story-driven the more likely it will stand out. Placing a trail name that is attached to something in your life or personality, even if not directly obvious can help someone remember you and when they do recall that trail name then there’s the story attached!
In some cases, you might end up with names that are so common like “Two-Buck” but instead your trail name is “Two-Buck Chuck” which tells a story of someone who likes cheap wine.
These trail names are fun and sometimes the only way to avoid direct association with another trail name while still being distinctive enough for other hikers to remember you by!
You Don’t Have to Own It
If you get gifted a name or make one yourself that you find doesn’t fit drop it, there’s no need to be stubborn. You may find that a trail name is given to you by another hiker and it’s ok to accept it graciously even if you don’t feel like the trail name suits you at the moment.
When taking on a trail name, make sure that it is something that you will want. It can be tough to shake a trail name if you later should you decide that it’s not the right one for you.
Choose Your Name Wisely (Don’t Use Names That Could Offend Others)
Another thing to think about before accepting a trail name is that it will be seen by many others and needs to have the right impression of hikers and if it would make your mother unhappy you may want to drop it.
This should be common sense but if you wouldn’t say it while your mother is in earshot then you don’t want to use that trail name! It’s not worth getting into a fight or having to deal with offending people because of a name you decided to keep.
Make sure to have fun with it and take your time in choosing the perfect trail name for yourself. It will be something that you’ll have for the rest of your life hopefully!
Acclimate to Your Name
You’ll have to adapt to using your trail name, just as you would anything else; in fact, you’re probably going to use a mix of both while navigating on and off the trail.
While trying out a name, you’ll want to practice saying it so that you can get used to the trail name. This will come in handy when out on trail and having your friends use one of your trail names or using yours with others who are also trying them!
You might feel awkward at first but like any other thing, repetition is key here. It’s easy to get caught up in trail life and forget about your trail name when you see everyone using theirs so always be sure to practice this!
Final Thoughts on Trail Names and Their Importance to the Trail Community
A trail name is a nickname that hikers use to easily identify one another without having to remember long lists of real names. Trail names originated from the practice in which hikers would give each other nicknames, often shortened forms of their real name or a humorous reference to their personality or interests.
Today, anyone can pick up trail names along the way, you just have to let your creativity flow! The best part is that once you have your new trail name, you get to share it with fellow thru-hikers and no longer need an awkward trail introduction process.
When choosing a trail name make sure it has good pronunciation (easy for others) and won’t offend others (like mothers). Once you’ve found your perfect trail name try practicing saying it aloud and using it in conversation with others. trail names, thru-hiking, nicknames, humor, personality traits
Drop Your Trail Name in the Comments Below and Where Someone Could Find You
1 thought on “Trail Names: What They Are and How You Get One”
Am still looking for a (known) list of trail names. I have mine picked up which is “Sparky”.
I am an Electronics Officer on a ship. When I went back to sea (years after getting out of the
Navy) I was a “Sparks” which is the name given to Radio Officers. Yes, we used CW then
(Morse Code) and I watched technology change to HF Radio type of telex (Sitor) to
satellite emails. I wonder if Sparky is taken, or an official Sparks would be best!
(Sparks came from the sparks that were give off when a Radio Officer keyed the generator
that was connected to the antenna, 1920’s Titanic time)