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Outdoors/Adventure

Hiking? Learn the lingo with this irreverent glossary.

  • Author: Alli Harvey
    | Alaska Outdoors
  • Updated: June 20
  • Published June 19

A hiker climbs sand dunes near the Jodphur Motocross Track at Kincaid Park. (Marc Lester / ADN archives)

It’s peak hiking season, so I am going to take this opportunity to unpack some key terms and concepts commonly used in hiking.

Ready? We’ll start with:

Boots. Oh, you think this is too rudimentary for you. Listen. As any hiker worth her salt will tell you, figuring out the boots part of the hiking equation is a life-long struggle.

I’ve experienced twisted ankles, numb feet and blisters on blisters to the point that I backpacked in Crocs (in the rain). After continued and failed trial and error, for a long time I just called my running shoes "boots” when I was hiking. But then I went on an Arctic backpacking trip that demanded more ankle support. After extensive internet research I finally found a pair that seemed to work for me. And the miracle? They did. Now I save my Crocs for river crossings and camp.

What happens next is they’ll modify or discontinue these boots that work so perfectly for me. Just you wait. The struggle continues.

Backpack. This contraption is something I’ve had since I was a teenager, and it represents my stubborn inability to rid myself of “perfectly useful” items that are perhaps past their prime. Yes, I suppose I’ll be that old woman.

My backpack has one giant compartment and my husband is always quick to tell me that however I pack it, it looks bulgy and imbalanced. The pack has long lost whatever waterproof properties it ever had; now I think it actually soaks in water. There are two worn-out mesh pieces on each side that once held water bottles and now hold nothing. It doesn’t cinch properly at my waist anymore, so I think I carry it using too much of my shoulders.

But have you seen those new backpacks? Sure, I’ve sneaked looks at the ones my friends have and noticed there are a lot more compartments and places to stash stuff; look how nice it must be to stash your bear spray in that handy front pocket instead of holding it for hours at a time (along with my trekking pole, see next item). But those packs are expensive!

Mine is just fine. I’m probably stronger for hauling it around, anyway — especially when it rains.

Trekking poles. OK. A word about trekking poles. They’re awkward, noisy on rocks and they make me look like a grandma. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’m in my mid-30s — and I’ve been rocking trekking poles since my early 20s.

Trekking poles are also a very wonderful, if dorky, support for those of us with grandma-esque knees. They turn me into a four-legged animal and, through some magic of balance and grace that I don’t possess on my own, they manage to reduce some of the strain on these poor, old joints of mine.

And if someone should poke fun at my trekking poles, they are also excellent jabbers.

Scree. This is something that exists at the very end of a very long hike, which my husband scampers up and across as though dancing across water. In contrast, I claw my way up on all fours, heaving every step of the way until I finally, carefully, reach the summit. I don’t trust my feet, even in those nice hiking boots, so I typically kind of scooch my way to the summit while seated.

Scooching across scree is not comfortable. But it beats falling into the abyss.

Snacks. Snacks are just food — any food — that you bring along for a hike. The tastiness of the snack is proportional to the duration of the hike and the novelty of the food. For instance, coffee-flavored potato chips tasted weirdly delicious after a hike to Long Lake a few years ago. And Pocky always delights.

Snacks are an essential part of baiting myself uphill because, being honest, I’m absolutely motivated by food.

Tent. A tent is a tiny home for a night. There are always bears lurking outside of it. In Alaska, one must usually keep the fly on in case of weather, which means the tent also serves as a steam room — a disgusting kind of steam room fueled by coffee-flavored-potato-chip breath. The tent/steam room gets especially hot because of the midnight sun, which really starts to heat up in what is rationally considered the early morning.

Due to the lack of sleep because of the bears everywhere outside of the tent and the humidity inside, it is not common to actually remove the rain fly in the morning even when it’s sunny. I try to sleep in as much as possible, even if I’m uncomfortable and not really sleeping at all.

Trail. In the Valley where I live, a trail is a cut across the wilderness that goes straight uphill. What is a switchback, you ask? I don’t know. Never met one up here. In Palmer, we like our trails straightforward, our hearts pumping and our calf muscles overextended.

Weather. Weather is what happens when there’s a sunny weekend forecast. On the flip side, when it’s supposed to be rainy weather, there is instead a stunning Alaska day that makes me question whether it’s ever anything but gorgeous here.

View. What makes it all worth it.

Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.

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