Trail culture is a myriad of different perspectives and actions culminating in a completely varied lifestyle for the trail inhabitants. One of those differences from realism is trail names. Besides section and day hikers it’s hard to find a hiker going by there given name. A trail name can be earned, given, decreed, or woefully happened upon.
Elmer, the elderly hiker who ran a hostel in Hot Springs, taught a little history on the subject. When hiking the AT started to gain more popularity a larger outcropping of people with common names appeared. It became hard to distinguish all the Matts’, Dans’ and Jessicas’ you would meet. Trail Names were invented to distinguish all types of individuals on the trail, whether it be to recognize a friend in shelter logs, share common mutual acquaintances, avoid specific individuals, etc. Over the years enough people have endeavored to hike the trail that nowadays even trail names are often repeated and overused. However, the community is still small enough to distinguish separate peoples.
Trail names can be earned in comedic and serious ways, lookalikes are common as are ironic name-callings. Sometimes it can be hard to fully understand a trail name until you actually meet the person and hear their story. These names are so ingratiated in the culture that thru-hikers will finish the AT never knowing someone’s real name, even in the modern landscape. It is the preferred nomenclature, a step away from reality, a vindication of what the trail really is. Trail names are a huge part of the culture and one way to understand a fellow hikers place on the trail.
These names are given and not brandished upon oneself. Your actions, beliefs, appearance, and more can distinguish your trail name. There is no rhyme or reason, but it becomes part of your identity while hiking. Some examples include: Haymitch, who resembles Woody Harrelson; Yeti, who hiked over Blood Mountain in shorts and a t-shirt; Lukewalker, who is a hiker diagnosed with Leukemia; Pantry, who carries a pantry of supplies in his pack; Old School, her pack was from the 80’s; Recon, who would scope out tent sites on the PCT; and myself, Yukon, for resembling Yukon Cornelius from the Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer cartoon. These are just a few of the multitude of names that hikers take on while out on the trail.
While in Hiawassee, GA I was told by a group of friends that I resembled the character Yukon Cornelius. Although slightly begrudgingly I accepted the name both because its truthfulness and the growing number of people calling me Yukon. Names can be changed or voted down, depending on the reason, but most are in good taste and fair. Some, like Slug, who woke up after a night of trail drinking with slugs all over his face, or Ziploc, who had to go to the bathroom and resorted to a Ziploc bag (I’ll let you imagine how it happened), aren’t the most prideful names, but their stories are unique and memorable.
Trail names are a wonderful, unique part of hiking culture and help cement the dramatic difference between life on the trail and off it. These differences can be rooted in realism or completely whimsical, but they contribute to the significant parity between the “real” world and the hiking community.