What is Hiker Trash?

What is Hiker Trash?

The label ‘Hiker Trash’ is a term of endearment for those in the long-distance hiking community who have chosen to ditch social norms and live another way while on a trail journey. That ‘another way’ can be both wondrous and freeing, yet also a bit confusing to those that come upon us outside a grocery store as we shovel chips in our mouths with one hand while stuffing our backpacks full of noodles with the other.

So what is Hiker Trash really and why do we do the questionable things we do? To be clear, it’s by no means a put-down or insult when we’re referred to as Hiker Trash; it’s more like a badge of honor. We happily own this odd, quirky existence as something like an off-beat subculture. We hold our heads high when parading through town in our stench after days in the woods, on the usual search for plentiful food of any kind, charging outlets, and WiFi. We embrace our filthy socks, pit-stained shirts, and farmer-tan legs as a testament to our insane goals (“Wanna do 42 miles with me to get to that hiker feed dinner?”) and zany moments (“Ahhh, the mosquitoes won’t let me go poop!!”) while hiking a long-distance trail.

Hiker Trash comes in many shapes and sizes, and it’s all beautiful.Hiker Trash comes in many shapes and sizes, and it’s all beautiful.
Hiker Trash comes in many shapes and sizes, and it’s all beautiful. 

It’s been said that changes occur in the brain as a result of distancing from mainstream society, so possibly that can explain the abnormal actions of Hiker Trash. I personally think that when given room to breathe and let loose, you begin to no longer care what other people think. You realize all the talk on profession, money, and status doesn’t matter much when you come together with a tribe of people who share common goals: to hike, be outside, live simpler, and eat as much as possible.

To explain or define hiker trash further is best done with examples and imagery. Whether you’re genuinely curious about the term, or wondering if this is your new identity, here are some classic scenarios of Hiker Trash to the core.

How to Identify Hiker Trash

I was once told there’s an easy way to identify Hiker Trash by this scenario: You’re walking along a sidewalk and see half a candy bar on the ground. A day hiker would walk right on by. A section hiker may glance and consider it. But true Hiker Trash would snatch it up and then look around for more. Gross? Nah, we’re just always hungry. While on a thru-hike, the average male burns 4,000-6,000 calories per day, and for women, it’s 3,000-5,000. I repeat: We’re just always hungry.

We hike hard, but we rest hard, too.
We hike hard, but we rest hard, too.

How to Identify Proper Hiker Trash

I know, you’re thinking that ‘Proper’ and ‘Hiker Trash’ can’t go together. Yet as someone who identifies herself as Hiker Trash, I want to say there’s a right way to embody this status. Hiking a long trail may be an individual’s choice, yet it truly takes the support of many other amazing beings who tolerate our stinky bodies in their cars, businesses, and eateries.

I’ve sadly witnessed some thru-hikers who take on an attitude of entitlement as if we deserve to be treated like royalty simply because we’re taking on a big feat. Sorry, but that doesn’t fly with me. I believe in being respectful to all hikers, trail angels, business owners, and residents I pass on the street when visiting their trail town. Wearing the badge of Hiker Trash means we’re stewards of the trail and the values it represents. To me, being a part of the trail community weaves in values of kindness, inclusion, a willingness to help others and connect on a real-deal level, all while treating nature with awe and care.

Being Hiker Trash doesn’t mean it’s okay to act trashy. Manners go a long way and so does picking up after yourself. Set a good example so it doesn’t ruin it for other hikers to come later; it’s a shame when you hear a hostel owner tell you she’s going to close because hikers aren’t considerate.

Portion control is left far behind when you reach Hiker Trash status
Portion control is left far behind when you reach Hiker Trash status.

Signs of Hiker Trash

If you’re Hiker Trash, maybe you’ve experienced some (or all) of the following acts. If you’ve been on the other side as a non-hiker (perhaps the nice postal worker or motel owner who insists he open all the windows while checking us in), you’ve likely witnessed these scenes before. Here are some tell-tale signs that Hiker Trash abound.

  • Your raincoat also serves as a shirt and the compactor bag that lines your pack becomes a skirt as you walk around town, waiting for your clothes to dry at the laundromat.
  • Forget the laundromat, you just wash your clothes in the bathtub at the motel.
  • Forget washing your clothes, they still smell anyway after you wash them.
  • The lesson your parents taught you about not talking to strangers didn’t seem to sink in when it comes to eagerly accepting an invitation to stay at someone’s home that you just met in the street, because you are enticed by a hot shower and a bed.
  • Ignoring your parents rings true again when quickly jumping into a car for a hitch to town, with images of burgers dancing in your head.
  • How many hikers with backpacks can you fit in a sedan after waiting an hour for a ride? Oh, just wait and see Hiker Trash do this; we’ve mastered the art.
Hiker Trash is often seen hitchhiking together
Hiker Trash is often seen hitchhiking together.
  • You realize you must smell very, very bad when another Hiker Trash tells you so.
  • When you shower, you think there’s something wrong if the water running off your body isn’t brown.
  • It doesn’t bother you to hang your undergarments off your pack to dry, even when
    walking into a store.
  • Your hiking shirt begins to disintegrate where your pack straps rub, or your socks
    rip, but you keep them anyway because you think it makes you look even more Hiker Trashy.
Hiker Trash always gather when there’s trail magic with food and drink, even if they just ate, because there’s always room for more.
Hiker Trash always gather when there’s trail magic with food and drink, even if they just ate because there’s always room for more.
  • You base your resupply stops on whether the town has an All-U-Can-Eat Buffet or not.
  • Your face lights up like a Christmas tree when you rummage through a hiker box and find copious amounts of chocolate.
  • You have no shame in eating out of someone else’s half-used Nutella jar…because it’s Nutella.
  • You eat a pint of ice cream and wonder why they make servings so small these days?
  • You give up on ice cream pints and simply pack out ice cream bars so you can eat them while you hike out to save time.
Ice cream in town is often a must for Hiker Trash
Ice cream in town is often a must for Hiker Trash.
  • Your beard is so long it can be braided.
  • You have to remind yourself constantly that you can’t just spit or pee at will when
    not on the trail.
  • You’re often sniffing around for charging outlets in bathrooms or on restaurant
    porches, and when you find one, it becomes your new home for five hours.
  • You’ve acquired the skill of how to open a bottle of wine with a tent stake.
  • You’re happy to set up in an outhouse during a rainstorm to stay dry and eat dinner while thinking you’ve struck the lottery in scoring such a palace.
  • You speak in code with other Hiker Trash with lingo like, “hiker hunger, hiker midnight, near-o, slackpack.’
  • You’re set up outside a grocery store, taking all your food out of the packaging and putting it in your pack, and someone comes by and offers you money.
  • The phrase ‘trail magic’ is the biggest turn-on ever
  • Extreme-Sport Loitering has taken on a whole new meaning when it comes to sprawling out, eating, drinking, and napping outside of local businesses that let you do so.
When you meet past thru-hikers who buy you a round of beers, Hiker Trash spirit is happy and thankful!
When you meet past thru-hikers who buy you a round of beers, Hiker Trash spirit is happy and thankful!
  • Food that you once thought would go horrible together is now your favorite snack (Fritos with peanut butter and tuna on a wrap anyone?)
  • Eight people staying in one hotel room seems perfectly reasonable to you.
  • Taking all your gear out of your backpack and drying it on decks, lawns, park benches and fences is totally normal.
  • Hawaiian shirts, trucker hats, fluorescent-colored running shorts, kilts, buffs – Hiker Trash Fashion adds flavor and personality to the outfit you wear every damn day for five or six months.
Socks in a state like these can bring you to Hiker Trash status real fast
Socks in a state like these can bring you to Hiker Trash status real fast.

Some might define Hiker Trash as those who have sunk down to a lower standard of living, yet I strongly disagree. When I’m on trail, I feel I actually have a higher standard of living in terms of connection with the land, with other humans and myself. Sure, I’m dirty on the outside, but if you look in the eyes of most Hiker Trash, they are bright and shining on the inside.

So what is Hiker Trash? It’s a way of being, with a free spirit that stays clean even when smelly. And that’s enough said.

About the author

Heather Daya Rideout has been a life-long outdoorswoman. Her pursuits and passion for hiking and camping have taken her around the world for many long-distance trips; such as backpacking in Nepal, India, South America, Morocco, Europe, and North America. Heather has hiked the Appalachian Trail, 2,250 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, and a route of 1,500 miles combining several Camino routes through Spain and Portugal. On any given day she would rather be outdoors than anything else and her lifestyle is a direct reflection of that deep love affair with nature. Heather currently lives in Idaho and she’s having a wondrous time experiencing the beauty it offers. You can read some of her other writing at www.wanderyoga.com.

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