What’s in a (trail) name?

What’s in a (trail) name?

What’s in a trail name? A story. And it is bound to be a good one! Trail names are nicknames bestowed upon hikers, often due to personality traits or unfortunate incidents. Some trail names are given based on where the hiker came from: Chicago and Texas. Others are adopted because of food and beverage choices: Fireball, Snickers and Taco. Trekking qualities morph into nicknames such as Roadrunner, Speed Racer, Swift Scout and Fire God. Big emotions transform hikers into Meltdown and Cry Baby. Hiking mistakes inspire hilarious names: Red Eye, Carrot Top, First Blood and Shit Foot. I enjoy hearing the stories behind the trail names and hikers love to tell them. Having a trail name is like a right of passage. It means a hiker has been on the trail long enough to be adopted into a new family of distance hikers.

A close up view of the white painted blaze on a tree.
A white blaze marks the path for Appalachian Trail hikers.

I didn’t have a trail name until 2.5 years ago. While hiking for a week with a crew of 20 something folks, I was dubbed quite simply, “Mom”. I tried out my name for a few weeks, and although it felt natural, as I am a mom, it wasn’t very unique. Thus, I defaulted back to using my real first name.

A paper nametag with the words "My Name Is ..."

Several weeks later, I was christened a new name. Since the New Jersey portion of the Appalachian Trail traverses private land, hikers must camp at designated locations. For this reason, the shelter areas resemble little tent towns, and hikers often move en masse to the next shelter or camp site. I met Lamb Chop, a school teacher from California, early in the day at a watering hole. While we filtered the stream water into our bottles, we exchanged names and chatted about our hiking goals for the day. I offered my birth name and she asked if I had a trail name. I shrugged and I shared that I had been recently named “Mom” but that it didn’t feel quite right. After a day of hiking close by each other, she said that “Mom” was a good start, but that it needed to be finessed.

That night at camp, I set up my tent, ate my food and got ready for bed. As I walked to the privy one last time, Lamb Chop spied me and exclaimed, “You are Pajama Mama!” After a long sweaty day of hiking, I change into lightweight pjs. It is my one luxury item that seems to make climbing into my sleeping bag feel a little more like home.

The next day, I used my new trail name for the first time, signing it after my brief journal entry in the shelter notebook. Thanks, Lamb Chop, for christening me with a unique and fun name! I truly doubt that there are others with this moniker, as I have yet to meet another mothering hiker sportin’ pink pajamas!

A woman in pink pajamas standing beside her tent and backpack
Sportin’ pink pajamas in the Grand Canyon.

Note: I keep a running list of the trail names of hikers whom I’ve met over the past few years. I’ve listened to all of their stories. Well, all but one. I never asked Shit Foot his story … I can only imagine what happened in his situation and my guess is enough to continue to make me chuckle.

Why I hike the Appalachian Trail: The People

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