A trail name is the hiker version of a nom de plume or
- They want to separate themselves from their regular daily lives that they live under their regular names. This is why people backpack in the first place – to get away from their regular lives.
- Trail names allow what happens on the trail to stay on the trail.
- They can serve as a sort of brand name, like Roaming Parkers.
- Trail names create a sense of community among the people that share the trail with you at that point in time.
- They serve as a mnemonic for the iconic stories that define that person’s experience of that trail.
- Trail names can be a
greatconversation starter, “So, how’d you end up with the handle, Special Cookie?”
- Plus, it’s just plain fun!
So, how do you get a trail name? There are about two ways
- You can give yourself one before you get onto the trail. This is nice because it allows you more control to define yourself and your hiking life the way that you want it.
- Or you can wait for the trail denizens to give you one that sticks. This is a more natural and organic and spontaneous way to end up with a trail name and this method celebrates the connection of the trail name to the stories and experiences of the trail.
Once I went on a KODIAK trek – a high-adventure leadership course with elements themed around the Alaskan Kodiak bear. During the trek, we gave everyone a bear-related trail name. There was Papa Bear, Unbearable, Barely Movin, Barefoot, Water-Bearer, Raspberry, and Poo Bear!
We even know a hiker whose mom and dad gave him a trail name when he was born – Walker – prophetic or self-fulfilling prophesy?
Other trail personae we have met –
- Alien – A lovely lady we know received this trail name because of some trail bling that the Roaming Parkers gave her – a little green alien keychain. Later on the AT, other hikers saw the alien that she was using as a zipper pull on her pack and she got to tell the story of our hike together!
- Gucchi – Whenever someone on the AT would ask this fellow how he was doing, he’d say, “Everything’s Gucchi,” as in golden or great. He said it so often that people started calling him Gucchi.
- Special Cookie – The story goes that some teens on the trail shared a “special homemade cookie” with this fellow on the AT, rendering him especially talkative for several hours.
- Sally Forth – This is a college buddy of mine who, after 25-some odd years of a career, set out on the AT to challenge and motivate and redefine herself, so Sally Forth became a cute trail name to remind her of her purpose in that trek!