Info:Trail Glossary

From Trailville
Jump to: navigation, search Trail Glossary These are some terms you may run into that relate to trails or trail activities and equipment (mountain biking, skiing, hiking, paddling). These are my definitions based on my understanding of the terminology and therefore may not be entirely accurate. I do not intend this to be a comprehensive glossary of absolutely everything trail, so I have tried to avoid using some obvious and some obscure terms in an effort to avoid clutter.


A to D

All mountain
term originated in alpine skiing and refers to a type of ski (and subsequently a type of skiing) designed to be used in a broad variety of conditions. Mountain biking adapted the term to describes a bike design and type of riding that lies somewhere between cross country and downhill.
high elevation areas above the treeline
Alpine Skiing
this is what most of us know as downhill skiing. See wikipedia article Alpine Skiing
Animal trail
trail created by repeated use from animals (usually large grazing animals such as deer, elk, moose, etc). Animal trails often intersect with or spur off of other trails (hiking trails, bike trails, dirt roads) because the animals will frequently use these existing trails as part of their transportation system. Animal trails generally lead to food and water sources and tend to not go very far in any one direction. Animal trails are also referred to as "game trails".
small rounded rocks protruding from the trail surface that are roughly the size and shape of ... well ... babyheads.
remote areas of the wilderness, generally undeveloped and possibly without formal trails.
Backcountry skiing.
though others may have different opinions as to the definition of backcountry skiing, I define it as off-trail mountain skiing. In other words, heading off into the mountains on skis where no chairlifts, groomers, or shuttles exist. There are many varying forms of backcountry skiing (and the associated equipment) that include variations of both Nordic and Alpine skiing. Backcountry skiing is also sometimes called ski touring, but that just adds to the confusion. Wikipedia has an interesting article on Ski Touring.
Backcountry skis
encompasses a wide range of ski and ski boot/binding systems that are intended for skiing ungroomed snow. Backcountry skis range from skis designed for mountain skiing (design focused on downhill capabilities) to skis designed for cross-country skiing on ungroomed trails (heavier, stiffer, wider versions of cross-country skis, sometimes with metal edges).
Backwoods skiing
I use this term to describe cross-country skiing on ungroomed hiking trails or off trail (bushwacking, skiing frozen rivers and lakes, etc) in non-mountain areas. Some people (and some equipment manufacturers) consider this to be a form of backcountry skiing, but the equipment and technique used for backcountry skiing (in the mountains) is so different that it can be confusing to lump both types of skiing in the same classification.
benching a trail involves digging into the side of a slope to build a flat surface for a trail traversing a slope.
on a trail a berm would be a curve in the trail where the outside of the curve is higher (banked) than the inside of the curve allowing for easier (and faster) turning on a bike or skis. A berm can also refer to any raised mound of earth.
mechanism mounted to skis and snowboards that allow the boot to connect to the ski. See wikipedia article Ski binding
Black diamond
originated with downhill skiing and refers to the most difficult runs. Also used in cross-country skiing and mountain biking to describe the most difficult trails or sections of trails.
a trail marker usually consisting of a colored marking on a tree (either a painted mark or a colored metal or plastic small sign). See Hiking Trails Page for more information on blazes.
a downed tree. Usually a downed tree that crosses a trail or river.
Blue wax day
for cross-country skiers (and especially classic style skiers) a blue wax day represents ideal conditions where the snow is fast yet you can get very good grip with blue kick wax (generally temperatures in the upper teens to mid 20s Fahrenheit ). Ski waxes are color coded for temperature ranges and snow conditions and blue is the color used for the temperature range previously stated.
a steep bank usually created by erosion from a river or wave action from a lake or ocean. I'm not absolutely certain on this one, but I think if it's rocky is called a cliff and if it's made of softer materials it's called a bluff.
a type of wetland where the ground becomes very spongy due to the types of vegetation that have existed there for generations. The sponginess is due to the formation of peat.
Brake bumps
a type of erosion that occurs on mountain bike trails in sections that require significant braking. You most likely see this near the bottoms of downhills or on in the runout of a downhill going into a turn. It basically results in a really bumpy trail surface that progressively gets worse.
describes clothing and gear that allows water vapors to pass through them. See also Waterproof Breathable
a stash of supplies along a trail or route.
trail marker consisting of rocks stacked in a manner that makes it obvious they were intentionally stacked (not just a natural pile of rocks). Cairns are often used instead of blazes in places where there are few trees such as deserts and bald hilltops and ridges. See Hiking Trails Page for more information on cairns.
a generally lightweight narrow boat that usually has an open deck and is propelled manually through the use of a single bladed paddle. Solo canoes are designed for a single paddler in the center of the boat, while tandem canoes are designed for two paddlers (one at each end). Canoes also come in many forms including racing canoes, touring canoes, and whitewater canoes.
a steep very sided valley usually created by erosion from a creek or river. The wall of a canyon are similar to cliffs.
an underground cavity or void.
the main path of water in a river generally defined by banks (riverbanks) on either side. Also, the deepest most navigable portion of the river. May also be used to describe a water passage in a lake or sea that runs between two landforms.
Classic skiing
a style of cross country skiing where the skier propels himself forward through the use of a grippy wax (kick wax) or grip pattern under the center portion of each ski and the skis run parallel to each other. Kicking and gliding are the actions synonymous with classic style skiing. Classic style skiing is also known as Diagonal Stride style skiing since the diagonal stride is the term used to describe the kick and glide technique.
Classic track
refers to a set of parallel tracks groomed into the snow to facilitate the classic style of cross-country skiing. Can also refer to similar tracks created by other skiers. See Cross Country Ski Trail Article for photo showing classic groomed track.
a steep (vertical or near vertical) face of rock.
Climbing skins
climbing skins are strips of synthetic materials that can be temporarily attached to skis (with adhesives and/or straps) to allow traction for going uphill. The term "skins" comes from the fact that initially climbing skins were strips of animal pelts. Climbing skins are used in Backcountry skiing.
Clipless pedals
very confusing bicycling term that describes a pedal/shoe system where a cleat attached to the sole of a specially designed shoe clips into a specially designed pedal to essentially attach the rider to the bike. The term clipless was given to these systems years ago because they were used to replace the toe clips and straps systems (see toe clips) that were used at the time (and still available today). So essentially, because you were no longer using toe clips you were now considered "clipless". Today, if you are "clipping in", then you are doing so on clipless pedals.
the small rills of snow made by ski trail groomers. Cross Country Ski Trail Article for photo showing groomed corduroy.
in cross-country skiing, a cork is block of cork (or synthetic material) used to rub wax onto the base of the ski.
the act of using a block of cork to rub wax onto the base of a ski
a body of flowing water smaller than a river. A small stream.
Cross-country mountain biking.
describes a type of mountain biking (and mountain bike) that involves biking a variety of terrain over longer distances. Bikes designed for cross-country mountain biking focus more on efficiency and therefore tend to be lighter and have a more forward leaning riding position than downhill (or freeride, or all mountain, or …) mountain bikes. They also have lower travel suspension and often do not have rear suspension.
Cross-country skiing
also known as Nordic skiing ,free-heel skiing, or XC skiing, cross-country skiing is a type of skiing that focuses on being able to efficiently ski flats and uphills as well as downhills. The most notable difference between cross-country ski equipment and downhill (Alpine) ski equipment is the lighter weight and the binding that does not secure the heel to the ski. However, with so many forms of cross-country ski equipment available today, the line between cross-country ski equipment and downhill ski equipment sometimes is not as clear.
Crust skiing
crust skiing is more of a snow condition than a skiing technique. When a thaw and refreeze (or multiple thaw/freeze cycles)in uncompacted snow result in a crusty surface strong enough to support a skier, you have crust skiing. Crust skiing is not done on trails since most trails would have already been compacted by skiers or hikers, but rather crust skiing is done off-trail through the woods provided the snow is deeper than the underbrush or can be done in open areas such as in parks and on golf courses. The nature of the crusty surface created under these conditions makes for some great skiing (either classic or skate style). See my video of Crust Skiing
the flow of water in a river, stream, or creek.
a smaller backpack designed to hole supplies and equipment for a trip that does not including camping overnight.
Diagonal Stride
technique used in Classic Style cross-country skiing where the skier propels himself forward through the use of a grippy wax (kick wax) or grip pattern under the center portion of each ski and the skis run parallel to each other.
Discharge rate
the volume of water that passes a specific point within a specific amount of time. Usually measured in cubic feet per second (CFS), discharge rate is used by river users to help determine the paddling conditions. It's important to note that the discharge rate measurement alone, does not tell you much at all about the speed of the current you will encounter since the actual speed of the current is a result of the discharge rate AND the width and depth and structure and grade of the channel. In other words, the same discharge rate in two different rivers or even two different sections of the same river can result in drastically different paddling conditions. The USGSprovides online discharge rate information for many US rivers and streams.
a type of jump that consists of a take-off ramp and a landing with a gap in between.
a type of trail that consists of two parallel tracks usually created by the left and right wheels of motor vehicles that use or have used the trail previously. The term is primarily used by mountain bikers. See Mountain Bike Trails Article for a photo of doubletrack.
Double polling
technique used in cross-country skiing where the skier propels himself forward through the use of the ski poles only, pushing off of both poles at the same time. Double polling is useful to increase speed on gradual downhills but can also be used on the flats.
a type of skiing or mountain biking that ahh.. well … you know … goes down the hill.
Draw stroke
paddling technique used to move the boat sideways by reaching out to the side of the boat with the paddle then pulling it towards you.
mountain biking or ski term used to describe a ledge or similar type of terrain that you would ride off the edge of.

E to H

a small section of a river channel where the current flow in a direction other than the main channel current. Eddies are usually located on the downstream side of a large rock or other obstruction.
the height above sea level. Used on topographic maps.
large boulders or chunks of rock moved from their point of origination and left behind by receding glaciers. Erratics often look out of place because their makup may not match the rocks naturally occurring in the area plus they are often very large isolated boulders that appear to just be sitting on top of the ground. Erratics I have encountered are generally between the size of a small car and the size of a house.
a geological feature that generally results in an extended almost continuous series of cliffs or bluffs. See Wikipedia article on Escarpment
see Waterfall
Fire Road
see Forest Road
describes paddling conditions where fast currents, rapids, or large waves are not present. Generally used to describe slower moving rivers or typical lakes. See also Quietwater.
a flat low-lying area along a river or other body of water that regularly floods. When a river overflows it's banks, the water expands across the floodplain. The floodplain itself may have it's own set of banks defining it.
used by mountain bikers to describe trails that may have many changes in direction and elevation, but are situated in a way such that you just seem to flow through them (not a lot of sudden stops and starts or very sharp changes in direction). Flowy is somewhat subjective because a better rider can make a flowy ride out of a trail that another rider may not feel is flowy. Basically, you'll know flowy when feel it.
an area of land with a high density of trees. The density of trees in a forest is such that the canopy has very little if any open areas in it. Higher tree density than a woodland.
Forest Road
sometimes referred to as "Fire Roads", forest roads are access roads made to provide access for logging, land management, fire control, or other uses. Forest roads may be gravel or natural surfaced roads and may be wide enough for two vehicles to pass or may be a narrow road only wide enough for a single vehicle. See Mountain Bike Trails Article for a photo of a forest road.
Free-heel skiing
used to describe any type of skiing where the ski binding connects the toe of the boot to the ski but allows the heel to move vertically (the toe connection acts somewhat like a hinge). See also Nordic Skiing
type of mountain biking where drops, jumps, and various stunts are incorporated into the trail (usually a downhill trail). Also describes the specific mountain bikes designed for this type of riding. The term freeride implies that you are just riding any type of terrain available with or without a trail, but the use of constructed stunts into a fixed trail sort of confuses the definition. Also see North Shore
Front suspension
mountain biking term that describes a bike with a suspension fork (fork with shocks) on the front.
Full suspension
mountain biking term that describes a bike with a suspension (shock) fork on the front and some type of shock on the frame to provide suspension for the rear.
Gage height
the water level in a river, stream, or lake relative to the gage's zero point. Usually measured in feet, gage height measures the water level, but is not a direct measure of water depth in that the measure is relative to a zero point on the gage and not the river bottom. The USGSprovides online gage height information for many US rivers and streams. Also see the USGS page on How Streamflow is Measured
a container placed somewhere and located via GPS coordinates. Coordinates are published usually on the web and "Geocachers" go "Geocaching" with their GPSs to find the container. A logbook and possibly various trinkets are placed in the cache. Oh yeah, and they call this a sport.
Glide wax
Type of wax used in skiing that reduces the friction between the ski and the snow.
a passage usually created by a river or stream with two steep sides. Deeper and larger than a ravine. A canyon.
global positioning system. A system that uses satellites to provide location information (latitude, longitude, elevation). Describes the system or just the device
Grip wax
see Kick wax
the preparation of snow on ski and snowmobile trails. Grooming compacts the snow, evens the surface, and provides tracks or other surface features appropriate for the specific activity.
a narrow valley created by erosion.
a ditch created by erosion. Smaller than a gulch or ravine.
describes trail conditions where the surface is compacted (often through heavy trail use)into a hard surface. Hard packed mountain bike trails are generally very fast trails that provide a lot of control, while hard packed ski trails result in a fast surface (feels icy but isn't really ice) but is more difficult to ski.
a mountain bike with front suspension but no suspension in the rear.
walking through a natural environment
Hiking Trail
any outdoor trail passing through a natural environment where people choose to walk. See Hiking Trails Article.
I've encountered this term used in mountain biking, skiing, and whitewater kayaking referring to the action of heaving oneself upward and forward off of a ledge (on your bike, skis, or in your kayak). Hucking and hucker are variations of the term.
paddling term used to describe a more turbulent form of an eddy (see Eddy) where the current can trap a paddler. Holes can be very dangerous.
Hydration pack
a backpack that includes a bladder to hold water or other liquids that can be accessed through a small hose.

I to M

Impact crater
I use this term to describe the big potholes in ski trails created by skiers that had an unplanned encounter with the surface of the trail. Also describes the craters created by meteors or other objects striking the earth.
Informal trails
I use this term to describe trails that were not planned, created by, or officially recognized by the owner of the land (public or private). Technically, many of these trails are illegal, though they are often tolerated. In fact, many of the "official" hiking and mountain biking trails on public lands started out as informal trails.
a paddle stroke where the paddle is pushed away from the boat near the end of the stroke to offset the slight turning of the boat that would otherwise occur from paddling on one side.
Jeep Trail
the definition of jeep trails varies depending on which part of the country you are in. In some places, jeep trail is used interchangeably with forest roads. In other places it is similar to a forest road, but not in a forest (access roads in the desert or mountains). Or, it's just a natural surfaced or gravel/crushed stone road that is difficult to ride without the use of a higher ground clearance (and possibly 4-wheel drive) vehicle. And then there are trails designed specifically for recreational use for 4-wheel drive vehicles (jeeps). Take your pick.
a bump or small hill that allows a mountain biker or skier to get airborne. Types of jumps may include doubles, tabletops, kickers.
a glacial feature consisting of a hill or ridge created by the melting glaciers. A Kame is basically a big pile of gravel that eventually became covered with sediment.
a small lightweight boat similar to a canoe but with a closed deck and usually propelled by a double bladed paddle. Sea kayaks are long and narrow and are designed for efficiently moving the boat across large open areas of water. Whitewater kayaks are much shorter than sea kayaks are designed primarily for their maneuverability. See wikipedia article Kayak
a glacial feature that resembles a large bowl-shaped depression. Kettles are created when large blocks of ice became buried under the moraine (gravel and other debris left by glaciers). When the blocks of ice eventually melted, a sinkhole is created that eventually settles into a more stable kettle.
Kick wax
also called grip wax or classic wax or hard wax, kick wax it a somewhat sticky wax applied to the center of a classic cross country ski to provide traction when the ski is compressed into the snow.
Kick zone
the area on the bottom of a cross country ski where the kick wax is applied. Also called the wax pocket.
any bump or small jump that allows a mountain biker or skier (or bmxer, skateboarder or . . . )to get airborne. Since this term is used in numerous sports, it's definition can vary a bit. Some consider a kicker to be a formed jump that curves up giving you more upward movement while others call typical wedge-shaped jumps kickers.
a small structure (sometimes not much more than a sign) often located at trailheads to provide visitors with information regarding the trail.
a very sticky substance applied to the kick zone of a cross-country ski to provide traction in icy or very wet snow conditions. Klister is used in place of or in combination with kick wax.
a wooden structure where short wooden cross planks are attached to a log, a couple of logs, or a some wooden stringers to create a crude bridge or ramp (that looks like a ladder, duh). The term is most often used within the context of North Shore style mountain biking.
Lake-effect snow
snow created when cold arctic air flows across a large body of warmer water. We frequently get lake-effect snow along the Great Lakes. Since the cold winter winds tend to blow from the north and west, the east and south shores of the great lakes tend to get the most lake-effect snow.
a rock shelf or outcropping on a trail or in a river that results in a sudden drop in elevation.
a section of river where downed trees and branches (and other debris) collect and block or partially block the channel.
a trail or series of connecting trails that result in the ability to return to the point of origination without backtracking on the trail.
Low-head Dam
a type of dam that spans the river but is only a little higher than the normal water levels. The drop below a low head dam may be anything from a few inches to several feet. Low-head dams look rather benign but can be very dangerous to paddlers due to the current created below the dam that can trap paddlers up against the dam. At high water, many low-head dams will be completely submerged (not as dangerous under these conditions). See a low-head dam video at There is another video you can download at that shows the drowning of rescue workers at a low head dam in Binghamton, NY.
a grassy area of wetlands.
accumulations of rocky debris left by glaciers. End moraine is the accumulation of moraine left at the end of the glacier.
Mountain bike trail
an off-road, natural surfaced trail where the use of a fat tire bicycle has a substantial advantage over the use of a skinny tire bicycle. See Mountain Bike Trails Article.
Multi-use trail
a trail that allows multiple uses. In most cases this means some combination of hiking, biking, skating, equestrian, and ski use, but may also include motorized use such as snowmobiles or ATVs.

N to R

National Forest
a designation of public lands. National Forests provide many recreational opportunities for trail users but unlike National Parks, National Forests are also used for timber harvesting, livestock grazing, and have far fewer restrictions on trail and other uses, therefore you will commonly find ATV, snowmobile, and mountain bike trails in National Forests as well as hunting and trapping. Facilities in National Forests are usually less developed than National Parks.
National Park
a designation of public lands that protects natural areas and provides recreational opportunities. National Parks encompass some of the most scenic natural areas of the country and prohibit activities such as mining, timber harvesting, and many motorized vehicle activities. For the most part, mountain biking is not allowed in national parks, but there are tremendous trail opportunities for hiking and skiing.
Nature Trail
Nature Trails are a fairly specific category of trail and are generally short loops (usually between a half mile and couple of miles in length) designed specifically for casual viewing of nature. They are usually well-maintained well-marked trails with fairly gentle grades (though some may have some moderately steep sections). Also see Self-guided Nature Trail.
Nordic Skiing
more commonly known as cross-country skiing
North shore
confusing geographic term that means a different place depending upon what part of the country you are in. In mountain biking, North shore is a style of mountain biking and a type of trail that originated in the North Shore of British Columbia and makes use of various constructed stunts including ladders, skinnies, hucks, jumps, and drops. Also referred to as Freeride mountain biking (though not exactly the same thing).
use of a map and compass to navigate across terrain. Orienteering has become a competitive sport, but then again, what hasn't?
a type of trail or a specific route where you go to a destination point, then turn around and retrace the same route back to the point of origination.
a location along a trail that provide a view of surrounding areas from a higher elevation.
an implement used to paddle a canoe or kayak. A canoe paddle has a flattened blade at one end, while a kayak paddle has a blade at both ends. Historically, paddles were made of wood, but today they may also be made of combinations of plastic, aluminum, and composite materials such as carbon fiber.
personal floatation device. Life jacket.
those who use or create trails illegally. See Poaching (below)
illegal use of trails. Commonly used by mountain bikers, poaching refers to riding trails where bikes are prohibited or riding illegal trails on private land. May also refer to illegally creating new trails. These trails are sometimes referred to as Poached Trails.
a route or type of trail that leads from a point of origination to a specific destination with no return trip to the point of origination.
bowls formed in the bedrock of a river where swirling waters catch rocks that grind away at the bedrock. Potholes are very smooth and can be quite deep (several feet or more). Some of the bigger potholes I have encountered were created by melting glaciers, but I have also encountered active potholes in rivers (you see them at low water).
an extremely steep cliff
Pry stroke
paddling stroke used to steer or move the boat sideways. The paddler uses the gunwale of the boat as a fulcrum to pry the paddle.
Pump track
not really a trail, a pump track is a small dirt mountain bike/bmx course set up with numerous bumps, jumps, and berms designed to allow you to ride the course continuously without pedaling by using weight shifts (pumping) and gravity. These courses can be small enough to fit in your back yard (probably not in a city lot).
a description of rivers and lakes as well as a type of paddling. Quietwater implys slower currents and gentler waters than whitewater but does note mean "still" water. Quietwater paddling may involve moderately gently rapids and riffles (class I to the low end of class II rapids), but does not include the turbulent waters classified as whitewater. In other words, Not Whitewater.
Rails to trails
a method of converting old railroad right-of-ways to multi-use trails. Trails resulting from this conversion tend to be relatively straight and flat with gentle grades and very gradual turns (if any), and often result in some very long point-to-point trails. Visit the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy for additional information.
a fast moving section of river created by a steep gradient and characterized by turbulent water created by the combination of fast moving water, and an uneven river bed and/or large rocks or boulders in the river. See Wikepedia article on International Scale of River Difficulty
a steep sided valley usually created by erosion from a creek or river.
a long narrow piece of land elevated significantly higher than the surrounding land. Kind of an extended elongated peak. Sometimes a series of hills spaced so close as to create a continuous area of higher elevation.
a shallow area in a river or stream that causes the water move faster and become a little choppy. Riffles are generally categorized by rocky or gravelly river bottoms and are not as choppy and dramatic as a rapid.
refers to a bicycle without and type of suspension.
a larger flow or water. A river is larger than a creek or stream (though the scientific definition of stream would include rivers).
Rock garden
a section of trail where there are many large rocks protruding well above the base trail surface. May also describe a section of river with many rocks that would be obstacles for paddlers.
rolling is part of the grooming process for cross-country ski trails. When a trail is said to have been "rolled" it means that the fresh snow on the trail has been compacted to a firm flat surface.
in trail terms, roots are the exposed tree roots that protrude above the base trail surface. Exposed roots on trails are usually the result of erosion from foot or bike traffic, and can be very slippery when moisture is present.
tracks or depressions in trails generally caused by tires or erosion. In ski trails, ruts can be caused by skis in soft snow.

S to Z

an area of grasslands or prairie with widely scattered trees.
small rocks or gravel that has accumulated below a cliff or steep rocky slope. Scree is smaller than talus.
Self-guided nature trail
generally a short and relatively easy trail with descriptive signs or small kiosks located along the trail pointing out specific natural points of interest (such as types of vegetation, animal habitat, historical information, and geographical features). Also see Nature Trail.

a shallow area of a river or lake usually created by a submerged sandbar but may also be created by gravel or other sediment.
a means of transportation between two points. Shuttles are used to drop paddlers at a putin point and/or pick them up at the takeout. Shuttles are also sometimes used for other point-to-point activities such as hiking, skiing, or mountain biking.
a narrow trail with a single narrow path wide enough for only one hiker or mountain biker. The term singletrack is used commonly by mountain bikers to describe these narrow trails that are very desirable for mountain biking.
a depression caused by the ground collapsing into some subterranean void.
Skate skiing
a type of cross country skiing that resembles the technique of skating. In skate style skiing, the skis are pushed out at an angle to propel the skier forward. Skate skiing generally requires groomed ski trails or can be done in shallow ungroomed snow or on crust.
Skating lane
describes the wide flat lane groomed into cross country ski trails for skate style skiing. See Cross Country Ski Trail Article for photo showing skating lane groomed track.
Ski Poles
Poles used in cross-country skiing to assist in propelling the skier forward.
Ski touring
ski touring has various definitions ranging from a synonym for cross-country skiing to a synonym for backcountry skiing. Some definitions assume multi-day ski excursions with camping gear, while others imply skiing a point-to-point trail and others assume ungroomed trails. Wikipedia has an interesting article on [Ski Touring].
Ski trail
Trails used predominantly for cross-country skiing. See Cross Country Ski Trails Article
Ski wax
waxes used on the bases of cross-country skis. Ski waxes consist primarily of glide wax used to reduce friction, and kick wax and klister used to provide grip on classic skis.
skinnies are narrow crude bridges (often just a single log or a plank). The term is frequently used in North Shore style mountain biking.
Skinny skis.
refers to cross country skis used for groomed trails or light ungroomed skiing.
paddling term that indicated some type of obstruction in the river such as a downed tree, log jamb, low hanging branches, large rocks that could catch (snag) a paddler.
Snowshoe trail
in most cases, a snowshoe trail is simply a hiking trail with snow on it. However, sometimes a snowshoe trail may include additional winter-only sections such as frozen lakes or rivers or deep snow areas that are not part of a hiking trail.
State Forest
a designation of public lands owned by a specific state. State forests tend to be similar as far as purposes and restrictions to National Forests, but vary from state to state. State forests often provide hiking, skiing, and mountain biking trails, but also often allow motorized vehicle use of some trails and allow hunting and timber harvesting. See National Forest.
State Park
sort of a smaller version of a national park, state parks area public lands owned by the individual states and set aside for protection of natural areas and recreational use. State parks often encompass some of the most scenic natural areas in a state. Trail use restrictions vary from state to state. State parks often require entrance or parking fees and sometimes require trail fees for certain activities (cross-country skiing and mountain biking are common fee-based trail activities in state parks).
paddling term that describes a downed tree or low hanging branches in swift current that becomes a hazard to paddling. The tree can catch the canoe and paddlers and act as a strainer as water flows through trapping the paddlers.
the scientific definition of stream is the umbrella term that covers all flowing bodies of waters (rivers, creeks). But the informal definition of stream is a flowing body of water smaller than a river but usually faster moving than a creek or a clear running body of water usually with a rocky or gravelly base.
in ski terminology, structure is a texture incorporated into the bases of skis to allow them to glide better in certain snow conditions. Fine structure is used for colder snow while coarse structure is used for warmer snow. In more general outdoor terms, a structure would be any manmade construction (buildings, bridges, etc).
term use in North Shore or Freeride mountain biking to refer to the various structures built add technical difficulty to trail riding. Stunts include ladders, skinnies, teeters, jumps, and drops.
a wetland. Informal definitions of swamp include wetlands with trees or wetlands that have large bodies of shallow water most of the time.
a section of trail with dramatic sharp changes in direction (greater than 90 degrees). Switchbacks are often used on slopes to allow the trail to take a more gradual grade by zigzagging back and forth across the fall line as it climbs or descends the hill. Switchbacks are also common on mountain bike trails to provide interest and produce more miles of trails in a small area.
a type of jump that consists of a take-off ramp and a landing with flat raised area (level with the top of the jump)in between.
large chunks of rock that have broken off and fallen from a cliff or steep incline. Talus is larger than scree. Talus fields and talus slopes area the areas where the talus accumulates.
implies the need for technique
Technical singletrack
desribes narrow mountain bike trails that have frequent obstacles such as steep sections, large protruding rocks and roots, tight switchbacks, downed trees, etc. that require a certain level of ability (technique) to ride.
term use in North Shore or Freeride mountain biking to refer to stunts (structures) resembling teeter totters (seesaws) added to the trail to challenge mountain bike riders.
comes from the Telemark Turn (see definition below), but has expanded to cover a type of skiing and ski equipment that is based around the turning technique. Telemark skiing (and skis) is used in both backcountry skiing and downhill skiing on groomed trails.
Telemark turn
describes a specific technique for turning on Nordic (free-heel) skis where one ski is pushed ahead of the other and the skis are at different angles to facilitate the turn.
Tips and tails
refers to the areas on the bases of classic style cross-country skis where the glide occurs (area where glide was is applied).
Toe clips
bicycling term that refers to the toe clip and strap system used for decades to hold the rider's shoes to the pedals. Toe clips are still used but have been replaced by clipless pedal systems by most serious riders.
Topo map
see Topographic map
Topographic map
a map that includes lines representing changes in elevation. Topographic maps are the most common type of map used for navigating the wilderness.
Trail sanitizing
the act of removing natural features or rerouting trails to avoid challenging natural features. The term is frequently used in the mountain biking community, but is not exclusive to it. Also called "dumbing down" trails, trail sanitizing essentially makes trails easier to ride, ski, or hike. Examples of trail sanitizing would include removing logs, rocks, or roots, removing trees to make the trail wider, removing leaning trees or large branches that you may need to duck under, rerouting a trail to avoid a large rock, ledge, gully, or steep section. The reason you will find many discussions online related to trail sanitizing is that there are many trail users that prefer the challenges created by natural features.
a key starting point for a trail. A trail may have one or more trailheads.
generally describes the elevation where trees can no longer grow (the area on a mountain where the trees stop). Sometimes is used to describe the edge of a forest or grove of trees.
trekking is essentially synonymous with hiking, but implies longer multi-day hikes and sometimes implies mountainous terrain. . It also seems to be a regional term, because I rarely hear people use the term trekking to describe hiking in North America, yet if these same people hike a similar trail in Europe or Asia it is suddenly called "trekking".
Trekking poles
also called hiking poles, trekking poles are lightweight (usually aluminum) poles that are usually adjustable in length that are used while hiking to reduce the pressure, stress, and workload on the legs and also provide stability. Personal preference dictates whether you use a single trekking pole or two trekking poles.
a smaller river, creek, or stream flowing into a larger river, creek, or stream.
a low are of land (usually elongated) between higher land forma such as hills, bluffs, or mountains. Valleys are often created by rivers. Valleys with steep sides are usually called canyons or ravines.
See Overlook
a shallow ditch or barrier placed across a trail to divert water off the trail and reduce erosion.
a sudden drop in elevation in a river or stream where the water falls suddenly over the edge of a rock ledge or escarpment. I'm not sure exactly how far a drop needs to be to qualify as a waterfall; I've seen some small cascading sections of streams that were listed as "falls" on maps but didn't drop more than maybe five or six feet. See Wikipedia article on Waterfalls
Waterproof breathable
describes clothing and other gear that prevents liquid water from soaking through them, yet lets water vapor escape through them. The breathability of waterproof breathable products is much debated since they rarely breath enough to handle the amount of moisture created during strenuous activity.
Wax pocket
the area on the base of a classic style cross-country ski where the kick wax is applied.
Waxless skis
a type of cross-country ski used for classic style skiing where the wax pocket is replaced with a grip pattern in the base. Waxless only applies to absence of a need for kick wax, but waxless skis still need to be waxed for glide.
area of land that is regularly saturated with water.
classification of sections of river and a type of paddling that involve turbulent waters created by rapids, narrow channels, or large rocks. See Wikepedia article on International Scale of River Difficulty
Wilderness area
designation of public lands where significant land use restrictions are in place to protect the natural habitat. Wilderness areas generally do allow low impact activities such as hiking, skiing, and paddling, but generally do not allow any mechanized means of transportation (no bikes, cars, ATVs, snowmobiles).
the direction from which the wind is blowing.
Wooded area, but with fewer trees than a forest. In a woodland, the trees are not so close that they make a continuous canopy.

Related online glossaries

This page is authored and maintained by Dave Piasecki