Trail names and trail name rules are a simple but sometimes confusing part of trail culture within the long-distance hiking community. At their core, they’re a fun part of the thru-hiking culture that can allow hikers to connect. Don’t know what to say to your new friends? Ask about their trail name. At the other end of the spectrum, trail names are an existential challenge to a hiker’s identity and a metaphor for a hiker’s aspirations on the trail and in life. Does Trashosaurus-Rex paint an accurate picture of who I am…?
Those new to the world of thru-hiking may be wondering “how do I get a trail name” or “how do hikers come up with their trail names”. Fortunately, there is a set of (until now) unwritten rules surrounding the subject. I would consider these “rules” to be widely known/regarded, but none of this is set in stone. Trail names are meant to be something fun within the community and you can do whatever you wish as far as your trail name goes.
On that note, before we get into the unwritten trail name rules, know that you do not have to have a trail name. If you want to use your “regular” name for the entirety of the trail, feel free to do so. Chances are you will still be asked about your trail name and other hikers will try to give you one. If you make it clear you don’t want a trail name and someone continues to try to give you one (and this bothers you), then maybe that’s not a person you should spend any more time around.
With that caveat out of the way, here are the unwritten rules of trail names.
- You cannot give yourself a trail name.
- A trail name needs to be given to you by someone else, you cannot make up your own
- You must accept a trail name for it to become your trail name.
- Other hikers cannot unilaterally decide what your trail name is.
- You are allowed to change your trail name.
- But know this will make it incredibly difficult for others to identify you.
- You can get a new trail name on a new hike.
- Although many hikers choose to keep their trail names to be more easily identified by people they may have met previously.
- There is no length requirement for trail names.
- Trail names can be as simple as “7” or as long as (or longer than) “Endless Postman Summer”. Just know that if you have a long trail name, your fellow hikers will likely find a way to shorten it.
- You can have the same trail name as another hiker.
- Just like names off the trail, there is quite often overlap with trail names in the hiking community. No name is off-limits and there’s no quota for each trail name on a particular trail.
- You do not have to have a trail name.
- I stated this above but it bears repeating: you do not need to take a trail name while on the trail. There is nothing wrong with going by your given name.
- Anyone can give you a trail name, and you can give a trail name to anyone.
- There’s no quota on the number of trail names each person can give out. That said, don’t be the person who meets someone without a trail name and then instantly tries to name everyone after knowing them for ten seconds.
- You do not need a trail name to give out a trail name.
- You can still give people trail names if you don’t have one (whether by choice or because it hasn’t come about yet). It’s not like you need to be in the “trail name club” before you’re allowed to participate.
- Do not put your trail name (only) on any packages you send yourself.
- This is an important rule and perhaps the only one that is a real rule you must follow. It’s easy to get into the trail culture and go by your trail name even when in town. However, when sending yourself a resupply package, gear, or whatever else through the mail, use the name on your identification (which you’ll likely be asked for to pick up your package/mail).
Remember, these are made-up rules for made-up names on made-up trails. I guess the trails are arguably real, but you get the idea. Any and/or all of these trail name rules can (and will) be broken. There’s nothing wrong with that. The above rules are simply what’s become more or less custom in the thru-hiking world.
If you’re setting off on a long-distance hike like the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, or (god forbid) the Appalachian Trail, figuring out your trail name should not (if you’re taking my advice) be something you worry about before starting. Go by your given name when you start the hike and sooner or later you’ll fall in with a group of hikers who will eventually start offering up trail names. Many hikers end up with their trail names from events or mishaps on the trail. In other words: don’t go looking for a trail name; your trail name will find you.
Have a great trail name story or another rule to add? Leave a comment below and let me know!