Hiking Glossary

As with any activity, hiking and trail running come with a lexicon of phrases that might confuse beginners. As such, this glossary of terminology aims to provide basic -- if not comical -- definitions to some words or phrases that might come up in planning a hike or a run.


A man-made stacking of rocks used to mark a trail route.


A small hole about six inches deep (and well away from water sources) that a hiker digs to bury their poop should 'nature call' while hiking in the wild. Think nature's litter box for humans.

Don't worry, many of the trails in and around Phoenix have restrooms near the trailhead.


The highpoint along a trail.

Danger Stick

Another word for Snake. A 'noisy' Danger Stick is otherwise known as a Rattlesnake, a common sight on some Phoenix trails.

Arizona is home to many types of rattlesnakes, including the Diamondback. Rattlesnakes are venomous and should be avoided at all costs. Hikers often hear rattlesnakes before they actually see them, so please pay close attention while hiking during the Summer months.


An abbreviation for Fastest Known Time. An FKT is a speed record for a trail or route. FKTs are typically applied only to notable trails and routes.


Walking or marching a great distance, especially through rural areas, for pleasure, exercise, military training, or similar.


The point at which two trails intersect with each other.

Note: the trail systems in the Phoenix area tend to have a junction or two, so it's wise to plan your routes ahead.


A trail that starts and ends at the same location. A loop can follow a single trail or multiple trails that link together at junctions to form a loop.


A trail that starts and ends at the same location. These trails follow a single route, or consist of a combination of multiple trails to an end point, and then return along the same route back to the beginning.


A trail that starts and ends in different locations.

The Desert Classic Trail on the south side of South Mountain is a good example of a point-to-point trail in Phoenix.

Pseudo Summit (False Summit)

When you think you see the top of the mountain/hike only to realize it's not the top of the mountain and you still have even more mountain to climb.

A good example of a trail with a few pseudo summits is South Mountain's Pyramid Trail. Pyramid Trail is a moderate-to-hard trail with a lot of misleading switchbacks.


A mass of small loose stones or rocky debris that cover a slope or side of a mountain, or accumulate at the base of cliffs.


Sometimes hiking the rocking desert terrain can require the use of hands and feet to climb up and over rocks and boulders. When a hike includes a full-body effort to continue on the route, it's more than likely a scramble.


A trail up a steep incline (hill, mountain) that does a zig-zag pattern as opposed to a straight path. Switchbacks are helpful, as it makes the ascent doable for a broader range of hikers. In addition, switchbacks help prevent from trail erosion.


Completing a long trail from beginning to end in a single continuous journey.

There are a few long, infamous trails that traverse the Phoenix area. One is the Maricopa Trail, a 315 mile journey through Maricopa County. Another is the Arizona Trail, an 800 mile trail crossing all of Arizona.

Trail Angel

A person who provides an unexpected assistance (food, water, directions) to a hiker in need.


The place where the trail begins and/or ends. Most trailheads have a parking lot. Many offer singage and/or free maps with information about the trails and routes available.

Wag Bag

A bag you carry your poop (and/or your dog's poop) in when you are forbidden to dig a cat hole.


Coordinates to a specific location -- usually based on latitude-longitude or UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator) -- that you might enter into a GPS device.