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The idea for a Hiker’s Dictionary came to me a few years ago when I was speaking to the annual California Recreational Trails Conference, a gathering of the state’s top trail-builders and advocates. One of the points of the talk I was presenting was that we trail enthusiasts have a jargon of our own. If we want to communicate effectively with each other—and the general public—we need to define our terms.

We all had a long laugh when I read a mock press release about the grand opening of a new trail that was chock full of incomprehensible-to-the-layperson language about stakeholders and staging areas, VDs(Visitor Days) and viewsheds.


Get all the hiker words you need to know from John McKinney's hiker dictionary, "Hiking from A to Z"

Get all the hiker words you need to know from John McKinney’s hiker dictionary, “Hiking from A to Z”

Of course. But it occurred to me that as “hiking writer” I had for the past thirty years used a vocabulary that was particular to hikers and likely peculiar to non-hikers, but had never been defined. So began my compilation of a hiker’s dictionary and eventually Hiking from A to Z: A Dictionary of Words and Terms Used by Hikers.

“If you wish to converse with me, define your terms,” declared Voltaire, the great French writer/philosopher. And as a cautionary note to those blazing new trails, Voltaire also wryly observed: “Our wretched species is so made that those who walk on the well-trodden path always throw stones at those who are showing a new road.”

My academic qualifications to edit a dictionary for hikers?

Absolutely none. As an undergraduate at the University of Southern California I studied broadcast journalism (and helped start a hiking club) and later earned an MFA in film at California Institute of the Arts. My academic training has helped me talk about hiking on radio and TV and make nature films and hiking videos. It did not lead me to continue in academia by working for a PhD in Hikerology or any scholarly writing about hiking.

I’ve written two-dozen or so books and a thousand articles about hiking and nature but confess that not a single one of them is footnoted. I’ve delivered talks to a wide variety of groups from health care providers to the Sierra Club but have yet to be asked to deliver a paper at an academic conference. And I’m not holding my breath for an invite from academia.

My work in the field of hiking has been in, well, the field. It’s my hope that this considerable field research will add to the hiker’s fun and knowledge of hiking. So take a hike.

And then look-up “take a hike” in the hiker dictionary.