So far in my (relatively) short life, I’ve logged a lot of time on the trails of our great country, especially up here in the Northeast. I’ve hiked up snowy mountains and across valleys, rivers and streams. Through old, gnarled pine forests and sunny groves of young oak.
I’ve also met many people out there, and over the years, a pattern has emerged – If you really pay attention, you’ll realize there are only a few types of people out there on the trails. Here’s a brief guide to help you quickly identify hikers while in the field and prepare for potential encounters:
Nylon Bag (nylonus baggus americanus)
Range and Habitat: Throughout the contiguous United States. Wide, well traveled trails that have been made popular by social media. Sometimes ventures into more difficult terrain, but rarely seen above 4,000 ft. Often drawn to crowded areas with access to swimming and douchecanoeing.
Food source: Snickers protein bars, Nestle bottled water.
Description: Both male and female are totally Basic and completely unprepared for the hike they are attempting. Their most defining feature is a nylon string bag that seems to contain nothing more than a small flimsy plastic water bottle. Males favor sneakers or other footwear similarly inappropriate for hiking, often paired with long black cotton or acrylic socks. Females lack the long socks and prefer tiny, pastel colored shoes. Both sexes favor Under Armour, Adidas or Nike athletic clothes, typically in jarringly bright colors.
General information and precautions: Harmless along short trails and at lower elevations. Don’t worry about trying to say hello or make eye contact with a Nylon Bag; he will only look away and pretend not to see you as he sweeps confidently past in his glossy shorts.
On more difficult trails, encountering a Nylon Bag can sometimes present a problem. As the miles stretch on, Nylon Bags may become increasingly unstable. They may begin to realize that they are lost, have worn inadequate footwear, or are dangerously low on water. Many of them will have a desperate expression on their faces, which they will try to conceal by looking scornfully at your provision-filled pack and sturdy shoes. If you find yourself face to face with a Nylon Bag at a high elevation or deep in the woods, they may ask you for water, food, directions, or all three. Help them out if you can spare supplies, but stay mindful of your own needs.
When you hear about rescue crews or helicopters having to land on mountains, it’s usually these people.
Old Hippy Guy (antiquus hominum hippicus)
Range and Habitat: Northeastern US; NY to Coastal MA, north to Canada. Some populations in Eastern PA and Northern NJ. Brushy scrub, remote trails. Prefers camping in meadows or behind rocks.
Food Source: Stale granola, sardines, citrus fruits.
Description: bucket hat or old, graying black and white or faded rainbow sweatband on head, silvery-brown beard, age-inapropriate sunglasses, long wool socks, short shorts, mesh tank top from road race that took place in 1979. Small, faded rucksack. Grows anywhere from 6-8 ft tall. Hairy.
General Information and Precautions: This guy can outhike the shit out of you, so don’t even try. His experienced, spindly legs have more miles on them than a 1982 Ford pickup. He can survive on one sardine a day and can spring to the summit of the highest peak with more agility than a mountain goat. He drinks straight from the streams, because parasites are bullshit government lies and he doesn’t even care. He doesn’t use a tent on overnights and gently pushes bears out of his way with his hiking poles if he runs into them on the trail. He’s friendly and has wise, glinty, slightly crazed eyes that never quite meet yours, and is full of amazing, mostly true stories. He’s good company for a quick trail lunch, but don’t count on him for much else. He goes where the wind takes him and stops for no one.
The Invincibles (leonus imortalis)
Range and habitat: Georgia to Maine, west to Ohio. Any landscape or terrain, all levels of difficulty. Prefers elevations above 3,000 ft.
Food Source: They don’t eat.
Description: Always in pairs, male and female. Very boring, serviceable, monochrome clothes that seem more appropriate for lounging on a weekend than hiking. On the very cusp of being out of shape, pale. Netflix memberships. Often accompanied by a mild-mannered labrador with a name like “Emma”. Brown hair, female’s shoulder-length and tied into an unassuming ponytail. Male wears a dorky brown cap. Usually carrying no supplies, but on rare occasions may have one small water bottle between them.
General Information and Precautions: You will encounter Invincibles in almost any environment. It is rumored that they have been spotted even on the highest slopes of the Himalayas, wearing nothing but their dowdy gym clothes and without even the most basic supplies. As you huff and puff your way up a rugged mountainside, carrying a heavy pack filled with extra wool layers, food, water, rope, matches, maps, and space blankets, they will lightly float past in their brand-new looking low-top Merrells, pausing only to wait for their calm, friendly dog to finish saying hello to you. Climbing is as effortless for them as it is difficult for you. You will think to yourself, WTF, they look like they never leave their apartment or do anything athletic, and yet here I am sweating like a pig and struggling to breathe. And they only have one bottle of water between them, how are they not dead?!
The answer lies in their name.
Speed Racer (agilis rapidus)
Range and Habitat: Extreme conditions and inclines. Rocky trails where the danger of tripping is great. Elevations above 2,000 ft.
Food source: Air, the determination to humiliate you.
Description: Muscular and wiry, tight-fitting athletic garments in grey or yellow. Carries a small, 6oz water bottle, sometimes holstered in a waist pack. Facial features weathered by time and excessive discipline.
General Information and Precautions: A Speed Racer sighting is rare, as they are often moving so quickly you may not even notice them. Interactions almost never occur. As they whiz past you in a blur of neon and stunning athleticism, you may need to pause for a moment to contemplate your own shortcomings as a human being. It has taken you 3 hours and most of your life-energy to reach this point on the mountain. You have eaten two granola bars and an orange, consumed two liters of water, and stopped to rest three times. And yet it took a Speed Racer only 30 minutes of continuous running to catch up to you. This can be hard to grapple with, but try not to be too hard on yourself as you continue to slog up the trail.
Clueless Family (familius stupidus)
Range and Habitat: Easy, family friendly trails they found on the internet. Sometimes spotted at higher elevations if the trail is popular and has a distinctive feature such as caves, waterfalls, or a nice view.
Description: Easily distinguished by their flushed faces and beady, sparkly eyes. Males typically overweight, fond of tube socks, ball caps and white clothes with black accents. Females have tight, pinched faces formed by years of living with the idiot males and appear to be dressed for a beginner yoga class. They may have a precocious child who wishes to pet your dog. Sometimes they have a pet of their own, often a haggard-looking golden retriever.
General Information and Precautions: For years, scientists have theorized that the Clueless Family is in fact simply older Nylon Bags who have reproduced, as they share many of the same attributes and tend to be obnoxious in similar ways. However, although many agree that this theory has merit, it has remained frustratingly unproven. Currently, the Clueless Family remains its own separate species.
The Clueless Family appears harmless, but it can pose an incredible risk to those who are unprepared. Statistically, the number one cause of death for hikers, after drowning of course, is an ill-fated encounter with a Clueless Family. Although the females may seem smallish and harmless, they have a poisonous bite if they feel their child has been offended/threatened or if they perceive something about you that they find offensive. Even if the Clueless Family seems very nice, don’t let your guard down. Conditions can rapidly deteriorate. In some cases, the Mom or Dad may take a shine to you and decide that you would make a good role model for their out of control, brainless asshole children. This is perhaps the most dangerous scenario. Therefore, a perfect balance must be found between aloofness and being overly friendly. I recommend Halstead’s Wilderness Guide to Clueless Families by Nicholas A. Halstead for further reading.
Birder (wingus aviatiens)
Range and Habitat: Throughout the contiguous US. All habitats, but more common at wildlife refuges and in woodlands surrounding Korean churches. Roadsides.
Food Source: Wawa, Dunkin’ Donuts. Bagels, quick sandwiches, donut holes and assorted pastries, excessive amounts of coffee, pizza, beer, soup.
Description: Binoculars around the neck or strapped to the chest. Often clad in absurd garments; fishing vests, baggy field pants or unbecoming stonewashed jeans, boots, UPF 50 shirts or crew-neck sweatshirts, large hats. Typically carrying field guides, sometimes awkwardly hauling a spotting scope. May be mistaken for homeless or mentally ill people.
General Information and Precautions: Birders are generally friendly, and often may not even notice your presence, as they are typically staring upward into the canopy of the forest. They are happy to talk with you briefly, but may quickly become irritable if they are on a schedule or if you seem to be largely ignorant of birds. Don’t try to act like you know something; you’ll just make a fool of yourself. Also, try not to ask too many questions or make noise as you pass them, or you may be met with hateful glares and heavy, exasperated sighs.
Older Birders are typically seen in pairs, regularly indulge in nature cruises to Alaska, and shop exclusively at Woolrich, Orvis, and L.L. Bean.
Neature Hiker: See Birder. The Neature Hiker is a minor subspecies of Birder, the only difference being that a Neature Hiker will have a constant, infuriating grin plastered on his or her oblivious face. Often seen collecting acorns. They also have a distinctive call: Isn’t that neat, did you know that, isn’t that neat?
European Power Couple (potentia europeans)
Range and Habitat: Throughout the contiguous US. Difficult but well-known trails. Prefer rugged inclines. Will always take the longest route.
Food Source: European protein bars you’ve never head of, fruit, seeds.
Description: Male and female both muscular, thin, smallish. Females typically blonde. Dress is similar to Speed Racer. Prone to harsh whispering and judgmental looks. They do not carry maps, relying solely on trail signs and their razor sharp intellect for navigation.
General Information and Precautions: The European Power Couple is not interested in you. The best you can expect is a severe and dismissive look as they stride past, no doubt contemplating the ridiculous, clownish cesspool of fatties and imbeciles with whom they are forced to associate.
Asshole with Dogs (Blowharidies Americanus)
Range and Habitat: Throughout the contiguous US. Well traveled trails where their visibility and the potential to terrorize other hikers is maximized.
Food Source: Hot dogs from road side stands, anything with “BBQ” in the name, the blood of mature American Bald Eagles.
Description: Almost overwhelmingly males, 6-7 ft tall, muscular in a beefy, fatish sort of way. Will sometimes have young family members with them who are training to become the Assholes with Dogs of tomorrow. Most defining feature is anywhere from 1-3 big, somewhat aggressive dogs who are off-leash and completely untrained. Champion brand athletic clothes from Target, white shoes, occasionally a ball cap. Stupid yet superior look on their broad, rosy, all-American faces. Aggression and uncertainty lurking behind the eyes, fueled by the haunting, secret knowledge that they are too afraid to ride a motorcycle or walk through a rough neighborhood after 7 pm.
General Information and Precautions: Assholes with Dogs are among the most common dangers you will face on the trail. They have a complete disregard for the trail etiquette of keeping dogs on a leash. They don’t give a damn if you are unsettled by gigantic, hollow-eyed, slavering hounds charging down a mountain at you. What are you, some kind of sissy? Worried your little canine companion will be attacked and/or completely terrified by these out of control bully dogs? GET OVER IT, THIS IS AMERICA AND MY DOGS SHOULD ROAM FREE IN THE WOODS LIKE THE WILD SYMBOLS OF ANIMALISTIC, TESTOSTERONE-FILLED FREEDOM THEY ARE.
The best thing you can do when you encounter Assholes with Dogs is pull over to the side of the path, stay calm, and wait for them to thunder past in a cloud of Old Spice and liberty.
Also, don’t be afraid to take those dogs down with your bare hands in a stunning act of psychotic, adrenaline-fueled self-defense. At the end of the day they’re a bunch of pansies, just like their owners.
College Guys (Collegiensis Hominum)
Range and Habitat: Throughout the contiguous US, though more prevalent in the mountainous regions of the Northeast. Prefer high elevations and places where they can stage extreme selfies, bro.
Food Source: Cliff bars, buffalo jerky
Description: Clad in loose-fitting, high-end outdoor clothing and packs from brands such as Marmot, Patagonia, and Mammut. Muscular, especially in the legs, and typically tall. Confident brown eyes with long, doe-like lashes. Very proud of themselves. Privileged, winner of several frisbee tournaments. Sometimes a bandana on the head. Often accompanied by a ridiculously cute and athletic dog. Females are very rare, and tend to be quiet and possessed of a great deal of certitude and self-confidence. Usually wearing clingy racer-back tank tops.
General Information and Precautions: College Guys are mostly harmless. They’re always in a good mood because they’re doing something cool with their friends. They may make frequent stops to take pictures of themselves or to eat Cliff Shot Bloks (which are really just delicious energy gummies). They’ll usually say a quick hello or stop for a few seconds to talk about the trail before continuing to bound up the mountain.
The only thing to be aware of is that when College Guys are in a group larger than 4, the antics can escalate. They can easily overtake a lean-to shelter and turn it into a mini woodland frat house, complete with constant yelling and excessive displays of bravado. They may begin to mimic the behavior of insecure boys approaching the brink of puberty. In these scenarios, the females become very quiet and fade into the background, no doubt in an attempt to avoid being hit in the face by a flagellating bro.
Range and Habitat: Throughout the contiguous US. Popular trails which they believe are difficult but are often similar to a gentle walk in the park.
Food Source: Fad fitness snacks they got at REI, pre-made sandwiches from the grocery store.
Description: Gear and clothing appears band new, very expensive. In some cases, may still have tags attached. They will often have an excessive amount of gear, completely unnecessary for the hike they are attempting. Black diamond hiking poles, Osprey day packs with hydration reservoir, Smartwool socks. Females wear PrAna hats. Oakley, Smith, or Native sunglasses. They will have actually Googled how to use trekking poles, navigate with a compass, and the best things to eat for energy on the trail.
General Information and Precautions: Posers will often be so loaded down with gear that they move very slowly and are easily overtaken on the trail. Even the most beginner level hike will wear them out. If you stop to chat with them, they will often ask you what sort of backpack you have, if you like it, and why you chose it, and then they will proceed to tell you all about their gear. If you get to talking about hiking, don’t be surprised if they haven’t hiked anywhere outside a 20 miles radius of where they live. In the end, it’s best to give a quick hello and pretend you’re out of breath and in a hurry when you see them on the trail.
If you do have to interact, try not to be too hard on them. They’re simply following the trend, and the trend right now happens to be hiking. Outdoorsy is cool these days. They were lured to this place by glossy adds showing athletic young people jumping from one rock to another on the top of a mountain. Their heads were filled with the promise that if they just buy the best hiking shoes available, they will find happiness and immediate acceptance into the glamorous world of adventurers.
Soul Searchers (anima quaererus)
Range and Habitat: Northeastern US; PA to Coastal MA, north to Canada. Migratory: sometimes spotted in Northern NJ. Prefers uncrowded but well known trails, deep forests, landscapes with lots of rocks and logs to sit on. Prevalent near college towns.
Food Source: The beauty of their unique, complicated dreams that no one understands but them, Japanese noodles.
Description: Both male and female are thin, with very little muscle to be found. Always wearing blue denim jeans, converse or Birkinstock shoes, and a t-shirt with a pocket on the chest. They often appear unprepared for a hike, carrying a small, flimsy canvas rucksak containing only a journal that has been decorated with stickers and a small glass water bottle. May have a flimsy paper map of the trail in hand, which they printed out from their Mac before saying goodbye to Aristotle, their cat, and leaving the apartment. Usually wearing wire-rimmed glasses. Males have longish, dark curly hair, unkempt, unshaven faces with scraggly stubble that they hope will someday become a beard. Females have straight hair, always with bangs, usually in need of a wash.
General Information and Precautions: Soul Searchers came to the trail for a reason: to connect with how they’re feeling and to write in their journals about how difficult and harsh the modern world can be. They may say hello, but it will only be in the form of a sagacious nod and dreamy half smile in your direction. They are lost in their own precious thoughts, you see, so it’s best to return the gesture without making any sounds. If you speak to them, you may shatter the connection they have to their inner thoughts and darken their mood with your harsh, mindless, barking voice, and they will have to accept that an ignorant, sheep-like, mainstream consumer is in their midst.
In their mind, they are the first and only person to appreciate the power of nature and philosophical thought.
Good luck, Soul Searcher – I hope you find what you’re looking for.