Monday, September 2, 2019

Family trail names: Developing a family trail identify

Hiking as a family helps to increase family bonding by unplugging from every day (including devices) and by providing both parents and children the opportunity to slow down and appreciate both nature and family time.

At home, children and parents can live under the same roof without spending meaningful quality time together and active interactions, other than 'drive-by conversations' while fulfilling obligations of homework, housework, yard work, paying bills, and dinner preparation. Even devoted 'family time' at home can too often include passive consumption of entertainment (watching a television program or a movie) with little communication among family members. If children are involved in sports or other activities, the car ride may be the only real-time to engage with children in conversation.

Hiking provides a different setting for family bonding, outside of the distractions of daily routines. Instead of smartphones, video games, television, and other modern distractions that pull families away from meaningful connections, hiking provides a shared experience and 'in the moment' family bonding opportunities. The backdrop of the trail, trees, leaves, flowers, rivers, rocks, and mountain tops can enrich the family experience and create a shared appreciation of the environment, all while deepening an appreciation for each other.

Going into the forest (and out of everyday life) provides the opportunity for families to get connected, increase family bonding, and create a family identity distinct from the everyday. This distinct family hiking identity can improve family cohesion and can augment feelings of closeness and commonality among family members. The benefits of increased family bonding on the trail can also carry into everyday life, as the trail and home become two different but interrelated worlds that help to strengthen shared meanings and positive family narratives.

Family trail names

Developing trail identity, distinct from home life, can help to create the trail experience to be unique and special for all family members.  One way to develop a unique trail identity is to create trail names for each family member.  

Assigning hiker trail names originated on the Appalachian thru-hike trail to help hikers remember nicknames and to assign names based on their personalities while on the trail.  Once a trail name (nickname) is assigned to a hiker, it becomes the new way of relating to the hiker along the way.   

In 1948, Earl Shaffer was the first to hike the Appalachian thru-trail and gave himself the trail name of the Crazy One, which is the unofficial first Appalachian Trail name.  Evan Prater, a blogger on Appalachian Trail Bloggers, explains the psychology of a trail name. "A trail name represents a new identity, a new beginning, and a chance to leave everything that was once represented by 'John Smith' or 'Jane Dougherty' behind...People don't come out here to talk about their jobs as lawyers or bartenders or car salesmen; they come out here to leave the hassles of everyday life - the stresses of rent, insurance, bosses, student loan payments."

Whether you are hiking the Appalachian trail or just want to create a different experience for your children while on the trails, you should consider individualized trail names.  Trail names can reinforce the uniqueness of hiking as separate and apart from everyday life.  Assigning trail names to family members, especially for children, can create special connections to hiking and outdoor adventures.  Trail names for children should reinforce their positive qualities while on the trail and should say something about their personalities. 

Choosing a family trail name

We first created a family name for the trail: Family Peak Seekers.  Our family hiking name signifies, first and foremost that we love hiking as a family.  The name also signifies that we like all kinds of hiking adventures (e.g. short hikes, long hikes, waterfall hikes, backpacking, hikes with canoe trips included, etc.) and spending time outdoors (e.g. camping, whitewater rafting, canoeing, etc.), but we especially enjoy climbing to the peaks of mountains.  We like the challenge of the climb up, the crisp air at the top, the amazing views on the top of mountains, and the scenery once you climb above the tree line.  

While sitting on a summit and enjoying our well-earned lunch, we had a family meeting and gave each other individual trail names to represent our various personalities.  For each of the trail names, a suggestion was first made by another family member and then we talked as a group about the name and came to a consensus.  Each person assigned to the trail name had to agree to the name before it was adopted.  The names represent something about each family member, about their personalities on the trail, and about how they approach the time they spend outdoors. 

Meet "Flash"

Flash is an athletic teenager with lots of energy.  Although his personality is usually quiet and reserved, he likes to be flashy on the trail by wearing bright colors and by displaying his skills and abilities.  He likes jumping from rock to rock along the trail, log walking, scrambling and climbing.  Flash is often waiting for his parents to keep up on the trail, as he is always faster to climb mountains (and in much better shape).  He likes peak seeking, not just for the adventure, but also for the workout.  

Meet "Spicy"

Spicy has a zest for life, spirited, full of energy, and likes to have fun on the trails.  She loves to laugh, she likes kidding around and always ready to give her best pose for the camera.  She is full of expressions and has a range of emotions that she wears on her sleeve.  Spicy likes the challenge of technical climbing, as long as it feels safe.  She loves climbing mountains but is not big on heights. When confronted by scary obstacles along the trail (e.g. cliffs), she is more likely to confront her fears with tears, but always conquers the quest.    

Meet "Carebear"


Carebear is our youngest child.  She is usually the one to help her parents get up the hill with positive encouragement and reinforcement along the way.  If her parents slow down on the trail, she will usually hold back to keep her parents company.  Carebear has a curious and appreciative mind. She likes to spend time on the trail investigating the plants and animal tracks and she always has lots of questions about her surroundings.  On the trail, Carebear is caring, compassionate, and thoughtful of others and of the environment.  

Meet "Safety"


Safety is the momma bear, always protective of her cubs.  In her pack, you will always find an oversupply of medication, first-aid supplies, bug spray, and moleskin.  Safety makes sure the children are enjoying the hike by ensuring the children are properly fed, hydrated, warm, and in good spirits.  Safety is adventurous and loves the time spent with her family in the outdoors and she always wants to make sure the children are both safe and having fun.  Safety likes to do a lot of research about the trails to make sure the trails are 'kid-friendly' and safe for all.

Meet "Philosopher"  

Philosopher likes talking, planning, organizing, and thinking about hiking.  On the trail, Philosopher will find ways to connect hiking experiences to life lessons.  Philosopher has the ability to make events on the trail into 'teachable moments'.  He likes to process experiences on the trail and he likes talking about hiking, almost as much as he likes hiking.  As a constant planner, he is always looking for the best equipment, the most exciting trails, the coolest scenery, and the best places to stop to take breaks.


Hiking can put everyday life stresses at a distance by creating a different existence on the trails.  Creating a personalized family identity on the trail can reinforce this distance and can create a unique appreciation for family bonding and connection.  

Assigning trail names for each family member can be a fun way to create this different existence.  

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