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What are PUDS (Pointless Ups and Downs)?

What are PUDS?

PUDS, otherwise known as pointless ups and downs, are a frequent topic of conversation among hikers and backpackers, up there with blisters and butt chafing. They signify the numerous ups and downs found along many hiking trails, which are viewed as deliberate obstacles placed by sadistic trail conferences and trail maintainers to make backpackers “earn” their hikes.

But those PUDS have a purpose that belays the eye. For one, it’s simply easier to build a trail along the top of a ridgeline, PUDS and all, which is why so many trails follow them. They’re easier to maintain since gravity provides the trail drainage and they’re easier for hikers to follow since you can quickly sense when you fall off the ridgeline and start to sidehill. While hikers do complain about them, it’s just the normal bellyaching that backpackers do to commiserate with other hikers they meet on the trail.

The Rollercoaster is a famous stretch of PUDS on the Appalachian Trail in Northern Virginia.
The Rollercoaster is a famous stretch of PUDS on the Appalachian Trail in Northern Virginia.

PUDS are very prevalent on the Appalachian Trail which follows the ridgeline of the Appalachian Mountains over 2000 miles from Georgia to Maine. While Mt Katahdin at the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail is only 5269 feet high, the total number of feet that thru-hikers and section hikers have to climb along the length of the Appalachian Trail amounts to approximately 250,000 feet, which adds up to a lot of PUDS just to climb a 5000-foot mountain.

But then again, the journey is the destination, something that a lot of hikers and backpackers lose sight of in-the-moment when they’re bitching about a trail. They’ll be a time when the hiking is over that you’ll look back and wonder why you’re sitting behind a desk or a cash register when you could be outside and climbing PUDS.


  1. I’ve never heard that term before. Learned something new today!

  2. I used to look forward to those spots on the topo maps without many lines. It took me too long to realize that those were the areas likely to be flooded and/or mud pits. Bring on the PUDS!

  3. I live in northern VA and near the AT Roller Coaster. The reason that it slabs the western side of the mountain there is because that was the last available land for the trail. There was development on top of the mountain and a government installation (I can’t tell you what kind) on the east side of it further south.

    • Maybe the kind of double top secret government installation that could safely house the President in the event of a nuclear attack or some other type of crisis.

  4. Been building/maintaining trails for years and never heard this term. Also never heard anyone on a trail crew say anything like “let’s do X to make the trail more challenging”. What we worry about is making trails sustainable, able to shed water/runoff, and those constant *&%&^%& blow-downs.

  5. The AT is the PUDS-iest trail I’ve ever been on. Designed by PUDzilla himself!

  6. A little history lesson on the roller coaster. Originally the Tuscarora Trail was going to be part of the Appalachian Trail. It is a 200 mile c shaped trail that starts on the northern end of Shenandoah park and ends back at AT in Pennsylvania. Someone decided to straighten the trail from Front Royal through Harpers Ferry and western Maryland. To do this you have to cross a lot of ridges steep ups and downs. PUDS

    • I suspect the routing also has something to do with property boundaries and the fact that the tops of ridges are largely worthless in terms of commercial value – hence good for trails.

  7. I have never heard this term before but know exactly what they are. My beef is pointless trails that just go straight up a hill/ mountainside instead of zig zaging to ease the way ….. URGH!!

  8. Honestly I like PUDs, they’re fun, especially if they zigzag all over the place too. What I don’t like are the straight trails up and down hills which require you to spontaneously evolve booster rockets to climb up.

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