How To: Be a Dirtbag

Posted by on Jan 6, 2012 in Outdoor | 5 Comments

“Dirtbag” is a term of endearment in the outdoor world. Being a dirtbag can be a good thing. Certainly it can be taken too far, and doing so just might be to your own disadvantage. But each of us who venture into the outdoors, whether on bikes, skis, or on foot, have a little dirtbag inside of us—even if we hold steady jobs, sleep in the same bed every night, and are not (utterly) repulsive to the opposite sex.

Ultimately dirtbaggery is about one thing: respect. Respect the alpha-dirtbag. Respect the gear. And respect the mountain.

Respect The Alpha-Dirtbag

A true dirtbag is an expert at his craft. He can ski. He can ride. He’s not stupid. He doesn’t put himself or others at risk because “duuude, gnarly!” In fact, he never (un-ironically) uses the word gnarly. Or brah, planks, shred, and siiiick. No, a dirtbag is a reliable partner in the backcountry and on the trail. He’s intelligent and savvy. Well read, and full of amazing stories that are actually true. The dirtbag demands respect because of his expertise, leadership, and ability. Up and coming dirtbags must recognize the alpha-dirtbag in any group, and concede thier own ambition to his alpha-status. In return, he offers reciprocity. The results of cooperative dirtbaggery are epic.

Respect The Gear

Gear—bikes, components, skis, binding, boots, tires, clothing—is at the heart of every outdoor adventure. If the gear is junk, then so is the experience. But that doesn’t mean every piece of equipment has to be the most expensive, highly reviewed, editor’s choice gear. Well maintained stuff will last a long, long time. Especially if it was well built and designed in the first place. A dirtbag finds ways, even without the overt financial means, to acquire solid core gear. For example, a dirtbag backcountry skier will have comfortable, light boots and durable bindings that might be ten years old. But they work, and work well. Why replace them? His money is spent wisely, on the equipment that matters most. What’s the point of pairing $450 ski pants with cheap plastic bindings?

A few gear shortcuts:

Leather work gloves. For as little as $8, one can purchase a pair of leather winter work gloves that can be weatherized into being ski gloves. For $25 one can purchase a pretty darn nice pair of leather winter work gloves. Work gloves make excellent uphill and backcountry gloves. They also work in a pinch at a frigid cyclocross race.

Shop glasses. Shop glasses (or shooting glasses) are no longer the embarrassing, ill-fitting goggles you wore in 7th grade. Today they look and fit almost like $200 sunglasses. Except they don’t cost $200. Rather, a fine pair of shooting spectacles will cost less than $10. The clear lensed pairs are excellent for night-riding.

Bulk CO2. CO2 cartridges are expensive. At bike shops. But at big-box stores the 12g cartridges that are meant for paintball guns are 25 for $15. In fact, as repulsive as big box stores can be, they offer some really fantastic prices on decent outdoor clothing. Wicking t-shirts especially.

Store brand. Not everything in your pack needs to be name-brand. Store branded gear—REI, Stoic, etc—can be every bit as comfortable and functional as name brands, but usually cost less. Dirtbags don’t care about trendy name branded gear. Dirtbags want function and durability, and store brands offer it in bunches.

Packing Tape. Packing tape isn’t duct tape. But it can be really useful in its own right. One example: Ski tails. A layer of packing tape on ski tails can help prevent delamination and other wear-n-tear from the tail clips on climbing skins. It’s not a perfect solution, but it does work.

Respect the Mountain.

Dirtbags are smart. They don’t cross rivers that shouldn’t be crossed. They don’t pressure others into dangerous or uncomfortable situations. They respect and understand the inherent danger of the mountain. Dirtbaggery means knowing the terrain. Maps are a dirtbags constant companion. He studies them with religious zeal. He knows where trails lead and what the morning’s avalanche forecast reported. Dirtbags become dirtbags because they live to ride and hike and ski another day.

In fact, I don’t know that a true dirtbag can be younger than 40 years old. Someone that young just doesn’t have the experience, the knowledge, or the conquests to qualify. Until 40 the best anyone (myself included) can hope to achieve is neo-dirtbag status. And even that is fleeting, and will need consistent tutelage from a bona fide, through-and-through dirtbag.

Someone like Tom. The best dirtbag I’ve ever known:

The best dirtbag





  1. evilbanks
    January 6, 2012

    Love it man—nice one!

  2. Tom
    January 6, 2012

    “Respect the alpha-dirtbag. Respect the gear. And respect the mountain.” Great post!

  3. dug
    January 6, 2012

    except. dirt bag tom is wearing $125 black diamond gloves and a $250 black diamond pack.

    • Grizzly Adam
      January 6, 2012

      “His money is spent wisely, on the equipment that matters most.” He was also skiing on old-school Dynafit bindings, and mourned the loss of a mesh cap that he’d found 10 years earlier while hiking.

  4. Dave Harris
    January 6, 2012

    Fresh! Great post Adam.

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