Starry night camping

Dirtbag Explained: The Climbing Definition

Note: this text was originally published by Adam S. on an earlier version of this site.

Official Webster dictionary definition (INCORRECT):

  1. low, worthless person. 

Climber / Outdoor Enthusiast / Person Living the Dream definition (CORRECT):

  1. Any person who allows passion to infiltrate their lives
  2. Gives permission for the heart to dictate the actions of life
  3. Someone who can be truly happy doing what they love
  4. Does everything possible to maintain a lifestyle which allows them to follow the heart and live the dream
Yvon Chouinard dirtbag climbing patagonia founder
Yvon Chouinard, the OG dirtbag

Nuzzling the side of my warm sleeping bag allowing the beer to gently rock my brain cells to sleep, I overhear a conversation in which the correct and incorrect definition of the term “dirtbag” was being discussed. I had turned in for the night after a day of climbing the scariest 5.8 slab routes in the universe, playing in the Tuolumne River, drinking beer,  and swapping stories with good friends.

Kris Linstrom proceeded to educate the “other guy” in the conversation on the true meaning of the term dirtbag.  The other guy was quite surprised at the contrasting definitions, but as far as I can remember (enter beer fuzziness) he understood.   At this point in my climbing career, I proudly proclaim myself to be a dirtbag, having run the full gambit of being a wannabe dirtbag all the way to being a full-fledged, living the dream dirtbag.

One may ask, “How do I know if I am a dirtbag?”.  I will attempt to answer this question and possibly give you an insight into the life of a dirtbag.

Ways to know you are a Dirtbag

1.  You love the outdoors and are willing to give up most things that others would consider a necessity in order to pursue a lifestyle that is concentric on being outside as much as possible.

2.  You can not remember the last time you bathed.  Getting ravaged by sick class V whitewater, taking a dip at midnight with your naked significant other, and getting caught in an apocalyptic rainstorm on pitch 7 of 12 do not count as bathing, even though they can accomplish the same end.

3.  Your home has 4 wheels, gets crappy gas mileage, leaks slightly when it rains, and consists of an elevated wooden platform for sleeping with storage for adventure toys and clothes underneath.  You are always looking to improve upon the design of your living quarters and are obsessed with how other people have constructed their homes.

Everest Base Camp Nepal

4.  Your detection skills for free food are sharper than Superman’s x-ray vision. Removing untouched food undetected from a stranger’s plate after they have left the restaurant table, knowing the exact times the grocery store throws away expired food in order to get the best selection and locating the best places to get free food are all skills gained.

5.  The subjects of Climbing / Whitewater rafting / Mountaineering / International travel / <enter passion here> are always on the tip of your tongue and the ability to start a conversation about these subjects is easier than a drunk prom date.

6.  Beer.  You drink lots of it.  Most of the time it’s the cheapest, crappiest beer you can find.  Other times it’s an expensive microbrew, but most of the time is PBR.  It can be consumed before, after, during, when you get home from, well into the night after, and into the next morning after engaging in your passion.

Rock climber with harness

7.  You have been so focused on living the dream that all your clothes come from the local thrift shop.  Some of my best clothing has come from these locations!  Underwear is optional and the same pair can be worn in a clean state for up to 4 days.

8.  Every penny earned is saved in order to maintain the dirtbag lifestyle.  If the decision has been made to “get a real job” then you did something wrong.  Go back and try again.

9.  The seasons dictate the location and the activity.  Late spring, summer and early fall one can be found rafting the amazing whitewater of the Colorado River or climbing in Eldorado Canyon or Yosemite.   Wintertime brings skiing in Summit County or Park City.  For those who really have it “bad”, the winter season can be circumvented by heading to South America.

Snow camp in Russia

10.  You love your life and love the freedom it has given you to explore the world.  You twitch with excitement when you describe your life to others.  You would give anything to be able to continue to pursue your passions.

It’s a term of admiration.  It’s a term of endearment.   The next time someone asks you “What’s a dirtbag?” take a second to think over all the adventures you have had throughout your life and all the good people you hold close to your heart. A smile will undoubtedly appear on your face as you tell them “There is no way to explain it.  Pure happiness?  Maybe.  The feeling of a life lived to its fullest?  Perhaps.  The only way to know is to get out and get after it!  When you come home covered in mud, bruised, broken, bleeding, with sand in your eyes and fire in your soul, and stories that make you think “Probably should NOT have done that but it was siiick!”,  you won’t have to ask that question.  You will just know….”.

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