20 Telltale Signs You Might Be a Dirtbag (At Heart)

Signs you're a dirtbag

This is a humor piece. Sort of…

Doesn’t matter if you have a full-time job or only work about half the workweek (at most). If you’re a climber, skier, surfer, kayaker, paraglider, backpacker, or any outdoor adventure lover who spends their last dime and all their free time pursuing their passion, you might just be a dirtbag at heart.

If you live in a van and travel to chase your outdoor dreams, then you’re probably already a full-time dirtbag and I’d love to meet you! For all the others who aren’t ready, don’t want to, or simply can’t go down this path, dirtbagging is still possible. You can totally be a weekend warrior and still get your kicks. Dirtbagging doesn’t have to be an extreme, all-in approach anymore.

This piece does not intend to put labels on anything; it merely brings out some life situations that are quite pertinent to the dirtbag lifestyle. So, read the signs. Even if you identify with just a couple, you might still have a dirtbag bone in your body. If you do, take good care of it because it’s the very thing that can give you strength to escape the rate race.

Let’s go!

1. The tent/car is your idea of fine accommodation

Camping Baile Herculane Romania

You’d rather sleep in a tent/your car than rent out a room. Because you love it! In fact, you can’t picture yourself in a fancy hotel room; unless it’s insanely cheap, of course.

This “type of accommodation” enables you to travel more and with a smaller budget. If you find cheap campsites, that’s great. If wild camping is allowed, that’s even better!

You probably also have a knack for finding places to sleep in some of the unlikeliest places – hidden meadows next to parking lots, abandoned orchards, in the bushes, next to the crag, under boulders, in a cave, even in a playground just behind the slides.

Of course, you go the extra mile and bring comfy pillows, mats, a bed sheet even. That’s what I call luxury dirtbagging. Sleeping under a billion stars is the most luxurious kind of accommodation I can fathom.

Read more >> The Dirtbag Way

2. The campfire is your idea of fine dining

Campfire Romania

One order of campfire burgers coming right up!

To you, a campfire isn’t just pretty to watch. It is a ritual that usually involves cooking, too. Using just a few utensils, usually tongs and a Swiss knife, you manage to whip up amazing meals using cheap ingredients.

When you travel, almost every night is barbecue night. Now that’s my idea of fine dining!

3. Your favorite coffee place is at the crag

Coffee at the crag

Coffee simply tastes better at the crag.

We call it the “survival kit” – camper stove, moka pot, small jar of coffee, small jar of sugar, tiny cups, and a small teaspoon. We cannot go climbing without it. Nor can we travel without it. Long road trip ahead? We pack our “survival kit” and we know we’re all set.

4. Free water is the best water

I drink lots of water. They say it’s good for you…

But I hate buying water, especially since I live in a country that’s lucky to have an abundance of great drinking water. I can understand how some places in the world are not as lucky and bottled water may be the only option. But when it’s not, I prefer to get mine from a cold freshwater spring. Or any free source, for that matter.

Like we did in Frankenjura. Seriously, I would rather pay for that fantastic beer of theirs than for bottled water. And since we were dirtbagging our way around there, we didn’t have access to tap water. We couldn’t find a spring close to where we were staying at that time, either (i.e. in the woods). What we found instead was a public fountain and we filled our bottles from there for a few days in a row. One day, we bothered to look more carefully and saw a sign on the side of the fountain that said something along the lines of “kein trinkwasser” (water not for drinking). Oh well, it did taste a bit stale, but we felt okay and decided to continue.

5. Rivers and hot springs are your favorite soaking tubs

Hot springs Baile Herculane Romania

Whenever you go wild camping, you know that one of the first things you gotta do is figure out where the nearest river is. You may be a full-time or part-time dirtbag, but you still need to stay clean.

Rivers do the job quite nicely. But when you find a hot spring, that’s when you hit the jackpot! Whenever we go climbing in Băile Herculane in Romania, my home country, we take full advantage of the hot springs on the side of the road that are free to use. I can easily spend weeks on end over there.

6. Your climbing clothes are (also) your everyday clothes

That’s right, they’re your favorite clothes!

Got a wedding, baptism, or any kind of social event you need to take part in? Watcha gonna wear? Well, not much choice there. Approach shoes or Teva sandals, climbing pants or shorts, a La Sportiva T-shirt or a tank top… It really only depends on the weather. Spending money to renew your wardrobe for a social event is not an option. Better use it to buy gear and gas for climbing trips.

7. You’re covered in chalk on most days

Dirtbag climber

And you love it!

Whether you’re climbing at the gym or outside, your arms are covered in chalk to the elbows. You have chalk palm prints on your bums. Your face is covered in chalk. Do you dust off or wash it off? Neh, you leave it on a little longer. You’re not at all ashamed to wear your climbing clothes with chalk stains all around the city center.

8. Duct tape is your friend

Oh boy, it comes in handy in so many situations. Like fixing your tent after a couple of stray dogs broke in because you (mindlessly) left food inside, ripping one side to get in and exiting through the other. Or when the poles of your tent break because you moved it around with all your stuff inside.

Patching the down jacket you’ve worn for 10+ years and have absolutely no plans to throw away. Plus all the other jackets you keep ripping because you spend way too much time in the bushes.

You’re glad you have it with you when you need to patch your sandals; again. That Velcro is just too old to work anymore. Or when you need to fix your better half’s eyeglasses. And the list goes on…

9. Most of the stuff you own fit in your car

I’d say this is a major telltale sign that you might be a dirtbag. And, no, I don’t mean throwing it all into a van. I mean a normal car. 

We moved three times in half a year. That’s how we realized that we could fit almost our entire life into our car. Our small car, I should mention, a Renault Clio. Man, I could not be prouder for being able to do that!

In time, I also realized that whenever we travel, we fill our car to the brim with almost all we own.

10. You welcome freebies and used gear/clothes from friends

Is there any shame in that? I don’t think so!

Let’s face it; climbing is not exactly a cheap pursuit. Neither is skiing, surfing, rafting, paragliding, mountaineering, or other outdoor sports where you have to invest in gear. So whenever you I get something for free, I see it as a blessing.

If someone else offers to pay for gas, I’m extremely grateful. I know I’ll repay them someday or some other way. If a friend gives me a pair of (fairly-used) climbing shoes, I give them one big hug; shoes are pretty darn expensive. Outdoor clothes my friends don’t use anymore and fit me perfectly? Yes, please!

11. You’d rather spend money on beer than eat out

Dirtbag life

It’s all about the little pleasures in life, and beer is one of them. You can fry your own potatoes but nothing can compare to that cod beer (or two, three…) after a day out climbing. Now that’s worth investing in.

12. Your friends ask you out but you’d rather go climbing

Dirtbag climber

You love your friends, god bless them! But, man, it can be hard to fit your non-climber friends into your “tight schedule”. For us dirtbag climbers, weekends with great weather are precious. And we’d rather go climbing. End of discussion.

The people you spend most time with are pretty much just as obsessed about the same things as you. So, naturally, your tribe is made up of people who do the same things as you.

Your idea of a perfect weekend is being in nature, getting dirty, pushing your limits. Partying all night is just not your thing. You’d gladly wake up at 4 am for a dawn patrol or return late from the crag. And you can’t wait to have a few beers by the campfire. You might even go a little crazy and stay up till 11 p.m. But a bar in the city center? Maybe once or twice a year (at most).

13. You never turn down scraps

When you do eat out at a nice restaurant, it’s probably thanks to friends buying you lunch/dinner. Yet you still find the nerve to ask the waiter to pack the leftovers for you to take home. There’s a couple of days’ worth of food for you.

Visiting family? Bring on the food and pack the scraps for later! Absolutely no shame.

14. You wear out your climbing shoes until your toes peek out

Climbing shoes

Photo by Szidonia Lorincz

You gotta face it, worn out climbing shoes are kinda comfortable. Not to mention that they’ve been on loads of routes, seen places, done stuff. You’ve built a relationship with them, you can’t just throw them away. So you wear out your climbing shoes until they literally fall apart.

If you love your climbing shoes as much as I do, you probably resole them too. As many times as you can up to the point where nothing can be done.

15. Your climbing gear is always packed & ready to be used

Do you keep most of your climbing gear all packed up and ready to be used? When you return from the crag or gym, do you leave your stuff all packed?

You probably have a system, too. All your climbing and camping gear sits prepared, just waiting to be grabbed and tossed in the car. Hey, it’s part of the décor.

16. You check the forecast way too many times

People are pretty much glued to their mobile phones these days. Well, you’re probably not too far, either. But that’s because you check the forecast way too many times.

Is it going to be sunny, cloudy, humid, too hot, too cold, rainy maybe? Where are you going to climb tomorrow or this weekend? That’s the most important question there is.

17. You spend all your savings on what you love

Living like a dirtbag

Is your account balance low again? Why? Did you spend it all on climbing gear or climbing trips? Yeah, that’s just about right.

Got that Christmas bonus? Watcha gonna do with it? Buy a new rope. Managed to save some money in the past months? Watcha gonna do with it? Take a climbing trip.

For dirtbag climbers, money doesn’t seem to want to stick around too long. When you do manage to save money, it’s for doing what you love; for rad experiences. You’d rather buy climbing gear than home appliances. Or fill up the car with gas so you can go climbing than buy clothes. Pricy, fancy mobile phone? Are you serious? Just think how much time you could go away and climb with that?

18. You live from day to day

Dirtbag lifestyle

Per annum salary doesn’t quite apply to you. Because you don’t really know how much you’re going to work in a year. All you know is what your next project/projects are and that’s it. Probably doesn’t matter how much you make either, only how many experiences and how much time you can buy with what you make.

19. You make short-term plans

Because you don’t really know what the future has in store for you; or the very next day. Actually, no one does.

20. It’s climb, eat, sleep, repeat, baby! And some work in between

Climbing Geyikbayiri Turkey

Not all dirtbags are bums traveling the world in a car or van. You can have a job and still dedicate all your extra time to what matters to you most. If all you can think about is your next climbing, skiing, surfing, rafting, paragliding session, and you can’t wait to finish work so that you can go get your fix, then welcome to the club!

Maybe you have steady a job. Hey, you need to pay the bills, eat, and climb. But, whenever possible, you try to be flexible. You stick to your social commitments, but you also try to squeeze in a quick climbing session before or in between, maybe even stop for a couple of hours on the way so that you can climb.

Seen the signs? Now watcha gonna do after you’ve read this? If you’ve got a couple of hours to spare, go out and do what makes you feel alive!

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