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 How to Live a Dirtbag Lifestyle

Dirtbaggers are individuals that have decided to cast off the restraints of ordinary life to pursue their passion for outdoor adventure. While groups of dirtbaggers are most typically comprised of climbers, you might also notice river raft guides, ski-bums, surfers, base jumpers, and other outdoor enthusiasts partaking in the dirtbag lifestyle.

You can usually find dirtbaggers living in cars, vans, tents, or caves. They are most often broke individuals who are lucky to have a few dollars to their name. However, they are often equipped in outdoor gear worth many hundreds (or thousands) of dollars. Dirtbaggers may have a particular area they frequent, but they are most often transient folk making their way to various national parks and recreation areas, always on the hunt for their next venture.

By forgoing the path usually traveled by people in the professional world (school, work, buy a house, work, die), dirtbaggers have chosen to live a life of exploration and outdoor debauchery. In the eyes of the dirtbag, the life they have chosen is a joyous one filled with less work and more time for climbing. However, the dirtbagger must also be prepared to overcome many trials and tribulations that do not often exist in mainstream society.

The dirtbagging lifestyle is not for everyone, and not for the faint of heart. If you prefer the finer things in life, then this is perhaps not the lifestyle for you. However, if you are considering casting off the chains of society and living on the road—meandering between rock climbs, rivers, base jumps, or whatever your thing is.

Here are a few tips to aid your transition into the dirtbagger lifestyle:

Be Cheap

You’ve never understood the meaning of frugal until you’ve lived on the road. I’m not talking college dorm room cheap. I’m talking Ebenezer Scrooge cheap. I’ve heard stories of dirtbaggers hanging out around pizza places so that they can swoop in and beg for pizza that’s about to be thrown away.

Unless you’re independently wealthy, modest living is the only way you’re going to survive any amount of extended time on the road. Remember, for many this is a lifestyle, not just a vacation. For example, notable climber/photographer Jimmy Chin lived in his Subaru for eight years.

Work Remotely

Some jobs allow you to work part-time from your laptop. If you own a laptop computer and want your dirtbag lifestyle to last more than a few weeks or months, this is something to consider. Search for flexible part-time employment for individuals with an internet connection. There are many options even for those with little or no professional training.

After landing a remote job, you need to park your car by a Starbucks, connect to the free Wi-Fi, and crank out some work for a few hours. A steady flow of cash (even small quantities of money) will be imperative for buying gas, climbing gear, and top ramen.

Take Advantage of Every Shower

If you’re choosing to live out of your car, you probably recognize that your standards of cleanliness will be lower than what is typical in mainstream society. But still, there’s no reason to live like a barbarian if it can be avoided. Many campgrounds and recreational areas offer public showers for a small fee ($1 or $2). If you’re in an area where that’s not an option you can always jump in a stream or use a public sink to rinse off. Staying proactive about your cleanliness is key for enjoying life on the road.

Find a Lesser-Known Campground

If you’re trying to be a dirtbagger in a popular area (like most national parks), finding a campground in an area frequented by tourists can be difficult. Try getting a little off the well-beaten trail and visit a nearby state park or national forest area. Forest areas are often located near national parks with similar access to popular climbing areas but are easier to find last-minute campgrounds.

Plan Your Meals

Nothing is worse than realizing you’re going to run out of food. Poor planning often leads to making an unexpected expensive purchase at a gas station or restaurant (see bullet #1). Even worse, running out of food can mean running out of energy on an adventure. You’re probably going to lose some weight if you become a dirtbagger, but don’t play too fast or loose with your food supplies.

Communicate with Other Dirtbags

Other dirtbaggers can serve as excellent sources of information. They might have the beta on a climb you’re considering, but more importantly (if there is anything more important than climbing beta) they will know what campgrounds are full, what camping areas are friendly to dirtbaggers (trust us –many are not), and how to evade being captured by park rangers (we don’t recommend illegal camping).

There are many nuances to living a life on the road, including many things we cannot teach you via an online article. You’re just going to have to live the experience, and part of that lifestyle is immersing yourself in the knowledge of like-minded adventurers.

Enjoy the Journey

Ultimately, you’re going to have to figure out your system for effectively living the dirtbag lifestyle, and everyone has their standards for comfort and enjoyment. While living out of a car is full of unique challenges, few people are willing to take the leap and cast off the restraints of regular life. Remember to revel in the challenges you encounter, and embark on the personal journey you have chosen.