The term “dirtbag” originated in the climbing world to describe people who were so committed to climbing that they would forgo a traditional lifestyle in order to spend as much time as possible climbing, beginning in the 1960’s and 70’s. Examples of dirtbags are Yvonne Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, and The Stone Masters, a group of climbers who would spend their summers living and climbing in Yosemite. This lifestyle or and lack of traditional career path led these “dirtbags” to have a limited cash flow, leading to dirty, beat up gear and the occasional canned cat food dinner.
These days the dirtbag lifestyle isn’t as drastic since most have a little more money and are pressured into slightly more traditional career choices, but it still has its own unique aesthetic, which usually presents itself through gear choices. The modern dirtbag often starts off buying really nice gear, and using it until it falls apart. In between these two stages, the dirtbag aesthetic is marked by using duct- tape to hold together Goretex or other technical fabrics. In that case that duct- tape won’t quite suffice, you might see a gear patch. This DIY attitude to repairs, produces a well worn aesthetic. Things look well worn because they are.
This desire and or need to use things until they are falling apart also leads to simplicity. Dirtbags are people who are so committed to their outdoor passions that they will sacrifice many other areas of their lives in their pursuit of a good ski day, climbing route, adventure, etc. People who ski 100 plus days a year will have their gear set up dialed, likely wearing and using the same things every time they go out. This reuse leads to simplicity, not only in routine but also in material objects; why own multiple ski jackets when you always wear the same one? Another cornerstone of the dirt bag aesthetic is function. No one wants the adventure that they sacrifice so much for to be ruined by a faulty piece of equipment. Because of this dirtbags make sure that everything they use in their pursuits will perform to a high standard. Furthermore, those who take the dirtbag lifestyle to the most extreme, and live in their vehicles have limited space. These people need to make sure everything they take with them is fulfilling a specific function, as they simply don’t have the storage for unnecessary things.
Patagonia, the gear company, still plays a large role in the dirtbag world. Their policy and attitude of repair, usually for free, makes a Patagonia garment a great investment for someone who plans to use their gear until it disintegrates. The dirtbag aesthetic has also bled into the general outdoors aesthetic. People who enjoy the outdoors, but maybe aren’t willing to sacrifice the comforts of a more traditional lifestyle, still buy the same gear for its toughness, and functionality, but will probably replace it before it falls apart. These people may even employ a strip of duct- tape here and there, they just aren’t willing to put up with disrepair to the same extent. The van life aesthetic is also influenced by the simplicity and outdoor aesthetic of dirtbags, but in a more gentrified way. The frequently instagram #vanlife movement tries to give off the same commitment to the adventure that dirtbags have, minus the disrepair that can be avoided by traveling in a $70,000 van.
Finally, the dirtbag aesthetic exudes fulfillment. Life would probably be more comfortable working a 9 to 5 and replacing gear before it is mainly held together with duct tape and dirt, but would you have as much fun as a Ski Patroller (people who are known to be perpetually broke) who didn’t miss a powder day all ski season because they were guaranteed first tracks in their packed out boots and holey long underwear?
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Enderlin, Tom. “Well Worn Patagonia Baggies.” Baggies Shorts Throughout the Years, Patagonia, https://www.patagonia.com/stories/baggies-shorts-throughout-the-years/story-71408.html. Accessed 1 Feb. 2023.
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