The Dirtbag Calling

23 years ago Matt Foley (Chris Farley) attempted to warn teenagers about how life choices can lead to living in a van down by the river. When he asked if they wanted to live in a van down by the river there was a group in the audiences who said, “wait that’s an option?” Like Christina Applegate, they found the idea of nomadic living appealing. So they packed up their climbing gear, kayaks, running shoes, backpacks, and camp stoves. Then loaded it all into vans, RVs, and campers and set out to establish a non-traditional life.

What Is A Dirtbag?

Urban Dictionary defines dirtbags as, “A person who is committed to a given (usually extreme) lifestyle to the point of abandoning employment and other societal norms in order to pursue said lifestyle. Dirtbags can be distinguished from hippies by the fact that dirtbags have a specific reason for their living communally and generally non-hygienically; dirtbags are seeking to spend all of their moments pursuing their lifestyle”

The term dirtbag is thought to originate within the climbing world but has grown to be a catch-all for anyone who is devoted to his or her passion. Other common terms used are the ski bum, river rat, or hiker trash. While originally these terms were uttered to be despairing, the community has embraced these names and began to self-identify as such.

Admiring Dirtbags from Afar

I am not a dirtbag, but I admire them for taking chances and make the leap to live this lifestyle. I have had fantasies about hiking that Appalachian trail or exploring the blank spaces on the map, but I never got up the nerve to attempt it. Reflecting back the best time would have been when I had turned 21. I had recently dropped out of college and was mowing grass for a living. It was the perfect time to launch into adventure, but no matter what, I could not muster the courage to journey on without a safety net.


In the end, I joined the Army and got to see the woods of Georgia, North Carolina, live 2-years in Northern Italy, and visit Southern Afghanistan. I think of my time in Italy as my biggest adventure. It was my first time in alpine mountains, to stand above the tree line or see a glacier. I took the time to explore various countries and met all types of people. While I worked the closest thing to a “regular job” in the Army during this time, I feel this was my closest to dirtbag living because I was always traveling and experiencing new things.

For now, I am in the rat race. Hopefully soon, my wife and I can find a balance between our responsibilities and our love of being outdoors. Until then I will continue to live vicariously through the Instagram accounts and blogs of dirtbags.

What do you think of the dirtbag lifestyle? Are you a dirtbag? What inspired you to try it?