To dirtbag or not to dirtbag, that is the question.
The technique of dirtbagging is one that can only truly be learned by experience. Let’s face it, money is time, and to climb requires money. However, every lifestyle climber knows a trick or two to save a buck when needed. On the flip side of the coin, there are certain things that a climber shouldn’t skimp on. Here’s a list of what you can save some money on, and what you should invest in with the best available product.
What to Dirtbag:
The leather gloves you can buy in any hardware store for $8 – $10 are going to work almost as good as the more expensive brand name belay gloves from climbing manufacturers, which typically cost $20 – $40. I bought a pair of some generic gloves last summer, and they’ve survived countless days of cragging, and a trip up El Capitan with no problems.
Tip: Be sure to create a small hole so you can clip your gloves in to a carabiner for when you’re not using them. A sharp knife works well for this.
An essential tool for cragging to keep your rope out of the dirt, an Ikea shopping bag works well in place of an official rope bag made by climbing companies. Plus they cost a mere 50 cents at Ikea stores, compared with $20 – $50 for most rope bags on the market.
Trad climbing clothes:
While there’s a whole niche of marketing geared towards the outdoor lifestyle, the best bet for trad climbing is shirts and pants from the thrift store. If you’ve ever shredded your clothes in an off-width you know what I’m talking about. For my recent trip up the off-width ridden Salathe Wall on El Captain I spent one dollar on a tuxedo shirt and another dollar on some jeans. Plus Macklemore has made thrift stores cool with his video Thrift Shop.
For even cheaper options, look through the thrift store dumpster.
Tip: One of the cooler thrift shops around is Wabi Sabi in Moab, Utah. Each day there is one item (pants, shirts etc.) that is 50% off. They also specialize in outdoor gear. It’s located on 411 Locust Lane, right by Milts, a popular restaurant amongst climbers.
Dirtbags are masters at sleeping for free, and why not the earth is our home. The first option to is get a vehicle you can sleep in, and then your ride can automatically be turned into a hotel. BLM land is often free to camp in, and sometimes is located close to pay campsites in National Forests or National Parks. If you’re looking for accommodations but still want to save cash, try out a hostel over a hotel. A couple of climber friendly hostels: The Wanderlust in Gunnison, Colorado and The Crash Pad in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
What Not to Dirtbag
This is your lifeline, and with 15 years of climbing experience I can definitely vouch that you get what you pay for with ropes. Get a cheap rope and it might last a year with regular use and abuse. Buy the best (Mammut, Blue Water, and Sterling are proven performers) and the rope should last much longer.
This is key. First off don’t waste your money with buying someone’s crappy cheap used cams. For cams, Black Diamond and Metolius are the best in the business, and are great when it comes to servicing them when they need it (sling replacement, other repairs). Aliens are great, but their customer service does not compare. Don’t waste your time and money with cheap knock-offs.
Again, you get what you pay for. There are plenty of brands offering climbing shoes these days, but when you buy something cheap the rubber is often low quality and wears out quickly. Tried and true brands in the climbing world: Five Ten, Sportiva and Evolv.
Note: Your very first pair of climbing shoes might warrant an exception to this rule. Footwork is one of the more subtle nuances in climbing, and your first pair is going to get abused more than your second, third, fourth pairs.
Also: resoling shoes is always a good idea. A resole is in the neighborhood of $50. Rock and Resole in Boulder, Colorado is known to be a quality company to get the job done. Don’t live in Boulder and want to save on shipping? Wait until you take a trip there and drop them off at Rock and Resole, or “carpool” your shoes with friends: ship shoes together in one box to save some cash.
I used to get my backpacks from thrift stores and dumpsters until I finally got a high quality one and noticed the difference. The support available in modern day packs is incredible, and just by using a high quality pack can reduce the impact on your body greatly. Climbing is going to inflict enough abuse on your body, get a pack that feels good and carries the load well. There are numerous brands out there that offer high quality packs; I personally recommend Deuter and Osprey packs.
Tip: A slightly used pack can be as good as new. Check out Mountain Project’s forum for good deals, or your local sporting good store that has backpacks and other gear on consignment.
Also: the Telluride Free Box, located right on the main drag, can have great scores, and everything is FREE! I scored a pair of snow boots I use almost daily, and there are countless stories of epic finds at the T-ride Free Box.
Lastly, never, never buy a used, cheap haulbag. Those things get abused really bad, and I once heard a story of an old one busting on some buddies halfway up El Cap, making for a shameful retreat.
List complied by Luke Mehall, with additional reporting from Samson.
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About us: The Climbing Zine was started in 2010 by Al Smith III and Luke Mehall. It continues to the day with the mission of representing the true essence of climbing. Our crown jewel is our printed version, but we also do the interweb thing, and Kindle.
We have also published two books: The Great American Dirtbags and Climbing Out of Bed, both written by publisher, Luke Mehall.