Among the outdoors people, calling someone a “dirtbag” can be a term of endearment. These people value climbing, surfing, or some other outdoor niche above all else. They live in vans and subsist on peanut butter. They show up on the mountain bike and proceed to destroy you with your full suspension while pedaling at a single speed. They carry a full-sized Weber grill to the campsite on their back, while you struggle under the weight of your little pocket stove. But dirtbags earn respect, because they’re proof that having lots of money and the best gear doesn’t make you stronger, faster or tougher than anyone else.
To be very clear, I am not a dirt bag. I’m the person at the head of a popular trail, puzzling over a hilariously expensive satellite messenger. I’m the one who blows up the full air mattress inside our king-size tent or the one who insists I need a sleeping bag poncho so I don’t get cold while we’re around a campfire. But I like it to pretend to be a dirtbag, or at least so it’s not so obvious that I’m wearing $1,000 full body in 50 degree weather when everyone else is fine in flannel. That’s why this summer, all I’ve been wearing are the Ripton technical pants.
The original outerwear
The first time I went backpacking, the people I was with relentlessly teased me for wearing blue jeans instead of lightweight, quick-drying, absorbent nylon hiking pants. It is true that modern textile science has created garments that are much more comfortable, safe and easy to wear than ever before. However, given their history of origin, it’s curious that jeans are not generally considered suitable outdoor clothing today.
In 1871, tailor Jacob Davis of Reno, Nevada, wanted to make pants that would withstand heavy use by miners. He came up with the idea of pants that were reinforced with strategically placed rivets. He partnered with Levi Strauss, a San Francisco dry goods merchant, to file a patent for reinforced pants.
Levi’s pants were made of canvas and were very popular. But it wasn’t until 1890 that Strauss started making pants out of denim, which is when they really took off for people who didn’t have blue-collar jobs. In the 1960s and 70s, blue jeans were mostly associated with casual wear. When I was a teenager, it wasn’t considered totally crazy for people to spend over $100 on premium denim. In the pants! That you couldn’t even wear while your claim was being worked on.
If Levi Strauss could make his pants today, they might look something like Ripton’s. My pair is the basic V4 blue steel with a cut hem. They look exactly like regular jorts, but are made from an almost imperceptibly lighter and stretchy denim hybrid fabric. My regular size 25 is stretchy enough to wear padded underwear underneath for cycling.