Among outdoorsy people, calling someone a “dirtbag” can be a term of affection. These people value climbing, surfing, or some other niche outdoor pursuit, above everything else. They live in vans and subsist on peanut butter. They show up to mountain bike and proceed to destroy you on your full-suspension whilst pedaling a busted single-speed. They carry a full-size Weber grill to the campsite on their back, while you struggle under the weight of your tiny pocket stove. But dirtbags earn respect, because they are proof that having a lot 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 dirtbag. I am the person standing at a popular trailhead, puzzling over a hilariously expensive satellite messenger. I am the one blowing up the full air mattress inside our king-size stand-up tent or insisting that I need a sleeping bag poncho so I’m not cold while we’re standing around a campfire. But I like to pretend to be a dirtbag—or at least to have it not be so painfully obvious that I’m wearing $1,000 worth of full-body down in 50-degree weather when everyone else is fine in flannel. That is why this summer, all I’ve worn are Ripton’s technical jorts.
The Original Outdoor Wear
The first time I went backpacking, the people I was with made relentless fun of me for wearing blue jeans instead of lightweight, quick-drying, wicking nylon hiking pants. It’s true that modern textile science has created garments that are much more comfortable, safer, and easier to wear than ever before. However, given their origin story, it’s funny that jeans are generally not considered suitable outdoor wear today.
In 1871, the tailor Jacob Davis of Reno, Nevada, wanted to make pants that would stand up to miners’ heavy use. He came up with the idea of trousers that were strengthened with strategically placed rivets. He partnered with Levi Strauss, a San Francisco dry-goods merchant, to file a patent for strengthened pants.
Levi’s trousers were made from canvas and were tremendously 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. By the 1960s and ’70s, blue jeans were mostly associated with casual wear. By the time I was a teenager, it wasn’t considered totally insane for people to spend more than $100 on premium denim. On pants! That you couldn’t even wear while working your claim.
If Levi Strauss could’ve made his pants today, they might have looked something like Ripton’s. My pair is the basic V4 blue steel with a cutoff hem. They look exactly like regular jorts, but they’re made from an almost imperceptibly lighter and stretchier denim hybrid fabric. My regular size 25 is stretchy enough to wear a pair of padded underwear underneath for biking.