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Dirtbagging as Cheap Lightweight Backpacking


Dirtbagging is stripping backpacking down to its essentials: fun and adventure. Throw a few things in any old pack, and just get out there. You don't need all that expensive backpacking gear. Leave the extra clothes behind, sleep in a pile of leaves or next to a fire. Dirtbagging is keeping it simple and using your wits instead of your wallet.

Example of a Dirtbagging Trip

I took an inflated old rubber tube, a homemade plastic bivy sack, and some snacks for a float down the Boardman River here in Michigan. I had a few warm things to wear to bed instead of using a sleeping bag. I carried a small umbrella to use on the river and over my head at night. Altogether, I had maybe 10 pounds in a bundle on my lap as I floated down the river sitting in the tube, with my butt and my feet in the water.

The trout were surfacing everywhere and the deer were stepping back from the riverbank at the sight of me. Blue heron were hunting for fish in the shallows. There were wild strawberries at every stop. No paddling, just going with the flow. It was very relaxing, and yet still had the element of unpredictability, and thus adventure.

I feasted on berries in the evening until the rain came. It rained all night, but I stayed dry in my garbage bag bivy sack (my dirtbagging shelter), with a small umbrella over my head. A large white-tail deer almost stepped on me in the middle of the night, and scared me half to death with his snorting. In the morning it was still raining.

It wasn't just raining, it was a thunderstorm. One thing about a bivy sack is that you don't have enough space to keep yourself entertained. So storm or not, it was time to get moving. I bundled up my few things, stepped into the cold river, and sat in the tube.

I drifted by beautiful houses, sitting in my tube in a heavy sweater, with my umbrella over my head. It was just getting light, late because of the storm. People looked up from their morning coffee, to see me in a flash of lightning. I waved and floated on. I had a great time slogging through knee-deep mud in a portage around a dam, and arrived home safely a couple hours later. That's dirtbagging.

For another dirtbagging story, visit the page, "An Ultralight River Rafting Adventure".

Note: To be safe in circumstances like the above, it s a good idea to know how to start a fire in the rain, and other basic wilderness skills. It is also helpful to know which berries and other edible wild plants you can eat. Here are some related pages:

Wilderness Survival Guide

Wilderness Survival Tips

Staying Warm

Edible Wild Plants

Edible Wild Berries


The Ultralight Backpacking Site | Dirtbagging