The List: The 4 Types of Sandbagging

I always get sandbagged by guys in gear shops. I will stop in somewhere to pick up a cordelette, or

I always get sandbagged by guys in gear shops. I will stop in somewhere to pick up a cordelette, or a stuff sack, or a guidebook, and they inquire about my plans. Like you do when you work in a gear shop, because that’s the good stuff, talking to people about their dreams and climbs and backpacking trips, not which jacket is more waterproof.

But it seems like it always goes like this:

Me: Yeah, we’re going to check out [NAME OF CLIMB, GRADE].

Dude in Gear Shop: Oh, that’s cool. You know what else you would like, is [NAME OF CLIMB AT LEAST THREE NUMBER GRADES HIGHER].

Me: Uh huh. Is there a good place to get a burrito around here?

Last year, I was in a shop on the east side of the Sierras, talking to a guy, explaining to him that I was going to take my friend from Chicago on his first multipitch climb, so we were going to do something mellow the first day. So the guy in the gear shop recommends a linkup of 12 total pitches ending with the 5.10c Gram Traverse on Drug Dome. Thanks brah, that will be very useful.

I even got sandbagged in a coffee shop a few weeks ago, by a barista. The conversation started out with me asking about her weekend and her asking about mine, and ended with me telling her about One Of The Biggest Days Of My Life In The Mountains and her telling me that she had done the exact same thing this summer, but three hours faster. But then she gave me the locals’ discount on my Americano.

I don’t know the reasons for sandbagging, psychological, sociological, emotional, whatever – all I know is that it happens. Apparently a lot, at least to me. If you suspect you are being sandbagged, and would like help identifying how, here’s my list of four types (probably not at all exhaustive):

1. The Humble Brag Sandbag
Any conversation with someone who is a Humble Brag Sandbagger is not about exchanging useful beta – it is about how big that person’s [figurative] penis is. As in, You want to know about a good route/trail/ski descent around here? Great. Instead, I shall relate to you how badass of a climber/mountain biker/skier I am.

You: “I was thinking of taking my brother-in-law up Mount Hood next spring, up the standard route.”

Sandbagger: “Next spring? You guys should climb Denali. I had the time of my life climbing Denali. What an experience. The thing about Denali is…”

2. The Selective Memory Sandbag
I am not this guy. I struggle and suffer a lot in the outdoors and am happy to recount every single detail. I do not forget how painful it was, or scary. I often lead with the number of mosquito bites I got, the slipperiness of the handholds, the density of terrain that must be bushwhacked through. But some people are not like this. They finish climbs or rides or trips and forget every bad moment, and only remember the turns, or the fingerlocks, or the sunset. And that’s all they tell you.

Example: “Oh yeah, it was incredible. Kind of a long day, but man.”

3. The I-Am-Not-Listening Sandbag
There’s no malice here, just someone who is a lousy listener and a poor communicator of useful information. This is the outdoor equivalent of:

“Hey, we are looking for a burger joint. Got any favorite places around here?”

“Do you guys like sushi? You HAVE to go to Izakaya Den.”

4. The self-deprecation sandbag.
I have not experienced this type, but a friend clued me into an experience he had had with a mutual acquaintance of ours. Essentially, the sandbagger always characterizes themselves as slow, weak, and out of shape. Then when you get together with said sandbagger, they drop you on a bike ride, or hike way faster than you, or float up the hard pitches of a climb while you desperately grab for gear to pull on. Sometimes this is intentional; they train their asses off but work to create the illusion of mediocrity, and then crush. Sometimes it’s not intentional; the sandbagger truly believes they are slow, weak, and out of shape – maybe because they compare themselves to Steve House or Anton Krupicka.

Also, FYI, I am not sandbagging you when I say I don’t climb that hard. Or run fast, or ride fast. The only time I would sandbag you is when you and I are splitting a pizza, because I assume you can eat as much as me. Which is wrong, and I apologize in advance, but I can’t help it. I will eat some of your half if we get the Large.


Brendan Leonard is a contributing editor to Adventure Journal. Follow him at his blog, Semi-Rad.
Showing 7 comments
  • Pete

    The only one of these “sandbags” that I would actually classify as “sandbagging” is number 4. Sandbagging (from wikipedia) “to lower one’s competitive rating in order to play in a future event with a higher handicap and consequently have a better chance to win” It is typical in billiards, golf, and even car racing.

    The rest are what I call “one up’s” which are more annoying to me than sandbagging. You went diving in Cozumel? Well they went free diving on the great barrier reef…without O2, and stayed under for 30 minutes on one breath…and fended off a shark with a pooka shell necklace they were wearing. Unfortunately I am all too familiar with this as I have WAY too many friends that are one-uppers.

    Sorry to crash your post.

  • Cody

    It seems as though sandbagging (according to Pete, only #4) may be the unintended result of humility. It’s better for folks to sandbag than to call out how rad they are (unless they’re involved in gnar). This is directly related to Brendan’s “what is hardcore?” dirtbag diary.

    So maybe the best answer (retaining humility while avoiding sandbagging) is to either give a non-answer or to give a hard metric (climbing grade, %age of slope, etc).

    Or maybe this is just over-thinking it. No matter, it’s more fun to over-think adventure’s simplicity when at home or office than it is to avoid thinking about it at all.

    • steve casimiro

      Overthinking is what Adventure Journal is all about. Except when it’s underthinking.

  • Dallas

    Concur with Pete; not sure who attempted to add 1-3 as definitions for sandbagging , but number 4 is it. I have Been on this planet a few days and the term sandbagging traditionally means holding back in some way, whether that be verbally down playing your fitness or skill, or not catting up to the appropriate group for your skill level.
    And yes have plenty of sandbagging under my belt.

  • Erin

    Hilarious. I don’t care if these qualify as “sandbagging” or not. I laughed out loud in a quiet library. Which, with a cold, is not attractive.

  • Mark Jenkins

    Brendan-Your writing has had me laughing out loud many times. Good work, colleague. In my experience, all four qualify as worthy sandbags. Let me add a fifth, of which I am guilty: the honest sandbag. A (beautiful young) woman once asked me if she could climb a given 5.6 offwidth. She had climbed before, so in hopes of encouraging her, I gushed about how she would have no problem and would fly right up it. On the climb she screamed, cried, got bloody and then was lowered off.

  • Steve Bennett

    I think you need to work on your pizza sharing skills. Count the number of slices. Divide by two. That’s how many you eat. If you eat faster, you just stop eating sooner. Don’t eat his slice.

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