A Guide to Dirtbag Life Hacks

A few helpful tips from a woman whose curtains are made from a t-shirt and an old dress.

We live in an era of life hacks—tips and tricks to simplify, streamline, and make our days efficient, novel, and easy. Put pancake mix into an empty ketchup bottle for a no mess breakfast! Tie a unique ribbon on your black suitcase so you can easily spot it on the luggage carousel! Teach your dog to use an Aeropress and milk frother for morning bedside lattes!

But let’s not leave life hacking to the front country or civilized world alone. We have ample opportunity for novelty, creativity, and streamlining in our lives as camping, climbing, and living in our cars. Here are eight tried and true life hacks for the nascent dirtbag.

1. Sleep in Your Day Clothes
Pajamas? Who needs ‘em. Save yourself the time and discomfort of getting undressed and dressed only to get undressed and re-dressed eight hours from now. Unbuttoning your pants can turn “fitted hiking pants” into “flowy pajama bottoms” in three seconds or less. Just make sure to re-button before exiting your sleeping bag.

2. Don’t Wash Your Bowl
Do you care about the planet? Me too. Show it some love by using less water—none–on your dishes. If you finish every last scrap of your meal, then presto change-o, you’ve got a clean bowl. Didn’t quite finish it? Build your own personalized seven-layer dip. Let the flavors and aroma grow as you stack oatmeal on top of cous cous that’s covering half a pancake. Savor the unique taste of cinnamon, curry, and oregano that not many get to enjoy.

3. Keep Your Sleeping Bag Zipped
Ever try to zip up your sleeping bag in the dark only to catch the zipper on fabric and proceed to wrestle with it for 18 minutes and settle on “I don’t need it zipped anyway?” Fear not, my friend. If you leave it zipped all the way to the top, you never have to deal with finicky zippers again! And you’ll build that six-pack you’ve been dreaming of while you do the worm each time you wiggle your way in or out of it.

4. Wear One Pair of Socks
Carry less weight, spend less time dressing and undressing, and build extra arch support with caked grime to the sole of your sweaty foot. You can go a shockingly long time walking and sleeping in only one pair of socks. Just make sure no one else is in the tent when you take those rank, biohazard puppies out of your approach shoes each evening and stuff them in your sleeping bag.

5. Let Your Hair Grow Wild
Forget the razor. Shaving is expensive, dangerous, and time consuming. And facial and body hair are a free warm layer! Going au naturale is like building tiny, free strands of armor to defend you against the nasty elements like sun, wind, and cold. The transition might be slightly, um, itchy, but fear not. After three or four days you’ll be wondering why you ever groomed in such a harebrained way before.

6. Carry Just One Multi-Use Water Bottle
Hydration system, thermos, pee bottle, backcountry bidet? I can’t keep that many tools straight. Stick to one bottle and the simplicity of your world will make you feel like you’re in a flotation tank. Make it wide mouth and one liter, for ease and aim, and please rinse it out in the morning before you make your coffee.

7. Swallow Your Toothpaste
Ever find yourself brushing your teeth with your eyes closed, dreading the imminent future of sitting up, unzipping the tent, and spraying your saliva-toothpaste mix-up on the sagebrush outside of your tent? Dread no more and keep those eyes closed. You can enjoy your prescribed two minutes of brushing, take a big gulp, and tuck your toothbrush back in your chest pocket. Try to get natural toothpaste without fluoride or other chemicals to avoid internal damage.

8. Ditch Your Watch
The feeling of sweaty plastic on your wrist is rotten, as is being consumed by the time when you’re camping. Is the sun up? Rise and shine! Are the stars out? Time to hit the hay. One potential downfall is not having an alarm for those days when you really need to be up early. But that’s why you make sure your buddy has a watch, and you enjoy the simple living following your circadian rhythm (until its your turn to cook breakfast for your alpine start—get out of bed ya bum!).


Kathryn Montana Sall is a freelance writer, artist, and educator living in Lander, Wyoming. kathrynmontana.com
Showing 11 comments
  • Michael Just

    I should have known to do #3, keeping my sleeping bag zipped cause I can’t even start to get that zipper started again….

  • Jayaways

    Excellent advice.. Another tit-bit is to use your undies as a flannel when washing, which includes your face if you’re hardcore. And afterwards? Clean undies, clean you

    • Edward Oak

      My personal favorite hygiene manager is the warm teabag face wash. Just remember to use black tea for its astringent properties and don’t overscrub!

  • Jim

    Is this an early April fools joke? Keeping your bottle and mess kit clean is a great way to prevent sickness. Dry socks are a must for anyone moving under their own power.

  • Mikeal hunt

    This is horrible advice. One pair of socks and sleeping in your day clothes is a skin infection waiting to happen

    • Super Sam

      Cheek. Tongue. In.

      • Kathryn

        Thanks for clarifying, Super Sam 😉

  • Jeff Fujita

    Good stuff in the face of our antibacterial world. Living full-time on the road in a trailer offers incentive to give up the triple rinse routine of suburban life. I still believe in cleaning up…just not as often.

  • Dr. Format

    Trully funny !!!

  • Zach

    I often go a month at a time in the backcountry in the same clothes – spot on!

  • Jayaways

    A month? I went seven last year in the same set of clothes… The same one set of clothes for the trail, sleeping AND elegant enough to wine and dine in smart French restaurants. That’s the difference you see between your average dirtbag, and an EXECUTIVE dirtbag like me. A smart trilby hat distracts from slightly worn footwear

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