A Dirtbagging Trip

Author: TG Contributor
Date: 2020-01-18

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Dirtbagging is stripping camping or backpacking down to the essentials: fun and adventure. Just throw a few things in any old pack, and get out there. You don't need all that expensive camping and 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.

Recipe For A Dirtbagging Trip

Take an old inflated rubber tube, a bivy sack made from garbage bags, and some snacks. Put them in an beat-up daypack, add a bus ride, a river, wild strawberries and a thunderstorm or two. Mix well and enjoy.

This particular dirtbagging trip was a float down the Boardman River in Michigan. I took the bus out of town, and had the driver drop me off on the side of the road, where the river passed under. The water is shallow, but fast here. The sun was shining when stepped into the cold current.

I had brought 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 the bundle on my lap as I floated down the river sitting in the tube, with my butt and my feet in the cold water. I had to navigate usking my hands as paddles.

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. A beaver slapped his tail against the water when he saw me. I floated for hours, the view alternaing between wilderness areas and small collections of nice homes.

I was just going with the flow. It was very relaxing, and yet still had the element of unpredictability, and thus adventure.

There were wild strawberries at every stop, and when I stopped for the night I feasted on them 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 wicked 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 there in a heavy sweater, with my umbrella over my head. The morning light was late because of the storm. People looked up from their coffee to see me in a flash of lightning. I waved and floated on.

Closer to home, I had a great time slogging through knee-deep mud in a portage around a dam. It was almost like quicksand. I worked my way freeFind Article, and took a trail through the rainy woods along the river. By noon I was safely home and wondering if it was too early for a beer. That's dirtbagging.

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Steve Gillman has been hiking, biking, floating and adventuring in general for decades. For more of his stories and outdoor advice, you can visit

By  Steve Gillman

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