From national chain franchises to pokey Mom and Pop stores, outdoor gear shops the world over are staffed by remarkably similar individuals. Over years of study, conducted entirely at my own expense (please consider donating to the Dirtbag Research Foundation), I have identified six distinct sub-species. An examination of their characteristics, distribution and hierarchy is presented as follows.
I’ll be listing the types in order of positions of standing within the pack in terms of authority, from least to greatest.
The Clueless Wonder
The Clueless Wonder lives in a constant state of bewilderment and fear. They wander the store looking for busy work, including but not limited to sweeping the floor, tidying the counter and nervous T-Shirt folding. This behaviour is a defence mechanism aimed at dissuading technical questions, none of which the Clueless Wonder can answer.
It’s unclear whether this person gained employment by virtue of nepotism or conspicuous falsehoods on their application form. However, what is decidedly clear is that the terms of their employment will be short… unless, of course, they work for REI, in which case they will be given a managerial position in approximately 17 minutes.
Appearance: Large, rounded eyes. Well groomed.
Behaviour: Nervous, twitchy. Exhibits slack-jaw if engaged in conversation.
Distribution: Commonly found in large chain stores.
Common Phrase: “Ummm…. I’ll have to ask the manager.”
The Creeper lurks in the dark corners of the store waiting for unsuspecting victims to become their “new best friend”. Whilst their subject knowledge is generally sound, their overall demeanour is simply too uncomfortable for customers (or anyone for that matter) to tolerate for an extended period.
You’ll be able to identify a Creeper by their Gollum-esque appearance, awkward mannerisms and unpleasantly specific lines of questioning. Politely excuse yourself and find another employee to service your queries. Alternatively, burn the store down. Better safe than sorry.
Appearance: Pale, beardy. Thick glasses, thin moustache optional.
Behaviour: Socially awkward as fuck.
Distribution: Found in corners, basements
Common Phrase: “Say, what are your plans for the weekend? I know this really secluded cabin, deep in the woods…”
The Idealist is less of an outdoor recreation enthusiast than they are an environmental advocate. Their expertise is as non-specific and piecemeal as their wilderness pursuits, which are usually described as “You know, some walking, a bit of paddling. I rock climbed once.”
Far from being a useless addition to the roster, The Idealist offers unparalleled knowledge on minimising impact. From efficient camping and travel techniques to information on prevalent access issues, The Idealist focuses on niches of information that are classically undervalued. However, their general lack of Gnar causes them to be looked down upon by members who exist in the higher realms of the pecking order.
Appearance: Long hair, hippy-esque
Behaviour: Dreamy, though quick to fire up if confronted by a heated issue.
Distribution: Works the counter, often at medium-sized stores.
Common Phrase: “You know that Patagonia uses responsibly-sourced, fair-trade, non-GMO, vegan-friendly fabrics, don’t you?”
Also known as the Labrador Puppy. This is the guy/gal who FUCKING LOVES CLIMBING (or skiing, or paddling, or hiking). They live it and breathe it. They are subject matter experts with detailed knowledge of every piece of gear, every crag and every route.
As handy as it is to have a Zealot on staff, they can become tiresome at times. There are times, believe it or not, when you might prefer to talk about something other than climbing. The Zealot is unable to do so. However, they have an infectious enthusiasm for their sport and it is hard not to have some of that enthusiasm rub off.
Appearance: Looks fit, like they spend all their spare time climbing. Which they do.
Behaviour: Maniacally positive. Shit-eating grin is a fixture.
Distribution: Specialty stores, e.g. those dedicated to a particular sport
Common Phrase: Barely intelligible string of superlatives… “Sick, Dope, Gnar!”
The Darsh is the Sith Lord equivalent of The Zealot. They are equally passionate and skilled at their chosen sport, and therefore equally knowledgeable. The difference lies in their general attitude and philosophy toward life. The Zealot is a glass-half-full kind of person. The Darsh is more the glass-is-empty-and-chipped-so-I-smashed-it-on-the-floor type.
The Darsh is comfortable in the knowledge that they are superior to you in every way. They will make this abundantly clear, though more than likely in a passive-aggressive manner. Rather than share the stoke of the sport, they prefer to degrade the achievements of others with snide commentary.
Darshes and Zealots occupy similar positions in the outdoor store hegemony. However, Zealots tend to be ambivalent toward the attainment of power and status, whereas The Darsh has an intrinsic need to exert dominance over others.
Appearance: Same as Zealot
Behaviour: Constant snarl, very toothy
Distribution: Same as Zealot
Common Phrase: “Well, I think we’ve heard enough from me. What do you think about me?”
The Quiet Achiever
The Quiet Achiever seems like an unlikely candidate to assume a position of hierarchical dominance, but statistically these kinds are most likely to perform successfully as leaders in an outdoor retail environment. The reason for this is two-fold.
Firstly, they are certified bad-asses. They’ve sent more routes and skied more couloirs than you’ve had hot dinners. Their knowledge of all things outdoor has been cemented over years, perhaps decades of experience.
Secondly, they don’t feel the need to tell you this. You’ll need to weasel it out of them in bite-sized portions. This tendency toward humility engenders respect, and it is the combination of these elements that allows the Quiet Achiever to occupy the helm with poise. That said, You should still grill them at length for the story of their epic on the Eiger Mordwand.
Appearance: Clean cut, professional, athletic
Behaviour: Understated but friendly.
Distribution: Few in numbers but widespread geographically
Common Phrase: “The Cassin Ridge? Yeah, it was fun.”
I am happy to consider submissions for additional sub-species that may have escaped my attention. Please forward your suggestions, as well as your qualifications as a Dirtbagologist, to firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr Ryan Siacci, PhD DrtBg*
with special thanks to Dr Morag Stewart**
Originally published in October 2015
*Not an actual doctor
**An actual doctor