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Friday, June 21, 2024

All I’ve Worn This Summer Are Technical Jorts

Among outdoorsy people, calling someone a “dirtbag” can be a term of affection. These people value climbing, surfing, or some other niche outdoor pursuit, above everything else. They live in vans and subsist on peanut butter. They show up to mountain bike and proceed to destroy you on your full-suspension whilst pedaling a busted single-speed. They carry a full-size Weber grill to the campsite on their back, while you struggle under the weight of your tiny pocket stove. But dirtbags earn respect, because they are proof that having a lot of money and the best gear doesn’t make you stronger, faster, or tougher than anyone else. 

To be very clear, I am not a dirtbag. I am the person standing at a popular trailhead, puzzling over a hilariously expensive satellite messenger. I am the one blowing up the full air mattress inside our king-size stand-up tent or insisting that I need a sleeping bag poncho so I’m not cold while we’re standing around a campfire. But I like to pretend to be a dirtbag—or at least to have it not be so painfully obvious that I’m wearing $1,000 worth of full-body down in 50-degree weather when everyone else is fine in flannel. That is why this summer, all I’ve worn are Ripton’s technical jorts.

The Original Outdoor Wear

The first time I went backpacking, the people I was with made relentless fun of me for wearing blue jeans instead of lightweight, quick-drying, wicking nylon hiking pants. It’s true that modern textile science has created garments that are much more comfortable, safer, and easier to wear than ever before. However, given their origin story, it’s funny that jeans are generally not considered suitable outdoor wear today.

In 1871, the tailor Jacob Davis of Reno, Nevada, wanted to make pants that would stand up to miners’ heavy use. He came up with the idea of trousers that were strengthened with strategically placed rivets. He partnered with Levi Strauss, a San Francisco dry-goods merchant, to file a patent for strengthened pants.

Levi’s trousers were made from canvas and were tremendously popular. But it wasn’t until 1890 that Strauss started making pants out of denim, which is when they really took off for people who didn’t have blue-collar jobs. By the 1960s and ’70s, blue jeans were mostly associated with casual wear. By the time I was a teenager, it wasn’t considered totally insane for people to spend more than $100 on premium denim. On pants! That you couldn’t even wear while working your claim.

If Levi Strauss could’ve made his pants today, they might have looked something like Ripton’s. My pair is the basic V4 blue steel with a cutoff hem. They look exactly like regular jorts, but they’re made from an almost imperceptibly lighter and stretchier denim hybrid fabric. My regular size 25 is stretchy enough to wear a pair of padded underwear underneath for biking.

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It turns out that the people who made fun of me while I was backpacking in jeans were right. Denim just isn’t that comfortable anymore now that we have better fabrics, especially if you wear it in the snug fit that current style dictates. I have plenty of regular Levi’s cutoffs in 100 percent denim cotton. They’re sturdy and well-made, but they have a tendency to ride up my butt while I’m biking, constrict my hips while I’m climbing, and sag around me like a giant cotton diaper if I put them on over a wet bathing suit. 

Daily Driver

The jorts found me on Instagram (where else?). I scrolled past, but my eyes caught “Jorts for Sports,” and I immediately leaped up and was ready to buy. Until I saw the price. My regular jorts cost $20, plus shipping. How on earth was I to justify spending $79?

Truthfully, I did not spend that much. I simply waited for the V4s to go on sale. But Ripton founder Elliot Wilkinson-Ray pointed out over email that $79 puts them squarely in the Levi’s/Patagonia price bracket. If you actually buy your clothes new and not off eBay or Poshmark, Ripton jorts are comparably priced to, say, a pair of Patagonia board shorts.

Don’t get me wrong. I love a good single-purpose, technical garment as much as anyone else. Biking is just infinitely more comfortable with a pair of padded shorts. Limp socks that roll down can ruin every single run.

But one has to draw the line somewhere. You can't walk around in full technical kit all the time. This may be saying more about me than about technical jorts, but I don't ever want to spot friends having a fun time and not be able to jump into an impromptu game of Frisbee just because of what I'm wearing. I got these jorts in May. It’s almost August now, and I have yet to come across a situation where technical jorts were not the right thing to wear. 

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I wore them every day during a two-week beach vacation, throwing them on over my bathing suit to play catch with my son on the sand. I wore them with a pretty top to a neighborhood jazz festival. Mountain biking for four hours and getting pizza? Check. Midweek roller-skate hangs? Check. Now you can even get black acid-washed jorts. I believe these may totally work for either a wedding or a funeral, but I haven’t tried that yet. 

Jorts “aren't obsessed with the latest tech,” Wilkinson-Ray says. “Like the way wood floors have dominated over carpets today. Emotionally, they feel so much better and cleaner.”

That’s the true appeal of the dirtbag—and of jorts. They’re a throwback to the days when playing outside wasn’t a scheduled, difficult affair. When you were a kid, you didn’t have to juggle your office job so you could find a time to go trail running. Playing on the weekend didn’t involve a 45-message-long group chat to find a day when everyone was available.

You might not have even needed a phone. Instead, your friends lived down the street, your bike was in the garage, and you could just throw your jorts on and go. There are a lot of things I haven’t set up right about my life, but jorts aren’t one of them. I highly suggest you do the same.


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