Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
The “Van Life” sub culture has exploded on social media, especially amongst millenials. For trails runners, the ideal dirtbag rig allows easy access to the best trailheads, affordable travel to races and generally makes it easier to focus on running, whether it’s a year-round lifestyle choice or a getaway for weekend warriors.
Meet the “dirtbag” faces of the current generation of trail runners that call the back seat of their vehicles “home.”
Luke Nelson is a physician assistant and professional mountain runner. He lives in a typical house, but uses a built-out truck to have flexibility traveling to races and FKT-style mountain adventures (like his recent assault on Utah 13ers).
The truck also serves as the ultimate crew vehicle for Luke’s wife and kids, when they are crewing his races or adventures. “I have spent a lot of time making my truck very capable of getting to remote Idaho and Wyoming trailheads,” he says. “It has a three-inch Old Man Emu Suspension lift, ARB front bumper with a Warn winch, Rigid Industries LED light bar and four lights and a Leer camper shell.” He also has a Yaesu Ham Radio, which he uses when directing the Scout Mountain Ultra Trail (SMUT) out of cell coverage.
David Laney, 29, of Oregon moved into his car because he could not afford to pay rent and travel on his tight budget. While the simple lifestyle stretches his dollars, it does force him to cut down on personal belongings, “Everything I own is in the car with me, so I really had to limit my gear,” he says. “I built a bed in my Chevy truck that I can slide skis and shoes under.”
Despite the simple lifestyle, David spares no expense when it comes to tasteful décor and home ambiance. “I got a shag carpet on sale, so now I’ve got a carpeted interior,” he says. “It’s pretty classy.”
Gina Lucrezi, 34, an elite trail runner and founder of the Trail Sisters blog and running community, finally upgraded to legit “dirtbag” status this May when she bought Ramona the Ram (2016 Dodge Ram ProMaster 2500) as her full-time traveling mansion. Gina admits that her desire to move into a van was born out of her inability to sit still for very long, paired with her affinity to love a simple lifestyle and embrace the unexpected each day.
When it comes to thoughtful interior design concepts, Gina built Ramona with running at the forefront of the plan. “I made sure to leave lots of open floor space during the build for stretching and rolling-out purposes,” she says. “All my running shoes are kept above the driver and passenger seats in the built-in cubby.”
In June of 2016, Andrew Vargo was laid off from his full-time photography job. He stuck around in Denver until his lease ran out in July, and then packed up and hit the road. He ended up in Flagstaff for a few months before setting out on a road trip in September to work on a personal film project and to run in every National Park. While no longer living the van life full-time (he once again has an apartment in Boulder) Andrew continues to use his van for weekend missions.
I have been living out of my Jeep Wrangler since February, which most people think is impossible because I am 5’8. It’s basically the tiny-home version of van life. The back has a platform built out just like the ones you see in trucks or vans. When I fold the front seats forward and fill the gaps with clothes and pillows, I can sleep fully extended. This set up isn’t about luxury, it’s a means to an end: roaming all over the southwest to explore the trails and wilderness areas. The small space also keeps me from being lazy—I want to get up and start writing and running right away. For me this lifestyle is about maximizing the opportunity for adventure.
Don’t call Michael Versteeg a dirtbag. Despite living in his van for the majority of the year, Versteeg, explains that the term “dirtbag” isn’t necessarily endearing. “I think the term has been overly romanticized by people who are not actually living this way,” he says. “Everyone always wants to call me a ‘free spirit’ but I actually spend six months a year working construction and living on the ranch that I own in Prescott.” The rest of the year he hits the road in a 2012 blue-and-white Ford Transit van with his furry sidekick Herschell, which allows him to run, race and climb all over the country.
Tory Scholz bought her sprinter van, “the Vanicorn,” in July of 2016 and drove straight to the San Juan mountains in Colorado. By August she had officially given up her apartment and has been living on the road full time for over a year now. For Tory, who teaches part time and uses the summer to travel, the lifestyle choice is a natural fit, “I don’t see it much different from what I was doing before I gave up my apartment,” she says. “I just don’t need to pack and unpack my car anymore.” Tory admits she does not have many renovations yet and the Vanicorn is a work in progress. “I don’t have power or a kitchen yet,” she says. “But maybe one day.” She does have a poster of Colorado 14ers on the “walls” for inspiration, though.