Don’t Sandbag Me, Bro

I always get sandbagged by guys in gear shops. I will stop in somewhere to pick up a cordelette, or a stuff sack, or a guidebook, and they inquire about my plans. Like you do when you work in a gear shop, because that’s the good stuff, talking to people about their dreams and climbs and backpacking trips, not which jacket is more waterproof.

But it seems like it always goes like this:

Me: Yeah, we’re going to check out [NAME OF CLIMB, GRADE].

Dude in Gear Shop: Oh, that’s cool. You know what else you would like, is [NAME OF CLIMB AT LEAST THREE NUMBER GRADES HIGHER].

Me: Uh huh. Is there a good place to get a burrito around here?

Last year, I was in a shop on the east side of the Sierras, talking to a guy, explaining to him that I was going to take my friend from Chicago on his first multipitch climb, so we were going to do something mellow the first day. So the guy in the gear shop recommends a linkup of 12 total pitches ending with the 5.10c Gram Traverse on Drug Dome. Thanks brah, that will be very useful.

I even got sandbagged in a coffee shop a few weeks ago, by a barista. The conversation started out with me asking about her weekend and her asking about mine, and ended with me telling her about One Of The Biggest Days Of My Life In The Mountains and her telling me that she had done the exact same thing this summer, but three hours faster. But then she gave me the locals’ discount on my Americano.

I don’t know the reasons for sandbagging, psychological, sociological, emotional, whatever—all I know is that it happens. Apparently a lot, at least to me. If you suspect you are being sandbagged, and would like help identifying how, here’s my list of four types (probably not at all exhaustive):

1. The Humble Brag Sandbag

An conversation with someone who is a Humble Brag Sandbagger is not about exchanging useful beta—it is about how big that person’s [figurative] penis is. As in, You want to know about a good route/trail/ski descent around here? Great. Instead, I shall relate to you how badass of a climber/mountain biker/skier I am.

You: “I was thinking of taking my brother-in-law up Mount Hood next spring, up the standard route.”

Sandbagger: “Next spring? You guys should climb Denali. I had the time of my life climbin Denali. What an experience. The thing about Denali is …”


2. The Selective Memory Sandbag

I am not this guy. I struggle and suffer a lot in the outdoors, and am happy to recount every single detail. I do not forget how painful shit is, or scary. I often lead with the number of mosquito bites I got, the slipperiness of the handholds, the density of terrain that must be bushwhacked through. But some people are not like this. They finish climbs or rides or trips and forget every bad moment, and only remember the turns, or the fingerlocks, or the sunset. And that’s all they tell you.

ex. “Oh yeah, it was incredible. Kind of a long day, but man.”


3. The I-Am-Not-Listening Sandbag

There’s no malice here, just someone who is a shitty listener and a bad communicator of useful information. This is the outdoor equivalent of:

“Hey, we are looking for a burger joint. Got any favorite places around here?”

“Do you guys like sushi? You HAVE to go to Izakaya Den.”

4. The self-deprecation sandbag.

I have not experienced this type, but a friend clued me into an experience he had had with a mutual acquaintance of ours. Essentially, the sandbagger always characterizes themselves as slow, weak, and out of shape. Then when you get together with said sandbagger, they drop you on a bike ride, or hike way faster than you, or float up the hard pitches of a climb while you desperately grab for gear to pull on. Sometimes this is intentional; they train their asses off but work to create the illusion of mediocrity, and then crush. Sometimes it’s not intentional; the sandbagger truly believes they are slow, weak and out of shape—maybe because they compare themselves to Steve House or Anton Krupicka.


Also, FYI, I am not sandbagging you when I say I don’t climb that hard. Or run fast, or ride fast. The only time I would sandbag you is when you and I are splitting a pizza, because I assume you can eat as much as me. Which is wrong, and I apologize in advance, but I can’t help it. I will eat some of your half if we get the Large.


37 replies on “Don’t Sandbag Me, Bro

  • Nathan

    Funny stuff, but definitely a kick in the [figurative] balls. I don’t climb (not sandbagging) but I can see how this is true in a lot of outdoor activities and definitely outdoor social media…we should implement a #sandbagging hashtag but we’d have a lot less virtual friends for calling them out. Had to laugh on Izakaya Den, we live near there…so next time hit Park Burger for the El Chilango or if you’re lucky enough to be there Monday night is slider night and cheap Session beers…is it Monday yet?

  • Ryan

    Oh man… This would make a great “shorts” for the Dirtbag Diaries. Especially if you did a little thinking on the psychology of sandbagging.

  • Andrew Bisharat

    There is also the anti-sandbag sandbag. When I was a teenager, on my first climbing road trip out west, I stopped in the gear shop in Estes Park and wanted information about climbing in the area, specifically about the Casual Route on the Diamond. The gear shop bro was all, “DOOD! DO NOT TAKE THE CASUAL ROUTE CASUALLY! YOU THINK YOU CAN CLIMB 5.10 AT 14,000 FEET? YOU ARE ABOUT TO ENTER A WORLD OF PAIN, GROMMET! I EAT BREAKFAST 300 YARDS FROM A 14,000-FOOT PEAK TRAINED TO KILL CLIMBERS, SO DON’T THINK FOR ONE SECOND YOU CAN COME DOWN HERE, FLASH A BADGE AND MAKE ME NERVOUS!”

    It was something like that … or maybe I was just watching a few good men …

    Point is, he sandbagged me from even trying … and also taught me to never, ever go into a gear shop for beta … for anything!

  • Amy

    The only thing I would change is that the “humble” brag should probably more accurately be called the Backdoor Brag. Nothing humble about it.

    • Kendall


      I hear Boulder is notorious for sandbagging – rock, road, ski…whatever the mode. Then again, I’ve encountered sandbagging just about everywhere.

      • Laurel

        I mean when you are talking about your plans with someone you barely know and they insist that you’re over your head and eg. did you know there’s a trail to the top instead of the 5.4 (yes, I did actually, it’s on my topo under “Descent” and “boring dusty slog”).

  • Marc L

    Oh man I’m totally guilty of the selective memory sandbag. I think it’s a protective mechanism that allows me to keep on heading to the hills no matter how hard/bad/un-fun it was last time.

    I’ve heard it said you need three qualities to succeed in the mountain, a poor memory and the ability to suffer.

  • weschrist

    “… she had done the exact same thing this summer, but three hours faster.”

    Dude, she was totally hitting on you! You probably look like a guy who appreciates a chick who finishes fast.

  • Jill, Head Geargal

    I always thought sandbagging was going slower than you can, because you’re lazy or the effort doesn’t mean anything to you, like if you’re in a race you don’t care about. I’ve never heard the term used the way you do; do you know where that came from?

    • Kim Kircher

      Yep. This is precisely the definition of sandbagging that I’ve known. Make out like the route/river/run is easier than it is so that you (the one delivering the beta) looks like a rockstar. I think it comes from overinflated egos. But I appreciate Brendan’s nod at #3, that perhaps sometimes its not intentional.

        • north

          My deffenition of sandbagging, is a little different as well.

          Writting a 10a that IS GOING TO STOMP a 10a climber, is sandbagging a rout.

          • Kevin

            agree with north here, that’s typically how I use the term sandbagging, and I thought most of the uses in this article were bizarre uses.

            If a climb is really hard, but given an easy rating, I would say that route is sandbagged. If it’s the opposite, I would say that it’s soft.

            I’ve also heard people use the term a lot in golf. Often times tournaments are setup in multi-day formats, and how well you do on the first day decides which flight you’re in. You don’t want to get in the championship flight, because that’s the hardest to win, so you sandbag your first day to get in a lower flight, and then play your best the next day to win that flight.

            Most of the uses in this article seemed like you were just trying to say “bragging.”

    • 45 South

      Not entirely sure where it came from but we had an expression in the military that if someone started telling tall tales of derring do (that we had probably all heard before) we would slap them down by saying “ yeah, yeah, pull up a sandbag’ ie you are telling war stories (outrageous tales of your impressiveness) so we must be in a trench and the only thing comfortable to sit/sleep on while you are boring us is a sandbag so pull one closer for us.

  • Alex

    Can totally relate. Recently, on a mt bike trip to Durango I stopped in at a shop for some local trail beta. Homeboy sent my girlfriend and me out on an 8+ hour epic claiming it was a mellow 3 hour trail ride…

  • north

    “yeh man, I got this .12b I been grinding all summer”

    “Ahh man you like that climb, you realy have to try this 13d, it’s f’n awesome”

    We all know one.

  • Tiffany

    oh hell. I just realized I spent four years dating the “The I-Am-Not-Listening Sandbag” with a little “Humble Sandbag” throw in, even though the latter to him was him really truly trying to help. OY VEY. No wonder I can’t handle more than an hour or so at a time with him.

  • Jesse

    I’m going to admit it, I think I am unintentionally quilty of all of those. Which is interesting because I really don’t do anything rad…(not sandbagging with that statement, I swear)

  • Stephanie

    Dammit. I’m all too familiar with #4, thanks to years of collegiate laziness that continues to haunt me. In my mind, I’m still pudgy, slow and breathing harder than an asthmatic whore when it comes to ascending anything more than a staircase. In reality, I bike fast because I’m driven by the though of nachos or beer waiting at the end.

  • Rick O.

    Can I accept your pizza sandbagging statement as a challenge? I eat Digiorno’s for breakfast while my bagel is toasting, bro! Granted I’m a little outta shape at the moment, gotta get back on those stomach stretching exercises….

  • Niky

    Just got back from the Red and staying at Miguels. I had this conversation:

    Sandbagger (built like a weapon): What kind of trad climb are you looking for?

    Me (average climber):Oh, anything easy to moderate, I only just started trad climbing..

    Sandbagger: There’s a 5.11 roof crack that is not to be missed, and it’s dry in the rain. (It was raining at the time)

    Me: (spoken internally) Oh good, I was worried about getting wet….

  • Angela

    I find the Dire Medical Condition gambit a generally effective retort to most sandbagging. It goes something like this, Sandbagger suggests a much harder route that he does all the time, you reply “Oh I would do that route, but my doctor hasn’t officially released me to do physical activity since I donated a kidney to a dying orphan.” Mentioning the limitations of your lower limb prosthetic works too.

  • Steve

    A few years ago I had a conference in Boulder and my wife came along. We wanted to rent mountain bikes for the day, so we went into a shop. The dude kept pointing us to some pretty gnarly sounding trails, even though we were pretty clear we were interested in something just a little mellower. Finally, the dude gets all exasperated and says “what do you expect, this IS the Rocky Mountains.” I live in Idaho, went to school in Utah. I think I’m familiar with the Rockies.

  • Iain

    2. The Selective Memory Sandbag

    GUILTY! I was talking to my Dad about an ultra I did a while ago and said “oh, it wasn’t that bad” at which point he reminded me of a text I sent him that read something like “finish can’t come soon enough, this if fucking grim”

    4. The self-deprecation sandbag.

    GUILTY especially if I think you’re going to push me super hard, I will play down what I’m capable of. Mainly I don’t want you to be held up by me. OR if you’re much slower than me, because I’m happy to be held up because I’m really lazy.

  • Aaron F

    Just a thought; is the “selective memory sandbag” someone who always just chooses to see the positive aspects of everything they do because if they didn’t then next time they might choose to stay home instead of suffering through a memorable/epic experience?

    “I had that same experience last summer, but three hours faster”; isn’t that called douche-bagging?

    The self-deprecation sandbag seems like someone who knows there’s always someone out there faster/better/stronger then they are.

    Great story on sandbagging Brah, I wrote something like this last year 😛 Next time you should try writing about skydiving cause it’s ………well ya.

  • Aaron F

    One more, the best sandbagging story evAR! My buddy sandbagged the Slickrock Mountain Biking Trail so hard in order to get his wife to do it (who had never been off road on a bicycle) and she BROKE BOTH OF HER ARMS on the warm-up loop! Fucking classic. I know you’ve heard this story a hundred times Brenden, but still had to share this classic.

  • scoTt

    What about the guide book sandbag?
    A few weeks ago I was climbing with a friend on the Alpspitz (his first multi-pitch climbing). I chose this as there is a nice DAV cabin and you can bail out half way up the route (after 4 or 5 pitches) and descend a via ferrata. We were no so fast, so we decided to bail after 4 pitches and do the ferrata. The book quotes 2 to 2.5 hours for the via ferrata, we figured 2 hours was plenty… took us 3+ hours moving fairly fast, to make it in 2 you’d have to really truck along!


  • John

    Never heard the term sandbagging in the UK (must be a US thing). But in the Royal Navy we have a similar term ‘blackcatting’ if someone black cats you they tell a bigger story or go one up on whatever it is your saying (ie if you’d been to Tenerife he’s been to elevenerife. ) we had a guy who did this so much we called him fiveskin. (I’ll leave you to work it out)

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