Health and Wellness

3 Challenges Facing the Outdoor Industry Going Forward

Recent research commissioned by the Outdoor Foundation has confirmed what we thought to be true: outdoor participation saw huge growth in 2020. In fact, over seven million more Americans partook in outdoor activities compared to 2019—turning to the outdoors for exercise, a change of scenery, and a mental health boost.

While the influx of new participants is welcome news, the one-year gains do not serve as a panacea for the long-term challenges facing the industry. In this article, we dive into the research to understand those challenges and determine how outdoor brands can position themselves, engage participants, and make the industry accessible to as many Americans as possible.


Bridging the Gap in Diversity

While the past year has brought new participants from a wide array of backgrounds into the outdoor industry, the reality is that there’s much work to do with regard to diversity. Whites represent 60% of the country’s population, but account for almost three-quarters of today’s outdoor participants. Hispanic Americans (11%), Black Americans (9%), and AAPI (6%) follow far behind.

However, that should not be interpreted as a general lack of interest in outdoor activities. In fact, Hispanic outdoor participants went out on more outings per participant than any other group in 2020 (75), AAPI  had the highest participation rate (59%), and Black participants were most likely to declare themselves an outdoor fanatic (13%). To bridge this gap in participation and position the industry for growth in the future, it starts with getting children from all backgrounds involved in outdoor recreation; history shows that those who are not exposed to outdoor recreation in their youth are far less likely to become adult outdoor participants.


Fewer Fanatics

Fifty-three percent of Americans over the age of six participated in outdoor recreation in 2020, representing the highest participation rate on record. With that spike in participation rate, though, has come a decrease in frequency of outdoor outings. Whereas the average outdoor participant went on 87 outings per year in 2012, the number has dropped all the way to 71 in 2020.

This trend is true across all age groups. Even as 71% of children from ages 6-12 participated in outdoor recreation—a record and a strong YoY increase—total outings among youth participants have been on a decline over the past several years. Brands in the category want to develop outdoor fanatics, but a look at the table below highlights a trend in the wrong direction over the past decade.


Outdoor Outings Per Year % of Participants in 2010 % of Participants in 2020
1-11 28% 33%
12-51 32% 34%
52+ 40% 33%


Retaining New Participants

The declining number of outdoor fanatics can be partially attributed to the demands of consumers’ increasingly busy lives. Because of that, there is some concern that we’ll see a drop-off in outdoor participation as other activities and forms of entertainment reopen. In fact, research conducted by the Outdoor Industry Association confirmed just that; about a quarter of new outdoor participants will not continue with their outdoor activities as the pandemic fades away.


Which activities will new outdoor participants resume?
75% Hanging out with family or friends
51%  Going to gym or fitness club
51% Attending in-person fitness classes


While consumers are excited to return to some of their pre-pandemic habits, they don’t have to be mutually exclusive with spending time in the outdoors. To keep new participants engaged, brands in the category should consider how they can facilitate outdoor experiences that are more social in nature. Likewise, exercise doesn’t have to take place in a gym or studio.

If your brand is looking to connect with outdoor enthusiasts in the coming year, contact us today to learn how our integrated brand experiences can help you ignite impact through empathy.




Sources: “2021 Outdoor Participation Trends Report.” Outdoor Foundation (June 2021), “2021 Special Report: New Outdoor Participant (COVID and Beyond).” Outdoor Industry Association (March 2021).

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