Participation in outdoor activities has grown for the eighth consecutive year, and since the COVID-19 pandemic, the outdoor industry is up 14.5 million total participants.
Last year, 3.8 million more people participated in the outdoors compared to 2021.
“This is an amazing number,” said Kelly Davis, director of research at the Outdoor Industry Association. “We’re attracting more and more people to participate in outdoor recreation.”
The data also shows that the people the industry brought in during the pandemic are sticking around, according to Davis.
Those getting outdoors are also more diverse in terms of ethnicity, race, age, and sexual and gender identity.
Here are more highlights from the presentation.
Overall, outdoor recreation participation has been on the rise for years, and 2022 was no different.
In fact, according to the report, the participation base grew 2.3% in 2022 to a record 168.1 million participants, which makes up 55% of the U.S. population over age 6.
Davis emphasized that this is a “very, very big number.” A lot of these participants may go for a hike one day, then play tennis the next, she added. “These are lifestyles we’re talking about.”
The participation rate for Hispanic people increased from 34% in 2015 to 56% in 2022, the highest growth rate for any single group.
The participation rate for Black people increased more than 5% in 2022 to 40.7%, the only group with increased outings and the highest number of outings on average compared to any other ethnic or racial group.
However, Davis also mentioned that the outdoor industry is losing Asian-Americans and Pacific Islander Americans but didn’t speculate as to why.
LGBTQIA+ participants make up 11% of the participant base and are the most active of any adult cohort.
The 2023 report reflects data gathered during the 2022 calendar year and garnered a total of 18,000 online interviews consisting of people ages six and older.
When Davis started crunching the numbers for 2022, she wasn’t sure she would see an increase in participation at all. The pandemic boosted participation numbers, but since the COVID crisis has waned, people might have directed their attention elsewhere.
Every year the industry loses around 17 million to 20 million participants but can also make up for that loss with new participants.
For example, the hiking category saw an increase in core hikers, which means they hike more than six or seven times a year. Casual hiking growth was flat for the year. Overall, hiking is up 18.4% year-over-year.
Davis pointed out that hiking is a great “gateway” activity, and once the industry can get people to participate in one outing, they’re likely to take up more outdoor hobbies.
In fact, 80% of outdoor activity categories experienced growth, including camping and sport climbing.
One of the biggest increases was in skateboarding. Nine million people skateboard now, a 33.9% increase year-over-year.
Camping was up 29.1% year-over-year for three years, to 51.4 million campers. That’s another good entry point to the outdoors.
“Once you start camping, you’re way more likely to start fishing and hiking and doing all the things you do when you’re camping,” Davis said.
The cycling category is up about 3.3 million, which is partly due to people getting the bikes they wanted, which they couldn’t do during the pandemic when supply chain issues and surging demand meant store shelves were bare.
Now, there’s a “bullwhip effect,” Davis said. “(Retailers) have stuffed warehouses, especially with kids’ bikes.”
When it comes to declining participation, the running, jogging, and trail running category saw a 7.6 million drop in participation last year.
However, Davis drilled down further in that area because she knew that trail running is still such a hot category. She found that the decline was because kids were running more during the pandemic, and they stopped once they could spend their time in other ways.
Drop In Youth and Core
Despite record growth in the number of people getting outside and recreating, there has been a drop in overall core participation and youth participation in outdoor activities.
“We’re losing the people who are out there the most frequently,” she said. “And the kids that are replacing them just don’t participate as frequently.”
OIA defines “core participation” as people who participate in any outdoor recreational activity more than 51 times a year.
“As we lose core, we have to think more about the casual participants in our marketplace,” Davis said.
During the pandemic, parents had a slightly easier time convincing their children to go outside, but that has faded, and Davis is worried kids will rebel against their parents by doing nothing but indoor activities.
“Imagine they were forced to go outside, they’re forced to participate in these activities during the pandemic, because they couldn’t do anything else,” she said. “It was screen time, virtual classroom, and their parents kicked them outside. They’re pissed they had to be outside all the time.”
Davis stressed the importance of getting kids involved in outdoor activities because that will predict their interest in outdoor activities later in life.
She also pointed to the diversity among the younger demographic. The younger group participating in the outdoors is more diverse than the census projects for diversity for 2030.
“Which is great news for us,” Davis said. “This is our participant base. This is who we’re going to be selling products to, selling experiences to, talking to about outdoor. These are the people who, frankly, are going to be helping us protect public lands. They’re going to be the ones that hold up our market throughout our lives.”
Senior Citizens See Jump
Another bright spot: Senior citizens are participating at vastly increased rates after the pandemic, especially camping, hiking, and birding. In fact, birding “has taken off,” according to Davis.
“The nice thing about this cohort is it has a lot of time, and a lot of money,” she said. “Seniors are a really great customer target.”
At 35% of the base, seniors now represent one in every five outdoor participants.
Davis added their ability to spend money and desire to spend time with grandkids doing family activities like hiking and camping make them a “really, really powerful group.”
Bart Schaneman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.