BOULDER, Colo(June 22, 2021) —Outdoor Foundation today released exclusive insights about Americans’ engagement in outdoor activities in 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As detailed throughout the report, COVID-19 inspired huge participation growth, as outdoor spaces became places of refuge to safely socialize, improve physical and mental health, connect with family and recover from screen fatigue. In 2020, 53 percent of Americans ages 6 and over participated in outdoor recreation at least once, the highest participation rate on record. Remarkably, 7.1 million more Americans participated in outdoor recreation in 2020 than in the year prior. These one-year gains, however, did not fundamentally alter the long-term challenges faced by the outdoor industry. The outdoor industry and its partners are positioned to champion new ways to engage outdoor participants and invest in making the outdoors accessible and welcoming to all Americans.

“Earlier this year we saw promising research about new participants in the outdoors with more people finding solace in outdoor activities especially amid the pandemic,” said Lise Aangeenbrug, executive director of Outdoor Industry Association. “Our broader research shows us that while we are seeing millions more people getting outside this year, we must take action to help them establish a life-long relationship with the outdoors, otherwise we will continue to see an overall decline in participation rates in the next year with people returning to an indoor routine.”

Kayaking on Utica Lake
Kayaking on Utica Lake

Additional key findings and challenges include:

  • Retaining COVID participants: Research from Outdoor Industry Association indicated that about one-quarter of new participants say they don’t want to continue their new outdoor activities, a number that may grow sharply as consumers return to pre-pandemic habits.
  • Lack of diversity: Nearly 75 percent of outdoor participants were white. Participation rates declined 7% annually among Asian Americans for the past three years; stagnated for the last three years among Blacks and grew among Hispanics but remained well below whites.
  • Declining intensity: There were fewer of the most devoted outdoor participants and more casual ones. A decade ago, 24 percent reported participating more than twice a week, while in 2020 just 20 percent did. The same pattern occurred among children, young adults and adults.
  • Fewer outings: The average number of outings per participant continued a steady, long-term decline, falling from 87 in 2012 to just 71 in 2020.
  • Stagnant female participation: Although there are significant industry efforts to address gender disparities, for the last eight years females have represented just 46 percent of outdoor participants, even though 51 percent of Americans are female.

“Although the long-term trends remain discouraging, there exists an incredible opportunity for all of us within the outdoor industry to welcome more participants,” said Stephanie Maez, managing director at the Outdoor Foundation. “Collective action through philanthropy, programming, marketing and policy can move the needle. Together, we can help bring individuals and entire communities outside, and inspire them to build life-long relationships with the outdoors.”

The Outdoor Foundation has developed the Outdoor Participation Trends Report for 14 years. The annual report examines demographics of the outdoor participant — defined as someone who participated in an outdoor activity at least one time in the past year. The survey reflects data gathered during the 2020 calendar year and garnered a total of 20,069 online interviews consisting of people ages six and older. View the 2021 report in full here.

About Outdoor Foundation

The Outdoor Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Outdoor Industry Association, is a national 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to getting people outside for their health, the health of communities and the health of the outdoor industry. Through community investment and groundbreaking research, the Outdoor Foundation works with many partners to get more people outside more often. Visit outdoorfoundation.org for more information.

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