Outdoor Participation Stable During Economic Downturns — Outdoor Foundation Research Shows Overall Participation Solid, Adventure Sports Increasing, Youth and Minority Modest Gains

May 5, 2011

Topic: Economy

Research Shows Overall Participation Solid, Adventure Sports Increasing, Youth and Minority Modest Gains

Unlike many other sports, outdoor participation among Americans has remained remarkably stable over the last several years – demonstrating impressive resiliency during challenging economic times. According to The Outdoor Foundation’s just released top-line report, the rate of participation in outdoor recreation in the United States remained solid in 2010 and at the same level seen in 2008. Nearly half of Americans ages 6 and older, or 137.9 million individuals, participated in at least one outdoor activity in 2010, making 10.1 billion outdoor outings, according to the 2011 Outdoor Recreation Participation Top-line Report. The research shows significant increases in adventure sports such as kayaking, backcountry camping and climbing as well as slight increases in youth participation among those individuals ages 13-to-24.

One of the most notable surprises in the report is the finding that, while African-Americans, Asian/Pacific Islanders and Hispanics remain significantly underrepresented in relation to their share of the U.S. population, they now make up 30 percent of outdoor participants. That’s up five percentage points since 2007. Compared with the significant declines of past years, youth participation seems to have stabilized. Participation was unchanged among ages 6 to 12, but increased slightly among the 13-to-17 and 18-to-24 age cohorts. Running, biking and camping, in that order, were the most popular activities among the combined 6-to-24 demographic.

“This report shows that outdoor recreation and participation continues to be an essential part of the American lifestyle and culture. And, given the health, economic and environmental challenges facing this country, it’s more important than ever that we continue to inspire generations of outdoor enthusiasts,” said Christine Fanning, executive director of The Outdoor Foundation. “The trends among our nation’s young people are especially encouraging and a testament to the generous support of the outdoor industry and great youth programs taking place across the country.”

Youth participation grew the fastest in Kayaking (Sea/Touring), up 51.9 percent, Bicycling (BMX), up 48.8 percent and Triathlon (Traditional/Road), 39.5 percent. Participation in Adventure Racing rose 19.5 percent, but after two years of double-digit growth, participation in Triathlon (Non-Traditional/Off-road) faltered, slipping 1.8 percent. Still, participation rates among all three age groups remained essentially flat or edged up slightly for the third consecutive year – marking a significant improvement from 2006 to 2007 when participation among youths 6-to-17 years slipped more than five points.

Among adults (25+), Fishing (Fresh, Salt and Fly) remained the most popular outdoor activity with 30.9 million participants, followed by Running, Jogging and Trail Running with 30.0 million and Camping (Car, Backyard and RV) of 25.0 million. When measured by frequency of participation, Running again topped the list with 86 average outings per year, followed by Bicycling (Road, Mountain and BMX) with 51 average outings and Bird Watching/Wildlife Viewing with 46. Hiking ranked fifth most popular in terms of both participation (22.8 million) and frequency, (18 average outings per year). Participation among ages 25-to-44 hovered at its five-year high of 54 percent, while participation among those 45 and older dipped a point to 38 percent.

For all participants six years and older, the five fastest-growing activities added 2.8 million participants in 2010. The increases in participants for each over 2009 were:

  • Triathlon (Traditional/Road), up 63.7 percent, or 777,000
  • Boardsailing/Windsurfing, up 43.4 percent, or 489,000;
  • Triathlon (Non-Traditional/Off Road), up 39.5 percent, or 263,000;
  • Kayaking (Whitewater), up 34.6 percent, or 473,000 and
  • Bicycling (BMX), up 30.8 percent, or 828,000.

Segmentation by income shows that from 2007 to 2010, participation rates increased four points to 29 percent among households earning $100,000 or more, while declining 2 to 3 points for households in the first, second and fourth income quintiles. Participation rates have been flat in the third quintile. This coincides with healthy growth of participation in more expensive outdoor activities, such as Skiing (Freestyle), up 23.6 percent; Skiing (Telemark), up 22.9 percent and SCUBA Diving, up 15.8 percent.

Published annually by The Outdoor Foundation, the 2011 Outdoor Recreation Participation Top-line Report 2011 is derived from 40,000 online interviews conducted in January 2011/early February 2011. Respondents came from a nationwide sample of individuals and households from the U.S. Online Panel operated by Synovate. A total of 15,086 individual and 23,656 household surveys were completed. The total panel has over 1 million members and is maintained to be representative of the U.S. population. Over-sampling of ethnic groups took place to boost response from typically under-responding groups.

The 10-page Top-line report is available for free at outdoorfoundation.org. The Outdoor Foundation will publish the full version of the report with far greater detail this summer.

About The Outdoor Foundation
The Outdoor Foundation is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to inspiring and growing future generations of outdoor enthusiasts. Through ground-breaking research, action-oriented convening and outreach and education programs, The Foundation is working with partners to mobilize a major cultural shift that leads all Americans to the great outdoors. Learn more about The Foundation at outdoorfoundation.org, email at info@outdoorfoundation.org or call 202.271.3252.