In 2020 the world witnessed incredible upheaval, and Americans across the country took to the outdoors in search of respite from COVID-19. The 2021 Outdoor Participation Trends Report, commissioned by the Outdoor Foundation, reveals that 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. Nearly half of the U.S. population did not share in the proven, positive health outcomes of the outdoors. Additional key findings and challenges detailed in the report 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 percent 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.
Despite this, there exists incredible opportunity. 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. 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.