Research Roundup: Spring 2023

Outdoor Consumers are Dreaming About Spending Their IRS Refunds 

It’s tax season, and many outdoor recreation participants expect a refund from the IRS. The IRS reports that the average refund in 2023 will be $3,140, enough to pay for things like a new bike, next year’s ski pass, camping gear, or a solar generator. Right now, while consumers wait for refunds to arrive, they are thinking about how to use them. Research in neuropsychology reveals that we experience powerful emotions when thinking about future events. This period of anticipation—when people dream about experiences they plan to have—is the perfect time to market outdoor experiences and the products associated with them, like riding a new bike on an epic trip to Moab (and all of the micro-experiences related to biking) or just hiking local trails in new boots. This is the period in which marketing is most effective because it can help consumers weave their desire for experiences into purchases of products that will enhance that experience. Outdoor consumers expecting tax refunds are dreaming right now, so tap into it and help them do more than simply imagine the experiences your products can unleash.  

Outdoor Consumers Care about Brands’ Social Stances 

The risks of taking stands on social issues include lost customers, damage to brand image, and reduced sales. On the flip side, more than half of outdoor consumers say that they do care about brands’ stances on social issues. Currently, identity politics is having an impact across the market, and this creates dangerous waters for many outdoor brands. Social Identity Theory was originally developed to explore the psychological basis of intergroup discrimination. Tajfel et al. (1971) attempted to identify minimum conditions that would lead members of one group to discriminate for the in-group to which they belonged and against another out-group. The most striking example is the current divide driven by the concept of being “woke.” Lists of woke brands are circulated by both pro and con groups signaling whether members should buy more of or “cancel” the brand. These campaigns tend to be started and amplified by the fringes that have strong feelings or gain politically by filtering everything through their identity filter. The data indicate a more reasoned response from most consumers.   

A deeper dive reveals that while these consumers care about a brand’s stance, they don’t always think brands should take positions on social or political issues. In today’s environment, that may be unavoidable. Only one-third of outdoor consumers asked said that brands should NEVER take a stand on social or political issues. While consumers expect brands to have some kind of stance on social and political issues, they don’t want the brands to be reactive. Brands may consider communicating core values that describe the fundamental beliefs and priorities of the brand. For example, a brand could talk about sustainability and climate as core values and choose not to comment on a devastating hurricane.  


ChatGPT is a useful tool for outdoor brands 

Recently, ChatGPT has been getting a lot attention, but what is it, and what can it do? ChatGPT is a prototype artificial intelligence chatbot developed by OpenAI, which specializes in dialogue/chat. It can write product descriptions, help you write a business plan, describe consumer segments (you have to come with data), and even help with financials. 

I couldn’t help trying it out. Here is a sample of the questions asked and the AI-generated answers: 

Question/direction:  Can you define hiking?   

ChatGPT answer:  

“Hiking is a form of outdoor activity that involves walking or trekking through natural environments, such as mountains, forests, or trails. It is often done for leisure, exercise, or to explore and appreciate the beauty of the outdoors. Hiking can range from short, easy walks on well-defined trails to longer, more challenging hikes on rugged terrain and can be done alone or with a group. Hiking often involves some degree of physical exertion but can be enjoyed by people of all ages and fitness levels.” 

Question/direction: Write a business plan for heated ski poles.   

ChatGPT response:  

Sample from the Executive Summary: 

“At Heated Ski Poles, Inc., our goal is to provide skiers with the ultimate skiing experience. Our innovative heated ski poles will keep skiers’ hands warm and comfortable throughout the day, allowing them to enjoy their time on the slopes without being hindered by cold fingers. Our poles will be made of high-quality materials and feature state-of-the-art heating technology. We will offer a range of heated ski poles in different sizes and styles to accommodate the needs of all skiers.” 

This tool is a glimpse into the future of search, supercharged by machine learning and ultimately by AI. This technology has vast implications for the future of access to information. This could shake up the service economy, including financial services, logistics, supply chain management, market research, technical writing services, coding and computer programming, and many others. ChatGPT can write code, mathematical formulae, and even poetry.  

Click here to try ChatGPT 


Trend Spotter: “Core”  

According to the online news site Fashionista, new “core” aesthetics are showing up daily in TikTok feeds, including the previously covered “Cottage Core” and “Gorpcore” trends. Fashionista made a list that includes descriptions of each aesthetic, starting with the original “normcore,” coined to describe a unisex fashion trend in 2014 by millennials at K-Hole marketing. The point isn’t the aesthetics but rather the influence of Gen Z, in particular, and also language on how we describe aesthetics. Core is part of that trend, including:  

  • Darkcore aesthetic
  • Balletcore 
  • Cottage core 
  • Barbiecore 
  • Vacation core  

Research Roundup: Fall 2022

Here at OIA, our research team focuses on providing you with insights into the outdoor consumer: what drives their choices, what gear they choose, and what they value about their outdoor experiences. With our newsletter — Research Roundup — we aim to deliver the best data from our partner, CivicScience, who can reach hundreds of thousands of consumers in real-time to ask questions and gather insights that give you clear insights. You’ll also gain easy access to the full catalog of research reports we offer as well as trends we are tracking.

Happy reading!


Kelly Davis

Director of Research


Who are the Outdoor Recreators Most Likely to Visit State or National Parks?

OIA has excellent data on outdoor recreation participation by category; I can tell you how many Americans hiked, ran trails, went fishing, etc. However, I couldn’t tell how many or who were visiting state and national parks until now. Data captured by CivicScience helped us build a view of who is visiting state and national parks and how often they visit. This information can help us segment outdoor recreators who are likely to visit a state or national park and target the most likely groups. The data indicate that – among American adults – younger persons, persons who are parents and grandparents, and persons who live in suburban and rural areas are more likely than others to be frequent park visitors.

Of the very small group of participants who visit state parks between a few times a month and a few times a week, younger adults edged out older participants. But – of the relatively larger group of total participants who visit state parks a few times a year – those aged 55 to 64 were more frequent visitors than younger visitors.

Source: CivicScience, October 2022 – Canonical – Adults Filter

Parents and grandparents are more likely to visit state and national parks more frequently. Parents were most likely to visit parks, grandparents came in second, and adults with no children were least likely to visit. Note that our sample did not include children ages 17 and under.

Source: CivicScience, October 2022 – Canonical – Adults Filter

The type of area (urban, suburban, rural) matters when predicting who is most likely to visit a state or national park. Persons who live in urban environments are least likely to visit a state or national park. Persons who live in the suburbs are most likely to visit state and national parks, and rural residents are most likely to be frequent park visitors, but about the same percentage of urban and rural dwellers say they almost never or never visit state or national parks.

Source: CivicScience, October 2022 – Canonical – Adults Filter

Do Outdoor Recreators Use Cannabis?

On October 6 of this year, President Biden signed an executive order that pardoned all federal offenses of simple marijuana possession, and ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to review how marijuana is scheduled under federal law where it is currently classified as a “Schedule I” substance along with far more dangerous substances including methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine. Whenever cannabis is in the news, the OIA research team gets questions about outdoor recreation and cannabis use. In the past, we have speculated about the intersection of outdoor and cannabis; this time we used empirical data from CivicScience to show how cannabis use varies between outdoor recreation participants and non-participants.

Overall, outdoor recreation participants are more likely to use cannabis than the average American, except for runners who are less likely to use cannabis than the average American. The chart below shows that 26% of hiking, camping, and fishing participants; 1 in 4 bicycle riders; and 1 in 4 hunting and fishing participants say they are cannabis users. Note that this is not a measure of cannabis use during outdoor recreation; it is simply a measurement of general use among those who participate in those activities.

Source: CivicScience, October 2022 – Canonical – Adults Filter

What Types of Cars Do Outdoor Recreation Participants Choose?

One of the psychographics we commonly use to correlate activities across market research is the type of car a respondent drives. This is an area of keen interest, not only to the automotive industry but to outdoor accessories manufacturers (think racks), gear manufacturers, and even apparel brands. Knowing what kind of car someone prefers can provide a deeper look into their consumer type and choices. Purchasing a car is one of the biggest purchases many consumers make. If we know what type of vehicle someone drives, it can help us predict other purchases and behaviors across a wide variety of categories.

Consider that persons who hunt or fish are most likely, by a significant margin, to prefer a truck. That’s not a huge surprise, but it helps us better understand how to market products and services to that group. Note that runners are more likely than others to prefer sports cars and sedans. Bicyclists are most likely to prefer an SUV. The majority (68%) of outdoor enthusiasts who camp, hike, or paddle prefer either an SUV or a truck. The following chart indicates that outdoor recreation participants tend to prefer vehicles that facilitate their love of the outdoors by buying vehicles that can transport both them and their gear.

Source: CivicScience, October 2022

Trend Spotter: Trekking Poles!

Maybe it’s the spread of hiking content on social media, but whether it’s a TikTok or Instagram-driven trend or not, trekking poles seem to be everywhere right now, from the fists of casual hikers on local trails to thru-hikers on the PCT and the AT. I had received questions about this, so I turned to a source that I knew had his finger on the trekking pole pulse: Reese Brown, executive director of the Cross Country Ski Areas Association. Cross-country ski poles are a requisite part of a cross-country ski kit – you aren’t going far without them if you’re skiing on XC trails, so the makers of those poles are very familiar to those in the cross-country ski category. Additionally, Reese has been trying to convince me to try trekking poles for longer, more technical hikes for many years.

“Trekking poles make walking and hiking a more balanced physical experience by fully incorporating the upper body. In addition to better efficiency overall, you will take the stress off critical joints like knees and ankles reducing the chance of injury from an accident or from overuse.”  (Reese Brown, Executive Director, CCSAA)