Consumers Are Not Going Outdoors To Shred; They Are Going Outdoors to Cope;

A Look at Outdoor Retailer Summer 2024: Key Trends and Future Insights

Outdoor Retailer Summer 2024, the leading North American trade show and premier business event for the outdoor industry, concluded last week, leaving us with a wealth of insights into the evolving outdoor industry and it is definitely changing. Not only are we seeing record participation, where over 50% of women make up the new participants, a new more casual consumer is heading outdoors. This consumer simply wants to take a walk, spend time with friends, appreciates the comfort of home at their campground and wants to look great, dare we say, even fashionable, while going outdoors. Now is the moment to engage with this consumer and convert them to be a lifelong outdoor devotee, but, as a community, we need to make our messaging kinder and easier to understand – especially when we are talking about technology and sustainability. This opportunity is ours for the taking or, in the words of Hillary Clinton, ““Every moment wasted looking back, keeps us from moving forward.”

But first the facts

  • Specifically, the outdoor recreation participation base grew 4.1% in 2023, to a record of 175.8 million participants, a number that represents 57.3% of the United States population. with increasing numbers of women, people of color, and seniors.
  • The number of outdoor recreation participants increased across demographics and activities as new, more casual participants began hiking, biking, camping, running, and fishing.
  • In 2023, 22.2 million more Americans aged six and older participated in outdoor recreation than participated in 2019.
  • For the first time ever, more than half of American women participated in outdoor recreation.
  • In 2023, 7 million Americans tried one or more outdoor recreation activities for the first time.

Here’s a high-level summary of the key trends and what the future holds for outdoor recreation.

  1. Versatility and Convenience: Modern outdoor products are designed to serve multiple functions while being user-friendly, catering to the diverse needs of outdoor enthusiasts.
  2. Durability: There’s a significant emphasis on creating long-lasting products, ensuring consumers get the most out of their investments.
  3. Casual Outdoor Fun: The focus is shifting from extreme adventures to more casual, enjoyable outdoor activities. “Americans are not going outside to shred; they are going outside to cope,” said Kellyann Davis from the Outdoor Industry Association, highlighting the shift towards using outdoor activities for mental health benefits. Who doesn’t want “Tini” drinkware from Gathr’s ORCA, for martinis in 11 colors including Flamingos Pink and Palms Seafoam.
  4. Fashion Meets Performance: Outdoor apparel is increasingly stylish without sacrificing performance. “Fashion and performance can coexist,” according to Valentina Thompson, founder of SENIQ, underscoring the thoughtful and successful merging of fashion with functionality.
  5. Comfort Innovations: Comfort is paramount, with products like GCI Outdoor’s rockers offering numerous options to enhance the outdoor experience.
  6. Portable Clean Power: The demand for portable power solutions is rising, enabling outdoor enthusiasts to stay connected and powered up even in remote locations. (though some might argue this goes against the desire to “unplug”)
  7. Sustainable Apparel: There’s a strong push towards using natural and renewable materials in footwear and apparel. There seems to be less greenwashing and more ‘green hushing’ referring to how brands are quietly implementing eco-friendly practices.
  8. Eco Therapy: The mental health benefits of spending time outdoors are being highlighted, with more people using outdoor activities as a form of therapy and stress relief.
  9. Community and Common Values: A sense of community and shared values is central to the outdoor industry, fostering a supportive and inclusive environment.

Future Insights

The future of outdoor recreation looks promising with this significant rise in participation.

Innovations are driving this growth, with creative products including: the TiCK MiTT for safely removing ticks; VITALOOP’s portable water filtration bottle;  Solarcore’s advanced insulation materials; and heat-it, that plugs into the charging port of a smartphone, draws power from its battery, translates that power to heat, and then is used to apply that heat directly to a bite site. It’s about the size of my thumbnail and is controlled by a free app (iOS and Android). These innovations not only enhance the outdoor experience. but also. attract new participants.

In addition, the industry is witnessing a growing trend in skin, sun, and hair care products designed for outdoor enthusiasts, featuring natural ingredients that soothe and protect. Brands like ATTITUDE and Wonder Brands EiR NYC are leading the way in outdoor-specific skincare.

The economic impact of outdoor recreation cannot be overlooked. The U.S. outdoor industry contributes $1.1 trillion dollars to the U.S. economy, is 2.2% of the GDP and generates 5 million jobs comprising 3.2% of U.S. employees. In Utah, where Outdoor Retailer calls home, for example, the industry generates over 71,000 jobs and contributes significantly to the state’s GDP. “Outdoor recreation is a major economic driver for Utah,” said Jeremy Mclerran, CMO of Salt Lake City’s TETON Sports, that just launched its new line called Nanda, which doubles as a backpack and duffle bag.

Outdoor Retailer Summer 2024 put a dynamic industry on display, with the norm being challenged. Young start-ups presenting a different point of view are putting the old guard on notice and shaking things up. There is room for everyone – and in the end, we all win.

With a U.S. presidential election, political changes in Europe, global unrest in Ukraine and The Middle East, and a roller coaster economy, the outdoors is ideal for what ails us.