Travel | June 28, 2021 5:00 am

Americans Took to the Outdoors During COVID. But Are They Headed Back Inside?

The Outdoor Foundation's 2021 report highlights record outdoor participation and long-term challenges

The Outdoor Foundation's annual report is here
The Outdoor Foundation's annual report is here
Aleksandar Nakic / Getty Images

Every local park and trail was flooded with newcomers in 2020. Trailhead parking was a nightmare, campsites were booked and established outdoor retailers struggled to meet demand. The latest Outdoor Participation Trends Report, courtesy of the Outdoor Foundation, verifies what we suspected: the outdoors were a place of refuge during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In its 14th year, the annual report examines the demographics of outdoor participants — defined as anyone who participated in an outdoor activity at least one time in the past year. It found that 53% of Americans did so in 2020, marking the highest participation rate on record. Remarkably, 7.1 million more Americans participated last year than in the year prior.

But it wasn’t all smiles and sunshine for a booming outdoor industry. The average number of outings per participant continued a steady, long-term decline, falling from 87 in 2012 to just 71 in 2020. There were also fewer of the most devoted outdoor participants and more casual ones. Though the industry remains healthy and stable, room for improvement remains.

Other findings from the outdoor report:

  • About one-quarter of new participants say they don’t want to continue their new outdoor activities. This number may grow as consumers return to pre-pandemic habits and lifestyles.
  • The industry still suffers from a lack of diversity; nearly 75% of participants were white and figures either fell or remained stagnant among Asian Americans and Blacks, respectively. Hispanic participation grew but rates remain well below whites.
  • Though efforts are stronger than ever to address gender disparities, females have represented just 46% of outdoor participants over the last eight years, even though 51% of Americans are female.

Expect the reverse migration to change the outdoor landscape even more over the coming months.