Outdoor Industry Foundation’s latest participation study, which was conducted by The Leisure Trends Group and covers 14 different outdoor activities, apparently unearthed some interesting trends in the consumer marketplace. While overall participation in outdoor recreation remains stable, people are getting out less often, according to the recently released report. However, participation in many of the core activities like backpacking and camping, which have been showing declines in recent years, have either flattened out or are actually beginning to increase. Activities with easy urban access and little time commitment still remain the fastest growing outdoor sports.

Bicycling, Fishing, Hiking, Camping, and Trail Running were the top five activities based on the percentage of Americans who participated-at least once-in each activity. Of these activities, Bicycling and Fishing were the only two to show declines in the number of participants from 2004 to 2005.

When the total number of outings for these activities are considered it becomes more apparent that the total decline in outdoor recreation outings is primarily caused by these reported shortfalls in Bicycling and Fishing. For all outdoor sports combined the total number of outings declined by 942 million. Bicycling accounted for 750 million of this decline and Fishing accounted for an additional decline of 300 million outings.

These declines have been partially offset by increases in many of the core outdoor sports, which are quite healthy. Hiking participation increased 1.1% this year on top of a 5% increase last year. While these increases are relatively small, they are off of a large base with over one-third of the U.S. population hiking at least once in 2005. In addition, people are getting out and hiking more often. The total number of outings for Hiking increased from 827 million in 2004 to 844 million in 2005.

Trail Running is attracting the most new participants out of the outdoor sports. With 18% of the U.S. population trying the activity at least once this year, Trail Running outings increased from 1.19 billion in 2004 to 1.33 billion this year. In 1998, the activity only saw 700 million outings. In addition, the sport has grown its participation base by 22% in the last eight years.

Backpackers are also getting out more often than last year. While the activity is not gaining a significant number of new participants – Backpacking only saw a 0.1% increase in the number of participants-it boasted 81 million outings in 2005 compared to only 67 million outings in 2004.

While more people are participating in Paddlesports, they are clearly not getting out as often. The participation base increased by 7.2% in 2005, but the number of outings declined by 44 million, from 235 million in 2004 down to 191 million in 2005. The increase in participation is clearly coming from recreation and sit-on-top kayakers. Non-Whitewater Kayaking, which includes Sea/Touring and Recreation/Sit-on-Top, saw a significant increase in participation numbers, up 25% from last year. Sea/Touring saw a slight decline while Recreational Kayaking saw large increases.

The other watersports activities covered in the report showed a mixed bag of results. Whitewater Kayaking saw a slight decline in participation of 3.7% while the total number of outings fell to 22 million compared to 29 million last year. Rafting participation increased 10.5% while the total number of outings fell to 21 million compared to 29 million last year. Canoeing saw the largest declines out of the entire Watersports category with participation numbers falling 7.5% and the total number of outings falling from 134 million in 2004 down to 83 million in 2005.

Interesting data points were also found in several niche outdoor activities. Snowshoeing has nearly doubled its participation base since 1998, while Telemark Skiing has seen 160% growth in the same time frame. However, both activities have flattened out somewhat in the last few years with gains and declines dependent on weather and snow conditions.

Climbing participation numbers are on the rise, but it seems that many people are only trying the activity once or twice a year. All types of Climbing combined-natural rock, artificial wall, and ice-saw participation numbers increase 22% this year, but the total number of outings declined from 68 million in 2004 to 51 million this past year. Looking further back, the decline in outings is even more drastic; in 2002, climbers tied into their harnesses 147 million times, nearly three times the 2005 number.

This latest report is also segmented by ethnicity and gender, calling out the Hispanic, African-American, and Female outdoor participants in separate studies that show the penetration level of outdoor sports in each group. There is also a highlighted section on non-participants that show the differences in demographics and provides some valuable tools that can help develop tactics to convert more people to the outdoor lifestyle.

The study does issue one caveat. More people seem to be moving away from the active lifestyle and looking towards other forms of entertainment. Video games, TiVo, and other electronic media are capturing more mindshare in the American population while activities like bicycling, an important gateway activity for the outdoor industry, are apparently capturing less.

Outdoor Industry Foundation 2005 Participation Study
Total Outings
(in millions) 2003 2004 Change 2005 Change
All Activities 6,970 8,271 18.6% 7,329 -11.4%
Backpacking 55 67 21.8% 81 20.9%
Car Camping  317 245 -22.7% 259 5.7%
Hiking 788 827 4.9% 844 2.1%
Trail Running 1,059 1,189 12.3% 1,333 12.1%