Americans who took to the great outdoors during the early pandemic days are still out there. And experts are forecasting their newfound love of nature activites -- including camping, hiking and water sports -- is here to stay.
While demand surges, supply-chain snarls and store closures clouded many retailers' results over the past year, trends are becoming clearer. L.L. Bean, for example, recently reported a 5% increase in net revenue, with annual sales hitting $1.59 billion. Sales of its winter sports gear shot up 49%, while water sports equipment, including canoes, kayaks and paddleboards, soared 83%.
And new data from the Outdoor Industry Association says there’s been the biggest jump -- up 2.2 percentage points -- in outdoor participation in 10 years of tracking. Some 52.9% of its sample say they took part in outdoor activity in 2020, up from 50.7% in 2019 and 50.5% in 2018.
The OIA, which plans to release the full findings of several new research initiatives this year, says topline results show that camping participation grew 28%, with 7.9 million more campers. Hiking rose 16.3%, which amounts to about 8.1 million more people hitting the trails. Freshwater fishing increased 8.6%, adding 3.4 million participants.
And best of all, more people did get moving. Reported inactivity fell for most age groups and income levels.
"Given the unique and unprecedented events of 2020, members of OIA are already asking what they can do to ensure the above numbers aren't merely a short-term blip, and to sustain the increase over time," the association says in its report.
Some experts are betting that all that fresh air will prove habit-forming. "Consumers have found refuge in the industry during the pandemic, the outdoor consumer base is growing, and this engagement will endure for the long haul," writes Matt Powell, vice president and senior industry advisor, sports, for the NPD Group.
The Port Washington, New York-based market research firm tracks data from more than 600,000 retail locations, including 1,450 sports specialty doors, as well as ecommerce and mobile sales.
"The exceptionally high growth and demand for outdoor as well as cycling, fitness, and other sporting goods products have put these businesses in a unique position compared to most other industries," he says.
Store closures drove brick-and-mortar sales down, as they did for all retailers. But specialty ecommerce business jumped 21% for the year, and mastering omnichannel strategies will continue to be important.
The gains are more extensive than specific activities and encompass what Powell calls the "outside" lifestyle, with consumers hankering for socially distant activities that have them shopping for grills, coolers, hammocks and recreation tents.
NPD says water sports, up 21%, are the fastest-growing outdoor specialty channel industrywide. And camping, up 50%, was the fastest sports specialty ecommerce channel.