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Banking on the Great Outdoors: The Recreation Business Boom

A bunch of people camping under the stars

Over the course of the last year, Americans have rediscovered their love for the great outdoors. With few indoor options for recreation during the pandemic, many turned to various outdoor recreational activities. They broke out dusty outdoor gear and equipment that hadn’t been used in a while. Or they purchased the items they needed in order to regain some type of normalcy amidst lockdowns and quarantines. As a result, the outdoor recreation industry boomed, and an array of companies enjoyed banner years in the process.

While the pandemic was a catalyst for people re-engaging in outdoor recreational activities, it wasn’t the only one. In fact, many individuals and families were already spending more time camping, hiking, and kayaking. Because of this, some specific startups had already launched when COVID struck, placing them in a winning business position. (The pandemic made winners out of other businesses and sectors, too – read about them here.) And from their perspective, they expect the demand for outdoor gear and equipment to continue to rise. Based on the figures and projections to date, they may well be correct in their assessment.

“We spent nearly eight months on the road living in an RV, talking to RV owners and travelers to better understand the industry and learn what consumers would want and value in a marketplace. It was after that time living on the road that we knew we had uncovered a multi-billion-dollar market hidden before our very eyes.” – Jeff Cavins, Co-founder and CEO of Outdoorsy

Drivers of the Outdoor Recreation Boom

Naturally, the pandemic forced many to reconsider outdoor recreational activities this past year. According to industry reports, this sector expanded to $887 billion globally with an increase of over 50 percent. Camper van rentals alone grew to $40 billion in revenues with more than two-thirds of bookings being first-time renters. And likewise, the demand for outdoor gear and equipment outpaced supply, resulting in several product shortages. Without question, COVID was a major driver for these shifts, but others also existed as well.

A group of people chilling around a campfire
Outdoor recreational activities have dramatically increased in popularity, creating an outdoor gear and equipment boom.

Prior to the pandemic, popularity of outdoor recreational activities was already increasing. Between 2014 and 2019, sales of outdoor gear and equipment grew by 72 percent according to some reports. Some of this growth has been attributed to increased use of social media, which got some people’s attention. But at the same time, trends like increased urbanization and environmentalism also encouraged individuals to explore nature more. In essence, the pandemic simply fueled a market that was already set to expand. But rather than gradual, steady growth, it instead exploded as people realized what great escapes outdoor recreational activities offered.

“I think anytime you have like 2,000 articles with two dozen tips on how to use a product, that tells me that it is really, really too hard to use. To me, that says there’s nothing but friction in this process. If you want to build something that’s mainstream, you need to make it super consistent and really easy to use.” – Scott Kubly, Founder of Cabana

Companies Taking Advantage of the Boom

The outdoor recreation industry has always been popular but not necessarily the most user-friendly. That’s why less than half a percent of people actually take a camping trip each year. Likewise, outdoor gear and equipment can often be confusing and complex to use without proper instruction. But several companies are addressing these problems and reducing barriers for consumers. This too has helped increase the demand for outdoor recreational activities as of late. The following are just a few companies making outdoor activities easier.

  • Outdoorsy – This company was started in 2014 in an effort to create an RV rental marketplace between renters and listers. This was the area of outdoor gear and equipment they believed needed help. After 8 months of RV camping and over 1,200 personal calls to campers, Outdoorsy officially launched. Today, this represents the largest international RV marketplace platform, bringing in over $1 billion in sales a quarter.
  • Hipcamp – This San Francisco-based startup also offers an online marketplace for outdoor recreational activities. But instead of RV rentals, Hipcamp helps consumers find unique campsites and camping experiences. Launched in 2013, Hipcamp lists a variety of camping opportunities from private property owners. These include not only private campgrounds but also glampsites, cabins, treehouses, and more.
  • Cabana – Roughing it while camping might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Even with an array of outdoor gear and equipment, some may simply want a more luxury experience. If that’s the case, Cabana may be a solution. This 2019 startup offers mid-size camper vans that have been turned into luxury hotel rooms. Equipped with showers, bathrooms, and everything you might find in a hotel suite, their camper vans appeal to many.
  • AllTrails – Founded in 2010, this San Francisco-based company was way ahead of the trends related to outdoor recreational activities. Today, AllTrails is the “go-to” site for finding and learning about thousands of trails across the country. Not only is the app ideal for hikers and backpackers but also for runners and cyclists as well. Plus, the app easily lets you log your outdoor excursions for future reviews. Just download the app, grab any necessary outdoor gear and equipment, and go!

“They say 30 days is a habit, 6 months is a lifestyle, and now that we’re a year past this pandemic in this country, all signs point to the fact that we’ve made the decision to seek the outdoors for access to wide open spaces.” – Mary Monroe Brown, Director of the Wisconsin Office of Outdoor Recreational Activities

Outdoor Recreational Activities in a Post-Pandemic World

Those who sell or rent outdoor gear and equipment naturally face some upcoming threats as the pandemic subsides. Some analysts are concerned that outdoor recreational activities may lose their popularity in the process. But those in the industry believe otherwise. As companies have made access to outdoor recreational activities easier, many have adopted these as part of a healthy lifestyle. And with other drivers still in place, the demand for outdoor gear and equipment is expected to persist. At least for the immediate future, the great outdoors looks to be quite the attractive industry.


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