Getting into the Great Outdoors

Getting into the Great Outdoors


It might not be a Sharks-versus-Jets-level conflict, but we've got a turf war going on.

That’s right. Lifestyle brands like Birkenstock are coming after outdoor enthusiasts, and more hardcore outfitters would be wise to take notice.

In 2012, the outdoors industry in America was valued at $646 billion – bigger than pharmaceuticals and cars combined. Why wouldn’t casual and clothing brands want to get in on the spending spree? You’ve gotta wear something out there, but you’re not in the woods all the time. Why not buy something that looks good in the office, too? Topo Designs would like a word. Even hipsters in NYC are getting better at making rough-conditions-ready gear for more design-minded campers and hikers. So if lifestyle brands are starting to sell outdoor gear, and outdoor brands are starting to sell you on their urban side, how can marketers differentiate themselves in what’s quickly becoming a crowded space? 

More than ever, it’s essential that brands find who they are and stick to it. Niches have gotten deeper and wider, meaning consumers can smell pandering a mile away – and there’s nothing worse than getting caught having no idea what you’re talking about. Gear makers face two choices: lean into their roots or go with the tide set by less intense brands. 

One example: Mountain Hardwear has a history of offering down jackets, base layers and similar enthusiast-oriented gear. But scrolling through their offerings, I’ve even found a few shirts I’d feel comfortable wearing around the office. On the other hand, brands like Outdoor Research continue to cater to only the most avid hikers, climbers, skiers and campers, sacrificing a bit of style for benefits like cutting-edge fabrics and insulation. The right answer depends on the brand you’ve built. Loyalists can be fickle, and no one likes a sell-out. 

All this new competition seems like it could have dire results for established outdoor brands, but the good news is there might be enough to go around. Consumer spending on outdoor recreation is expected to reach $887 billion in 2017, with $184.5 billion on gear, apparel and equipment alone. Spending on trail sports is beating out home entertainment. Water sports gear tops movie tickets. Cycling and skateboarding beat video games. Is the rise of tech contributing to an increased desire to disconnect? There’s no easy answer, but one thing is clear: Americans are getting outside at a record clip.

This is great news. Research shows that recreation spending has a habit of driving the overall economy, creating both employers and jobs, and ensuring that our public lands and waters continue to thrive. It bodes especially well for where we live in South Dakota, where residents are much more likely than average to participate in hunting and fishing activities, and where 69% of residents participate in some kind of outdoor recreation. All that participation adds up to $4.7 billion in annual consumer spending, good for the fourth-largest sector in the state. 

Whether you’re off the grid every weekend or just need a getaway every once in a while, whether your brand decides to double down on enthusiasts or tap into a wider audience, one thing’s for certain: it’s a great time to be involved with the great outdoors. 

Want to see what L&S can do to help you tap into a market that looks as strong as ever? Check out the work we’ve done with travel and tourism clients, as well as in the retail industry. Then drop us a line


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