The Future of the Outdoor Industry

With the technology that is available to us currently, the way outdoor businesses are run will be in a constant state of change. Current business strategies will soon be obsolete, and new products are in continual development. Marketers have to stay three steps ahead of an unstoppable entity called disruptive innovation. With all that is uncertain in the business world, one thing remains steadfast; the human instinct to explore. It is in our blood to chase an endorphin high or an adrenaline rush. We are adventurers at heart, and trailblazers to our core. There will never be a shortage of humans looking to appreciate the outdoors. The key is to be the business that helps them to get there. In the novel “The Inevitable,” by Kevin Keller, He lists several important changes and habits that will be widely accepted and adapted by society in a few short decades. These alterations will fundamentally change the outdoor industry, as we currently know it. The main trends he explains that will directly effect the outdoor industry is the becoming renters instead of buyers, the tracking of any and all products and users, the sharing, collaboration, and connection at a mass scale, and the constant interaction with technology, artificial intelligence, and computers.


In the past, anyone who didn’t own a car would be considered shamefully unsuccessful. Anyone who crashed in the guest room of a stranger’s house would be considered crazy. The amazingly successful business strategies behind companies like Air BnB and Uber are proof of a shift in opinion that humans are going through; we don’t need to own anything to feel rich. We can borrow a car and a driver with the quick click of a button, and we can stay in a gorgeous home without having to take care of any upkeep. This aversion to ownership will soon be reflected in the outdoor and adventure products industry. Instead of a consumer walking into REI, purchasing a kayak, running it into the ground over the next several years, and then throwing it away, companies will offer a subscription program. No need to find garage space for your kayak in the winter. Rent one for a week, month, season, whatever. Then turn it in and pick up the newest version next season. This means customers will always have the best possible version of the product without having to commit. This will span over several big-ticket products for any time of the season. The biggest benefit of this subscription program is that it gives the consumer every opportunity to test out a new outdoor activity and find a new passion without having to make a permanent purchase. Imagine REI’s potential subscription program they could offer: The spring package would be climbing shoes, chalk, and a crash pad for bouldering. The summer package would include a kayak and a stand-up paddleboard. The fall package is the newest Specialized full-suspension mountain bike and the safest helmet on the market. The winter package would be the latest version of K2 skis and a season pass to a ski resort. Customers would be set year round for one monthly flat rate. There would be different levels of subscription packages depending on price and expert level. People with advanced experience in certain activities could purchase a subscription that included tools for sports like ice climbing or extreme backpacking. People on a budget could buy a subscription with the older and more used versions of the products. Everyone who wants to be involved would have a personalized subscription that fits his or her lifestyle, but follows the core value of accessing what you need immediately and ignoring what you don’t.


Tracking is already a huge part of the outdoor industry, but will soon be at the core of every product. The current practice is to buy a product specifically made for tracking purposes, such as a backcountry beacon or an app on a phone. These are primarily used in search and rescue emergencies or safety situations. The large shift that will take place is that normal products will have tracking abilities. For example, in trad climbing, some of the equipment is small, very expensive, and can easily be left in the wrong person’s care. If these tools could be tracked, they would not be lost on the wall anymore, and there would be undeniable proof of possession. This concept also goes hand in hand with the subscription program. A subscription program would be highly risky if the company did not have a back up plan when a subscriber loses one of the rented products. One of the main advantages of tracking all products is that it would exponentially cut down on stolen items. The stress of leaving bikes on the streets would be lessened and customers could just check on their bike’s location with an app on their phone. This new technology could also save someone’s life in the right situation. If someone is planning on going on a casual hike, chances are they won’t bring a beacon because it is unnecessary. Problems can happen in any situation. I have personally experienced the hopeless feeling of watching my backpacking pack fall off a cliff. Any device I had with tracking capabilities just dropped off the face of the earth. But imagine if I had a coat on with tracking and the ability to read heart rate and blood pressure. If my heart rate showed distress, my coat would send a warning message to my emergency contact I provide and they would be notified the at the exact moment of distress. This could cut off hours or even days of search and rescue work and get a hiker help the moment they need it.


Both Air BnB and Tinder just launched the perfect product that foreshadows the direction that outdoor industries will soon be including in their business plan. They are two completely different companies, with completely different goals and strategies. The similarity the two companies have is the concept behind the newest product. They both act with the goal of having consumers reach out to normal people in a community for experiences. Air BnB just launched Experiences, an addition to their home rental service. It follows the same idea of being a mediator between two private parties, but instead of a house that is being rented, it is an experience that the private party can offer. It is broken up into categories like social impact, nature, and sport, and the activities span from urban gardening to leaning how to be a burlesque dancer. None of the people offering experiences are employees of Air BnB. Air BnB is just the platform on which people are connected. Tinder Social works to connect strangers who are in groups with other friend groups that are going out. Once a group of friends find another group that seems cool, the groups are free to communicate with each other to hang out. Tinder also just acts as the platform that connects groups with a shared interest. This new strategy of experience seeking will cause a massive amount of disruptive innovation for the outdoor industry in the next few years. Air BnB disrupted the traditional hotel industry, and Uber caused a huge disruption with public transportation and the taxi industry. The current practice for tourism and recreation companies is to have set employees offering the services to customers who seek out their business specifically. If traditional tourism companies don’t adapt to this emerging trend it will pose a huge threat to the success of their business. There are too many perceived benefits for both the buyer and the seller for the traditional method to survive. The consumer is free to use one platform to explore many types of outdoor and adventure sports. They can find a specific instructor that they believe they could have fun with, and have the chance to make alterations to the original plan to customize it to their personal preferences. Sellers are free to follow their own set of rules when in comes to their activities and can plan their schedules by choosing exactly when they want to work. It is the perfect business strategy for the outdoor industry, and there will be a company very soon that emerges and becomes a monopoly in this market using the “middle man between two private parties” plan. One business plan could be modeled around Air BnB’s business. This company will be able to offer a wide span of outdoor and adventure sports taught by self-made experts. This company could accept sellers from all over the world because a centralized HQ would be irrelevant. The company itself wouldn’t have to be liable for any safety problems because it is just the platform for connection and reviews. The other business model this company could take on is developed with Tinder Social’s ideas in mind. The platform could connect people or groups in a specific area who happen to want to find new friends to do adventure sports with. Maybe someone just moved to a new town and needs to find a belay buddy. Or maybe someone wants to find a knowledgeable mountaineer to meet up with and gain advice before doing an especially difficult climb. A person would just create a profile, describe what kind of activity they are interested in pursuing and wait to find a like-minded person that would want to join them in their endeavors. Industries would benefit greatly from being open-minded and considering these types of business strategies.

Professional climber Alex Johnson training with a Fitbit


The interacting trend has already had a huge impact on society for the past few years, and it will only continue to grow. Everyone has the Apple Health App is they have an iPhone, and it is difficult to walk into any room without seeing at least a few Fitbits. Many people rely so heavily on using technology to track progress in physical activities, that companies like Adidas are creating smart balls that can track speed and accuracy of movements, and give tips for improvement. The outdoor industry is an obvious market for this emerging technology to be introduced. Soon the technology will be able to read more than heart rate and steps, but actually focus on the physiological actions that the body is undergoing during rigorous activities. This could be critical information for mountaineers, who need to precisely measure the speed of ascent. Some interacting device like a Fitbit could measure levels of oxygen in blood to measure how fast to climb the mountain as quickly as possible without increasing risk of altitude poisoning. It could also measure blood nutrients on a backpacker attempting the Pacific Coast Trail, where conserving resources is imperative. The Fitbit could notify when and exactly how much protein or water a person needs without overusing or under using resources. This technology could also become very influential in training for extreme sports such as rock climbing and bouldering. Because climbing is a seasonal sport, avid climbers use the winter months to train and improve technique so they will be able to take on harder climbs in the spring and summer. It can be fairly hard to track success with this sport, especially when the end goal has a deadline. I believe that Fitbit technology holds the possibility to not only track current progress but also predict future progress, and give climbers a timeline for when they should be able to reach their climbing goal if they keep up their current activity. This could be measured by muscle mass, endurance, speed, length of time spent on each hold, and, of course, heart rate. With the addition of technology with deep learning, or artificial intelligence, the device could predict when an individual would meet their goal based on if they keep their training at the current level, or if they increased or decreased activity. Because artificial intelligence would be used, the more an individual uses the device, the better a read the device has on a person, and the more accurate the goal date would be. This could cross over into cycling, swimming, running, and sports that include any sort of personal best. This technology could cut down on the use of steroids, because with a clearly mapped out plan for when a person could reach their personal best, there would be less of a need to rely on chemicals for improvement, but also because the device is constantly reading a user’s body, there would be no way for athletes to cheat using steroids. It could also be a very successful tool for individuals looking to improve their activities and health, because they would have a specific day in which they would reach their personal goal, making it seem much more attainable. This could overall improve general health of our society just by answering some questions that were previously very vague. This technology would be helpful for all athletes and non-athletes who are working to better themselves with a time limit in mind.

While the Details explained in this article are humble opinions by a novice in the technological world, there is no argument that changes will have to be made, and the outdoor industry will have to adapt to keep up with the inevitable trends that will arise in society. It is beneficial for all outdoors companies to keep open minded with these new technological innovations, even though they may fundamentally change businesses. If a company is the first to accept these emerging trends, they will truly benefit from being the first in the market to adapt to radical and disruptive innovation. The companies that try to hold on to old techniques and traditions will eventually be lost in the mix of other companies that refuse to innovate. In this fast moving society, the only way for a company to stay successful is to try and predict the future of technology and be the first to jump on the advantages that it brings.