Scary Survey Results Show What We Were Suspecting. Campers are Getting Disproportionately Older [Industry Wake-up Call]

Wednesday, 07 March 2012

Bryan Hansel from has highlighted what should be a wake-up call to the entire outdoor industry.

The results from a long-term survey were recenrtly released by the US Forest Reserve. The survey (which was completed back in 1969, 1991 and finally in 2007) has been looking into who the users of the Boundary Waters Wilderness Canoe Area (BWCAW) are.

The survey result paints an interesting picture into the health of canoe tripping in the BWCAW and I feel could also be anecdotally applied to other major canoeing areas across North America as well.

…we found out that the average user age in 1969 was 26 and in 2007 it was 45. We also found out that first time visitors have dropped from 30% of visitors to 6%. This means that fewer people are being introduced to the BWCAW. I’d guess that also means that the age of the average visitor will continue to rise and current users grow older. As a point of reference, the average age in Minnesota is 36. The study suggests that one way to explain this is: “While it is important to recognize that younger individuals and first time overnight visitors continue to use the BWCAW, trend data suggest that a strong and substantial cohort of aging, repeat visitors to the BWCAW exists.”

One interesting observation from the study is “Just less than half of the visitors in 1969 had visited other wildernesses besides the BWCAW at that time, but this rose to 57% by 1991 and 75% by 2007.” To me that seems to suggest that once people experience how magical wilderness areas are, they want to visit more of them.

What does this mean for the outdoor industry and outdoor camping? It means that current participants are getting older and we are not introducing young people to the outdoors as our parents did to us. If something isn’t done soon I feel an entire generation will miss out.

More info: - Original Survey Report

Flickr Photo Credit: Big Sag - / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

David Johnston

David Johnston

David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools in Ontario, Canada. Full Bio.

Strategic partner

Paddle Canada Logo