Trends in Human Powered Outdoor Recreation

Sunday, 14 May 2006
I found this collection of outdoor recreation trends and thought I would post them purely for interest sake. They are mainly geared towards whitewater kayaking in the USA but some is applicaple to sea kayaking in other parts of the world as well.

I found all the stats them on this site.

Outdoor activities played a major role in the lives of the majority of Americans 16 and older during 2004.

• Nearly three-quarters (71.6%) of Americans 16 and older participated in at least one human powered activity - a Participant population that is equal to 159 million Americans.

• Versatility and variety held the key to generating large Participant populations during 2004. Activities that have multiple formats (something for everyone) attracted the largest number of Americans 16 and older during the year:
  • Bicycling (Any Type) 85.7 million Americans 16 and older
  • Fishing (Any Type) 80.4 million
  • Camping (Any Type) 65.7 million
  • Paddlesports (Any Type) 31.8 million

Demographic Profile of Human Powered Outdoor Users

  • The majority of overall Participants are male (56%)
  • Americans of all ages participate in outdoor activities
  • The presence of youth is strong: 26% are between 16 and 24 years old
  • The marital status of overall Participants is split between married (52%) and unmarried (48%)
  • One-half (50%) of Participants report the presence of children in their household
  • Overall Participants report slightly above average affluence--mean household income of $60,000
  • The overall Participant population is comprised primarily of Caucasian Americans (79%)


Enthusiasts (those who represent the top 15% of participation) participate in outdoor activities with commitment and frequency.

• In 2004, more than 50 million Americans 16 and older participated within the top 15% of participation frequency in at least one human powered activity.

• Enthusiasts have a distinct demographic profile that has remained relatively consistent in recent years.

  • Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Enthusiasts are male
  • All age groups are represented, and the level of 16 to 24 year old within the population reached an all time high in 2004 (32%)
  • Nearly one-half (46%) of Enthusiasts report the presence of children 18 and younger in the household
  • The mean household income is $60,000

16 – 24 Year Olds


Participation in human powered sport is particularly strong among Americans between the ages of 16 and 24.

• More than 34 million Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 participated in at least one human powered activity in 2004—equal to 84.7% of the entire U.S. population in that age group.

Participant levels were primarily unchanged in 2004, although a limited set of activities experienced increased activity.

• Three activities benefited from an increase in Participant activity in 2004:
  • Fly-Fishing (+52.2%)
  • Hiking (+11.9%)
  • Natural Rock Climbing (+51.2%)


Overall Enthusiast level activity among 16 to 24 year old Americans in 2004 was high and several activities benefited from the commitment of the key youth segment.

• More than 13 million Americans between the ages of 16 and 24—or one-third (32.9%) of the entire population—participated in at least one human powered activity at Enthusiast levels in 2004

• Compared to 2003, trends in Enthusiast levels within the specific activities are mixed in 2004.

• An eclectic set of activities experienced increases in Enthusiast activity in 2004:
  • Single Track Bicycling (+45.3%)
  • Dirt Road Bicycling (+47.9%)
  • Cross-Country/Nordic Skiing (+100.0%)
  • Hiking (+53.5%)
  • Recreation/Sit-on-Top Kayaking (+125.0%)
  • Touring/Sea Kayaking (+166.7%)
  • Whitewater Kayaking (+200.0%)
  • Snowshoeing (+100.0%)

Female Participants and Enthusiasts

• Female Americans 16 and older participated in human powered activities in large numbers during 2004, similar to recent years.

• In 2004, nearly two-thirds (63.7%) of females 16 and older participated in at least one human powered activity - a level of involvement that yields a population of 73.2 million Participants.

• The number of female Enthusiasts remains sizeable – and aligned with previous years.

• Nearly 19 million female Americans 16 and older are classified as an Enthusiast in one of the activities based on their high levels of participation frequency in 2004.

Outdoor Activity – Based Vacations

• Nearly 56 million Americans took a vacation in 2004 where the primary purpose was to participate in an outdoor or adventure activity—travel activity up 14% from 2002.

Demographic Profile of Whitewater Kayakers
  • Americans 16 and older who went whitewater kayaking in 2004 tend to be male (71%).
  • Nearly one-half (48%) of Participants are between the ages of 16 and 24.
  • In 2004, kayaking (any type) participants were most likely to live in the Northeast (33%)

Male 71%
Female 29%

16 to 24 48%
25 to 34 16%
35 to 44 19%
45+ 17%

Marital Status
Married 54%
Unmarried 46%

Household Income
<$40k 23%
$40k 39%
$80k+ 38%

Participation in Whitewater Kayaking

During the early part of the decade, whitewater kayaking was the fastest growing human-powered outdoor sport, peaking in growth rate and participation in 2002. Since then Participant and Enthusiast levels have remained primarily stable.

In 2004, there were 2.2 million US participants, 222 thousand enthusiasts (those who represent the top 15% of participants), Age 16 and older.

Source: Outdoor Industry Foundation © 2005
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.

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