U.S. Outdoor Industry Sales Have Declined, but Growth Opportunities Exist with Consumers’ Appetite for Experiential Spending

Port Washington, NY, July 9, 2018 – Sales within the core U.S. outdoor industry spanning outdoor equipment, apparel, footwear, and accessories were $18.9 billion in the 12 months ending April 2018, a decline of 4 percent over the prior year, according to global information company The NPD Group. Despite this topline performance, pockets of growth in areas such as packs, outerwear, and certain camping-related equipment and accessories suggests that adaptable products associated with travel, as well as those tied to replenishment are bright spots within the core outdoor marketplace.       

Passenger traffic at the world’s 20 busiest airports is growing, as is attendance at national parks. With more consumers on the move, outdoor market sales have grown for travel packs (+5 percent), duffle bags (+3 percent), luggage (+2 percent), and fanny/waist packs (+9 percent). Top-of-car components including cargo boxes and baskets grew a combined 8 percent, and dry boxes and bags increased sales by 5 percent. Backpacking sleeping pads/mattresses grew sales by 4 percent, and trekking pole pairs were up 5 percent. Sales of solar power products—providing connectivity for mobile phones, speakers, and so on—grew by 34 percent. In swimwear, women’s top and bottom separates both grew sales by 15 percent, while one-piece and two-piece sets experienced declines, suggesting consumers may prefer to mix and match.

“Brands and products that help consumers on their travels are winning in a declining outdoor market, but the industry has in some ways overlooked this trend, leaving additional growth opportunities on the table. Outdoor brands and retailers must do more to tap into this ongoing travel trend,” said Matt Powell, vice president and senior industry advisor, Sports, The NPD Group.

Growth areas in apparel sold within the core outdoor channels suggest consumers’ affinity for versatile products. Growing by 3 percent in the most recent 12 months and generating $3 billion in sales, outerwear is the largest category within the outdoor market. Tops, the segment capturing the bulk of outerwear sales, grew by 4 percent and that increase was primarily driven by jackets and vests.

“Outerwear is a huge chunk of the outdoor business. The long winter was the primary sales driver in the first few months of 2018, leaving inventories clean. The category is also faring well with its assortment of looks and brands, and its versatility as consumers prefer to invest in products that they can layer or use in a variety of conditions,” said Powell.

In camping-related equipment, products tied to replenishment have been growth drivers over the past year. While sales of recreation tents, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads/mattresses have declined, sales have grown for stoves, camp chairs, and toiletries.

“Through their spending behavior, consumers are demonstrating how they’re devoting more of their time and share of wallet towards experiences. This is terrific news for the outdoor industry, which has adventure built into its DNA and the travel products consumers need,” said Powell. “But now is not the time for the industry to rest on its laurels. Brands and retailers must take this as an opportunity to shine.”


Source: The NPD Group / Retail Tracking Service, 12 months ending April 2018

Channels of distribution for the core outdoor industry are athletic specialty/sporting goods, outdoor specialty, and sport specialty e-commerce.

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