Are Millennials Changing Our Outdoor Experiences?

20 Sep Are Millennials Changing Our Outdoor Experiences?

Baby boomers and Gen Xers tend to think of the outdoors as a place to get away from it all, where peace and solitude are found. Millennials prefer to make their outdoor adventures social events with friends. ©Khanh Hmoong, flickr

Baby boomers and Gen Xers are inclined to think of the outdoors as a place to get away from it all, where peace and solitude are found. Millennials, however, prefer to make their outdoor adventures social events. ©Khanh Hmoong, flickr

Outdoor ads—whether they’re from gear manufacturers or adventure tour companies—tend to have a certain “look” to them, and it goes something like this: there’s a lone figure standing on top of a cliff or rock ledge, surveying the wild country below. Or perhaps there’s a solo kayaker, in a state-of-the-art boat, shooting down a waterfall. The outdoors is a place to get away from it all, test your self-reliance and commune with unadulterated nature, right?

Wrong—or at least if the millennial generation has anything to say about it. The majority of the people born in the early to mid 1980s and the 1990s would like to see that individual guy or gal standing on the cliff to have some buddies around and that kayaker equipped with a helmet camera.

Will their propensities soon change the outdoor experience for all of us?

The outdoors is just outside

Three in four Millennial travelers post to social networks, such as Instagram, at least once a day while traveling. ©Joyce Cory, flickr

Three in four millennial travelers post to social networks, such as Instagram, at least once a day while traveling. ©Joyce Cory, flickr

A millennial is officially defined as someone who is between the ages of 18 and 34. Theoretically, they are the ones in their working years, the ones spending money and, therefore, the ones marketers want to target. Unlike the baby boomers (50 to 67 years old; born between 1946 and 1964) or Gen Xers (35 to 49 years old; usually defined as being born between 1965 and 1984), millennials grew up in a radically different world that was forever changed by the Internet.

Millennials don’t tend to look at the outdoors as a proving ground. When they are “out there,” what they want is lots of friends along and a party atmosphere. In fact, millennials are more likely than any other group to travel socially with friends and family. And for those acquaintances who don’t happen to be along for the trip? Experiences are shared on social media. According to a survey conducted by Chase Card Services, three out of four millennials post to social networks at least once a day while traveling.

And that “party” doesn’t have to be too distant, either. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, research conducted by IDEO, a global design firm, found that many young people view the outdoors as something that starts at their front door and is part of everyday life. Jill Levinsohn, IDEO’s team leader for the Outdoor Retail of the Future Project, stated that for this generation, you have to rethink “outdoorsy” as “outsidesy.”

On-the-road creature comforts

While they are outside, millennials aren’t interested in suffering from any backcountry deprivations. They want the finer things around them. They are the generation that was born to “glamp” (short for “glamorous camping”). Some of the best-selling, outdoor gear items for millennials are camp chairs with drink holders for sitting around a fire and tents integrated with LED lighting.

Glamping fits the travel style of most Millennials. ©Wicker Paradise, flickr

Glamping fits the travel style of most millennials. ©Wicker Paradise, flickr

The days of our thinking about the outdoors as the place to find solitude, peace, quiet and oneself may be going extinct. But what we may gain is a large number of young people who have learned to like and appreciate being out in nature, even if many of those moments involve posting shots of their day hikes on Facebook and watching movies at night on their iPads in their tastefully outfitted and comfortable tents.

Do you think millennials will change how we all will start to experience the outdoors, as marketers take their cues from this next generation? Do you see outdoor experiences as social and something to be shared instantly, or should they be personal and solitary? What will be lost as we move toward this way of thinking—and what will be gained?

Here’s to your adventures, in whatever corner of the world you find them,

Candy

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Candice Gaukel Andrews
A multiple award-winning and five-time book author and writer specializing in environmental issues and nature-exploration topics, Candice Gaukel Andrews has traveled around the world—from the Arctic Circle to Antarctica and from Greenland’s coasts to Patagonia’s steppes—searching for and telling the stories that express the essence of a place. To read her articles and see samples of her nature photography, visit her website at www.candiceandrews.com and like her Nature Traveler Facebook page at www.facebook.com/naturetraveler.
Candice Gaukel Andrews

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18 Comments
  • Thomas Sawyer
    Posted at 14:08h, 22 September Reply

    Interesting perspective. As a baby boomer, I am unable to witness the outdoors experience by the millennials-perhaps for good reason it sounds like. Maybe not for us to decide how each generation spends their time in the great outdoors as long as there is respect for nature and others who desire the matchless peace and solitude that only mother nature can provide. A request for all generations: Please, please, take care of our earth and God-given beauty!

  • Natalie Lobartolo
    Posted at 23:20h, 23 September Reply

    Very interesting. I think there will always be trends and exceptions, and I for one cannot identify myself with any of the millennial qualities stated in this piece (apart from the age group!). There are many, many people in this age group who thoroughly enjoy solo travelling and getting to meet and understand local cultures instead of partying every night.

  • Bruce D. Eilerts
    Posted at 21:02h, 24 September Reply

    I think “witnessing the outdoors” is a key phrase. I have observed millenials experiencing the outdoors and most seem blind or oblivious to the natural world around them. They appreciate the scenery but don’t seem to notice the wildlife and plants around them. They see the cool birds and pretty flowers, but there definitely seems to be a lack of interest in the type of creature or plant. Whether or not it’s rare, endemic, or a privilege to have encounters with different species does not seem important to them. How does one realize the current extinction crisis if they can’t appreciate a California Gnatcatcher as compared to a House Sparrow? They are just “birds” and maybe they think there are lots of them. The concept and importance of Biodiversity seems to be a lost concept among millenials outside those that are environmentally trained. I watched “Life on Earth” the other day and was shocked at how “dumb-downed” the nature documentary has become. An example was a scene of a Bearded Vulture dropping bones to extract marrow. Oprah Winfrey (narrating) discussed how the Griffin Vultures couldn’t compete. What bothered me was that there were two other species of crow and three other vulture species in the scene, but she only talked about the Bearded and Griffin Vultures. Why? To the unfamiliar, they couldn’t tell the Griffin Vulture from the other five bird species in the scene (excluding the Bearded Vulture). Perhaps encouraging or catering to a lack of interest in the “individual” value of nature is why most people are not fully appreciating and reacting to the current and largest extinction event since the dinosaurs. Lastly, a researcher on Maui, Hawaii started a fund raiser to save the critically endangered Maui Parrotbill. The event was a failure. However, when that same researcher decided to start a reforestation fund raiser, (planting trees), it was a huge success. The rare bird species or individual types of plants and animals did not seem to attract empathy or support. However, saving the whole forest did. Interesting and nauseating. This will be a tough nut to crack while trying to spread the message and criticality concerning enjoyment, appreciation, and conservation of what we call “outdoors.” when baby boomers and millenials are “witnessing the outdoors,” I’m sad to say that the millenials are not seeing or “witnessing” the majority of the big picture.

    • Candice Gaukel Andrews
      Candice Gaukel Andrews
      Posted at 20:47h, 24 October Reply

      You bring up some very interesting points, Bruce. Good thoughts. I hope others will comment on them! Thank you.

      • Bruce D. Eilerts
        Posted at 20:49h, 24 October Reply

        Thank you Candice. I believe it’s an important social and environmental issue that needs attention. I wonder if the “instantaneous” aspect of what millenials are used to as a result of the internet, I-phones, instant access to friends, information, photos, food, shopping, etc. has something to do with it? I hope someone comes up with a strategy that will breach this apparent communication barrier and spur interest, concern, and involvement because the planet is basically dying! This immense issue just doesn’t seem to be registering to the large majority of people in general. There seems to be an under-realized diference in world views that the new generations seem to possess. What is the pervasive “environmental” world view of millenials? I saw an NGS documentary about a guy who is basically a one man army, spokesman, representative (etc.) trying to save elephants in Africa. NGS was touting and featuring his accomplishments. The man looked at the camera and said “where’s the rest of the world?” The question was desperate and provocatibe. What is the answer? “Why,” I think, is core of the issue you have raised. There is something that is definitely different about the current generation’s world view as opposed to earlier ones. Thank you again for bringing these not-so-obvious discussions to the surface.

  • sinnadurai sripadmanabn
    Posted at 02:03h, 25 September Reply

    quality of water,and,soil even humans have dropped.

  • Kristina Boyd
    Posted at 14:46h, 28 September Reply

    I hesitate to put this on the shoulders of a generation. I grew up in a big city, pre-cell phone, and it took me a really, really long time to truly “see” nature even though I was exposed to it as a kid and ended up as a wildlife biologist. Now I live in a tiny rural
    mountain town and I still feel way behind in some sensory and nature logic skills that are inherent to kids who grow up here. From my experience, the general behaviors that this article highlights are shared by many, if not most, urban residents regardless of generation. And urban life is something that is, frustratingly, very important to the preservation of wild places. So how do you cultivate generations of urbanites who can not only competently grasp their role in a global economy but also sensitively perceive the intricate beauty of nature? In my view, you can’t – not wholesale. Nature calls to people in many different ways and there is no single way to influence or control that. So, glamping it is for those who it calls to. And we conservationists and fundraisers will need to follow the example of our better-trained and better-paid corporate counterparts, the recreational gear marketers… or wait for the apocalypse ;)

  • Bruce D. Eilerts
    Posted at 20:44h, 24 October Reply

    Great input. We’re still living during a great extinction with the majority of the world taking a position of detachment. Maybe they appreciate nature but at a very ignorant level. How do we get those people to realize the planet is dying?

  • Bear Path Acres
    Posted at 20:45h, 24 October Reply

    Bruce you and I think a lot alike. I am proud to be a baby boomer and making a change in this world! All the other generations behind me seem to care about me, me, me. They may want to make a change but lack the desire to get outdoors and actually do something. Today’s’ world is suffering from Nature deficit. This planet is dying at a rapid speed, how to get through to them, if anybody finds that secret, please let me know.

  • Lyndal Breen
    Posted at 20:45h, 24 October Reply

    I am spending a lot of time with a group of 6 young ‘millennials’ on an outdoor environmental project. I find that this particular group has little experience of being outside in any strong sense. They are nervous of walking into long grass, fearful of snakes and other creatures that bite, and one plant looks much the same as another. I am hoping that as time goes by, they will develop a broader understanding of the countryside.

  • Phillip Sharkey
    Posted at 22:23h, 03 November Reply

    Continuous connectivity have made “no news is good news” into “no news is bad news” now millennials are going to change John Muir’s “Mountains are calling and I must go” to “Mountains are calling where I must gogle.”

  • Julie Watson
    Posted at 00:35h, 08 November Reply

    I fall into the millennial age-group, however, I am fortunate enough to have grown up in a rural setting with very little technology. (I got my first smart phone a year ago) Maybe it’s because of the field I work in, but most of my colleagues that are also millennials do not fit the description in this article. At least not in the sense of requiring comforts when camping or ‘glamping’. If that is a trend among millennials, I think that could be kind of alarming because they aren’t really experiencing nature. As Bear Path Acres and Bruce D. Eilerts mentioned about detachment and nature deficit. A tent with built-in LED lights? I’ve never seen this, but darkness is becoming a disappearing resource. How can we trust this generation (my generation) to take care of our environment when we don’t have a population that appreciates ALL that nature has to offer if they’ve never even experienced true darkness?

    I work with urban schools in St. Louis and bring them outside to do river seining, macro invertebrate stream studies, hikes, trail-building, native planting, etc. The students I work with are absolutely interested in what we’re learning about and it’s amazing to see them transformed from being totally afraid of anything that moves to being comfortable (and dressed properly) while outside. I had a student that was even afraid of butterflies! It’s unfortunate that these students are having their first outdoor experiences with me when they’re already seniors in high school. The chances of them continuing to engage in outdoor experiences on their own in the future is very slim. These are millennials and they are our future, more energy needs to be put into engaging this techno-centric population.

    I think social media is a small way to do that, or at least a start. I think that the ease of being able to snap a photo (and on some smart phones a pretty nice one) and immediately share it with your friends and family can have positive benefits. Sharing a special place could encourage others to visit this special place and have their own outdoor experience there. If we can bridge the gap of social media being a replacement for outdoor experiences and make it an enhancement, I think that’s a good place to start. It is a slippery slope though, one of my biggest pet peeves is getting pushed out of my own way while holding a snake, fish, etc. so my students can get a picture to text, tweet, snap, or what have you.

    Great thread!

  • Bruce D. Eilerts
    Posted at 00:37h, 08 November Reply

    Excellent comments Julie! Also, thank you for providing actual ideas and please continue to do what you are doing. I think you made an interesting point of physically taking young millenials (of different age groups and/or educational level), on nature field trips or weekends, starting perhaps in K-garden and being consistent year after year. Also, you pointed out that who you are experiencing nature with (in this case the kids were with you) is paramount. Experiened naturalists are necessary to lead these physical relocations from our artificial world into the natural world. I think nature and biodiversity will sell itself if there is someone experienced to interpret, alleviate fear and teach the importance of the natural work for human survival. You pointed out the immediate excitement you witnessed in those kids. Also, save money by not buying a tent with built-in LED lights…. Just use a flashlight instead! 😊 Thanks again and keep up the great work. Also, please share this concerning issue with your peers!

  • Suzanne Maloney
    Posted at 02:03h, 06 January Reply

    Wow! What a great topic! Let’s begin with how our parents and we were raised. We had first-hand experience in the world around us. We played in the dirt and watch bugs crawl and caught fish with worms we dug out from under trees with lots of moist humus. We knew to get them there because we’d played there and found them. Our family entertainment reinforced all of the basic earned knowledge. Think Marlin Perkins and Jacques Cousteau. They were common household names. In my neighborhood, we played the part of Marlin and “hunted” animals and whispered what they were doing so as not to disturb them. Farms were right here in our communities. Indeed we bought food all summer long, well into the fall from farm stands. So what’s missing?
    Here in New York State last year Common Core was implemented and quite frankly forced down the throat of parents across the state. Thankfully many refused. However, this program is a perfect example of where we are failing to teach true reverence for our home, “Planet Earth.” I started a business last year that brings nature to young and old alike through horticultural endeavors. After finding that the primary education in New York State no longer requires that earth sciences be taught, but many schools would teach it if something was available to them to use, I developed a plug and play program. This program includes everything they need, projects with measurable educational objectives, printouts, supply lists for materials for projects as well as funding sources.
    The biggest problem for the schools was there was no time to teach natural science due to the requirements of Common Core. Here, I believe, is the problem we are confronted with where millennials are concerned. Where do we engage them? What do we allow to be prioritized in an educational curriculum? Who should have input to these decisions? With education now being financially driven nowadays, I would say its not always the people we want to have those decisions. Additionally, whose teaching the teachers?
    When researching the topic, I found that there are many applications for the electronic devices we all have now and the millennials are dependent on. These are great but nothing beats the experience of getting dirty and finding something that stirs the curiosity. From where I sit, if we don’t begin at the beginning who’s to blame at the end result? One of my favorite recommendations from an antique gardening book I have “In the spring, to tell if the soil is ready for planting, pull down your drawers and sit. If you can sit a spell, plant.” Most everyone begins to learn from a personal perspective. As Bruce said, the wonder can’t come if we have no idea of the gems surrounding us. All gems come from the earth which we are part of whether we believe we are above it or not.

  • Aiden
    Posted at 18:38h, 09 October Reply

    Based on the wording it appears that you’re saying millennials are always between the ages of 18-34 (as well as the other generations you listed and their respected ages), and therefore gives the impression that new people are entering and leaving the millennial generation every year. In truth, millennials are people born between 1980-2000, Which means your age description is accurate for this year; however, in the future those ages will no longer accurately represent these generations.

    • Candice Gaukel Andrews
      Candice Gaukel Andrews
      Posted at 09:04h, 10 October Reply

      Hi, Aiden,

      Thanks for your comment. In the second paragraph, you’ll notice that I did mention that millennials are typically described as people born “in the early to mid 1980s and the 1990s.” It, therefore, didn’t need to be mentioned so soon again in the fourth paragraph. However, your idea was a good one, and I added the birth years typically ascribed to baby boomers and Gen Xers. Thanks for reading and for your thoughtful comment!

  • Jenna D
    Posted at 16:29h, 18 October Reply

    Am I missing the data to back up these claims? Your points seem incredibly anecdotal and unsubstantiated, especially since all trends point to Millennials spending their money on experiences rather than material things (1) and prioritizing recycling and sustainability practices in the workplace more than any other generation (2). “Millennials were also found to be more supportive of stricter environmental laws, more likely to attribute global warming to human activity, and more likely to favor environmentally-friendly policies than their predecessors.” (3) Sure, we’re more likely to travel in groups. That has absolutely nothing to do with viewing the outdoors as a “party”. Sure, we post to Facebook often, but I fail to see why that is inherently bad. Most of my favorite hikes have happened because I saw a friend’s picture of an incredible view and thought “I have to go there”. Handheld phones were not readily available or distributed until most Millennials were in their teens or later. I certainly played outside in the dirt, what kid doesn’t unless they live in a strictly urban area? Also, how is buying a chair with a cup holder or a tent with built in lighting not an appropriate purchase? These items fix problems that campers have had for years (fumbling with flashlights and tent zippers in the dark, for example).. If we go by your reasoning, anyone with a tent is “glamping” because they aren’t experiencing the REAL outdoors unless they sleep uncovered and on the ground. Why take food? You should really get your nutrition from the earth or you aren’t experiencing the REAL outdoors.

    “They don’t believe they should go out on their own and seek a wild, faraway place in order to get themselves back to what’s really important in life.” Because posting to social media and hoping to build relationships in nature means we have no idea what’s important in life…

    I could go on, but this seems a lot more like elitist diatribe than an article meant to actually challenge people, bring an issue to light, or provide any helpful solution to any of the problems you listed. I understand your last paragraph was mildly flattering of my generation, but the rest of the article is you extrapolating data in some nonsensical ways and making generalist claims. I also see no sources for many of the claims that you made, are those available by request because I would love to read more about the topic.

    Sources:
    1. https://www.forbes.com/sites/ashleystahl/2016/11/15/how-millennials-spend-their-money-hint-experiences-trump-possessions/#54cab5bb5cfb
    2. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/two-in-three-millennials-would-give-up-social-media-if-everyone-at-their-company-recycled-300435136.html
    3. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/molly-tankersley/average-is-the-new-green-_b_5499778.html

    • Candice Gaukel Andrews
      Candice Gaukel Andrews
      Posted at 16:35h, 18 October Reply

      Hi, Jenna,

      Thanks for reading this 2015 post! It’s great to see that it is still drawing commentary from readers like you.

      Thank you, too, for the links to other articles regarding how millennials recycle in the workplace, support environmental concerns and have a propensity to travel in groups.

      As for this particular article, I agree with you that posting to Facebook is not “inherently bad.” And, that is not stated anywhere in this article. Nor is it stated that buying a chair with a cupholder or a tent with built-in lighting is inappropriate. In fact, if you check the link on glamping, you’ll see that one of our Adventure Collection member companies does African safari glamping exceptionally well! We’re all for glamping, here at AC.

      Regarding some of the best-selling outdoor gear items for millennials, check out https://www.outsideonline.com/1998221/youths and https://outdoorindustry.org/pdf/MillennialsActivitiesAndBrands-OutdoorIndustryAssociation-FINAL.pdf.

      Keep hiking! —C.G.A.

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