An Analysis of Barriers to Outdoor Participation and What the Outdoor Industry Can Do

Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type




First Advisor

Rebecca Overmyer-Velazquez


Recent studies have analyzed the benefits of participation in outdoor activities. These studies have confirmed what many outdoor adventurers have known for decades; the outdoors benefit one’s mental and physical health. Along with that, the outdoors can provide a freedom from social constraints. However, outdoor spaces are not free from the social inequalities of our current place and time. Many sociologists and outdoor adventurers alike have pointed out the lack of diversity of participants in outdoor activities. There is no simple solution for this complex issue. The challenges of making space for a diverse population in the outdoors requires a thorough understanding of the connection between the history of outdoor recreation and the history of outdoor segregation. It is also necessary to have an understanding of the many social barriers people face when attempting to participate. These barriers include racism, sexism, identity, and a lack of role models. How did the outdoor adventure field become inaccessible to some communities, and how can outdoor programs, tourism, and diversity advocates, create a lasting change by attracting a diverse population to outdoor activities? This research looks at the ways in which the outdoors and outdoor activities have been historically dominated by middle to upper class white able-bodied cis-gendered straight men. I also analyzed the ways in which different outdoor programs can help curb this trend and bring in a more diverse population. This will include identifying barriers to access, and creating solutions for these challenges. In this research, I conducted multiple qualitative interviews with leaders of outdoor programs as well as ambassadors to diversity in the outdoors. The data gathered in these interviews confirmed the unfortunate truth about the lack of diversity but also showed many ways some programs are trying to change that. This includes creating programs lead by people of color, LGBTQ+, and women, as well as finding safe spaces for vulnerable populations. While there is still much work to be done, it appears as if there is a greater knowledge about this issue today then in the past, and this will hopefully bring about a positive change.

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