Outdoor Recreation Study Shows Popularity of Climbing Lessens in Past 4 Years

The 2010 Outdoor Recreation Participation Report by The Outdoor Foundation, a non-profit organization, presents detailed information about American participation in outdoor activities and sports. The report, created with The Coleman Company, is an analysis of data collected for the Outdoor Recreation Participation Report, using 40,141 responses from Americans six and older in an on-line survey in early 2010 of 144 different activities. The survey is the largest participation survey about outdoor recreational activities and sports, with a breakdown by gender, age, ethnicity, income, education, and geographic region.

Overall 2009 participation in rock climbing, including bouldering, sport climbing, indoor climbing, traditional climbing, and mountaineering was 6,148,000 Americans or 2.7% of the population six years and older. It broke down to 4,313,000 participants in bouldering, sport climbing, and indoor climbing, and 1,835,000 in trad climbing and mountaineering.

Climbing attracted the fifth highest number of new participants in 2009, a whopping 24.4%, which ranks behind only whitewater kayaking, sea kayaking, non-traditional or off-road triathlon, and traditional triathlon, which led with 43.5% of new participants. At the bottom of the list were wildlife viewing and telemarking with 5.3% and fishing with only 5% of participants being newbies. Fishing, however, tops the list as the most popular outdoor pastime with 17% of Americans age 6 or older or 48 million folks playing with rods and reels.

An interesting statistic is that climbing participation among children ages 6 to 17 has dramatically decreased since 2006. In 2006, 2,583,000 children or 5.1% of that population participated in climbing, including sport climbing, indoor climbing, and bouldering, but in 2009 that number dropped to 1,446,000 or 2.9% of the 6 to 17 population climbed.

Young adult participation in climbing, ages 18 to 24, also decreased from 2006 to 2009, going from 993,000 or 3.5% of that population to 769,000 or 2.7%. These statistics are interesting since it would seem that climbing participation would increase for this age range rather than decrease. I suppose that the demands of college, work, and relationships could cause a drop, or maybe mom and dad aren't footing the gym membership bill anymore!

Looking at this data, which is, of course, incomplete, indicates that climbing has passed its peak, at least for now. The sport grew considerably from 1990 when indoor climbing gyms became popular and served as an introduction to a lot of tyros to climbing. Now it appears there is a lessening of recreational climbers as the ones who came of age in the last 15 to 20 years have begun to settle down to careers and family responsibilities.

Photograph above: Javier Manrique pulls down on Melanoma (5.13a) on Sunny Side Wall at The Tunnel in southern New Mexico. Photograph © Stewart M. Green.