Extensive research shows that female presence and demand in the outdoor world is growing at an impressive rate.
Extensive research shows that female presence and demand in the outdoor world is growing at an impressive rate. (photo: Courtesy of REI)

Women Are a Huge Economic Force in the Outdoor Industry

And these numbers are proof

Extensive research shows that female presence and demand in the outdoor world is growing at an impressive rate.

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Throughout our May issue (on newstands now), we presented data illustrating the state of women in the outdoor world gathered in an exhaustive reporting effect by contributing editor Stephanie Pearson. All together, the numbers make a strong argument about why gear companies should put more muscle behind their women's product. Here are the most salient (though often not at all surprising) lessons she learned during her research. 

#1. Women Make Great CEOs 

One of our most significant findings: outdoor brands see massive growth when women take the helm. Now we just need more businesses to follow suit. Last year, the number of women CEOs leading Fortune 500 companies dropped to 4 percent. 

Gert Boyle, president of Columbia 1970-1998
Sales growth from $800,000 to $427.8 million.

Kris Tompkins, CEO of Patagonia 1979-1992
Sales growth from $2.5 million to $100 million.

Sally Jewell, CEO of REI 2005-2012
Sales growth from $1 billion to $1.92 billion.

Sally McCoy, CEO of CamelBak 2006-2015
Value growth from $256 million to $412.5 million.

Rose Marcario, CEO of Patagonia 2013-present
Sales growth quadrupled (dollar figures not disclosed).

#2. Women Spend Real Money on Gear

Women count for 63 percent of the spending on activewear in the U.S., with huge growth each year, as numbers from leading brands show. 


$5.7 billion: Sales of women-specific products in 2015.
20 percent: Growth of women's product sales in 2005.
9 percent: Growth of men's product sales in 2015.
$11 billion: Women's-product sales in 2020 (projected).


$88 million: Growth in sales of women's-specific products since 2015.
31 percent: Growth of women's-product sales over other categories.
46 percent: Portion of sales of gender-specific products accounted for by women's products.

Under Armour

43 percent: Growth of women's outdoor-footwear sales in 2016.
$1 billion: Sales of women's products across all categories in 2016.

Snowsports Brands

$1.4 billion: Sales of women's products in the 2014-15 season.
31 percent: Portion of total 2014-15 sales accounted for by women's products.

#3. Women Get After It

Nearly half of all outdoor participants are female. What do they do out there? Here are the percentages of those engaging in various activities who are women. 

Running: 49 percent
Day hiking: 48 percent
Car-camping: 45 percent
Cross-country skiing: 44 percent
Downhill skiing: 44 percent
Road biking: 41 percent
Snowboarding: 38 percent
Backpacking: 34 percent
Fly-fishing: 30 percent

#4. Our Public Land Managers Should Hire More Women

Women are getting outside more than ever. But they're still a relatively small part of the National Park Service workforce: approximately 37 percent as of 2016. 

Wilderness rangers: 13:9 (ratio of men to women)
Climbing rangers: 12:1
Protection rangers: 910:179
Supervisory rangers: 332:199

#5. Women Travel All Over the World 

How much do women love adventure travel? Let us count the ways.

One-half: Portion of the 160 million U.S. adventure traveleres who are women.
$50 billion: Amount they spend annually on gear.
28 percent: American women travelers who take off alone.
58 percent: REI Adventures clients who were women in 2016. (The company is launching a new collection of women-only global trips led by female guides.)
54 percent: Clients with active-travel company Backroads who are women, along with 54 percent of the company's 500 trip leaders. 
56 percent: Trek Travel guides who are women. (Seventy-five percent of the company's corporate-office staff are also women—including president Tania Burke.)

#6. The Number of Women Thru-Hikers Is Growing (Though They're Still Mostly White)  

A brief history of the Appalachian Trail. 

In 1955, Emma Rowena Gatewood, age 67, became the first solo woman to through-hike the AT. She did it again in 1957.
In the early seventies, less than 10 percent of through-hikers were female.
In 2014, of approximately 3,000 through-hikers, 28 percent were female.
In 2016, of the hikers who reported race or ethnicity, 2 percent were Hispanic or Latino, 2.5 percent were Asian, and less than 1 percent were African American.

#7. Women Have Made Yoga a $16-Billion Industry  

Tracking the unstoppable yoga juggernaut.

36.7 million: Number of Americans who practiced yoga in 2016, an increase of 16.3 million since 2012. Seventy-two percent of them were women.
$2.1 billion: Lululemon's increase in annual revenue between 2004 and 2015. 
$16 billion: Amount that Americans spent on yoga classes and gear in 2016.
31,301: Estimated number of pilates and yoga studios in the U.S.—50 percent more than all the Starbucks in the world.

#8. Women Hold Some of the World's Most Impressive Athletic Achievements. Duh. 

A look back some of the most storied accomplishments by women athletes and adventurers over the past 100 years.

1926: Gertrude Ederle swims the English Channel in 14 hours 34 minutes—eight hours faster than the first man did in 1857.

1966: Despite receiving a letter from Boston Marathon organizers explaining that women aren't capable of running 26.2 miles, Bobbi Gibb hides in the bushes near the start line and runs it anyway, finishing in 3:21:40, ahead of two-thirds in the field. (In 2016, 12,166 women finished the race.)

1978: After 272 days at sea, Naomi Christine James becomes the first woman to sail solo around the world via Cape Horn, besting Sir Francis Chichester's record by two days.

1985: Dog musher Libby Riddles becomes the first woman to win the 1,100-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, after 18 days in 50-below weather. She gains time by pushing on during a lizzard while other competitors stop. 

1993: Lynn Hill is the first person, man or woman, to free-solo climb the Nose route on El Capitan in Yosemite Valley. It will take 12 years for anyone to repeat the feat. 

2015: Eleven-year-old Ashima Shiraishi is the youngest person, male or female, to climb a 5.14c route.

2016: After 18 grueling days biking unsupported across the country, endurance cyclist Lael Wilcox is the first woman to win the 4,400-mile Trans Am Race, beating 41 other finishers, 35 of them men.

From Outside Magazine, May 2017
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Lead photo: Courtesy of REI