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11 Ways COVID-19 is Changing Outdoor Recreation

The last few weeks have significantly changed the way that we all interact with nature and get outside. For the Outdoor Prolink team, it’s been a serious adjustment, but hasn’t been entirely bad or entirely good. It’s… complicated. For some outdoor professionals, furloughs and lay-off have translated to more free time and increased outdoor activity. For those who aren’t blessed by living right by a trailhead, it’s meant confinement, homeschooling and neighborhood strolls. Others, like Search + Rescue professionals, Firefighters and EMS professionals are working more than ever.

To get a read on the various ways the pandemic has impacted our members, we surveyed just under 700 outdoor professionals to find out. Here are the key themes that revealed themselves:

Pros are staying a lot closer to home.

Most pros shared that they are not driving or traveling to recreate. They are staying close to home and trying to respect stay-at-home or safer-at-home orders. They cannot justify traveling, even if it’s to recreate. 

Normally this time of year I’m hiking or climbing 1-2 days/week in the hills or mountains. Now I’ve been road biking more and walking locally, and not venturing from home further than 20 miles. There are a lot of federal lands near me, but they are all closed.

– Fish & Wildlife Professional

Seasons changed faster than we expected.

Many pros remarked about the premature end to the ski season due to the closure of ski resorts and backcountry skiing being generally frowned upon. The season being cut short caused many pros to pivot and move on to summer sports earlier than they planned.

Snowboarding at resorts came to a complete halt, and backcountry travels out of the county seemed irresponsible so that didn’t happen either. Went on more hikes close to home, started running more, and biking earlier in the season than usual.

– Trails Specialist

My part-time job at the ski area ended early, I am not backcountry skiing because I don’t think the risk is worth it. I am lucky enough to live where I can get out on trails.

– Ski Instructor

Risk tolerance is at an all-time low.

Those that are continuing to recreate are doing so at a much lower level of intensity. Pros are conscious of keeping themselves safe and do not want to injure themselves and put healthcare workers and first responders at risk. Many pros mentioned that they would normally be getting after it in the backcountry during the spring, but decided to put the skis away early this year.

I have opted for more “safe” activities like running to prevent possible injury and the need for first responders.

– Outdoor Trip Leader

Pros are re-setting their clocks to avoid crowds.

Pros are making an effort to recreate at off-peak times. Understandably, everyone is pretty turned off by the surge in trail traffic and are trying to get outside when they have the smallest chance of running into another person.  

Trails in my local area are extremely busy on nice days and in the afternoon. I have altered how much I am getting out but have altered my timing to get out when trails are less busy. My county has seen a +350% increase in park users during the pandemic. It’s insane.

– Park Ranger

I have tried to avoid highly populated trails and if I see a lot of cars I usually go elsewhere. With state and national forest trails I’ve found I walk around in town a lot more, even though I’d prefer to be in the woods. Staying closer to home and traveling even a few hours away for a hike seems like my new normal.

– Forestry Technician

I have to have several backup plans just in case the trailhead I wanted to bike/hike at are overcrowded. Most times I have to head to 2-3 locations to find one not crowded. Normally, I would have just gone with my first choice.

– Outdoor Educator

We are feeling pretty lonely.

Pros are, for the most part, recreating alone or with their family members or housemates. They are sorely missing the social aspect of outdoor recreation, but are sticking to solo activities or low-key adventures with small groups.

I can’t fish with anyone but my family, but being furloughed means I’m able to take quick, solo local trips more often.

– Natural Resources Project Manager

Far less engagement in the social aspect of outdoor rec. I’ve had many a thoughtful walk alone, but it’s starting to get more and more lonely. Outdoor recreation needs the social aspect to truly thrive in my opinion.

– Adventure Programs Coordinator

Some are getting outside less than usual.

Pros spending less time recreating overall. Many attribute this to their inability to travel, increased risk of getting injured or contracting the virus, or social responsibility to respect government restrictions. Pros with young children are busier at home with childcare and have a harder time finding opportunities to get outside. 

I’m usually traveling over 100 days a year to guide in different national parks. I had a 20-day trip to New Mexico planning in March. I scrapped it. Usually, I’m sea kayaking on Lake Superior this time of year or paddling on lakes that are just going ice out. I haven’t done that this year, because I don’t want a rec boater who is bored out of their mind to see me kayaking (ACA L4 Open Water Coastal) on Superior and decide that they should go out on 33F water without a dry suit in a rec boat.

With school cancelled this year, I’m also homeschooling and my kid and I do more recreation that is geared towards him and less of the solo stuff I’d do. For example, the longest bike ride I’ve done this year is 4 miles. Usually, I’d be getting in shape for the season and be up to 30+ mile rides by now. When we recreate as a family, we’re going to more remote and seldom visited areas to avoid the crowds, especially on the weekends when the tourists show up for day trips from the Twin Cities (Minnesota). In general, I’m doing less and struggling to stay in the normal level of fitness that I’m usually in.

– Professional Outdoor Photographer

Furloughed and laid-off workers are taking advantage of “fun”employment.

Some furloughed and laid-off pros have taken advantage of the unexpected time off by spending more time outdoors (carefully, of course). Guides mentioned that they have enjoyed being able to recreate for pleasure rather than for work.  

Ironically, I’m actually able to kayak and mountain bike more often, mainly because I have more free time.

– Outward Bound Course Director

My outdoor activities have increased. I love nature and am taking advantage of the extra free time to be outdoors!

– Sales Representative

Pros are finding new (outdoor) hobbies.

Walking and running are common activities that pros have turned to in order to stay active close to home. Many pros are “learning” to become runners, or trying new activities they have not done in the past, like cycling or mountain biking.

I’ve stopped rock climbing and picked up running.

– Environmental Professional

I had paid for a gym membership, but now have found more ways to work out at home with what I have. I have also started running regularly, which I always found unappealing at the gym.

– Park Ranger

Biking, hiking and fishing are the rage.

Biking, hiking, and fishing are the most commonly mentioned activities other than walking/running that some pros have managed to continue doing in some capacity. Whether solo or in small groups, these activities lend themselves well to social distancing. Bike shops have seen a corresponding surge in sales in April and May. 

I’ve cancelled a number of planned multi-day skiing, rafting and camping trips. Most outside activities have been local daily excursions of hiking, running, biking.

– Fire Management Officer

I am definitely spending less time outdoors, doing shorter bike rides, fishing closer to home and less often. Instead of leaving from the house for a ride I’ll drive a short distance to a trail to try to have less contact with neighbors and not using well attended trails.

– Mountain Maintenance Manager

Everything is cancelled.

Many pros have canceled trips that were planned for the summer to avoid traveling. Some have turned to planning future adventures that they can enjoy once stay at home orders have been lifted. 

I’m staying with the same partners for activities, limiting the group size and staying close to home exploring the surrounding zones. Cancelled big trips and objectives.

– Ski Instructor

We normally would have camped 2 – 3 weeks by now but, all camping trips have had to be cancelled, Ski season was cut short by 5 weeks and I have just started mountain biking this week. Otherwise, we have continued hiking as much as we normally would.

– Director, Aspen Skiing Company

I had four different trips planned for this summer that were cancelled. I decided to put the refunded cash to good use and I bought myself a mountain bike. I figure if I can’t travel, might as well find a new way to keep myself stoked!

– Marketing Director

For the most part, everyone is pretty bummed out.

Everything that I usually live by has changed. This time last year I was summiting Mount Hood and doing sunrise hikes whenever I was free. Now I wake up at 11AM, trying to figure out where I fit in, what I’m supposed to do, and why do I feel like I’m losing my sense of self. Sometimes I bike, sometimes I hike, but I spend most of my time trying to figure out what I can do that’s still responsible and what’s next after quarantine lifts.

– Rental Technician, Mount Hood Meadows

I am at-risk, so I venture out carefully. I’ve been running a bit more, but also doing more home-based workouts, like yoga and dance. I don’t have a car so it’s hard to really get OUT out. I miss it. All my calluses are soft 🙁

– Climbing Coach

One thing we know for sure? Our dogs are not bummed out by all the extra snuggles and attention they have been getting!

Do any of these resonate with you? How has COVID-19 impacted the way you play outside? Let us know in the comments.

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