5 Expert Predictions on the Future of Outdoor Adventures

We’re all eager for the pandemic to end. COVID-19 has introduced change at such an alarming rate that many of us haven’t even had time to grieve what used to be. The ‘new normal’ includes rigid cleaning protocols, virtual yoga classes, one-way shopping aisles, and a loss of human connection. All have felt the impact of the coronavirus, whether it’s the loss of a job, a loved one, or even just the familiar Monday evening group ride. Amid all the uncertainty and loss is a desire to keep looking toward the future—to make an educated guess at what’s coming next, and to hold onto some semblance of normalcy as we move forward. Here’s a few prescient predictions on how we’ll be adventuring in the coming months, as well as what some of the top experts in the outdoor and adventure travel industries are saying.

Man hiking in mountains at dusk
Simon Berger/Unsplash

Doing more solo adventures
By now, health guidelines have drilled us on the danger of extended time in groups, whether they’re small or large. This novel virus loves company and, as we’ve seen, groups can wreak havoc on the immune systems of those who choose to gather. But who said that all adventures need a group? More and more people are leaning into solo adventures, some for the first time. If you’ve never gone camping in the backcountry by yourself, or even completed a day-hike on a local trail, now is the perfect time to extend yourself. Who cares if it took a pandemic for you to finally sleep under the stars alone?

bikepacking outfitter
Greg Hardy / @rockgeist

We’ll be on two wheels
If bikepacking gear sales and rentals are any indication, more and more of us will be pedaling into the future. Greg Hardy, the owner of Rockgeist, a bikepacking company in Asheville, NC, says, “Bikepacking was growing before COVID. What I’m seeing is people getting their feet wet. Whether it starts with a single overnighter or a long day-ride, more and more people are getting a taste of what’s possible. Everyone’s stuck in their local towns and those types of trips aren’t going to be a one-month journey, they’re going to be day-trips in your local state park and then you get back to where you started.”

Two mountaineers on the ridge climbing Grossglockner, Austria
Alxcrs / Shutterstock

Going with guides we know and trust
It’s no secret that many of us rely on guides to help us find the good spots. Some even revisit a town year after year and book our vacations based on the availability of our favorite guides. With COVID, local knowledge becomes more and more important. Find a guide who can steer you toward a hidden gem, i.e., a place less trafficked. Cody Bradford is an AMGA-certified Rock Guide with 10 years in the industry. He’s partnered with 57Hours, an international network of independent guides, since 2017. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, his last guided trip was in March 2020. When asked where he sees things headed in 2021 and beyond as far as guiding goes, he says: “2021 will look different for mountain guiding country to country, state to state, and person to person. Lacking a vaccine, mountain guiding should come back fairly similar to pre-COVID-19, with added measures. For many private guides and guide services, ratios will be low, masks required when in close proximity (belay and instruction), pre-trip interviews may be held to ensure lack of exposure to the virus, and hygiene (especially on overnight outings with food preparation) will all be held to a higher standard. Cancellation policies for guests will also likely be relaxed or changed entirely for many guide services and guides alike to ensure confidence in canceling a trip, should a guest display symptoms of illness or have experienced possible exposure to the virus prior to a trip.” The long and short: You can still count on guides to help you access the best experiences in the outdoors; just expect a few changes moving forward.

Camping under the rainbow with 4x4 RV van in Montana
oksana.perkins / Shutterstock

We’re hitting the road in RVs
Still feeling anxious about staying in a hotel or escaping town on a plane? Join the crowd. One workaround has been to rent an RV, or an adventure van. April Cumming with Outdoorsy, which is like the Airbnb for RV rentals, reports that during COVID, their growth, “took off by more than 4,500 percent (measured from the low point in late March to June 2020).” Outdoorsy also reports that they’ve seen, “up to a booking a minute on [their] platform over the past few weeks.” If the data is any indication, we’re eager to hit the road. Oh, and the vehicle options on Outdoorsy are plentiful: vintage Airstreams, converted Sprinter vans, pet-friendly RVs and even the Instagram-friendly VW van. If you simply cannot put your travel plans on hold, renting a ready rig offers a safe option to explore.

camping at night startrail marisa jarae
Marisa Jarae / @marisajarae

Planning will be more important than ever
Though the unplanned, go-where-the-wind-blows-you road trip will always occupy its special place, we’ll likely be scripting things out for the foreseeable future. There’s just so many more factors to consider in the midst of a pandemic. Marisa Jarae, a Denver-based outdoor adventure photographer and instructor, says: “When in the wilderness, in particular, hygiene is key. It always has been. But now we have to think about, talk about, and plan for the surfaces we touch and share beyond the poop scoop and soap bottle. Stoves, tent zippers, water bottles, hiking poles, the list goes on. We also have to think about space. If camping or backpacking, or even car camping, is there space for tents to be spread out far enough from each other?” Logistics have always been a key component in successfully executing trips, but pre-trip plans will be more critical than ever.

Houseboat Beautiful desert sunrise scene with houseboat at Lake Powell in Glen Canyon National Recreation
alysta / Shutterstock

We’ll be taking unique adventures in national parks
Our National Parks have always been a huge destination for travelers and COVID-19 hasn’t really changed that. People are still eager to get out and explore our public lands. They’re just getting a little more creative about it and taking advantage of unique adventures and experiences within the parks. Mary Johnson, Senior Director of Marketing for Aramark, which operates numerous lodges, resorts, and recreational activities at several national and state parks, says: “We’ve seen that our guests are still eager to get out and enjoy a vacation in the fresh air and open spaces of our national parks and public lands. Many of our locations offer lodging, such as kitchenette cabins near the Tetons at Togwotee Mountain Lodge or fully equipped houseboats on Lake Powell, which are ideal for a socially distant vacation away from the crowds.” We can’t think of a better way to have a safe adventure than on a 59-foot houseboat in Lake Powell. Bonus: It’s got its own waterpark-style tube slide, wet bar, and barbecue.

 

One way we won’t be adventuring anytime soon?
On a cruise. The U.S. government recently issued a No Sail Order “for cruise ships in waters subject to U.S. jurisdiction,” and has advised American travelers to defer all cruise travel. The No Sail Order has already been extended twice and is currently in effect until Oct. 31, 2020, unless the Secretary of Health and Human Services declares that COVID-19 is no longer a public health emergency, or if/when the Director of the CDC rescinds or modifies the order. Cruise ships have started sailing in other parts of the world but it might be some time before U.S. ships are pushing off again. Continue to check the CDC website for updates, and in the meantime, consider plotting out a solo or family-only trip on the water with that old canoe or kayak that’s been gathering dust in the garage. It’s going to be a while before things go back to normal; the quicker you can adapt, the sooner you’ll be outside an off-line.

 


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