What REI’s Recent Survey Tells Us About Women and the Outdoors

Kurt Spurlock
7 min readDec 30, 2020


Photo by Fionn Claydon on Unsplash

In 2017, as part of their #forceofnature campaign, the folks at REI set out on a massive undertaking to explore and better understand the impact that the outdoors has on the lives of women, and how women felt as a part of the greater outdoors community.

They wanted to learn more about what unique pressures women face in this passion we all share as a global community of hikers, campers, climbers, riders, swimmers and runners, from hobbyists and weekend warriors to experts and career professionals alike.

So they set out to design a survey that represented the real demographics of the nation, and went on to collect data from over 2,000 women aged 18–35.

They found some powerful information, both inspiring and deeply concerning.

First, a look at some data from their sample demographics shows how REI’s respondents track the real range of backgrounds in the US (taking into consideration the variation in the two sample sizes):

Image by Recreational Equipment Inc.

Compare that to the most recent information published by the U.S. Census Bureau to get an appreciation of the care that went into the selection process:

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

And while their sample was considerably diverse, their findings revealed some incredible similarities shared between women from all walks of life.

Some quick commonalities that may not surprise you:

  • Most importantly, women report they feel free in the outdoors.
  • But they also reported feeling under pressure to conform to certain social norms that may not lend themselves to an outdoors lifestyle, and that they feel men don’t have to contend with.
  • Also important to note is that despite the pressures listed below, women still overwhelmingly feel that the outdoors themselves are an escape from societal pressures, and what’s more, they want more time outside.

By the numbers, according to the survey:

72% of women say they feel liberated or free when they are outdoors, a sharp contrast to the societal pressures we’ll look at in the section below.

Nearly 7 in 10 women believe they are under more pressure than men to conform to societal norms.

And just which norms might those be, you may be wondering…

Well, of the 2,000+ women surveyed, here were common pressures shared by over 70% of respondents. Some of them may sound familiar to you:

“Stop being so dramatic. Be sexy. Lose weight. Don’t be so emotional. Smile more.”

Image by Recreational Equipment Inc.

And while these may sound like they’re coming straight off the script of an episode of Madmen, take a look at where women reported those pressures were reportedly coming from:

Image by Recreational Equipment Inc.

Pressure from social media feels like a given nowadays with the highlight reel lifestyles displayed on Instagram, or the often filtered, airbrushed, digitally enhanced faces and bodies we see on Facebook, Snapchat, and TikTok.

But over 60% of respondents said they felt these pressures from other women.

Over 50% felt them from their own families.

And an alarming 40% or more reported getting these pressures from their own friends.

But once again… the outdoors offer an escape…

Just look at these numbers…

74% felt the outdoors was a place to escape the stresses of everyday life.

69% feel happier when outdoors.

Sixty. Nine. Percent.

More than 85% felt time spent outdoors positively affected mental health, physical health, happiness, and overall well-being.

75% or respondents even felt a positive impact on their spiritual health.

And before anyone starts conjuring up images of quartz crystals and horoscopes, let me be the first to say, I know, the term “spiritual” is overused and often cringier than a Youtube comments section.

But in this case I don’t think the claim is a stretch.

Nor do I think anyone who has stood on the cliffs of Big Sur and taken in the miles of golden seas on offer, or walked through the Grand Canyon in quiet reverence of time, or gawked, open-mouthed, at the Dawn Wall at El Capitan (Jesus Christ, Alex Honnold…) would have any trouble understanding the deeper meaning these places often hold for us.

And I’ve got some more news for you.

According to the survey, women who reported regularly spending time outdoors feel happier and healthier than those who don’t.

And we’re not just talking about the brave women who are out there summiting Kilimanjaro or spending six months of their lives conquering the Appalachian Trail every year.

No, REI found that women who spend just an hour a day outside on average report having these benefits, as well as feeling more adventurous and more confident than those who don’t.

Image by Recreational Equipment Inc.

But as I said at the beginning, it’s not all flowers between women and the woods, and some of the information REI highlights in their results is concerning.

Women still report feeling social barriers.

Among other things, they don’t feel they’re taken as seriously as men in their outdoors pursuits.

Let’s go back to the numbers here:

More than 60% of women reported feeling men’s interests in outdoors activities were taken more seriously than their own, even when actively shopping in outdoors stores like REI, Dick’s, and Cabella’s.

So what’s going on in the culture at large that might explain this apparent divide?

One piece of insight the survey offered was that 6 in 10 women couldn’t think of a single female outdoors role model when asked.

Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

REI also pointed out that of the respondents that did provide role models, those provided often didn’t have a direct association with the outdoors themselves.

Respondents favored strong women like Serena Williams and Michele Obama over those with specific accomplishments in outdoor activities like Lindsay Vonn, the winner of four American World Cup skiing championships, and Ashima Shiraishi, who is widely acknowledged as one the best rock climbers in the world regardless of gender, and the first female to climb a V15 boulder.

It starts young, and it starts with Mom…

The survey also found that the love of the outdoors starts young, starts at home, and often starts with mom.

Women cited their own mothers as their top role model more so than any other woman or female celebrity on the planet.

Photo by Simon Rae on Unsplash

Furthermore, those women who reported having been encouraged to get outdoors when they were young girls also reported being more active as adults, and more than twice as likely to consider time spent outside as a “very high priority.”

…and thus, more healthy, more happy, more confident.

I’m seeing a theme here…

They also place a higher value on having adventure and the excitement that comes along with it as part of their lives.

Of the women who were encouraged to spend time outside as young girls, it was found to be twice as likely that mom had been the person in their lives doing the encouraging, and that those who had been encouraged by mom were one and a half times more likely to find it important to pass down a relationship with the outdoors to their own daughters.

So yea… I think it’s safe to say that being outdoors has once again been confirmed as an overwhelmingly positive force in our lives, and we should all hope to see that positivity continue to be magnified and passed down future generations of women and men alike.

And with all these results taken into consideration, I’d like to share one more number with you all from the project.

Is it any surprise to read that 73% of women reported wanting to spend even more time outside than they currently were?

Getting healthier. Happier.

Seems pretty relatable.

So go ahead. Get out there today, even if it’s just for an hour.

If you’d like to learn more about REI’s #forceofnature project, you can check it out here. They’re currently on hold somewhat due to COVID, but will be traveling across the country in an Airstream (ain’t that the dream!) collecting women’s stories once things return to normal. I have no doubt they’ll be successful in doing the good work of helping to discover a new generation of outdoors role models for us all.



Kurt Spurlock

Looking for the deep kick.