How Much Do Americans Spend on Outdoor Gear?

October 18, 2012

A lot. According to a recent study from the Outdoor Industry Association, each year Americans spend $120 billion on products for outdoor recreation. That’s more than twice as much as Americans spend each year for internet access ($54 billion) or airplane tickets ($51 billion).

And that’s just one nugget from the 2012 study, The Outdoor Recreation Economy, which details the total economic benefits by the outdoor recreation industry. So what are the total economic benefits, according to the study?

  • A total of $646 billion in outdoor recreation spending each year. $120.7 billion comes from purchasing outdoor equipment, but the vast majority of spending ($524.8 billion) is on trips and travel-related spending for outdoor recreation.
  • 6.1 million American jobs, more jobs than come from construction (5.5 million), the oil and gas industry (2.1 million), or education (3.5 million).
  • Nearly $80 billion in tax revenue, split almost equally between federal tax revenue and state/local tax revenue.

$646 billion in total annual consumer spending on outdoor recreation. That’s more than Americans spend each year on motor vehicles and parts ($340 billion), gasoline and other fuels ($354 billion), or pharmaceuticals ($331 billion).

There are some important caveats to these numbers, however. The study takes a very broad definition of “gear purchases for outdoor recreation,” most notably the inclusion of vehicles and accessories used for outdoor recreation such as RVs, boats, motorcycles, and all-terrain vehicles. It also includes the insurance, registration, and storage fees for said vehicles.

When you look at the study’s technical report, which details the methodology and assumptions behind the report, this vehicle spending accounts for the majority of the $106 billion spent on gear purchases for outdoor recreation (roughly $75 billion vs. $30 billion for non-motorized equipment, accessories, and services).

I’m not saying that this methodology is flawed. I’m just saying that there are important distinctions between non-motorized forms of outdoor recreation, which have minimal impact on the environment; and motorized activities, which can have deleterious effects on our outdoor resources.

Regardless, the study makes one thing clear. Our nation’s outdoor opportunities are an incredible economic asset, one that should never be overlooked as the inexorable tide of population growth and development marches onward.

“Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

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Matt Heid

Equipped blogger Matt Heid is AMC's gear guru: He loves gear and he loves using it in the field. While researching several guidebooks, including AMC's Best Backpacking in New England, he has hiked thousands of miles across New England, California, and Alaska, among other wilderness destinations. He also cycles, climbs, and surfs.