They were the best of times, they were the worst of times. 2021 has been a bit of a whirlwind for outdoor and adventure lovers, and we can’t talk about the trends that shaped it without alluding to the global pandemic that kept many would-be explorers close to home for much of the year.
That said, as the world opened up in summer there was a huge exodus into the welcoming freedom of the great outdoors, and it seems we all learned the lesson that time spent in nature, whether you’re scaling a mountain or just going for a relaxed ramble, is invaluable. More specific trends also shaped how we worked and played outdoors, and we’ve explored four of the outdoor trends that stood out in 2021.
Trend #1: active vs chilled adventures
It’s not enough to go on a bucket-and-spade or a fly-and-flop holiday any more – sporty travellers are looking for gain (and possibly a bit of pain) on challenge- and sport-orientated adventures. A long weekend away structured around a marathon race such as the Berlin Marathon or the Tromso Midnight Sun Marathon let runners work and play in one trip, without using up too many holiday days. If you want someone else to organise it for you, new company Destination Sport Experiences (opens in new tab), launched in 2021, take keen cyclists abroad to ride exact stages of the Tour de France or the Tour de Flanders, cycling in the tyre treads of their favourite athletes, as well as whisking runners away to the Rome and Paris marathons.
There’s also a counter-reaction to this go-hard-or-go-home brigade – the rise of weekend wellness retreats where the focus is on mindful multi-activity breaks that include yoga, paddleboarding and wild swimming, such as Thera-Sea (opens in new tab) three-day Cornwall escape (T3 tried this one out – read about it here). You can bestow these escapes on someone else, too – TrendBible's 2021: A Year in Review (opens in new tab) also announced that giving a gift of a wellness or sports trip would be a popular alternative to physical gifts this Christmas.
Prediction: Travel association ABTA's new trends report, Travel in 2022 (opens in new tab), predicts next year will be the year of the 'catch-up consumer' as one in two people say holidays are more important to them than before the pandemic. But even if global travel opens up fully, we think active travellers won’t lose their love for the short-haul staycation in 2022. Will you be camp challenge travel or camp wellness weekends?
Trend #2: rooftop camping
Camping met road tripping in a match made in heaven in year in which we explored wild corners closer to home and the term ‘staycation’ hit the big time. A 600% increase (opens in new tab) in campervan finance in 2021 suggests that vans became the ultimate adventuremobiles in 2021, allowing us to head out at a moment’s notice when restrictions changed.
We went looking for something a little more exciting than our musty old tents, too – one huge trend of this year has been the roof-top tent, ideally strapped to the top of an Instagram-friendly classic Land Rover. Perfect for exploring more remote corners of the UK, such as the Scottish Highlands, roof-top tents allow you to pitch up wherever you park by simply unfolding your tent and setting up a ladder to clamber into it. Bookings with companies such as Scotland Overland (opens in new tab) were buzzing this summer, and you could also order your own rooftop tent to fit to your ride from TentBox (opens in new tab), from £995.
Prediction: Rooftop tents make for a very adventurous road-trip – but we predict mountain-bound campers will go migrate back to their wild camping roots with small, affordable tents rather than renting pricy 4x4s setups. Van life, meanwhile, shows no sign of stopping, especially as testing uncertainty is likely to keep travellers in the UK for at least some of 2022.
Trend #3: map apps
This was the year we looked for adventures that started right from our own front doors, so it’s no surprise that mapping apps such as Komoot (opens in new tab), Outdooractive (opens in new tab), ViewRanger and Ordnance Survey (opens in new tab), which allow users to follow established routes on their phone, have been more popular than ever in 2021. This year the Komoot community hit 24 million users – that’s a lot of people sharing routes, visiting local highlights and exchanging ideas for their next adventures.
Mapping apps and wearable tech are also more outdoors-focused than ever, from the Garmin Instinct Solar, aimed at surfers, to the new Huawei HONOR GS PRO, with skiing and hiking modes, and the affordable Amazfit T-Rex Pro. As many smartwatches, such as Apple, Garmin and Samsung models, work with your favourite mapping app, they make the perfect duo for mapping out solo adventures, finding new spots to explore in your local area and for improving your navigation skills.
Prediction: We reckon there will be many an outdoorsy smartwatch waiting under the Christmas tree as 2021 draws to a close, and we predict more tech aimed at helping people share walks, cycles and secret spots launching this decade.
Trend #4: eco-friendly vs luxe outdoor kit
Designers got more creative than ever in their search for alternative and more sustainable materials in 2021. Picture Organic Clothing’s ski and snowboarding kit (opens in new tab) for this winter season has a sweet side – 60% of the collection is made using sugar cane waste, a sustainable alternative to using traditional materials that require fossil fuels. In footwear, Scarpa developed a hiking shoe (opens in new tab) that will fully degrade once in landfill, and vegan alternatives to leather outdoor boots are also on the up, such as Finisterre and Blundstone’s collaboration on a vegan design.
There’s also a bigger focus on a different approach to brand new outdoors kit – to not to buy it at all. Patagonia (opens in new tab)’s pop-up repair services were thronged with customers at Kendal Mountain Festival, and Alpkit charges a modest fee to repair kit from any brand at one of its Repair Stations (opens in new tab) across the country. Kit really reached the end of its life? Paramo is accepting its preloved clothing back and will recycle it (opens in new tab) into new pieces.
Anyone who has been venturing outdoors for a while will have noticed that adventure kit is suddenly rather cool, and that hiking boots and down jackets were as ubiquitous on city streets as they were on mountain peaks in 2021. If you do want to invest in some pieces you can wear anywhere, new luxury brands that marry outdoor performance with smart tailoring and a designer feel are big news this year, such as Amundsen (opens in new tab)’s beautiful Scandi-inspired pieces and Canadian brand Nobis (opens in new tab)’ seriously warm winter jackets. Japanese brand Snow Peak (opens in new tab) also does a fine line in minimalist, beautiful quality camping gear and clothing.
Prediction: You’ll see your outdoor kit wardrobe and your regular clothes merge further in 2022 – and we’ll all be encouraged to buy better quality but less frequently, repairing and reusing what we do already own.