Analysis: How COVID-19 Impacted Camping and Outdoor Equipment Sales Online

The long weekend that comes with Memorial Day, observed on the last Monday of May, makes it a perfect time to kick off the annual “outdoors” season with a backyard cookout, a visit to a nearby cemetery or memorial, or to hit the road for the first big camping trip of the year.

After the unprecedented year that was 2020, Memorial Day weekend 2021 is shaping up to be particularly meaningful. And because we love diving deep into data and uncovering new ecommerce trends, we thought this would be a perfect time to take a closer look at online sales for outdoor and camping equipment.

We especially wanted to see what impact COVID-19 had on outdoor and camping supplies. Did Americans turn to the great outdoors after spending the spring in lockdown? Which types of camping supplies saw a surge in demand and which ones didn’t? And how do trends look so far in 2021?

Our data science team analyzed market demand for outdoor and camping supplies from 2019 through March 2021 to find out the answer to these questions and more.

How much market demand was there for camping and outdoor equipment in 2020?

Before diving deep into the data to understand COVID-19’s impact on market demand for camping equipment, we wanted to start with a broad look back at 2020.

The chart above shows the monthly demand for all camping and outdoor equipment for each week of last year. As you can see, demand dipped in March and April immediately following initial lockdowns. Demand then increased steadily, peaking in May and remaining steady over the summer months before dipping in fall and winter.

This is certainly compelling early evidence that COVID-19 brought an initial dip in demand in the early months of lockdown before bringing a surge in late spring, but these might also be typical seasonal trends for outdoor gear in a given year. So let’s dive deeper by comparing 2020 to 2019:

Demand for camping and outdoor equipment was actually higher for every month of 2020 than it was in 2019, but as we expected, in a normal year, demand rises each month from January through July. In 2020, however, demand was flat in March and dipped in April.

To even better understand how COVID-19 impacted demand for camping and outdoor equipment, let’s dive even deeper into the data by examining demand for specific types of camping gear.

Market demand surged in 2020 for outdoor and camping equipment most associated with emergency preparedness

The charts above were a combined view of over 90 different types of camping and outdoor equipment. Here’s a breakdown of total demand for the top 20 specific types of equipment by total demand in 2020:

As you can see, the types and categories in our analysis range from more specific types of equipment like “lights & lanterns” or “folding knives” to broader categories like “safety & survival equipment.” But diving deeper into these 90 categories should quickly shed even more light on how COVID-19 has impacted the outdoor industry.

We started first by comparing total demand for each category in 2020 to total demand in 2019. Here’s what we found, starting with the top 20 categories by largest increase in demand:

Unsurprisingly, 2020 saw a sharp increase in market demand for the types of outdoor equipment most associated with emergency preparedness. Freeze-dried food was up by a whopping 147% in 2020 compared to 2019.

Water storage and filtration items, meanwhile, accounted for the second, third, fourth, and sixth largest increases in demand. Items like signal whistles, emergency fire starters, shelters, and showers also point to the uncertainty and anxiety that came with last year’s pandemic. (Also notable, of course, is the 57% bump that hygiene & sanitation products received).

For an even clearer indication of this trend, let’s examine March and April specifically. As you recall in the previous section, combined demand dipped compared to 2019. Here are the top categories where that wasn’t the case:

Here you can see an even more pronounced surge in demand for “emergency” outdoor equipment. Demand for freeze-dried food was up an astonishing 320% in March and April 2020 compared to the same months in 2019.

Outdoor activities for teenagers and young adults saw demand surge by over 200%, but the rest of the top performing categories primarily consisted of water treatment and storage supplies and other emergency supplies.

To better illustrate just how much demand COVID generated for emergency supplies, here’s a closer look at monthly demand for freeze-dried food in 2020 vs 2019:

And now a similar view for water filtration and purification equipment categories:

“Emergency” gear clearly received a huge surge in demand, but were there any types of camping gear that actually saw demand drop in 2020? Let’s find out.

Demand for camping essentials dropped during the height of the pandemic

Let’s start by looking at the bottom 20 performers from our total 2020 demand vs total 2019 demand comparison:

Only six of the categories in our analysis saw a year-over-year decrease in demand in 2020, half of which were items specific to cold weather camping, suggesting that people were perhaps more hesitant to venture outdoors last winter.

Even those six categories saw only modest decreases in total market demand, though. Sleeping bag liners and hand/foot warmers saw the largest total decrease at only -10% year-over-year.

This suggests that it wasn’t only “emergency” supplies that received a bump, but that Americans were more likely to see the refuge of the wilderness last year as other types of travel saw more significant restrictions and risk.

Let’s examine March and April once more to see which categories were most likely to be negatively impacted during the height of lockdown:

March and April brought a surge for emergency outdoor gear, but most traditional “excursion”-type gear didn’t fare so well. Over a quarter of the 90+ categories in our analysis saw market demand drop in March and April 2020 compared to March and April 2019.

Sun shelters saw the biggest decline in demand, while essential camping items like sleeping bags, pads, tents, and pillows all also saw demand drop. It’s clear that during the height of the pandemic, people were far more focused on buying gear to survive a then-unknown future than planning a nice lakeside family camping trip.

To better illustrate the trend, here’s the monthly comparison for sleeping bags:

Demand dropped sharply in March and April, and while it did recover in May and June, it lagged behind 2019’s until fall. In December, however, demand once again fell behind 2019.

Coolers, another quintessential “let’s get out and have a good time” type of camping item really illustrates the shifting impact of COVID-19 on demand:

March and April 2020 saw demand for coolers drop instead of experiencing their typical upward trend as the weather starts to warm. But by June demand had already rebounded to above 2019 figures, where they mostly remained for the rest of the year.

Demand for traditional camping gear is on track to be especially high in 2021

Finally, let’s take a look at 2021 so far. As of the end of March, demand for camping gear this year has been trending far ahead of both 2019 and 2020.

With vaccination rising and casecounts falling, we expect to see demand to continue to trend upward as the camping season kicks into full gear and Americans start hitting the road again after a socially distant year.

This idea is strengthened when we compare monthly demand by category type in March of 2021 to March of 2019:

Demand for each of the top 20 categories in our analysis was up by more than 125% in March of this year compared to March of 2019.

Hydration and filtration products as well as canteens remained quite popular this year, but unlike last spring, it’s not just emergency gear that’s seeing huge increases in demand. Camping plates, lanterns, and sleeping bag compression sacks all saw demand increase by more than 200% as well.

In fact, only two categories in our analysis: sleeping bags (-11%) and sleeping bag expanders (-2%), saw demand drop in March of this year compared to 2021.

For an especially clear look at how demand for camping supplies is trending upward, let’s close by looking at demand for tents:

If we take the demand for tents as a substitute for demand to “go camping,” then campgrounds might be busier this Memorial Day weekend than they have been in many, many years.

A lesson for brands

Camping and outdoor gear is popular year round, but our data shows that COVID-19 has had a much larger impact on some types of gear than others.

Understanding the factors that influence consumer behavior can help brands better understand how to forecast demand for their products on online marketplaces, and even inform product design and marketing strategy.

For example, we may continue to see demand for more traditional camping gear continue to surge, while demand for emergency preparedness gear may drop precipitously. To stay up to date on consumer behavior and ecommerce news, info, and trend analyses, be sure to subscribe to Pattern Insights on the right.

And, if you’d like to learn more about how you can best leverage our data to help your brand win online, holiday or not, schedule a demo today.

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