Outdoor Sports Valley, the French association based in Annecy that brings together companies in the outdoor sports industry, has published the results of a survey on participation in outdoor sports activities in Europe. The report highlights the disparities in practice between the five major European countries, as well as the most aspirational outdoor sports. It was presented to OSV's membership a few days ago at a convention where two industry experts, Andrew Denton and Martin Kössler, also discussed the situation of the outdoor market in the U.S., the Scandinavian countries and China.

OSV wanted to identify the role played by outdoor sports in the main European markets: Germany, Spain, France, Great Britain and Italy. It called on IPSOS, a global market research firm with headquarters in Paris, earlier this year to carry out a study to establish the rates of participation and frequency of outdoor sports activities in Europe. It was also meant to assess, among non-practitioners, the attractiveness and appetite for them, and look at sports that would generate growth for outdoor professionals in the future.

About 5,000 individuals aged 16 to 75 years responded to the survey, with three questions about the sports they practiced in the last three years – among 24 outdoor activities selected by the OSV. The second question was: “among the outdoor activities or sports you do not practice today, please indicate which ones you would like to practice or not.” The last question was about the frequency of practice, with an estimate of the number of times per month or year.

One of the findings of the survey is that the practice of outdoor activities is strongly rooted in Spain and France, but remains more limited in Great Britain.

Hiking is by far the most popular outdoor sport in the G5 countries, with 32 percent of respondents having practiced it in the last three years. In Spain, this figure reaches a whopping 50 percent, while it is only 19 percent in the U.K. France comes second, with 37 percent of respondents having hiked in the last three years, compared with 32 percent in Germany and 24 percent in Italy.

The second most popular sport in the G5 group is cycling, which is practiced by 16 percent of the sample. France is the country where this sport most popular (25%), followed by Spain (19%), Britain (17%) and Italy (11%), with Germany strangely in the last place (8%).

In third place on the podium comes running, tied with mountain biking. Italy is the only country in the G5 where hiking is a less popular outdoor sport than running (24%).

As for aspirational sports – those that respondents do not practice at the moment but would like to practice – hiking is once again at the top of the ranking, with 32 percent. Then come trekking (28%), horseback riding (26%) and whitewater sports (26%). At the bottom of the ranking are more niche sports such as via ferrata and ice climbing.

Overall, this survey shows that the outdoor market remains extremely attractive to Europeans. Hiking activities, which already have a wider base of practitioners in Europe, also attract current non-practitioners to less popular activities like trekking and Nordic walking. However, it shows that running, trail running and road running have reached a certain level of maturity, with a reduced ability to recruit new participants.

Some sports with low participation – practiced by less than 5 percent of Europeans – are very aspirational and have the potential to attract new customers. These are horse riding, whitewater sports and snowshoeing.