The outdoor market increased by 3 percent on a currency-neutral basis in 2010 to €15.2 billion at retail level in the 36 major European countries, driven by the walking, hiking and camping segments, according to NPD Group. This compares with a rise of about 2 percent for the overall European sports market, which is analyzed in more detail in our sister publication, Sporting Goods Intelligence Europe.

Consumption of winter sports products, which are included in NPD's estimate, increased by 4 percent in Europe, recovering from the decline experienced in 2009. Growth stemmed mainly from downhill skiing, thanks to a positive end to the 2009-10 season and early snow in the 2010-11 season, with a return to the slopes by British vacationers. Cross-country skiing benefited from favorable weather conditions, especially at low altitudes in Scandinavia. However, sales of snowboard-related products were slightly lower, dragged down by the apparel segment. Overall, snow sports generated sales of around €3.6 billion in Europe.

Summer sports such as walking, hiking and camping performed even better, according to NPD, bolstering sales of the related products by 5 percent. Consumption of walking and hiking shoes rose by 12 percent in Europe's five largest markets, lifted by new products such as toning footwear and broader use of shoes for Nordic walking. Higher sales of hiking apparel were driven by increased use of technical outdoor clothing for everyday activities.

Rock climbing, fishing, hunting, sailing, surfing and other outdoor sports measured by NPD posted a smaller sales increase of around 1 percent overall, close to inflation. Horseback riding, parachuting and parapenting were included in the total count for the first time.

As in 2009, the camping segment continued to perform well, supported by ongoing uncertainty about the economy, which pushed some vacationers to cut their holiday budget, while the turmoil in North Africa prompted Europeans to remain in Europe.

The launch of innovative products helped to boost sales of camping products as well as mountain bicycles. In the outdoor equipment sector, sales of rucksacks, tents, mattresses and GPS devices also made great strides by becoming more comfortable, easier to use, compact and more affordable than previously.

Consumption was also spurred by new buying experiences, such as the formula implemented in the Globetrotter stores in Germany, focusing on pleasure, nature and the impression of reducing one's environmental footprint.

NPD's study of the outdoor market is mostly based on consumer panels conducted in seven major European countries. The figures for shoes and clothing cover all channels of distribution, including major players such as Décathlon, but for equipment, only the specialty sports retail circuit is analyzed. In terms of brands, Quechua is counted along with all the other outdoor brands and the outdoor products of generic sports brands such as Adidas. NPD's study can provide breakdowns by category and by brand.

It will be interesting to see what the European Outdoor Group will have to say about the market situation based on a different definition of the market and on a new study at the wholesale level whose conclusions are expected to be announced at the OutDoor show in Friedrichshafen. Stay tuned!

Stay tuned also for our annual chart of the European sporting goods retail market, due to be published in SGI Europe shortly, with estimates for market size in 15 different countries and the changing market shares of the leading sporting goods retailers in each one of them.