Twenty years ago when I started working at Outside magazine, I transcribed faxed story drafts into the computer because our office didn’t have external email. I read story edits on paper, which made the Number Two pencil the number one office tool. Jon Krakauer hadn’t yet climbed Mount Everest, “An Inconvenient Truth” was still 11 years away, and it was still possible to get lost in the wilderness without selfie documentation. My favorite piece of gear was a hot-pink, hard-tail Specialized Stumpjumper that cost approximately $8,800 less than the $9,300 S-Works Stumpjumper 29er advertised on Specialized’s website today. Instead of two short decades, it seems that eons have passed.
What will the next 20 years bring? Considering that some people wonder if we’ll still have an inhabitable planet by the year 2047, it feels a little dubious to make any predictions beyond tomorrow. On the other hand, the future, as Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
I polled a few of the smartest people I know in the outdoor industry to find out what they think the future of travel, gear, and recreation holds. Then I added a few of my own predictions, ranging from fact-based reporting to pure fantasy, to create a list of 20. Some predictions may sound far-fetched, but the beauty of the future is that anything is possible—and nothing can be fact-checked.
“It is predicted that by 2050, 86 percent of the developed world will be urbanized with people living in dense communities. This shift will transform how we enjoy the outdoors. Close-to-home outdoor recreation will dominate. State and local governments will integrate parks, open space and trail systems into their city planning.” –Steve Barker, Interim Executive Director, Outdoor Industry Association
“Outdoor recreation is going to continue its arc away from being just about big trips in remote wilderness and towards accessible experiences we can all have, even within cities. It has to go that way if we’re going to continue to engage new communities, from urban youth to urban professionals. Call it the democratization of adventure.” –Michael Roberts, Executive Editor, Digital Development, Outside Magazine
“Light and fast will define the next 20 years of outdoor adventure and exploration. It will be the single biggest advancement to empower professional mountain athletes and dedicated global adventurers. With the ongoing evolution of outdoor products each season —from hard goods to performance apparel—that are weighing in lighter than ever before and creating more efficient systems, people are able to go greater distances in far less time, pushing the limits of what’s possible. Gear weight reduction alone in the past 20 years has allowed athletes to crash through their own (previous) training ceilings. Weight reduction and product innovation have opened the adventure door for the masses—not just a select few.”
–Jordan Campbell, writer, mountaineer, filmmaker, and Marmot ambassador athlete
“No matter if it is skiing, climbing, trail running or biking, gear will morph into a place where speed, lightness, technology, and performance will become one. The new GORE Surround technology (waterproof, breathable footwear with open construction on the bottom of the sole) is the perfect example of making something out of nothing.” –Eric Henderson, former backcountry ski guide for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and communications manager for Salewa mountaineering products
“Living in denser environments with less space will change how we buy products. Consumers will shift from a more, more, more mentality to buying less of higher quality items with more crossover lifestyle usages. There’s more opportunity to buy recycled and refurbished goods. This will be more important to future generations.” –Steve Barker
“Sports like Nordic skiing that require snow have morphed into much less of a natural environment and more into a manufactured environment meant to look like what that natural environment used to be. You’re going to see reflections of that in the equipment: Ski bases will be more dirt repellent, poles will have reinforced tips to withstand the impact of shorter races, and ski waxes will be more concentrated around the freezing range because there’s more man-made snow and the temperature of man-made snow is right around freezing.” –Andrew Gardner, former Nordic skiing coach at Middlebury College and Nordic skiing PR professional
“Well, I did try to acquire the URL www.timetravel.com, but the issuing organization would not sell it to me. No doubt because they know time travel is almost here and I would go back and create the Internet first! On a more serious note—the number of travelers, especially from Asia, is set to explode in volume. Destinations that do not take this seriously, starting now, will likely have significant problems with loss of both cultural authenticity and environment. In other words, those who plan for this volume now to spread it out, mitigate it, and control it will be the long-term winners. To do nothing is an active decision to have massive problems in 20 years.” –Shannon Stowell, President, The Adventure Travel Trade Association
“Technology has already changed the ethos. Pure adventure will always be possible, especially with the absence of technology. But the combination of wireless communication and social media will continue to alter what the adventure finish line should look like. Some of it will be fantastic with real-time and enormous participation, but you can also count on some of it becoming utterly contrived and truly abhorrent. We will have to decide on what is real, genuine, and valued in our tribe—and what is not.” –Jordan Campbell
“The marriage of adventure with altruism will continue to play a more significant role in the 21st century. Giving back to underserved populations across the globe is part of a new moral imperative in the outdoor adventure space. It is no longer a sidebar activity for a dedicated few; rather it has become an end unto itself and part of the adventure space.” –Jordan Campbell, writer, filmmaker, and Marmot ambassador athlete
“I envision there will be a large resurgence back to nature similar to the Muir and Teddy Roosevelt era. Living in crowded environments with lives driven by electronics will create a strong desire for people across the country to go outside as a spiritual and health experience.” –Steve Barker
State of Mind
“I still see adventure as a state of mind that constantly tugs at us to step into the unknown. That won’t change in the next 20 years. You either follow a script or you blaze your own trail.”
Surfing the jet stream will normalize five-hour flights across the Atlantic. In January, a British Airways Boeing 777-200 made the New York to London route in five hours, 16 minutes, reaching ground speeds of up to 745 miles per hour by riding a powerful jet stream of up to 200 mile-per-hour tailwinds.
Über Brands: With the recent unveiling of its “luxury hotels collection,” National Geographic is the latest publishing company that has taken branding to extreme heights: Fans can now view the world entirely through the National Geographic lens of magazines, books, websites, vacations, guides, and hotels. Hopefully Fox News will not be following suit.
Two-Wheeled Transportation: Whether you prefer a 45-day, seven-country cycling trip from Paris to Moscow or sharing one of 66,500 public bicycles in Hangzhou, China, which has the largest bike-sharing system in the world, self-powered pedaling will change the way we get to work and see the world.
The Bed-to-Bike-to-Work-to-Cocktails-to-Dinner-to-Bed Outfit: Natural and synthetic fabrics will be so sophisticated that they won’t wrinkle, smell from sweat, sag, or get dirty. And the blurred line between workout and work apparel will completely disappear.
Lab-concocted, plant-protein-based performance meals will replace our favorite junk food.
“Firsts” will become increasingly outrageous. Soon I’m expecting to see the first human summit of Mount Everest while simultaneously becoming the World Champion of Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter video game.
Need a tan in January? A bigger wave to surf? Not to worry. Perhaps only in my mind, personal weather-providing drones, programmable from snowstorm to 75-degree bluebird sky day, will be as ubiquitous as smart phones.
Life on a planet we never knew existed: NASA predicts that we are within 20 years of finding evidence of extraterrestrial life. Let’s hope they are friendly.
The Language of Adventure: If politicians, corporations, and private citizens don’t all do their part in shoring up climate change, the term “adventure” will soon become synonymous with “survival.”