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In the Outdoor Industry, Good Names Set the Trends 

What’s in a Name? 

I recently saw a friend walking up the street in my neighborhood with a loaded backpack on his shoulders. He was in workout clothes and sweating hard. I asked him what he was doing and he smiled and said, “Rucking! Have you heard of it?” 

I had heard of it. “Rucking” is the latest fitness craze to hit adventure sports, where athletes don heavy packs and walk around for an extended period of time. If that sounds familiar to you, that’s because it’s exactly like hiking, only take away the pretty views and add a heart rate monitor. Oh, and give it a badass name. That’s the secret to turning something that’s been around forever into marketing gold. Name it something cool. 

In this case, the name (rucking) is borrowed from the military, where soldiers wear super heavy packs and set out for a day of misery as a way of getting used to carrying heavy things and being miserable. Now weekend warriors are rucking up and down the suburbs like weary soldiers. Never mind the fact that my 14-year-old daughter also lugs around a 40-pound backpack all day everyday while going to school—the name is cool and it has its own setting on my Garmin watch, so let’s start a YouTube channel and launch a glossy Rucking Monthly magazine. 

This isn’t the first time an old, relatively tame activity has been reborn thanks to a new moniker. Remember when “car camping” was that thing you did when you weren’t in good enough shape to go backpacking? A few years ago, somebody decided to rename that decades-old activity “overlanding,” and all of a sudden car camping is the most badass thing you can do over a weekend. I’m not pointing fingers here; I personally spent a small fortune overhauling our old 4Runner with top-of-the-line overlanding gear designed to do the exact same thing I had been doing in that same 4Runner for years with just a flimsy family tent and leaky cooler. 

Have you heard of “forest bathing?” It’s all the rage in the wellness community right now. Let me describe “forest bathing” for you: It’s when you sit or stroll for an extended period of time in the woods, letting the energy of the natural world wash over you. If you’re of a certain age, you might recognize this activity as “getting high.”  These days, you can pay some faux shaman from L.A. hundreds of dollars to lead you on a forest bathing journey, and he doesn’t even supply the weed. 

Never underestimate the power of a name. Take a tiny ski hill with a solitary double lift, call it “boutique,” and we’ll fall all over ourselves for a season pass. Hell, “camping,” might be one of the oldest examples of this marketing trick. People had been sleeping outside for centuries—in fact, our ancestors worked really hard to develop societies with roofs and walls, but give it a new name and some dedicated gear and all of a sudden, people with perfectly good homes think sleeping outside is a wonderful idea. 

I mean, the difference between getting kicked out of the house by your wife and living the dream is whether or not you call it “vanlife.” I’m not taking a nap, I’m doing a “recovery session.” I’m not just walking my dog through the neighborhood while carrying a cup of coffee and listening to a podcast, I’m “mushing.” See, I have my heart rate monitor on! This is a workout!  

The possibilities of renaming mundane activities are endless. One of my favorite things to do is ride my bike to a series of bars for cold beverages and snacks. It’s definitely not hardcore; I’m consuming more calories than I’m expending. Traditionally, we call this adventure a “pub crawl,” but that name lacks the “je ne sais quoi” to earn it its own hashtag. So, what could we rename it so that the New York Times will call it a hot new fitness trend? 

Let’s see…there’s a progressive nature to the activity…What about “progging?” After a little online research, I’ve discovered that “prog” is British slang meaning “to search or prowl about, as for plunder or food; forage.” That sounds spot on, and I like the foraging association, because these pub crawls have that feral sort of aspect to them. But “prog” is a little weird, and there’s the whole ‘60s progressive rock thing. We might be onto something with “prowl,” though. It sounds tough, it’s fun to say, and it’s almost a portmanteau of pub crawl! To prowl about. I like that. To prowl. Prowling. It’s not a pub crawl, it’s prowling. I’m going on a prowl. 

“Dudes, saddle up for a prowl!” 

With a bit of luck and some magic from the outdoor industry marketing machine, prowling will find new life as a fitness trend and you’ll listen to a four-minute segment about the health benefits of prowling on NPR. Maybe bike manufacturers will even make prowl-specific bikes with built-in cupholders on the handlebars and lane-assist tech that keeps you from swerving on your ride home. And maybe my wife will have more respect for this particular pastime of mine. 

“Honey, I’m not just racking up bar tabs at a series of watering holes, I’m prowling. It’s a thing. Look it up.” 


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