Each year, the Coleman company and the Outdoor Foundation publish a report on participation in camping and outdoor recreation by Americans. It is called the Outdoor Participation Study and you can find it online via a Google search.
One of the interesting results from the 2016 Outdoor Participation study is that Americans in southern and southeastern states are much less likely to participate in outdoor activities than residents of northern and northwestern states.
At first glance it seemed to me that the crushing heat and humidity is the obvious reason that southerners don’t get into outdoor recreation, but I polled our Roaming Parkers Facebook group and our readers came up with several interesting points about this outdoor divide among Americans.
Climate and weather do keep southerners inside
75% of responses did, in fact, indicate that heat and humidity are a primary excuse for folks in the southern United States to not engage in camping-based outdoor activities. This makes sense because the sort of heat and humidity we’re talking about in the south can easily be life-threatening.
The people that mentioned heat and humidity also mentioned several things that go right along with heat and humidity, including mosquitoes, snakes, spiders, scorpions, ticks, chiggers, and thorns!
There are some ways that southerners have learned to deal with the sweltering summertime heat and still be able to participate in outdoor activities.
- Drink lots of water or you will die! Do what you can to avoid sweet drinks and alcohol if you’re going to be active in the heat. These drinks will make heat illnesses worse.
- Aquatic activities rule the summertime – swimming, paddling, sailing, fishing… But be careful – you can still easily become sunburned and dehydrated or even sustain a heat injury.
- Plan the most strenuous hiking and backpacking activities for spring, winter, and fall. Do something else in the summer.
- Plan activities for early in the morning and late afternoon. Consider a mid-day siesta indoors or at least in the shade.
- Allow for as much as 30-45 minutes resting in the shade per hour!
- Light colored clothing made of cotton – just like cotton kills on mountain tops, cotton will save your life in the south in the summer.
- Two words – BUG – SPRAY!
Socio-cultural issues and lack of interest
Around 15% of our poll responses suggested that social and cultural issues played a great role or that there was just a general lack of interest in the south in camping-based outdoor activities.
Many southerners already live in the country, where nature is as close as your door step, and many southerners spend a lot of time outdoors already. Deliberately choosing to go outside some more just for fun can sound a touch loco. You know what does sound fun? sitting still inside in the air conditioning with a fan blowing on you while you sip something cold.
Family camping with little kids can be an additional challenge/burden on the parents. There is more gear to pack, there are some activities that small children just can’t do, and getting away from home can screw up their eating and sleeping schedules. However, family camping with small children usually results in life-long, treasured memories that are more than worth the extra effort.
- Start slow and easy – Consider first camping in your own back yard. After surviving that, look local: there are likely plenty of nearby camping opportunities closer to home, that don’t require grueling road trips with with fighting siblings. And for a family with young ones, limit your adventure to a two-night camp out.
- If you are truly not interested in outdoor things, you probably will be interested in some of the documented benefits of reconnecting to nature to a greater extent.
Economic factors reduce participation
It’s been said that camping is an activity where you spend lots of money so you can pretend that you’re homeless. Camping and outdoor gear does cost a lot and gas or transportation to your site can run up a huge tab too. That doesn’t even included required permits and licenses.
About 5% of our poll respondents indicated that money was an issue keeping them from participating in camping and associated outdoor activities. Here is a handful of suggestions about getting outside without having to rob a bank or deprive your kids of their lunch money.
- Plan outings at your nearest State Park. State Parks are a wealth of opportunity for various outdoor activities, often in the front-country (doesn’t require as much gear), and the admission costs at State parks are almost always trivial.
- Set up an automatic draft at your bank to put $20 per paycheck into a outdoor gear account. In less than a year you’ll have enough money to buy just about all the starter gear you need.
- Find a co-op or club for your activity that has some spare gear to loan. Or borrow gear from friends and family.
- Watch your local buy/sell/trade FB groups for cheap or used outdoor gear. The people selling the gear will often be willing and able to share stories or advice with you about their experiences using that gear.
- Find adventure buddies to split transportation/gas costs.
- Join the Boy Scouts as an adult leader. They will give you (often free or cheap) training, and you will have lots of opportunities to get outdoors (and use Troop gear) in exchange for sharing some of your expertise with the Scouts.
Interesting geology and terrain features
Mississippi and south Louisiana are basically the bottom of a prehistoric sea. The only terrain feature we have that is traditionally of interest to vacationers is the beach – and even those had to be constructed with hauled-in sand.
We are also mostly seismically silent. We don’t have the amazing Ozarks, Rockies, or Appalachians – or any of the amazing geological landmarks associated with them. If you look at a map of National parks you’ll see what I mean – The National Parks are much more concentrated in the deserts and mountains of the West and in the Appalachians, and they are much more sparsely concentrated elsewhere.
About 3% of our poll responses indicated that people thought there were a lot more interesting places to go and things to see in other parts of the country. However, the southern United Stated does have a ton of amazing things that you’ve never seen – you just have to know where to look!
- Check the Outdoor section of your local paper regularly, looking for fun-sounding spots for outdoor activity.
- Join a local co-op or club or FB group dedicated to your particular outdoor activity and chat with the members about their past adventures.
- Subscribe to a magazine (preferably local) featuring your outdoor activity.