Re-define the Outdoor Lifestyle and Broaden Your Market

Spawn Ideas Outdoor Lifestyle
Graphic by Spawn Ideas Assistant Video Editor, Brooks Patton

The outdoor lifestyle isn’t about degrees of participation in a particular set of outdoor activities; it’s a state of mind. That’s probably what’s most frustrating about crafting messages about outdoor products and experiences. The most famous three words in mountaineering, “Because it’s there”—uttered by George Mallory about why he wanted to climb Mount Everest—are inspiring if you get it and frustrating if you don’t. However, at Spawn, we do actually get this. Think about New Yorkers who walk through Central Park versus going around it. Why do they do that? Well, the easy answer: Because it’s there…

The outdoor lifestyle is about values placed on a type of outdoor experience. Yet, with all the activities, attitudes and attributes that the outdoor lifestyle entails, it’s almost impossible to give a full, holistic definition. It is an experience that is universally shared, yet difficult to define. Scandinavians actually have a word for this hard to define outdoor lifestyle philosophy: Friluftsliv. Even within the Northern European countries, friluftsliv defies definition almost as much as ‘outdoor lifestyle’ here in America.

Fun to say, somewhat difficult to spell and hard to translate, friluftsliv (free-loofts-leav) translates literally to “free air life”—a lifestyle based on deep, almost indescribable experiences with nature that spur personal development and growth. It may seem odd to use an untranslatable word for an indescribable feeling, but it gives us a good place to start exploring what “outdoor lifestyle” actually means.

Many at Spawn live and play in Alaska, which shares many features with our Northern European counterparts. We sometimes have more in common with Scandinavia than with the Lower 48. Nature is literally outside our backdoor and it is very easy for us to slip into the woods and mountains that surround us. We don’t usually get hung up on finding the “perfect” spot or the perfect time to experience nature, we sort of do it … naturally. We think we get friluftsliv intuitively, but it could be helpful to describe what friluftsliv is not.

Too often we think of the outdoor lifestyle as a specific set of activities or a certain mastery of knowledge about the outdoors. This may be part of an outdoor lifestyle, but it doesn’t define it. There are many reasons for us to go into nature; some of these may even be biological. E.O. Wilson, the Pulitzer-prize winning biologist and researcher, suggested that all humans have an instinctive bond for nature and love of life or living systems. How our biological need to be in nature expresses itself in certain activities like hiking, fishing or camping, may lead to friluftsliv. Sometimes being in nature can be as simple as walking in a park or along a coast. This may not truly be friluftsliv, but it’s a step in the right direction.

This doesn’t mean that friluftlsliv or the outdoor lifestyle is binary or that you become Officially Outdoorsy after your 10th outdoor adventure. It isn’t about degrees, extremity, frequency of participation. We should reject stereotypes in the outdoors just as much as we reject stereotypes in other settings. What’s important is simply getting out into nature, removing the artifice of urban living, and truly connecting and existing in nature, not just being a pilgrim, collector, conqueror or recreationist in nature.

Sometimes, we feel, the outdoor lifestyle is defined by a fanatic passion to camp in -20 degree weather, tackle class V water, shred some ‘gnar pow’ on a double black diamond run. Some of these beliefs live in Spawn’s own ethos, but these are just a few expressions of the outdoor lifestyle and they are not definitive. Friluftsliv doesn’t require expensive gear, adventurous activities, or even pristine wilderness, though that helps. We have a universal value to connect with nature, but we also have other values such as adventure, health, serenity, purpose, and freedom; the marriage of values such as these with the universal value to connect with nature result in an expression of the outdoor lifestyle.

We at Spawn all live the outdoor lifestyle; some have more intense and traditional outdoor activities than others. Our Anchorage office faces Cook Inlet and Mount Susitna, a tempting view inviting us to “get out in it.”

By examining the values of why folks, especially from different cultures, get into nature and how they express themselves in nature can help to build out your initiatives.

The Key Takeaways:

• Consider how different cultures experiences in the outdoors can help influence your next initiative and could help you discover insights. Finding the shared values between different cultures can help shift your thinking out of traditional ‘cognitive entrenchment’ about what we classically think is the outdoor lifestyle. Finding insights from other cultures can help craft more inclusive, holistic messaging that speaks to the Total Market.

• When talking to consumers, speak to the values of the outdoor lifestyle, not particular activities.

• Recreating outdoors in any way is an expression of the outdoor lifestyle. All people playing outdoors need gear and experiences to meet their value set just as much as outdoor fanatics.