SFU Recreation Study Report by Brian Wood, FMCBC Advocacy Committee Chair


This is a brief review of the 60 page research study conducted by Simon Fraser University (SFU) on behalf of the FMCBC.


This research estimates participation rates and economic contributions associated with 28 non-motorized outdoor recreation activities in British Columbia for the year 2012. Data was gathered using an Internet based survey designed by SFU in consultation with the FMCBC. The survey was conducted by Research Now (www.researchnow.com), an established online research company, based on a panel of respondents from the general population across BC. The respondents were sampled on a random basis to answer questions covering their participation in a wide range of outdoor recreational activities. This study was funded by the Federation of Mountain Clubs of BC, an organization of physically active mountain-based recreationists, and so the questions are focused on self-propelled activities away from urban areas. This stands in contrast to less active forms of outdoor recreation in urban areas such as jogging, and other activities requiring a motorized vehicle for movement.

Brief Summary

50% of respondents reported participation in at least one of the outdoor recreation activities listed in the initial questionnaire, which included both motorized and non-motorized activities. 48% engaged in non-motorized outdoor recreation at least once during the year 2012. The five most popular activities overall were:

  • hiking (40%)
  • fishing (18%)
  • motorized boating (13%)
  • snowshoeing (11%)
  • in-bounds lift-assisted skiing (11%)

The five most popular non-motorized activities overall were:

  • hiking (40%)
  • fishing (18%)
  • snowshoeing (11%)
  • flatwater kayaking (9%)
  • trail running (8%)

87% of respondents who engaged in at least one form of non-motorized outdoor recreation engaged in hiking, which was more than double that of the next closest activity, fishing. The total number of hiking days was nearly four times that of the second activity, fishing.

IMG_1757The results presented in this report demonstrate that non-motorized outdoor recreationists contribute significantly to the economy of BC. Using conventional statistical extrapolation, conservative estimates suggest that residents of the province collectively traveled more than 1.3 billion km to engage in non-motorized outdoor recreation in the year 2012 and that the direct economic contributions of their participation topped $3.5 billion even before equipment purchases were considered.

Survey Methodology

Over three thousand people completed the initial screening questions to determine which activities the respondent had participated in for 2012. A subset of people who had participated in non-motorized activities was selected to complete the entire survey. After application of conventional screening techniques, 823 completed surveys were considered valid and their answers were recorded and statistically analysed. Appendices in the report compare the results of the study with generally similar research into outdoor recreation conducted by telephone interviews in 2013 by Tourism BC. Some activities in both studies are directly comparable and evaluations are made where results differ between the two studies. The results of the present study are consistent with a 2012 US study by the Outdoor Foundation that also suggests an upward trend in the proportion of people participating in non-motorized outdoor recreation activities.

In addition to the main random sample, a non-random sample limited to members of FMCBC clubs resulted in 281 responses that were kept separate from the main representative sample for analysis. This sample of FMCBC club members is meant only to serve as a basis for comparison between this specific type of interest group and the general population of BC as found in the representative sample. Not surprisingly, members of non-motorized outdoor recreation clubs reported significantly higher participation rates in both single-day and multi-day trips for all non-motorized activities compared with the general population of BC. Club members also reported lower participation rates in all motorized activities except snowmobile trail riding compared with the general population of BC.

Definitions of Activities

To clarify the survey questions, care was taken to provide definitions to reduce confusion that can arise in these types of surveys, for example, “outdoor recreation” was defined to exclude primarily outdoor urban activities. Hiking, the most popular of all activities considered, was given a special definition in the survey, i.e. a minimum of two hours. The study included the core activities of the FMCBC which in the summer include hiking, trail running and climbing. Winter activities included cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, out-of-bounds skiing/snowboarding and backcountry skiing/snowboarding. Some generally similar core activities had relatively few participants, and for statistical purposes were combined to increase sample size and allow for more accurate statistical analysis. For example, ice climbing, rock climbing, scrambling and mountaineering have been combined and presented as “Climbing”. While not core activities, the study also included other non-motorized land-based activities, namelycross-country mountain biking and unassisted downhill mountain biking, and also water activities namelysea kayaking/canoeing, flat-water kayaking/canoeing and white-water kayaking/canoeing. Participants were asked to provide detailed information about three “Favourite Activities” for additional questions. The definition of non-motorized activities specifically excluded activities where a motorized vehicle was used to convey participants between periods of activity (e.g. lift-assisted skiing, assisted downhill mountain biking, snowmobile-assisted skiing). Like all motorized activities included in the survey, respondents were able to report participation in these activities but could not use them as “Favourite Activities.” Results from those who participated exclusively in consumptive activities such as fishing and hunting, and horseback riding were excluded from the survey due to the often-reduced demands of physical effort in these activities.

IMGP0330Other variables which were analyzed in the survey included frequency of participation in single day trips and multiple day trips, differences in participation rates across the province, distances travelled to pursue the activities, expenses associated with various activities, and demographic characteristics of the respondents.

Economic Contributions from Different Activities

Based on responses to questions pertaining to the “Favourite Activities,” it is estimated that non-motorized outdoor recreation in BC generated over $3.5 billion in economic activity for the year 2012. Single-day trips accounted for the bulk of this total ($2.5 billion) with multi-day trip expenses making up the remainder ($1.1 billion). The group of activities labeled “Climbing” generated the greatest average single-day trip expenses ($116.55 per person per day). Hiking, the most popular non-motorized activity, generated average single-day trip expenses of $74.25 per person per day, and multi-day trip expenses of $232.92 per person per day. Trail runners reported the highest average multi-day trip expenses of any activity sub-group ($428.21 per person per day, and also the lowest average single-day trip expenses of any activity subgroup ($55.99 per person per day).

Outdoor Recreation Organizations

It was noted that outdoor recreationists sometimes join an organization of recreationists with similar interests, although this joining seems to be declining in our internet- dominated world. The study found that climbers were more likely to join an organized group (14.3%) than hikers (7.6%) or trail runners (9.8%). Climbers were also the most likely activity group to be members of informal groups (10.0%) compared with hikers (3.6%) and trail runners (3.9%). Hikers and trail runners who reported group membership were most likely to be members of a traditional outdoor recreation club (4.1% and 7.2% respectively).


This study shows that a significant portion of BC’s population participates in non-motorized outdoor recreation, and this activity cumulatively contributes billions of dollars to the provincial economy. In addition to this physical activity survey, SFU also performed a scientific literature review of the health benefits associated with these activities which is summarised in the following article. This review confirmed that many physical and mental benefits arise from physical activity in natural settings. Both these studies support the position that public and private policy should be directed to improving public access to natural areas as found in parks, and ensuring that park infrastructure provides park visitors with a natural experience that permits enjoyable physical exercise.

You can read the full report at the FMCBC here