Definitions and the History of Outdoor and Adventure Recreation

John Muir appreciating the wilderness

Outdoor recreation refers to leisure pursuits in the great outdoors away from the confines and comforts of the urban setting. The activities can take place in mountains, on the coast, on rivers, in the air or simply in the countryside. Outdoor recreation has grown in popularity since the start of the 1960s so is a relatively recent pursuit. This is strange as man as always had a strong relationship with the wilderness. For centuries humans have set off into unknown parts of the world conquering new lands and territories.

Yet these forays and pioneering adventures were seen as discovering and claiming new territories. This was not viewed as recreation, as the journeys were often hazardous. In fact, in the eyes of the early pioneers the wilderness was seen as the enemy and it needed conquering. As soon as this attitude changed then the wilderness would be seen as an area to be respected and enjoyed. In the 19th century in The States a group of pioneers started to view the wilderness through different eyes as the wilderness started to be seen as beneficial to the public, and not in the adverse manner in which it had previously been seen.

John Muir in the 1880s would simply set off into the mountains with just the clothes on his back and a lump of hard bread in his sack and explore the natural environment that was on offer. For him it was more of a spiritual journey but his positive attitude towards the wilderness resulted in him creating the Sierra Club. The Sierra Club was formed in 1882 and is still operating today. It was the world’s first environmental organization and was instrumental changing the perspective that national strength came from not conquering the wilderness but from actually enjoying the wilderness.

Kurt Hahn

The role of the Sierra Club in organising trips was instrumental in the growing popularity of these leisure activities, as was the growth of the boy-scout movement. The creation of group activities was essential for the general public to enjoy the great outdoors. This new form of recreation was given a boost during the Second World War by Kurt Hahn. After escaping Germany in the 1930’s Hahn worked on his educational philosophy that the individual as well as being trained in the mind should also be trained in the body. At the start of the war many merchant vessels were sunk by the German U-boats. Of the sailors who survived the initial attack many then perished at sea, even when being in a survival raft. Many thought that the sailors needed better training.

Hahn was put in charge of this training. He used month long courses to educate his charges techniques in survival. He would take them away on week long expeditions and he used exercise to get them fit. From this point on the survival rates increased dramatically when merchant boats were sunk. This type of training after the war became known as outward bound and was seen by the nation as building strong characters in its young people. From this point on the popularity of outdoor recreation has gained momentum.

There is no doubt that these new attitudes towards the wilderness has been helped by advancements in technology. Modern day clothes and equipment make it a far more enjoyable, and safer, experience to take part in these activities. The wilderness as well as being beautiful, is also potentially a life-threatening environment. In the last 50 years Outdoor recreation has expanded into many different past times. It is enjoyed every day by millions of people world-wide and is seen as being an important part of everyday life.