Hiking Participation: AusPlay results to June 2023

The Australian Sports Commission recently released its latest AusPlay survey results for July 2022 to June 2023. HikeWest has reviewed the results, and is pleased to see that bushwalking participation continues to grow in Western Australia and around the country after surging in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

High bushwalking ranking: Nationally and in Western Australia, bushwalking or hiking is the sixth most popular activity out of 133 sport and non-sport activities in terms of participation, one place behind cycling.

Strong participation in WA: Around 211,000 adults participated in bushwalking during 2022–23, up from 149,000 in 2021–22, representing a 41.6% increase in bushwalking participation. This rise in participation may be partly due to the increased promotion of hiking as an accessible outdoor recreational activity through various strategies and initiatives, including: the WA Hiking Strategy, the state government’s WA Hiking Participation Grants program, the WA Hiking Expo delivered by HikeWest in 2021 and 2023, and the promotion of WA’s new and existing hiking trails by Trails WA and other organisations.

Sustained growth nationally: 2.2 million Australian adults participated in bushwalking during 2022–23, compared with 1.9 million adults during 2021–22. This represents a 15% increase across Australia and brings the national participation rate to 10%. The national cycling participation rate is 12.8% and mountain biking is 2.2%.

National bushwalking participation by age

Age Percentage
15–34 35%
35–64 54%
65+ 11%

Gender participation: Nationally, female participation continues to grow more rapidly than male participation. The trend in WA is more pronounced, now 67.3% female to 32.7% male, compared with the national ratio of 59.1% female to 40.8% male. The AusPlay survey doesn’t capture data that might explain the significant, disproportionately increasing female participation.

Commercial guided hike businesses in WA may be successfully targeting female participation, but that does not appear to explain the broader shift as the AusPlay ‘Participation Expenditure’ data suggests that 93.2% of bushwalking participants (adults and children) participated in activities payment-free. The shift also strongly contrasts with other activities which seem to be attracting more males, for example, mountain biking which now has a ratio of 22.8% female to 77.2% male participation.

Large longer-term increase in participation: Over the past 8 years, since a low in 2015, participation in bushwalking nationally has more than doubled, rising from 4% to 10%. The greatest rate of increase occurred during 2020–22, reflecting the increased interest in nature-based outdoor activities in the midst of COVID-19 restrictions. The participation trend over the past few years indicates increasing numbers of adult Australians are exercising for the social or mental health benefits.

Non-sports versus sports activities: Nationally, 25.8% of adults participated in non-sports related physical activities compared to 14.7% in sport-related activities.

Note: The AusPlay survey margins of error are around 5% (~100,000) for the national participation estimates and 15–20% (22,000–31,000) for the state estimates.

See the AusPlay National and State results released 31 October 2023.

(Posted 4 December 2023)

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