Image credit:
Messe München GmbH
Image credit:
Messe München GmbH

How Gen Z is living the new outdoor feeling

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More than just a hobby or a challenge: for Gen Z, outdoor has a completely different significance than for previous generations and they express this through their fashion. We took a look at how their outdoor fashion game has evolved over the years, what they are looking for and what homework brands need to do now.

Evolution of outdoor style: from gorpcore to a new attitude to life

The start of Gen Z's relationship with outdoor fashion: the gorpcore trend. OutDoor and fashion have long been a dream team. In the 1990s, rappers like Mase and Notorious B.I.G. made outdoor fashion street-ready and laid the foundations for the gorpcore trend - with windbreakers, colorful cargo pants and dad sneakers.

A lot has happened since then: the term "gorpcore" is no longer enough to describe the complex interweaving of sport and fashion. The two worlds have long been closely linked. The trend will become even stronger in 2024. It's about much more than just making outdoor pieces an integral part of the world's streets and catwalks. Gen Z and soon Gen Alpha are completely redefining outdoor as a lifestyle - and expressing this through their clothing in particular.


The term is made up of the fashion style "normcore" (from "normal"), which stands for inconspicuous unisex clothing, and the acronym GORP. "good ol' raisins and peanuts" is another term for the trail mix popular among hikers. The term Gorpcore first appeared in 2017 in "the Cut", the fashion blog of New York Magazine, and described the entry of functional clothing such as colorful fleece and outdoor jackets, robust hiking boots and hiking pants into our everyday lives. The coronavirus pandemic gave the gorpcore trend another boost: According to a McKinsey report sales of outdoor products increased by 24% in 2022 compared to pre-coronavirus times.



In the keynote at ISPO Munich 2023, Highsnobiety explained which four aspects are driving this development:

  • New Players: Traditional outdoor brands are conquering the fashion market, fashion brands are pushing into the outdoor sector.
  • New Architypes: OutDoor is freer, more inclusive and more creative than ever before - there is no longer just the one, sporty target group.
  • New Creativity: From outdoor loafers to cargo skirts, we're seeing Pieces that haven't been seen before.
  • New Consciousness: Gen Z brings with it a whole new awareness - of themselves, the outdoors and the clothes they invest in.

We show three trends that have emerged from this:

1. Outdoor as the new luxury

Functional, ugly, sloppy - outdoor clothing has long since shed its old image. The new store design of traditional outdoor brands shows that sportswear has arrived in the middle of the high fashion scene. The Arc'teryx flagship store in Beijing, for example, could just as easily be a fashion boutique as a contemporary museum and offers shoppers a luxury experience that only fashion labels usually do.

Ever since Rihanna wore colorful Salomons at the Superbowl Halftime Show, hiking boots and functional sneakers have been among the favorite pieces of A-listers, from Bella Hadid to EmRata. Functional fabrics such as Gore-Tex have become luxury attributes, and collaborations between sports and fashion brands have long been the order of the day (keyword: Gucci and The North Face). Whether Moncler, Prada or Balenciaga - almost every high fashion label also has an outdoor collection.

The result is a fashion mix that works just as well on a Sunday brunch in the city as it does on a hike afterwards.

These are currently the top 10 brands in outdoor fashion:

  • The North Face
  • Salomon
  • Arc'teryx
  • Hoka
  • On
  • Gucci
  • Loewe
  • Moncler
  • Vibram
  • Adidas

2. Outdoor for everyone - without any pressure to perform

Gen Z is the first generation that no longer knows a life without social media. This goes hand in hand with constant pressure to compare themselves and get the most out of themselves. They have recognized outdoor as an opportunity to consciously switch off and escape reality. The focus is not on performance and pushing oneself to the limit, but on the experience itself.

A TikTok trend that reflects this: Soft Hiking. Hiking for everyone, gentle tours with low demands to enjoy nature and relieve stress. What should not be missing is the opportunity for self-expression, and here the focus is on fashion - which also reflects the inclusion and creativity of the new definition of OutDoor.

Even before coronavirus, brands such as Adidas were already embracing the new, more relaxed relationship with outdoor sports. The "Adidas Gardening Club" was intended to be an alternative to the sporting ambition and performance aspect that other products otherwise radiated. Outdoor yes, but soft, please!

3. Diverse target groups: between Ugly Fashion and Quiet Outdoor

Another development that brands should have on their radar: the ever-increasing splitting of their target groups. Between the sporty, ambitious, performance-oriented buyers and the gorpcore enthusiasts, there are numerous other trends and gradations.

One niche: creative and unique pieces that are based on the ugly fashion trend and only hint at the functional outdoor aspect. We see this above all in shoes, whether hiking loafers, chunky sneakers or the hiking boots worn by Venus Williams at the Louis Vuitton show. The weirder, the better! Highsnobiety writes in its whitepaper "the new luxury":

"It's never been so cool (and so profitable), "strange" to be. The luxury goods industry has embraced the niche to give mass consumers a sense of novelty and variety. The opposite is true: the niche is a commercial advantage, and the profit margin is the mainstream."

According to the report, 44 percent of respondents like things that the mainstream would describe as strange or ugly - ironically making them the new majority.

The stark contrast to this: Quiet Outdoor, sleeke, subtle and almost futuristic outdoor clothing in muted colors and with technical details.

Homework for brands

These trends pose two challenges for traditional sports and outdoor brands.

The first is to get to know the new target groups, give them what they need and stay in touch. Despite this diversification, brands must not lose their core and must remain true to themselves. From performance-oriented athletes to sneakerheads: they all love fashion and the outdoors - each in a different way.

The second challenge is also the biggest opportunity: Gen Z is looking for brands that will take them by the hand. This is because they lack the time and expertise to pursue their passion for the outdoors. 67 percent of those surveyed in a report by Y-Pulse would describe themselves as "outdoorsy", but feel that their time capacities and skills do not reflect this. 38 percent even say that they do not feel welcome in the outdoor community. Whether brand trips or outdoor experiences - it takes more than just products!

The big benefit: If brands gain the trust of Gen Z, they have the chance to attract customers who will remain loyal to the brand for a lifetime.