The outdoor industry – always looking for an opportunity – sees a new one in helping you “get outdoors” while you stay indoors through virtual reality, and products are already on the shelves.
Moosejaw Mountaineering calls its new virtual reality app “the best thing we’ve ever done,” billing it as a way to “enjoy an array of outdoor adventures from climbing to trail running while still in your underwear.”
Outdoor apparel giant North Face is also into virtual reality, offering an in-store experience where consumers can step into a 360-degree 3D experience providing “a sense of presence” alongside climbers in Yosemite Park and the Moab Desert. Viewers wearing a headset that’s basically a smart phone mounted to your face, find themselves in the middle of the scenes with complete freedom to look around in any direction and “experience every moment as if they were actually there”.
“The North Face and our athletes are always looking to bring people into our expeditions and spark people’s interest in getting outdoors,” said Aaron Carpenter, Vice President of Marketing, The North Face, in a news release. “The North Face VR transports people to Yosemite and Moab to see the beauty and be inspired to go see it for themselves.”
Outdoors apparel brand Merrell recently debuted its “TrailScape” experience, the first-ever “walk around” commercial virtual-reality experience at the Sundance film festival. The debut coincided with the launch of Merrell’s new Capra hiking boot, inspired by a type of goat that lives in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains. The activation allows users to virtually walk through the mountainous region, with the experience supported by physical elements like ropes that mark a bridge, a rock wall and wind-simulating fans.
While virtual reality might seem a dubious substitute for the real thing to many outdoor lovers, it does offer an alternative for those with physical restrictions. One in eight Americans (13 percent) lives with a mobility limitation of some sort, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A recent article by the Outdoor Industry Association claimed that the promise of VR is in its potential for inclusivity. ”For anyone, whatever the reason may be, who may not otherwise have the opportunity to venture into the outdoors in person, VR provides a venue to get a taste of that experience.”
“What if your brand had the power to increase outdoor engagement by 13%?” it asks the audience of outdoor gear manufacturers.
Can VR provide an experience that people physically could not have otherwise? As reported by NPR, in an article titled, “Affordable Virtual Reality Opens New Worlds for People With Disabilities,” a man with muscular dystrophy used VR to surf. Already a lay-down surfer, the man was giddy with the VR experience of stand-up surfing – something he physically cannot do. “It allowed me to experience something I thought I could never experience.”
Or could VR turn us into a nation of couch potatoes? Will completely mobile people find it easier to turn on the VR rather than put in the time, work and discomfort necessary to face the very real challenges of the very real outdoors?
Who knows? But virtual reality isn’t just “coming soon to a theater near you,” it’s already on the shelves, and expect even more products from the outdoor Industry, soon.
(First published in LiveOutdoors.com Virtual Reality Applications Bring the Outdoors In (September 3, 2016)