Skip to main content

Performance, Active Footwear Styles Dominate Outdoor Retailer Market

It’s no secret that consumers have gravitated to outdoor activities amid the societal shutdowns prompted by the pandemic. Over the past year, shoppers have rediscovered a love for nature, whether that means backpacking on a mountain trail or simply traversing their local streets.

The trend was evident at this summer’s Outdoor Retailer trade show, where footwear makers showcased a variety of styles suited to the American public’s evolving passions. Both casual athleisure looks designed for light activity and high-level performance silhouettes were selling into retail, brands told Sourcing Journal, as consumers from all walks of life continue to enjoy socially distant sojourns and newfound athletic hobbies.


“I think performance is still really where it’s at—outdoor and athletic,” Andy Duemling, vice president of sales for Spyder, told Sourcing Journal at the show in August. The performance brand’s newly launched line of footwear debuted this summer, Duemling said, and buyers are “hungry for inventory—an advantage for us as the trend continues.”

When the pandemic first began, Duemling noted that shoppers went “diehard” for running and hiking shoes, and that appetite remains. “Camping numbers went through the roof—you couldn’t find a tent, RV or sleeping bag anywhere,” he said. Now, as shoppers begin to shift back to normal office hours and gyms begin to reopen, he is seeing buys opening up to include sport and fitness product made for activities like cross training.

Related Stories

More than 60 percent of bookings for fall have been for women’s shoes, he added, with many retailers favoring the company’s “everyday active” collection of lightweight and versatile runners at price points between $100-$115. “You could be wearing these with yoga tights just just chilling at home, or using them the for the gym,” he said. A hybrid trail runner has also proven popular due to its versatility, Duemling said, pointing out flat lugs on the outsole that allow runners and hikers to traverse “roads, hard packed surfaces, pavement or a little more rugged trail” with ease.

Traditional hiking shoes with lug soles and waterproof-yet-breathable uppers have remained the brand’s most consistent bestsellers, he said, noting that consumers are likely to continue to explore the great outdoors during the fall months as the pandemic continues to impact everyday life. “This stuff is was on fire in a broader market,” Duemling said. “We look at the data and we just can’t keep enough hiking product in stock.”


Known chiefly for its preppy, New England aesthetic and its legendary boat shoe, Sperry has graduated, in recent years, to include a wide variety of shoes on the lifestyle and performance spectrum.

The brand has launched Sperry Sport for spring 2022, Greg Hagerman, a brand representative told Sourcing Journal. “Everything we sell is meant to work pretty well around wet conditions—whether it’s on a boat, or even just like a deck or poolside things like that,” he said. The new collection, however, incorporates a number of highly technical performance features made for boating and water sport aficionados, who are taking to their vessels in greater numbers as the pandemic drags on.

“The product is designed to wear around the ocean or lake, on your kayak, stand-up paddleboard, sailing and powerboating,” he said. Ranging from all-EVA water booties to technical fisherman sandals and lace-ups with rubberized soles and lattice-like uppers, the shoes all offer Sperry’s signature traction-boosting feature: siping on the outsoles. Small slits in the rubber surface of the shoes—even those with lugs—help to make them more resistant to slippage on wet surfaces, Hagerman said, like “a wet fiberglass deck, wood or cement.”

“We’ve been evolving this concept for years,” he added, noting that the sport range of water-focused footwear was originally slated to launch pre-pandemic, in 2019. The company’s new leadership team has placed a higher premium on performance, he added, seeking to reach a wider audience of boating and fishing enthusiasts as sports across the board continue to drive apparel and footwear sales.

“We’ve always been in this market,” Hagerman said. “But we’ve heard consumers asking for things with a little more technology, along with our key retailers.”

Earth Shoes

Known for its comfort shoes and sandals, Earth Shoes has recently seen resonance with styles geared toward a slightly more active lifestyle, according to key account executive Jaclyn Wormann. “The trend we’re seeing in general is that she’s doing a little more activity,” she said.

Throughout the course of the pandemic, the brand’s female shoppers have been gravitating to styles with more performance attributes, from rubber soles to adjustable straps and supportive footbeds for long days of wear. Moving into spring 2022, the brand will offer styles that encompass these features, while adding influences from outdoor styling, like bungee ties and mesh.

“We don’t think that our current customer is suddenly trying to go climb Mt. Kilimanjaro,” she said, “but maybe she’s finding some local parks and trails in her neighborhood and in her community.” The brand’s new line is designed to provide more support and a bit more coverage, too, so that wearers can feel empowered to explore. “Anything that was even sort of in that realm this year was fantastic for us, and continued to sell well through the season,” she said.

Wholesale customers have been “clamoring” for shoes that straddle the line between outdoor performance and casual styling she added, like “non-techie trail shoes” that offer the support and stability of hiking boots in pastel color ways—silhouettes that could  take on the mall as well as the trail. “Every time, every season we’ve introduced a little bit more color, it’s been a hit,” Wormann said, “so we feel like we can push the envelope a little bit more there.”

The category has proven popular even with budget-conscious shoppers, she added. “They really want newness, and they’re willing to pay full price right now because of the delays” which have led to product shortages at local stores and independent retailers.