This systematic review of the literature examined the individual-level outcomes associated with wildland recreation. Because this review focused specifically on psychological, social, and educational outcomes, studies reporting physical and mental health outcomes were included only if they also reported other benefits.
The review included 235 articles published in 26 different peer-reviewed journals between 2000 and 2016. Participants for the studies included children, youth and adults who had participated in some form of wildland recreational activity. Coding categories included (a) type of recreational activity, (b) personal characteristics and group size of the participants, (c) duration and location of the activity, (d) the data-collection methods, and (e) associated outcomes. The reviewed papers were also examined for information about characteristics of the wildland recreational experience potentially influencing the outcomes.
Results showed 69 unique outcomes of wildland recreational activity. The researchers grouped these outcomes into 11 major categories: desired lifestyle change, place attachment, spirituality, academic interest and performance, outdoor recreation interests and skills, new perspective, environmental stewardship, mental restoration, pro-social behaviors, personal development, and physical health and well-being. Personal development and pro-social behaviors were the most commonly studied categories. Least studied were desired lifestyle change and place attachment. There were some differences in reported outcomes between independent recreationists (individuals who participated in an activity alone or with friends without professional support) and individuals who participated in activities arranged by professional outdoor organizations, such as Outward Bound. Research involving independent recreationists focused more on the development of environmental stewardship and pro-environmental behaviors than on the other outcome categories. Research involving professional outdoor organizations tended to study pro-social behaviors, personal development, and mental restoration. Only 27 of the 235 articles explicitly studied why these outcomes were occurring. Four broad categories of attributes of the wildland experience possibly linked to the outcomes were identified: environmental or setting characteristics, activity/program characteristics, leader characteristics, and participant characteristics.
The outcomes identified through this review are similar to reported outcomes of wildland recreation studies from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Gaps in the literature identified through this review include a lack of studies showing negative or no results, studies on diverse populations, and studies investigating program characteristics that influence outcomes. While this review offers strong evidence of multiple psychological, social, and educational benefits of wildland recreation, further research could enhance the field by including more rigorous methods, investigating long-term outcomes, and including the perspectives of a more diverse population.