Social Media

Who's winning Instagram

4 minute read

Outdoor sports Instagram accounts are consistently inspirational (though each in their own way). We see a blend of true adventures, regular people in remarkable places, and athletes doing what they do best.

Outdoor sports Instagram accounts are consistently inspirational (though each in their own way). We see a blend of true adventures, regular people in remarkable places, and athletes doing what they do best. No surprises here. What is surprising: how each brand manages to tell the outdoor adventure story in its own way — from the Euro mountain adventures featured by Salomon, to Lululemon’s communal spirit, to Arc’teryx’s micro stories, each succeeds at differentiating itself inside a niche market.



Columbia’s account has a whimsical spirit, featuring regular takeovers by guests who embrace the spirit of the brand. Takeovers are distinct enough to pop against the usual content, yet maintain brand consistency. Guests posts are fun and down to earth, they work to humanize the brand. Columbia’s Instagram feed is accessible: regular people having adventures in remarkable places.






True to form, Adidas’ Instagram feed is a steady blend of high fashion, elite sports and inspirational content. One could argue that the feed is trying to be all things to all people… but a brand this big can get away with it. Of course, Adidas maintains its urban edge, interspersed with more niche content from its multiple product lines. Adidas relies on countless hashtags, but uses #livewithoutlimits to tag its outdoor sports content.






Nike’s Instagram intersperses images of gargantuan super athletes with images of somewhat more normal people doing normal exercise. Every post is accompanied by a motivational quote. Content is global and multicultural, while always featuring the brand’s signature image style: a human being in motion.





Out of the pure outdoor brands on this list, Patagonia tops the list for number of followers, coming in behind mass market sports brands Nike and Adidas. Unlike some of the other outdoor brands, who are exclusively focusing on winter sports this time of year, Patagonia crosses hemispheres to intermingle southern hemisphere stories with the usual ski and ice climbing shots.





Not surprisingly, Lululemon is all about community and inspiration. Every post, with the exception of product flats, features (primarily) women in motion, paired with relevant motivational quotes. The brand’s expression is communal and joyous: people coming together in motivational settings, sharing their commitment to a healthy lifestyle.




The North Face


The North Face excels at delivering voyeuristic adventure shots. Here is where you find athletes doing intense things in remote environments. Each photo is a micro story, featuring a cast of rugged and charming ambassadors climbing the highest mountain, spelunking in the deepest cave, running the steepest trail…






Arc’teryx is another Instagram account that’s all about the high climb and the steep slope. Photos are more candid and unpolished than those seen in other outdoor sports Instagram feeds; they truly feel captured in the middle of the action. And this works. Photos are gathered from real stories featured on the Arc’teryx blog, with snippets of text that pull you into the action.






There’s something about the Salomon Instagram content. It has many of the same characteristics seen with other outdoor brands: people running and climbing in big, snowy, mountainous places. But the content feels distinctly… European. The brand’s trademark — a foot-eye view of running in all kinds of conditions — is everywhere, interspersed with dramatic mountain vistas. Scanning the feed, you also feel an emphasis on two key sports: backcountry skiing and alpine running.






As the smallest and least polished of all the Instagram accounts we looked at, Merrell has a candid intimacy that makes us think: this is what Instagram is really about. Without the big brand polish and budget seen on other outdoor brand accounts, Merrell makes up for it with a massive dose of charm and enthusiasm. The adventures are real, and the people are like you and me. Following Merrell’s feed is like imagining a camping trip with all your best friends (and their dogs).




Niche Accounts

Increasingly, big brands are breaking out targeted Instagram accounts that speak to specific niches or product groups. We see large sports brands such as Nike and Adidas segmenting their massive Instagram audiences into sports-specific niches: Running, Golf, Snowboarding, etc. And many sports and outdoor brands have created dedicated Instagram accounts for men or women: Lululemon MenNike WomenAdidas Women. Patagonia has taken another direction, creating niche Instagram accounts such as Patagonia Snow, that bring together outdoor sports and environmental advocacy.