Best Cities to Raise an Outdoor Kid: the Methodology

The stats and assumptions behind our grading system for the August 2009 story.
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The stats and assumptions behind our grading system for the August 2009 story.

Can you reduce something as personal as picking the perfect city to basic statistics? No, but you can build a pretty good case by selecting objective measures—a lot of them—that reflect the things you care about. Which is exactly what we did. In partnership with the Outdoor Foundation, we researched and crunched a whopping 38 separate metrics, from the density of Boy’s Life subscribers in a city to the distance of the nearest national park. Not every metric was outdoor-related—we looked at unemployment and obesity rates, for instance—but our formulas weighted kid-, climate-, and trail-specific criteria more strongly than general health and economic data.

AMENITY: Does this place inspire me to get outdoors? Based on metrics like climate, landscape, air pollution, obesity rates, Boy’s Life subscribers, and online voting by BACKPACKER readers

PROXIMITY: How far away is the trailhead? Simple measure of crow-flies miles to parks, peaks, forests, and bodies of water

LIVABILITY: Could I really move there? Up-to-date figures on unemployment, school quality, recreational investment, and commute time to work

Key sources included the U.S. Census, Centers for Disease Control, American Lung Association, County Business Pattern Data, USDA Economic Research Service Natural Amenity Scale, Google Earth, Boy Scouts of America, American Camp Association, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and

>>Data Categories



“City Beautiful” Federal Reserve paper on Recreational Investment

-Recreational investment activity

-Tourism visits

-Housing elasticity supply

-USDA Economic Research Service - Natural Amenity Index

-Mean temperature (January, July)

-Mean relative humidity (July)

-Hours of sunlight in a month (January)

-Urban-Rural code (ie. proximity to big cities or small towns)

-Landscape type (ie. mountains, plains, rolling hills, plateaus) (1-21 types)

-Percent water area

-Amenity scale and ranking (1-7)

-American Lung Association (ALA) - Cleanest Cities 2007 - Ozone

-Ranking of cleanest cities - Ozone

-Ranking of cleanest cities - Particulates

-Ranking of worst cities - Ozone (Pediatric and adult asthma)

-Ranking of worst cities - Particulates (Pediatric, adult asthma, diabetes)

-Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Healthiest Cities, 2008 Ranking

-Ranking of city

-CDC SMART Health Study, 2008

-How is your general health? (% Good or better)

-Physical Activity: Percentage of adults that do 30+ minutes of moderate physical activity five or more days per week, or vigorous physical activity for 20+ minutes three or more days per week? (Yes, No)

-Are you Overweight and Obesity (BMI): (Neither, Overweight, Obese)


-USDA ERS Natural Amenity Scale

-Number of times chosen in Online Poll (x10)

-Boy's Life subscriptions per 10,000 pop. (x2)

-Google Analytics "Hiking" (Percentage of all search terms, 2008)

-Google Analytics "Camping" (Percentage of all search terms, 2008)



-Distance (crow flies) to National Park (x2)

-Distance (crow flies) to National Forest

-Distance (crow flies) to National Recreation Area

-Distance (crow flies) to Long Trail

-Distance (crow flies) to Major Body of Water

-Distance (crow flies) to Major Peak

-Distance (crow flies) to Nearest State High Point



-Census Data

-Est. population (July 2007)

-Commute Time to Work (under 15 minutes)

-Percentage that Walk/Bike to Work

-Median Household Income

-County Business Pattern Data - Sporting Goods (NAICS 451110) establishments and employment

-Total establishments per 100,000 of population


-Recreational spending per person in each city

-Unemployment Rate (02/09)

-Local SAT score ratio to SAT national average (nat'l avg = 1511)

-Local ACT score ratio to ACT national average (nat'l avg = 21.1)