This month we were thrilled to sit down with freelance writer and co-founder of WildKind, Heather Balogh Rochfort. As an outdoor PR agency, we’ve worked with Heather since she was a member of the original social media influencer group, OmniTen, and was writing for her blog, Just A Colorado Gal. Since those early days, Heather has taken off as a freelance writer, written a few books, and co-founded WildKind, a digital membership community designed to educate, engage, and empower outdoor families, as well as its sister nonprofit WildKind Closet. Heather shares what she’s been up to, how WildKind is helping families get outdoors, and an insider view on those amazing gear testing trips she’s been able to attend.
We always like to kick off our Coffee Talk interviews by finding out what is your birth sign?
We’ve gotten to know you during your years writing for REI, Backpacker Magazine, and other outlets, which took you on some pretty amazing adventures. What gear-testing trip(s) stand out as the most memorable to you?
Oh man, this is a tough question! It’s right up there with choosing your favorite child: impossible. I’ve been trekking in Jordan’s Wadi Rum with Columbia Sportswear; hiking Peru’s Salkantay Trek with Danner; and paragliding in France with Salomon. I even tore my ACL backcountry skiing in Idaho on one of Backpacker’s Editors’ Choice trips! All of the trips were incredible (minus the knee thing) and I feel insanely fortunate to get to do these things for a career. But, what always stands out the most are the people on these adventures. You really get to know each other when you’re enduring some Type-II fun together, and those always make for the best stories. If I had to choose one, I’d probably opt for the Peru trip last year with Danner. It was a small group of four journalists and two PR folks, but we all vibed really well. The conversations were just as gratifying as the thin air atop Salkantay Pass!
You’ve recently made a big career switch – tell us about your new project.
Ha, well, I don’t know if I’d call it a career switch since I’m still writing full time, but I did add another project to my portfolio! I co-founded an LLC called WildKind, along with its sister nonprofit, WildKind Closet. WildKind is a digital membership community intentionally designed to educate, engage, and empower outdoor families.
The idea is simple: outdoor adventure shouldn’t end when a family begins. My partner, Brooke Murray, and I are both outdoor parents, and we quickly realized there isn’t much information out there for families who still want to go camping, backpacking, and skiing once they have kids. So, our community fills that void. Members get monthly discounts with brands, free gear giveaways, a resource library full of how-to videos, a private gear swap for kids’ outdoor gear, a private community forum for like-minded families, and members-only events around the country (post-pandemic, of course.) If you’re looking for answers to questions like “How in the world do I wash formula bottles in the backcountry?” or “How do I potty-train my toddler on the trail?” then we’re the community for you!
Plus, there’s an added bonus: 5% of our annual profits go directly to WildKind Closet, a free gear loaner library opening in Denver in 2021. We know access to quality gear is a massive barrier to entry for families (hello, $300 kid carriers!) so by providing affordable options, we hope to encourage more families to dip their toes into the proverbial outdoor waters.
For many outdoor lovers, having kids can feel like the end of the adventure era, but you are working to tell parents it’s not impossible to include your kids. What has been the biggest challenge for you personally adventuring with a little one, and what has surprised you along the way?
The first year was the hardest for me. My husband and I are avid outdoorists and establishing our new normal took a little patience. Personally, I had to come to terms with my inherent selfishness. What do you mean I can’t go running or hiking or biking whenever I want? What do you mean we can’t just harness up and drop into a slot canyon on Friday after work?
Learning to accept that life wasn’t on my terms anymore took some adjustment and I’ll admit that my husband handled it better than I did!
It was an eye-opening endeavor to realize you loved a little human enough to recalibrate your entire life. But truly, adventuring with our daughter has been the absolute best. We learned early on that you need a stout constitution–both physically and mentally–but anything is possible. We tackled her first multi-night backpacking trip when she was around 7 months (a five-night trip in California’s Ansel Adams Wilderness) and that was such a good experience. It was physically hard because I’m always the one carrying the shifting kiddo (while my husband carries pretty much everything else), but watching her explore the wilderness was so gratifying. She sat on a rock for like an hour, banging two other rocks together and marveling at the noise they made with a huge smile on her face.
Between having a toddler and managing a new business, how do you prioritize your time to ensure you have time for yourself and to feed your creativity?
I’ve become really good at waking up early, haha. In all seriousness, once we had our daughter, I quickly realized that my schedule revolved around everyone else’s schedule. That was a major mind shift so I had to adjust accordingly. It means I’m hyper-scheduled these days (more than I ever used to be!) but in doing so, I can pencil in things like “time for myself.” It’s also helpful to have the world’s most supportive partner. My husband is amazing and he is always encouraging me to go on a run by myself or paddle the river with some friends while he takes Liliana. I absolutely could not do it without him.
These days, I’m always the first person in the house awake, choosing to get up between 5:30-6. This ensures I get an hour of quiet time every day before I workout to recharge via reading, meditation, stretching, or just sitting quietly. It’s become a non-negotiable, no matter how tired I am.
Building off that last question, where’s your favorite place to recharge and reconnect with yourself?
Oooh, this depends. Lately, I’ve really enjoyed my solo trail runs. I’m one of those weirdos that usually prefers running alone. On Saturdays, Will takes Liliana in the morning so I can head out for two or three hours of singletrack time. It’s just me, my podcast, some water, and a lot of hill climbs. I love those moments because I think of anything and everything while contemplating nothing at all. I swear, I come back a better mother and wife.
In addition to your magazine work, you’ve published some great books, including Backpacking 101, Women Who Hike, and Sleeping Bags to S’mores, which you co-authored with Will. Which writers are you currently enjoying (outdoor-specific or otherwise)?
I go through phases with books so honestly, it depends on my mood. I’ve always loved literary non-fiction in the outdoor space and for that, Jon Krakauer has been my go-to ever since I read “Into The Wild” in high school. I just recently read “Can’t Hurt Me” by David Goggins, which has inspired me to dabble in ultrarunning again because that dude is a beast! And anything by Jodi Picoult is my go-to when I’m in the mood to cry.
Beyond that, I have a few books that I always return to every few years: “On the Road” by Kerouac, “Letters to a Young Poet” by Rilke, and “There Are No Children Here” by Alex Kotlowitz. The latter always reminds me of how much privilege my family has and how we continually need to do better.
What song/artist is playing on repeat for you right now?
I’m such a mom now: I have zero clue as to what’s playing on the radio right now. If the music launched post-2000, I don’t want to hear about it! I’m a huge fan of 80s and 90s rock with some of my faves including Nirvana, Candlebox, Guns ‘n Roses, and Rage Against the Machine. I also love classic rock with CCR sitting high on that list.
Are you into podcasts? If so, what podcast should we check out that you’ve been into recently?
I’m obsessed with podcasts and listen to them while I run. I subscribe to more than 30 and they run the gamut of genres, so it depends on what I’m hoping to learn about on any given day. Rich Roll always takes the top spot for long-form podcasts and I really enjoy NPR’s How I Built This and This American Life. I just started listening to Nice White Parents, too, which is a good one.
I also listen to a lot in the digital marketing space to help with my entrepreneurial endeavors. (I have degrees in journalism and education but know zero about marketing, so it’s been a process!) To that end, I enjoy Amy Porterfield’s Online Marketing Made Easy, Systems Saved Me with Jordan Gill, and Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income.
If we were coming to visit you (post-COVID, obviously), what spots around Carbondale would be on our itinerary?
How much time do you have?! Seriously, the Roaring Fork Valley is an embarrassment of outdoor riches so it would be tough to choose only a few things. We’ve grown to love the burritos at Dos Gringos and the tacos at Senor Taco, so those would be our top food stops.
You’d definitely have to take your mountain bike (or trail runners) up to Prince Creek, this large trail system that practically sits in the middle of town. Then, we’d have to go fly fishing on the Roaring Fork where the fish are massive and bite frequently enough to help you feel good about yourself (even if you aren’t any good, like me). In the winter, we do a lot of backcountry skiing on McClure Pass or ski touring (with our daughter in the trailer) on the Marion Gulch trail.
Of course, when you’re done with all that you’ll have to swing by one of the multiple hot springs in the area because what’s a long day on the ski hill without some hot sulfuric water to soak in?
Let’s pretend you could have an all-expense paid trip to anywhere – where would you go?
The Snowman Trek in Bhutan, hands down. It’s been on my life list for years! It’s 215-some miles and goes over like 13 mountain passes, many of which are over 15,000 feet. It takes at least 25 days to complete so the time commitment is high. Plus, Bhutan has strict control over tourism so there are daily tourism fees and other costs that make it a pricy endeavor. But I’ll get there one day!
Bringing it back to gear for a minute (because we love talking gear), what is the most underrated piece of gear in your set-up?
Kula Cloth, a reusable pee rag for anyone who squats when they pee. Every time I use it, I wonder: “How did no one think of this sooner?!” It is so simple in design but SO wonderful to have in the backcountry.
What’s something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I’m a major introvert! Like, crazy introverted. My idea of a nightmare is walking into a room full of people that I don’t know and having to crack the code on small talk. My husband and I laugh because we call him my “human shield” in those situations because he is such an extrovert and thrives on engagement whereas I’m all weird and awkward. But, I do a lot of guest speaking appearances and TV appearances where I have to be “on” so people always assume that’s my happy place when in reality, it’s all an act. I grew up as a competitive dancer for the first 20 years of my life, so I credit those years of performing on stage for my ability to turn it on when needed.
Thanks so much for chatting with us, Heather. We really enjoyed learning more about your life behind the scenes and we cannot wait to follow along with WildKind! If you’d like to learn more about Heather, you can find her at:
Website: Currently being redesigned but will be up and running soon! HeatherBaloghRochfort.com