Katherine Donnelly | 06.29.2018

As part of Outdoor Project's Women In the Wild series this summer, I have had the honor of working with outdoor women from all over the industry to dig a bit deeper into who they are, how they got to where they are now, how they approach the outdoors, and more. These women are all rad in their own right, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, or how "badass" they might be. Whether they're mothers, daughters, sisters, professional athletes, beginners, weekend warriors, "instafamous," or anywhere in-between, their unique stories, journeys, opinions, and perspectives are incredibly valuable and insightful as Outdoor Project - and the industry as a whole - progresses and evolves to become more inclusive to every type of outdoors person. 

Through in-depth and often thought-provoking interviews, I aim to highlight these women's stories, their work, their adventures, and so much more with an eye toward giving them their well-deserved share of the spotlight while inspiring and empowering even more women to get outside!

In this feature we talk to Cait Bourgault.

This Woman In The Wild loves the outdoors for all that it encompasses, and this love shows in her work as a photographer. And when she's not shooting for work or play, you can bet she'll be outside adventuring with her pup and a growing community of like-minded women by her side through Alpine Collective Women. Get the full scoop below.

Photo by Corey Fitzgerald.

OP: Give us the skinny on who Cait Bourgault is.

Cait Bourgault: A photographer and outdoor enthusiast from Jackson, New Hampshire. When I’m not photographing for outdoor companies or shooting weddings, you’ll find me in the mountains with my dogs. I co-run a women’s hiking group with my best friend, where our biggest goal is to help woman feel confident in the outdoors.

OP: When did you first know that you were going to spend your life in the outdoors?

Cait Bourgault: I was 24. I went on a few hikes in Maine and quickly realized I belonged outside. Since then, I’ve spent the past four years falling more and more in love with the great outdoors. While I didn’t grow up hiking and camping, I did spend most of my days as a kid running through the forests, building tree forts, and catching bugs in my backyard. Getting dirty and being outside was a love of mine at a young age. The outdoors has always been in my heart, I just needed time to figure out I needed to make it my lifestyle.

OP: What does it mean to you to be a woman in the outdoor industry?

Cait Bourgault: It means more than words can explain. It means making sure that other women feel at home in the wild and that they are just as important as others. It means working hard to not let gender stereotypes hold me back. It means giving support to other woman in the industry because we’re stronger when we hold each other up.  

OP: What has the outdoors done for you, and how do you pay it back?

Cait Bourgault: The outdoors has given me the life I have always dreamed of. It’s given me a healthy lifestyle, freedom, and the deepest gratitude for the world around me. It taught me to slow down and breathe. I pay it back by being a responsible steward of the land. I practice the Leave No Trace values, stay on trail in fragile environments, and pick up any litter I encounter. The outdoors gives us millions of acres of jaw dropping beauty, the least we can do it give it the respect it deserves. I also give back through the Alpine Women Collective. We are a women's hiking group where we support other women who want to get outside.

OP: Conservation and protection of our public lands are central themes in today’s outdoor recreation narrative. As someone who spends a significant amount of time outdoors and on public lands, what role do you think outdoor photographers and storytellers should play in this evolving conversation and landscape?

Cait Bourgault: Outdoor photographers and storytellers often have a large audience, and it is important to share the importance of conservation and protection of public lands. I think having a large following on social media comes with the responsibility to use it for good, specifically the preservation of the lands we love so much. For much of history, art and photography has been critical in showcasing our country's beauty with the mission of protecting some of our most cherished lands. I hope my photography inspires people to pursue a healthy lifestyle in the outdoors as well as educating them on ethical practices.

OP: Who has inspired you along the way?

Cait Bourgault: Caroline Gleich is a huge inspiration for me as a woman and backcountry skier. She breaks down barriers in the industry and inspires women to understand their fears and conquer it. I’m also inspired by the women I share the trails with.  I’ve met some of my closest friends because of the outdoors, and I am constantly inspired by their strength and perseverance. 

OP: What does adventure mean to you?

Cait Bourgault: Adventure means getting outside and exploring. It can be a big mountain climb or a small walk by a lake. I used to think that all adventures had to be big, dangerous, or difficult, but recently I’ve found the importance of finding adventure in even the smallest outings.

OP: What does the term "badass" mean to you?

Cait Bourgault: “Badass” means going against the grain, pushing the limits, and not taking any shit from anyone. 

OP: We are seeing a shift in what the term woman or female might bring to mind (size, shape, sexuality, gender identification, etc.), both in the outdoor community and throughout the world. What does being a woman mean to you? Femininity?

Cait Bourgault: It means being proud of who I am. Growing up, I was constantly trying to be one of the boys. I dressed in my brother’s hand-me-downs, played hockey, and was considered a tomboy. My friends once pooled money together to get me to wear a skirt to school. It hit me recently that I didn’t have to throw away my feminine traits to keep up with the boys. I wished I had embraced the fact that I was a girl who also enjoyed sports and getting dirty. When you step into the outdoors, you don’t need to leave your femininity behind. The mountains don't care about gender.

OP: What mantra or set of words do you live by?

Cait Bourgault: When I read this question, my immediate thought was a quote from the television show, Lost: “Don’t tell me what I can’t do.” It’s a little silly coming from a fictional T.V. drama, but it’s pretty damn powerful. When I first started hiking, I was constantly met with doubt from the people around me. “You’re going out there alone?”  “Is your boyfriend going?” “Are you sure you can do that?”  I realized that those same things would not have been said to my male friends. I took their doubt and turned it into fuel for my fire to become a strong, confident woman in the outdoors and inspire others to do the same. Don’t tell me what I can’t do! I'll prove you wrong.

OP: What is one thing that you never leave home without?

Cait Bourgault: I never leave home without my camera. Photographing my adventures brings me so much joy. I’ve received messages on social media telling me that I am not truly enjoying the moment if I’m photographing, but those people don’t understand that I am happiest when experiencing life through the lens. I look back through my photos and I am transported back to that moment in time.

OP: Let’s talk gear - what are your thoughts on women-specific gear? Love it, hate it? Are there any companies out there doing it right? And how so? When does it matter to you most to have gear specific to women versus unisex products?

Cait Bourgault: Women-specific products make sense when the product has improved features due to body shape or women specific needs for peak performance. For example, packs that have straps that fit around breasts, or hiking pants that conform to a woman’s hips, those are specific features that makes sense to me. What doesn’t make sense is something I see pretty often: companies giving women color choices of pink or purple. I spend a lot of time on REI or Backcountry looking at gear I love, but I find myself wishing I had the option to chose from the men’s color choices. There’s nothing wrong with pink, but in general it’s a stereotypical color for women only. Some guys like pink, just as some ladies like black! 

OP: What is the greatest piece of advice or direction that you’ve ever received, and what’s the story behind it?

Cait Bourgault: The best direction I received was during my freshman year of college. I was going to school for Digital Marketing and took an Intro to Photography course. After our first assignment, my teacher, Andy, pulled me aside and said “What are you doing here?” I was surprised and confused. He followed that by telling me that I had a real talent for photography and that I should pursue it fiercely. The next semester I left the university to attend a documentary photography school. That one conversation changed the entire course of my life, and while it may have seemed small to him, I look back at it as the best thing that has ever been said to me.

OP: If you could give one piece of advice to yourself when you were just starting out as outdoor photographer, what would it be?

Cait Bourgault: I would tell myself that it’s great to get inspired by other photographers, but don’t waste your time trying to be them. The world is over-saturated with outdoor photographers, and you'll only stand out if you bring your own style and creativity to a shoot. 

OP: In a world seemingly run by online personas, how do you approach social media, and how does it play into your lifestyle - both work and play?

Cait Bourgault: I approach social media with as much honesty as possible. It’s easy to just share the picture perfect moments, but life isn’t always like that. Being relatable and truthful is what really stands out to me.  From an analytic standpoint, my most popular posts on social media have been photos paired with paragraphs that spill the truth of struggle or hardship. It’s relatable when you can see that everyone struggles with insecurity and self doubt. I use social media to connect with like-minded people who bring a positive light to my life, which has in turn given me some incredible business opportunities. I tend to blend work and play because I want my clients to know who I really am -  the good, the bad, the ugly. We’re all human.

OP: The world of outdoor photography is rapidly progressing. How are you stepping things up to stand out from the crowd?

Cait Bourgault: I try and stand out from the crowd by creating a brand that is genuine. From genuine moments captured to being an honest person, I want my brand to reflect my life and my personality. 

OP: What’s next for you in the coming months and years?

Cait Bourgault: Between hiking in the White Mountains and editing, I'm off to Ireland to photograph a friend's wedding next week, and then climbing Mount Shuksan in the North Cascades in a few weeks. In the next few years I hope to further my skills as a backcountry skier, climb some big peaks, and finish the 4,000 footers of New Hampshire.

OP: The title of your autobiography would be...

Cait Bourgault: "Things I Can't Do" 

OP: In your next life, you will come back as...

Cait Bourgault: A dog, wild and free.

OP: Tell us one thing about yourself that no one knows.

Cait Bourgault: I used to ride a unicycle! I like embracing the weird in me.

OP: If our readers were to take one thing from this interview, what would you like it to be?

Cait Bourgault: You don’t have to grow up being an outdoor enthusiast to belong out there. In the grand scheme of things, I’m a newbie to all of this! But I’ve dedicated an unbelievable amount of energy in the past four years to pushing my boundaries in the outdoors. I stopped letting fear hold me back. I invested in my safety by enrolling in wilderness safety and avalanche courses. I started a women’s hiking group called the Alpine Women Collective with my best friend to help women feel confident on the trails. I learned how to ski and fell in love with backcountry skiing. I traveled to Nepal, Banff, Iceland, Washington, Colorado and California chasing sunrises and running on little sleep and a drained bank account. I wouldn’t change any of it for the world. Never let the fear of the unknown stop you from trying something new. You are capable of it all.

Learn more about Cait online and by following her on Instagram, and make sure to check out Alpine Women Collective both online, on Facebook, and on the 'gram


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