February 1

Off Trail On Track: Duncan Cheung Shares What it Means to Hike with a Cause

Take Less. Do More. It’s not just a catchy company slogan for us at Gossamer Gear. It’s a way of life. It’s an ethos that drives our community, both on and off the trail. Through his work founding Off Trail On Track, Duncan Cheung, one of our Brand Ambassadors, is a perfect example of the Gossamer Gear spirit in action.

Duncan has been teaching and guiding backpacking for over six years, and hikes about 750 to 1,000 miles each year. He also enjoys taking his son hiking and orienteering in the great outdoors. While he worked for over a decade in the corporate world, he’s since left to pursue deeper fulfillment in life and drive environmental progress. We caught up with Duncan to learn more about Off Trail On Track and why he’s choosing to hike with a cause.

Off Trail On Track

Gossamer Gear: Can you tell us, briefly, what exactly Off Trail On Track is and what it does?

Duncan: The goal of Off Trail On Track is simple. I want to help people find fulfillment in life by recognizing what we need and what we don’t. I accomplish this by guiding minimalist backpacking trips off trail.

When you’re backpacking off trail, and especially around the campfire, you open up. You open up to nature, to your trail buddies, and to yourself. It’s a rare moment of vulnerability in a world that teaches us to always be on our guard. We take advantage of that state to reframe our perspective on what’s actually important to us.

Off Trail on Track empowers people with the skills and experience to travel smarter, easier, lighter, and more mindfully – both in the wilderness and in life.

Off Trail On Track

In what moment did you realize you wanted to embark on this new initiative?

I found myself in a position where I was successful by external benchmarks, but I didn’t feel satisfied. I had degrees from prestigious universities, a burgeoning career in hot industries, and a number of professional accomplishments under my belt. But something didn’t feel right; I wasn’t feeling fulfilled.

So I set out to reexamine my priorities; to understand what it was that made me happy and made accomplishments feel impactful. Once I reoriented my internal compass the answer was so obvious:

I had mistakenly conflated success with fulfillment. I needed to stop measuring myself by society’s report card and I needed to create my own goal posts and milestones toward fulfillment.  Overtime, it clicked. Setting my sight on fulfillment (rather than success) was actually a shortcut toward happiness. I could do good and feel good by pursuing my passions and helping other people to start the same process.

Off Trail On Track

In your eyes, how do the advances in technology over the past couple of decades increase the importance of connecting to nature? How does this fit into your goals for Off Trail On Track?

These days, you have to “disconnect to reconnect.” As cliché as that sounds, it’s the truth.

Don’t get me wrong—I don’t hate technology. I use it everyday. Technology is a tool like any other; the only difference is in our relationship with it. Occasionally we lose perspective, and thus, we lose control over our technology and its influence in our lives.

That’s where minimalist backpacking comes in. “Minimalism” doesn’t mean intentional austerity. It means being intentional. We critically examine our relationships with “things” – both on our backs and in our heads. Only by taking a critical physical and mental inventory of things we carry with us can we begin to realize what we need more of and what we should let go.

What is your favorite part about being a minimalist backpacking instructor?

That’s an easy one! My favorite part is learning from my students. I don’t pretend to have it all figured out—my own path is constantly changing as I adapt it to lead me towards fulfillment. I learn so much from all of my students, especially when I observe personal transformation from them! For instance, Afshin, a backpacking student and now a dear friend of mine, said to me while driving back from our adventure in the Sierra: “I realized that I need to stop focusing on building my resume for others, and start building my own legacy.”  Absolute gem.

Off Trail On Track

In what ways has Gossamer Gear supported you in your goals with Off Trail On Track?

Fortunately, my mission aligns closely with Gossamer Gear’s. I love your motto “Take Less Do More” because it perfectly embodies the spirit of minimalist backpacking.

We aren’t just taking less gear. We’re taking less mental and emotional baggage too. Freeing up space in our minds and our packs so that we can be fully present. That lightness of spirit enables us to look beyond ourselves to our neighbors and nature—and how we can effect a positive change on them.

Off Trail On Track

So, what does it mean to hike with a cause? How is this different from your typical walk in the woods?

You’re familiar with the concept of “Leave No Trace?” We do that, of course, but we take it a step further. We practice “Leave No Trace + Leave A Difference.”

Every Off Trail On Track trip is dedicated to a preselected conservation effort. In 2018 alone, my students raised over $4,000 that went towards preserving our natural resources and increasing their availability to underserved demographics. With that money, we saved 2,000 endangered sea turtles from being poached, supported 3 Nicaraguan families’ food and education expenses, and funded wilderness education and trail maintenance programs for the Sierra.

This giving back isn’t some feel-good or tax-benefits measure. It arose naturally as part of the minimalist backpacking mindset. We recognize that we’re living in a world of abundance, not scarcity, so we’re glad to give back as we, in turn, receive from each other and nature.

Off Trail On Track

What advice do you have for others looking to make an impact in 2019?

You need a solid foundation if you’re going to make waves, so I suggest you get yourself squared away first, then turn outwards.You can refocus yourself in three simple steps:

  1. Determine. What brings you true joy? Fulfillment? What will make you proud when you look back 20 years from now?
  2. Inventory. What in your life brings you joy? What takes away from your joy? Be honest.
  3. Act. What are you going to Take Less of and Do More of?


Want to join Duncan on an Off Trail On Track adventure? Spring 2019 courses begin in March, with the application opening on February 1, so make sure to check out the Off Trail On Track website for more details. Also, stay tuned to the Gossamer Gear blog for more upcoming posts about what it means to Hike with a Cause!