The Power of the Overnighter

Share Facebook 0 Twitter Pinterest Google+

We all dream about the Big Trip. And dream we should – or better still, turn dreams into reality. But the truth of the matter is, the Little Trip can be just as rewarding, in its own small but perfectly formed way. A meditative solo outing. A local adventure with friends. A chance to spend undiluted time with family.

In fact, I’d say that we owe it to ourselves. Even, that we need it. 21st century life is so crammed with commitments, diaries filled weeks or months in advance, that it’s all to easy to let the days wash by in a blur… In our downtime, we’re tethered to electronic devices; umbilical cords feeding us a ceaseless supply of social updates and distraction.

Somewhere along the way, we’ve fractured our connection with the great outdoors.


  • 5E1A9112
  • 5E1A9167
  • 5E1A8844

Micro Adventures, S24Os (Sub 24 Overnighters)… call them what you will. Extricating ourselves even briefly from our day to day, urban existence is sure to bring a disproportionate measure of happiness to our lives. A week off grid may be a wonderful experience, but one night is a whole lot better than none.

After all, there’s no better way to recharge our simian batteries than reconnecting with the Simple Life. Finding a place to camp. Crouching around the heat of a fire. Sleeping on dirt, under the stars.

It’s grounding and restorative. It resets our body clock. Dare I say it, it’s soul food…


  • 5E1A9443
  • 5E1A8730
  • 5E1A8946

Tips for making it happen

  • Call upon the experiences of others. Take full advantage of the proliferation of ready-to-roll bikepacking routes. But some of the most satisfying rides are those conjured up with a spread of maps around your own kitchen table… Planning is a fun part of the process.
  • Otherwise, keep it simple and easy to organise. Think of places you know and love. That remote meadow you always want to linger in. The hilltop you thought would make for a great sunrise. Forget distance, think experience. After all, bikepacking’s not just about racing; it’s also about slowing down and appreciating what’s around you.
  • Long day rides often make great overnighters. Check out IMBA’s Epic Rides and see if there’s a good place to camp midway. Or dig into the Adventure Cycling Association’s Bike Overnights for ideas.
  • Want to experience your local area in a new light? Try linking up all your favourite trails, and riding them in one fell swoop, without the need to rush home.
  • Similarly, use it as a chance to dig deeper into your area’s past. Make your overnighter an insightful historical adventure.
  • Get familiar with Google Earth, and dig around for backcountry roads close to your doorstep. Have a smart phone? Gaia’s Topo Map App turns it into a powerful GPS, with all the maps you could want at your fingertips.
  • Keep your adventures close close to home, or within range of a short train journey or drive out of the city. Journey time eats into riding time.
  • Pack light and don’t overthink things. You don’t need much – it’s just a night out.
  • Keep your core gear in a ‘grab box’. That way it’s ready, whenever you are. Stash a few treats/incentives in there too, like a nice slab of dark chocolate with almond and sea salt (my personal favourite).
  • Want to save on cooking? Treat ourself to a take out – burritos are packable and perfect!
  • Use overnighters as a chance to hone your setup; they’re great stepping stones for taking on bigger challenges.
  • Worried you don’t have the gear? Don’t let that get in the way – just check out our Hobo Kit, over in Bikepacking 101.
  • 5E1A9180
  • 5E1A9316
  • 5E1A9574

In case you were wondering, the shots in this post were taken during an overnighter in northern New Mexico, between Abiquiu and Española.

  • Mario Angst

    Thanks a lot for this, the opening paragraphs are really powerful and hit the nail on the head. Besides this, the article highlights different aspects of what I believe to be a crucial aspect of these microadventures, namely the sense of place and understanding about our immediate surroundings we can gain if we choose to explore our home turf. Developing a superficial connection to faraway places is in some ways easier than establishing a deeper connection with the tiny piece of land we call home. And besides, we all profit from local knowledge. It enables us to give visitors from faraway places a true local experience and thus paradoxically makes the world even smaller sometimes :).

  • Irak Marín

    7, 8 and 9 January is my first bike trip, 188 km for the Baja Coast, the only thing i am afraid, the cold.

  • Andrew

    Yes, exactly what I do! Just 10 km up the beach with my dog for a camp out for the night and I come back a better person.
    Usually I will take a non camping feast to enjoy in the sunset. Last weekend it was a crayfish (lobster) freshly caught from our local ocean which I shared with 2 hikers who were in the hut where I camped, wonderful times for all of us.
    Over nighters are easy to organise and so enriching for the soul.

  • Clint

    Is the first photo in Southern Sierra California ? Looks like the Piute mountains where I ride long days…..

  • mikeetheviking

    This is good stuff. It’s hard to get away for big trips being a dad. But overnighters I can do.

  • Cass Gilbert

    Sounds delicious. I tend to grab a burrito… but crayfish at a beachside spot sounds perfect!

  • Cass Gilbert

    All these pics were taken on an overnighter in New Mexico. The opener is a shot along 31 Mile Road, which descends from 10,400 ft, up in the Jemez Mountains, all the way down onto the desert floor surrounding Española, at 6,000ft.

  • Cass Gilbert

    Same for me!

  • Cass Gilbert

    Well said. There’s a great feeling to be had in getting to know our immediate terrain on a more personal, intricate level. And I love showing people around my local turf too!

  • Cass Gilbert

    All the best for your trip!

  • Irak Marín

    Thank you!

  • Ben Handrich

    Great tips for planning Cass; S24Os/S48Os are my rides of choice during the school year, seeing as how teaching isn’t exactly conducive to riding more than two days in a row.

    On a side note, I hope all of your excellent work on this site doesn’t mean you’ve retired ‘While Out Riding.’ That is(/was?) one of the best bike adventure blogs out there and it would be a shame to see it slowly fade away in the interwebbal ether.

  • Rob Grey

    the first time i decided to ride (rather than drive) to the trailhead was a revelation; no traffic jams to stress about, didn’t have to worry about leaving valuables in the car, no parking frustration on busy days, and extra time in the saddle, which is what really resonated with me; being able to cover such a distance under my own power and still being able to have fun on the trail. this led to longer and longer rides to farther and farther trails, eventually getting me to the point where there wasn’t enough time in a day to get to where i was hoping to ride. of course, the next logical step was packing enough food and a place to crash at the end of the day to make riding to those farther trails logistically feasible. and poof! my first bikepacking trip was born.

    it was so refreshing to have so little to worry about. just ride until i was tired, throw down a pad and a bag, eat dinner and go to sleep, wake up and ride some more. no deadlines, no rush hour traffic, no errands, no one to answer to, just myself, a bike and a trail (and the mosquitoes, but that’s a minor issue). that first trip was a two-nighter over a long weekend, and i have to say it was the most reinvigorating thing. you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for the rest of the week. not that i’m usually grumpy or starved for the outdoors (i’m a park ranger), but i just felt more positive and productive. it felt like i stumbled into something really special.

    traveling by bike is the perfect goldilocks-approved mode of transport, i think. over a given time, you’re able to penetrate deeper into the backcountry than on foot, but not so fast that you miss out on the small things along the way. i’ve attached a photo from a recent trip of an old cabin in or near mount elphinstone park in british columbia. the things you get to see…

    anyway, this is getting long-winded. great little article about great little getaways. love those photos, gotta get me back to new mexico soon!

  • (Logan)

    Ben, in case you missed it, also make sure to follow Cass’ Tumblr… awesome stuff:

  • Laird Thornton

    I live in New Mexico (Las Vegas specifically), and am looking for a first bikepacking/overnight adventure. I don’t suppose you have tips on some NM routes to try? I have been struggling to find many people who are into this activity here/post established routes. Ample singletrack is sadly lacking here…

  • Cass Gilbert

    Laird, I did a nice round out of Las Vegas in the Hermits Peak area once ( but I’m afraid I don’t have a gpx file for it, and details are a little hazy as we got lost… I bet there’s a ton of fantastic opportunities in the National Forest – though you’ll have to dodge the wilderness. Grab a Santa Fe National Forest map and go from there…

    Also, I set up a New Mexico Bikepacking Facebook page which you’re welcome to join –

  • Cass Gilbert

    Laird, I did a nice round out of Las Vegas in the Hermits Peak area once ( but I’m afraid I don’t have a gpx file for it, and details are a little hazy as we got lost… I bet there’s a ton of fantastic opportunities in the National Forest – though you’ll have to dodge the wilderness. Grab a Santa Fe National Forest map and go from there…

    Also, I set up a New Mexico Bikepacking Facebook page which you’re welcome to join:

  • Laird Thornton

    Thanks so much!

    If you find yourself lost outside Vegas again let me know. Ill be happy to help shuttle you back to civilization.

  • JB

    What routes are good in the late winter early spring. I dont mind a little snow, but keeping the hike a bike to a minimum would be nice.

  • Troy Lee

    I just did a two-day trip. It was great. heard wolves at night, no bugs, great food and dark roast coffee. Lakes still frozen! Check out my blog…

Share This

others did. Support us and pass it along...

Follow Us

and join the conversation.