Microadventure Bikepacking: How to Tackle a Simple Overnighter

“Microadventure.” The word sounds contradictory. Originally coined by Alastair Humphreys, the word challenges the idea that “adventures” must consist of many days, and require travel and time off work. A microadventure can simply take place between when work ends and when you start the next day. Day trips are great, but a microadventure ideally includes …
Enjoying Packsaddle Lake all to myself in the Big Hole Mountains
Enjoying Packsaddle Lake all to myself in the Big Hole Mountains

“Microadventure.” The word sounds contradictory. Originally coined by Alastair Humphreys, the word challenges the idea that “adventures” must consist of many days, and require travel and time off work. A microadventure can simply take place between when work ends and when you start the next day. Day trips are great, but a microadventure ideally includes spending the night under the stars. This is where bikepacking comes in. On a bike, you can travel out of town fast and go farther than you can on foot. In most places you can get out into the countryside or some sort of public land within an hour. That means in the summer, you have plenty of light left to find a place to camp and make dinner.

The Advantage of a Microadventure

I traveled over 700 miles on bikepacking trips in the past year. All but one of those bikepacking trips were microadventures, meaning 540 miles were just a handful of trips taking less than 24-36 hours. That is how powerful the microadventure is. It gets you out there and builds confidence for bigger trips.

I recently shared two examples of how I bikepacked to work. Both of these trips took place over three days, the first being 125 miles and roughly 16 hours, not including working, drive time to the job site, and sleeping. The second trip was a little simpler where I biked to the job site, worked, and biked back. This was 40.5 miles and a total of 26 hours including sleep and the work day.

Ashton, Idaho: Heading out into the woods for a bikepacking adventure before work the next day

Here are 6 more bikepacking microadventures that I’ve done. These trips took place over longer timeframes, but the same can be done with fewer miles (10-20) after and before work.

Bikepacking to Packsaddle Lake, Idaho: 34 miles, 22 hours

This trip was a breakthrough for me, personally. I left late in the evening around 7 PM, riding west from Tetonia, Idaho towards the Big Hole Mountains, climbing up to my campsite in the dark. On the ridge just above Packsaddle Lake, I unpacked my bike, set up camp, ate dinner, hung my food, then relaxed in my hammock. It was only while in my hammock that I noticed the city lights of the entire valley below.

Breakfast at camp above Packsaddle Lake as the sun comes up

The next morning I was greeted by an incredible sunrise and view as I listened to elk bugling. After breakfast, I dropped down to Packsaddle Lake to get some water and navigated my way out via ATV two-track to some singletrack in Horseshoe Canyon for a change of pace and a little fun before the final road spin on gravel back to the house.

Fast, technical two-track, dropping into Horseshoe Canyon

Bikepacking to Caribou Mountain, Idaho: 80 miles, 24 total hours

Sunday afternoon around 2 PM we left Bone, Idaho on gravel roads along the Grey’s Lake Wildlife Refuge. Once in National Forest, we slowly climbed steep two-track to the top and found an awesome spring. Not much further up the hill, we stashed our bikes and hiked the two-mile scramble to the top of Caribou Mountain. On the way down, we caught a gorgeous sunset from the best spot on the mountain.

Heading back down the summit of Caribou Mountain as the sun sets

“I wonder how many people have gotten from Bone, Idaho to the very top of Caribou Mountain, solely on human power?” a buddy and I asked each other as we stood atop the peak looking down into the valley.

Looking back towards Caribou Mountain, what we were at the top of the night prior

Back at camp I ate dinner and got settled in for the night. When morning came, we refilled water from the spring below before hitting the trail. To make a loop we continued north, down some flowy two-track. The trail shot us back out to more gravel roads in the McCoy Creek drainage. To look back towards Caribou Mountain and think “I came from there” was a surreal feeling. Around 2 PM we got back to Bone where our cars were parked with plenty of time for my friend to get home to his family for dinner.

Bikepacking the Big Hole Mountains, Idaho: 69 miles, 27 total hours

I left from my front door in Victor, Idaho and pedaled north towards Horseshoe Canyon and up the South Fork Horseshoe Canyon trail. About 4 miles up the trail, there was a great little spot in the trees to hang my hammock and settle in for the night, bugling elk and hooting owls keeping me company.

Sunrise from camp looking towards the Tetons

The next morning there was more climbing and bike pushing for a couple miles. Once to the intersection with the Big Hole Crest, I veered west on South Canyon Creek instead of continuing on the crest, to descend into Elk Flats–a big open meadow. What fun! My biggest concern was water availability, which seemed silly given how many stream crossings there were.

Along the South Canyon Creek trail, Big Hole Mountains

The descent never seemed to end as I ventured further and further into the Big Hole Mountains. At the intersection of the Carlson Cutoff, I headed north for more climbing with a few descents mixed in. Finally, on the Calamity Creek trail, came the final climb. Near the top, two guys on dirt bikes came up and over, making for my first and only people sighting for the whole trip. From there, the rest was downhill — down all the places I pushed my bike up that morning. I turned east for a 5-mile descent down Mahogany Creek. This was a great end to the trip before the final spin on gravel roads and the bike path to Victor.

Bikepacking Steamboat Trace Trail to Indian Cave State Park, Nebraska: 85 miles, 32 total hours

While visiting family back home in late November, I took my brother on his first bikepacking trip. One of my goals was to prove to him he could find adventure anywhere. 90% of the route was on the flat 21-mile Steamboat Trace rail trail along the Missouri River.

My brother, Justin, riding the Steamboat Trace trail near Peru, Nebraska

The end of the trail shot us out on a gravel road we took towards the highway, which we only rode a few miles before connecting a series of gravel and dirt roads. A farmer pulled over, intrigued by our bikes, and chatted with us a bit before we continued to Indian Cave State Park. Once in the park, we found a camp with an Adirondack shelter with a fire pit outside. After building a fire and eating dinner, we hung our hammocks, breathed in the fresh, woodsy air, and caught one of the biggest and longest shooting stars we’ve seen fly across the clear, starry sky. The next morning before heading back on the same route, we explored some of the singletrack around the park and checked out the cave. On the way back the next day, we saw that same farmer again.

Singletrack in Indian Cave State Park, Nebraska

Bikepacking to the Missouri River, Nebraska/South Dakota Border: 138 miles, 33 total hours

Early December on my way back to Idaho, I stopped in Sioux Falls, South Dakota to visit a friend. The next morning we left town headed towards the Missouri River with the intent to take gravel and low-maintenance dirt roads the whole way. The precipitation and lack of freezing temperatures made the roads impassable, causing us to bail onto the highway, but not before thoroughly cleaning our chains.

Camp on the beach along the Missouri River on the South Dakota/Nebraska state line.

Once at the beach, we built a morale-boosting fire and set up our tents. When the sun came up, we explored the beach and sand bars. Turns out, what makes for terrible riding on dirt roads is great fun on the sandy beaches. After messing around a bit, we headed back for the 70-mile highway spin to Sioux Falls.

A little exploring before hitting the road. Rider Joe Stiller

Feeling inspired to head out on a microadventure of your own? Follow these four easy steps to get started:

Step 1: Block Out the Mental Obstacles

Getting started is the hardest part of an adventure. We create these ideas in our minds that ultimately are obstacles keeping us from getting out there. Whatever your excuse is, identify whether you want to go or are looking for reasons not to go. Once you’ve identified your concern, find the solution to make your microadventure a reality.

Once you're out there, none of your previous concerns even matter. All that is on your mind is getting to the next destination and breathing in the fresh air.
Once you’re out there, none of your previous concerns even matter. All that is on your mind is getting to the next destination and breathing in the fresh air.

Step 2: Look for the Green and Go

Open up Google Maps, look for somewhere green, and head out the door! Study the route. If you have a GPS device or smartphone app, plot it first. But simply put, leave your front door and camp in the trees.

The route from my second solo overnight bikepacking trip in the Big Hole Mountains

Step 3: Sleep Under the Stars

Look at the weather. Assuming this is your first bikepacking adventure, you want to make it as enjoyable as possible. This means that you should plan to go on a clear, starry night. Ditch the tent and opt for a bivvy or a hammock. I guarantee your trip will be more memorable with a big, starry sky to fall asleep to and an amazing sunrise to wake up to.

Sunrise at camp above Packsaddle Lake, only 13 miles from the front door.

Step 4: Don’t Worry About the Gear

In the first trip I shared in this article, I didn’t have nearly the gear I needed… or at least what the typical bikepacking rig is outfitted with. I wrapped a foam sleeping pad around my sleeping bag, clothes, and tarp, and strapped it to my handlebars. It looked rickety but got the job done.

At Packsaddle Lake. Notice how gear is strapped to bike.

“Having gear” is a big factor for a lot of people. In reality, it’s very simple. Do you have a sleeping bag? A bike? Some ramen noodles and oatmeal? That is really all you need. Just strap your stuff to your bike and head out there. Don’t worry about not having the latest and greatest zero-degree sleeping bag and three-season tent. Sleep under the stars on a beautiful summer night.

First official bikepacking microadventure, summer of 2015. Only camped a few miles from my house. Sleeping bag strapped to seat, sleeping pad strapped to handlebars, everything else in a backpack.

Now Go Pedal Your Bike

When you get somewhere under your own human power, the euphoria is overwhelming. Looking out into the sunset or down from where you came is magical and empowering. Suddenly, all of the worries of the life in the past week disappear and it’s just you, your bike, and the sounds of the night. You feel recharged and ready to tackle the obstacles of the next week. How much time did it really take you?

Some may say “I can’t afford to do that.” But in reality, you can’t afford not to. It’s an investment in your health and sanity, allowing you to continue on through the workweek.

Steamboat Trace trail in Nebraska at Sunset. Rider: Justin Couch
Steamboat Trace trail in Nebraska at Sunset. Rider: Justin Couch

I hope you can gain some inspiration and creative ideas from these different bikepacking overnighters. Whether you’re traveling, somewhere where it seems there “isn’t anything to do,” or trying to squeeze in some adventure over a weekend, the simple overnight bikepacking microadventure is very possible.

Your Turn: Have you gone out on a quick overnight bikepacking trip? We’d like to hear about it. And if you have any concerns or questions of making this a reality in your own life, share them below!