Does your day typically end when the sun dips below the horizon and night falls? It doesn't have to! While there may not be enough hours in a day to for your outdoor adventures, you can extend your daily window of time by taking a night hike! Here is information and inspiration to get you out there safely.
Why Take a Night Hike?
When night falls, things get quiet, so you can enjoy your solitude and the company of others in a new light (literally). Night hikes give you a different perspective on the outdoors and your surroundings. Not to mention you also get away from that scorching daily heat.
By limiting your vision in the dark, a night hike also allows you to become more familiar with your surroundings, as it forces you to use your other senses (such as hearing) to navigate. In turn, you become more in tune with the wildlife around you. And who doesn't love a sky full of stars? There's just something beautiful and calming about hiking at night!
Light and Vision for Night Hikes
We all know that the night is dark and full of terrors, which is why lighting and night vision is important to understand, especially if you’re not traveling in the company of a red priestess of R’hllor. If you've never been on a night hike, a common misconception is that you need a bright light (like a headlamp or flashlight). While these are nice and absolutely necessary to have with you, you actually won't need them as much as you think you would. In fact, they typically impede your night vision. When you're hiking at night, you should allow your eyes to adapt to the darkness (it can take up to 45 min to fully adjust) and try to rely as much as possible on the natural light of the moon and the stars, they’re brighter than you think.
You should also be using your peripheral vision, as you can actually see better at night with it. Instead of looking straight at an object or general area, try more of a blank gaze where you are aware of what’s visible above, below, and to the outside of your eyes.
While you’ll be using your night vision for a good portion of your hike, you’ll definitely need a headlamp or flashlight to check your map or find something in your pack (and for safety reasons). Here are our tips and suggestions for headlamps:
- Get one with a red light. The red-light setting will not affect your night vision as much as white-light because your eyes are less sensitive to the longer wavelengths of red light.
- Get one with multiple brightness settings. You should be able to switch the brightness from low to high (or vice versa). This will also help the battery life.
- Turn your headlamp off. You should always turn your headlamp off when you aren’t using it or if you hear other hikers coming. NEVER shine it in someone’s face.
- Get a nice, comfortable fit. No one likes a bothersome headlamp falling down into their face on a night hike.
Tips for Hiking at Night
- Don’t go alone. It’s always nice to have a buddy (or more) because your mind can be your own worst enemy out there in the dark by yourself. Darkness also often means more danger, so the more eyes the better; with more eyes and more brains, the less likely you will be to get lost. Unless you’re a seasoned night hiker, we suggest you go with a group of friends.
- Hike with a full moon. If you’re a night hiking newbie you should absolutely try hiking with a full moon, as it offers the most light for maximum safety and visibility. This could also give you the perfect chance to learn the lunar cycle so you can plan your hikes according to full moons.
- Pick a trail you know. Familiar trails will be a bit easier to navigate in the dark. Flat trails offer fewer tripping obstacles, and open areas with light-colored, reflective surfaces (like rocks) are safer and perfect for stargazing. You should also try to avoid dense woods.
- Be mindful of wildlife. Do your research and get to know animals that will be in the area. Many animals in the wild are also nocturnal, so it’s important to know what to be prepared for. Make sure you’re looking around and listening on your hike so you can respond accordingly. You don’t want to be caught off guard by any kind of animal in the dark.
- Hike slowly. Darkness brings out a lot of unknowns and makes terrain more challenging (even on the trails you know). To be safe, you’ll want to hike slowly. You don’t want to trip on a tree root or rock you didn’t see coming.
- Bring layers. It gets cool when the sun goes down. Always be prepared for the weather.
- Pack extra batteries. You don’t want to be stuck in the middle of the woods in the dark with a dead headlamp or flashlight.
- Bring food and water. Even though it’s cooler at night, it’s still important to stay hydrated and energized.
- Be observant. It’s easy to get turned around in the dark. Keep an eye out for trail markers or things you can use to identify where you’ve been. This is why it’s also a good idea to pick a trail you’re familiar with.
Pro Tip: No matter the time of day or where you’re hiking, you should always leave a detailed itinerary with someone in case you don’t return when you’re expected to.