Brilliant stars, lush evening breezes, the lilting chorus of nocturnal animals: there's nothing quite like the sublime, breathless wonder of a night hike. As the gathering darkness limits your vision, your other senses will be heightened to new levels. Hiking at night lets you experience the outdoors in a whole new way, lending a sense of adventure to even the most familiar terrain.
Naturally, hiking after dark presents its own set of unique challenges and dangers. As with any trekking adventure, you must stock up on gear and emergency rations before heading out.
Here is a run-down of strategies and supplies that will help make your night hike a success.
Making yourself visible is one of the best ways to ensure your safety while trekking after dark. If something should go wrong and you end up needing to be rescued, you'll want your saviors to be able to spot you as quickly as possible.
There are many high-visibility hiking products on the market these days, such as this reflective LED backpack cover which will help you stand out while also keeping your belongings dry or this LED reflective belt which gives you 360 degrees of visibility. It's 100 times safer than any other alternative because it reflects oncoming light and illuminates. There is no way to overlook anyone wearing this.
You'll also want to make sure you have a high-quality headlamp in your gear kit. Choose one with multiple settings, including a wide beam and a red beam. The wide setting will provide you with an expanded view of the surrounding terrain, while the red setting will allow you to see in the dark while lessening the risk of disturbing local wildlife or decreasing your night vision.
Before you set off on your adventure, make sure to test all of your gear and familiarize yourself with every function and setting your equipment offers. If any of your lights require batteries, put fresh ones in before you head out, and carry extras just in case.
Trekking alone is always riskier than hiking in groups. This is doubly true when it comes to embarking on a night hike. As the old saying goes, there's safety in numbers. Your nocturnal adventure will be much less dangerous if you invite friends along.
If hiking buddies are in short supply, let at least one person know your plans before you set out. Provide a map that details your exact hike, and set up a time to check in with your contact after you get back from your adventure. This way, you'll have someone looking out for you who can alert the authorities if you don't get in touch with them within the designated window.
Selecting a trail that you're already familiar with is important, especially for your first night hike. You want to be as prepared and confident as possible, which includes being knowledgeable about the terrain you'll be trekking through. This will reduce your risk of getting lost or injured, making your experience more enjoyable.
Additionally, make sure you're aware of the type of wildlife present in the area at different times of the day. One of the biggest joys of adventuring after dark is encountering a whole host of nocturnal creatures you would never be able to see on a day hike. Just read up on the local fauna first, so you won't be caught by surprise.
If you're hiking in bear country, for instance, it's important to keep in mind that bears used to living in close proximity to humans tend to be active at night. Most bears will leave the area once they sense a human's presence, but it never hurts to be prepared.
When you're hiking with reduced visibility, the risk of injury is increased because you're less likely to spot obstructions in the path or sudden changes in the terrain. It's imperative to move slowly while trekking after dark, keeping the path before you illuminated with your headlamp or flashlight. You'll have an easier time keeping your footing if you stick to a leisurely, measured pace during your night hike.
If you're a person with a fast natural walking speed who has trouble slowing down, try using a step such as the fox walk to keep your pace plodding. Woodsmen use this specialized gate to move silently through the forest. Utilizing the fox walk can provide a meditative experience that will enhance your nighttime adventure and make you less likely to startle any wildlife in the area with your approach.
Besides, why rush the experience? Trekking through the darkness is a perfect time to ease off the gas pedal and immerse yourself in your surroundings. You'll be amazed at the sounds and smells you pick up when moving slowly and silently through the wilderness.
If you're new to hiking after dark, you might think the absence of the sun means you're less likely to become dehydrated during your adventure. This is a dangerous assumption since all physical activity depletes the body's water through sweat loss, even at night. Make sure to carry plenty of water and water purification supplies in case you get stranded.
Another important item to keep in your backpack is an extra layer of clothing, such as a fleece pullover or a light-down jacket. The temperature differential between night and day can be astonishing, especially if you start trekking at sunset while the air is still relatively warm. Choose a warm yet lightweight layer so it won't weigh your backpack down.
Depending on the length of your hike, you may want to bring along a few energy bars for sustenance. These emergency rations don't take up a lot of space in your backpack, but you'll find them invaluable if your night hike takes longer than expected. Keeping your energy up is essential for staying focused and alert during your moonlight trekking adventure, and high-carb foods are a great way to do that.
Since you won't be able to rely on your vision to figure out where you're going, having navigational equipment you're familiar with is essential before setting off on your after-dark hiking escapade. Having a physical map of the area can be extremely helpful, especially a topographical map showing the terrain differences along your route. Pair your map with a compass, and your orienteering needs will be completely covered.
Depending on how remote your night hike is, you might not have cell reception, so relying on your phone's GPS is not the best idea. That said, many GPS devices on the market can pinpoint your location without relying on cell towers to transmit data. Springing for one of these devices will make your nighttime wanderings much safer since you'll be easier to find right away if you happen to get lost.
Some devices even allow you to “ping” your friends back home so they can follow your adventure in real-time.
Don't be intimidated by the thought of trekking with reduced visibility. With the right preparation, trustworthy equipment, and a great group of adventure buddies, hiking after dark is an experience that can open you to a whole new world of wonder.
Whether you're an eager first-timer or a seasoned veteran, following these tips will make your night hike an adventure you'll never forget. Plus, join our mailing list to receive even more tips about hiking and exploring the great outdoors.