In the past few years, hiking has become one of the most popular hobbies for travellers and adventurers alike. From grueling week long treks in the mountains to beautiful day trips around waterfalls, hiking has undeniably seen a spike in participation. One hiking trend, in particular, that’s gaining popularity, is night hiking.
For those who hike, the night adds a new dimension to the hobby. Animal sightings, stargazing, and the overall thrill of a night hike are just some of the reasons why hikers purposely find themselves on the trail in complete darkness. But with the excitement of nighttime, comes a new set of safety precautions and concerns that one must consider when hiking at night.
Hiking at night: dos and don’ts
From equipment to trails, if you’re considering a night hike, there are plenty of things you need to think about. Here’s a night hiking checklist of dos and don’ts!
- Bring lots of lights – Headlamps, flashlights, lanterns – whatever lights you can think of, bring them! Even if you don’t end up using all of them, it doesn’t hurt to bring them along, and you’ll have them in case a situation arises where you need more light. Pro tip: Bring a headlamp with a red light option for optimal night vision.
- Consider the moon cycles – During a night hike, the moon is your greatest ally. Not only is a full moon beautiful, but it also provides an unbelievable amount of natural light that can make the trails glow. So follow the moon cycles and plan your hike accordingly.
- Let someone know of your plans – This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s one of the most critical tips for night hikes. Always tell someone your plan, from where you’re starting to when and where you plan on finishing. If things don’t go according to plan, at least you know someone is looking for you. Pro tip: Leave a note in the windshield with your plan, along with a phone number to call if you’re not back to your vehicle by a set time.
- Dress accordingly – In most places, nighttime temperatures are colder than daytime temperatures. In some areas, the difference is dramatic. So dress and pack accordingly, with lots of layers and extra warm sweaters and pants. Honestly, you might even want to bring a hat and pair of mittens.
- Enjoy the darkness – Don’t be afraid of the dark, embrace it! After about 25 minutes your eyes will begin to adjust, and you can truly bask in the haunting beauty of nature at night.
- Hike alone – Going hiking alone isn’t typically recommended, even in the day. So going for a night hike alone is a huge no-no. If you find yourself in a dangerous situation, you’re a lot worse off if you’re alone than if you went with someone.
- Wander off the trail – This point is two-fold. First off, wandering off the designated path is extremely risky for your safety. There’s a trail for a reason, and it’s because that route is safe – it’s hard to know what’s around the corner at nighttime so don’t risk it. Secondly, detouring off the trail can have negative impacts on nature, so be mindful of the leave no trace rule and stick to the trail.
- Forget to check the weather – The weather at night is different than the day. Just because the day was sunny and beautiful doesn’t mean the night is going to be. Consult your local weather forecast and keep an eye for fog, rain, snow, and cold temperatures.
- Disturb the wildlife – Just imagine, laying in your bed at night and someone comes in yelling with flashlights and a camera. It would be terrifying. Treat the wildlife you encounter with respect, keep a thoughtful distance and avoid using harsh lights and bright photography.
- Hike a new trail – For night hikes, it’s always a good idea to stick to a trail you’re familiar with. Things can get disorienting at when it’s dark, so sticking to a trail you know well will help eliminate some risk.
Night hiking gear
When hiking at night, the equipment needs are mostly the same as that of a day hike. There are however a few differences that can make a huge difference when it comes to the enjoyment and safety of your nighttime adventure.
You’re going to need a headlamp because it’s going to be dark. A headlamp is essential because unlike a flashlight, it allows you to keep your hands free for safe walking or taking photos.
On the other hand, flashlights are still vital for the nighttime. Look for something very bright and lightweight. It will be a massive help if you need to consult your map, or if you need to signal for help.
Nighttime photography apps
Okay – not so safety related, but helpful for taking great nighttime photos with your phone. Consider how stars or a meteor shower are typically tough to capture, but one app can make it a lot easier.
Glow in the dark compass
This might be a bit of overkill, but it’s a lot easier to read your compass when the dials are glow in the dark. Plus they’re easy to find and pretty affordable, so it’s not a huge investment.
Backup batteries and portable charger
While this should be on your packing list for any hike, it’s extra important for nighttime. Spare battery packs and phone chargers are a must-have when hiking the trails at night.
Lighters or matches
You don’t often set up a campfire during a day hike, but if things go wrong during a night hike, you’ll need to build a fire to stay warm and illuminate your surroundings. Lighters and matches are therefore something you need to pack without fail.
Hiking at night: destinations
Those who hike in the day are often walking for a payoff, like a beautiful summit view or breathtaking waterfall. The ambitions of a night hike are a little different. Because it’s dark, the payoff is often the stars right above your head or the animals nestled in the trees beside you. For that reason, there aren’t any particular trails that are better for night hiking, but rather groups of destinations that geared towards the nighttime elements.
Dark sky parks
The International Dark Sky Association’s parks are considered to be some of the ultimate night hiking destinations found all over the world. From the United States to Hungary, these parks are specially designed for observing the night sky without light pollution. So if you’re looking for a place to go on a night hike, these parks are likely your best bet.
National parks across the world are another excellent night hiking resource. Because these parks are often well maintained, isolated, and manned 24-7, they’re a beautiful and safe option for hiking at night. Some even offer guided nighttime stargazing tours, which is an excellent starting point for anyone interested in trying this unique hobby with the security and comfort of a professional guide.
Meteor shows or celestial events
It isn’t hard to believe that there is an entire community of people in the world that have fallen in love with the nighttime sky and its beauty. Dozens of events pop up across the globe, all following natural phenomena such as meteor showers, eclipses, or other celestial events. Keeping up to date with these events can lead you to some night hiking destinations filled with like-minded individuals.
To hike at night safely, joining a hiking club isn’t a bad idea. Often these groups will help you discover great destinations while learning and meeting new people. If you visit your local hiking or sporting good store, you should find a group you can join very easily and most should offer some type of night hiking excursions.
If you’re ready to pack your gear and hit the trails in the dark, you’re in for some of the most unique and personal experiences with nature ever! Night hiking, while perhaps a little nerve-wracking at first, is a wonderfully magical experience that any outdoorsy person is sure to enjoy. To enjoy the bliss that comes with the darkness just remember to put your safety first and bring the right gear!