Hiking at night can be a game-changer for those who want to escape the sweltering summer heat and experience the great outdoors in a whole new light – or rather, in the absence of it. Picture this: the moon and stars overhead, the cool night breeze on your skin, and the chorus of crickets providing the perfect soundtrack. Sounds dreamy. This guide will explore everything you need to know to make your nocturnal adventures safe and unforgettable.
Night hiking is about to become your new favorite summertime activity! We’ll dive into the ins and outs of planning and preparing for a night hike, essential gear to bring along, and vital tips to ensure your safety and enjoyment. By the end of this article, you’ll have all the know-how to confidently hit the trails when the sun goes down. So, lace up your boots, grab your headlamp, and get ready to embark on an enchanting journey under the starlit sky.
Why Hike at Night?
If you’re scratching your head wondering why someone would hike at night instead of the day time, here a few reasons to show you how awesome it can be!
- Relief from the heat: if you’re visiting a hot summer destination, hiking at night can provide cooler temperatures than what you would encounter on a sunny day. Just remember to bring an extra layer of clothing for when the temperature drops.
- Less people: most hikers won’t venture out after sunset, so you will have most of the trail to yourself!
- It’s beautiful: nighttime hiking will give you a different perspective on the night sky. Let the stars illuminate the way or go hiking during a full moon for a unique and surreal experience.
Planning and Preparing for Your Night Hike
Avoid the Heat
The blazing summertime heat can make daytime hikes quite uncomfortable, if not downright unbearable or even unsafe. That’s where night hiking swoops in as an alternative. When I plan a night hike, I’m mindful of choosing the right time to escape the oppressive heat. I often opt for late evenings or early mornings (when the temperatures are cooler) to enjoy a more pleasant hike beneath the beautiful night sky.
Choose the Right Trail
Navigating in low-light conditions becomes significantly more manageable when you choose a familiar trail that you know well. You’ll be more likely to recognize potential hazards such as ditches and drop-offs, reducing the risk of injury during your hike.
If you want to night hike a trail you aren’t familiar with, research beforehand to make sure the path is obvious and well-marked. Perhaps bring along some sort of GPS tracker to make sure you stay on track at all times.
When selecting the optimal location, experienced hikers will suggest that you pick a hike that’s wide open. It’s especially nice to pick ones that have reflective surfaces like light-colored rocks since the minimal amount of light will illuminate it better. As a bonus, these places will give you a better view of the night sky.
If you’re interested in a night hike at a local park or state park, keep in mind that they often will close after a certain time. Check their hours before heading that way. They may even have certain evenings where they have guided night hikes, which is a fun experience.
Always Prioritize Safety
Planning ahead and being prepared is essential for prioritizing hiking safety and enjoyable experience. Make sure you’re bringing along the right gear and clothing, and that you let someone know where you’re going to be and when to expect you back.
Before embarking on a night hike, I always make it a point to check the weather forecast and ensure I’m prepared for any unexpected changes in weather conditions or temperatures. You should only go night hiking in ideal weather conditions.
Never Go Alone
Night hikes are even more enjoyable when shared with a hiking buddy. Having company not only adds to the fun but also makes it safer to navigate the trails together. Plus, you’ll have someone to share the awe-inspiring views and memorable moments with.
Start with a Full Moon Hike
I like to plan my night hikes during a full moon, as it bathes the trails in abundant natural light and conjures up a truly enchanting ambiance. If you’re new to night hiking, I highly recommend starting with a full moon hike.
You’ll have greater visibility, rely less on your headlamp, and be able to fully appreciate the beauty of star-studded skies and landscapes illuminated by the moon’s silvery glow. Plus, lots of hiking clubs do group night hikes in the summer, so check to see if there’s a local opportunity to go with some new friends.
Essential Gear for Night Hiking
Dress in Layers
Layering up is a lifesaver when you hike at night. Even though you’re trying to escape the heat, temperatures can drop slightly after the setting sun. Expect warm temperatures closer to sunrise and sunset, but know that cooler temperatures will be present throughout the night. Make sure to dress appropriately for the weather and bring extra layers just in case.
I’ve found that wearing reflective clothing and accessories can be a game-changer. It increases your visibility to other hikers and helps avoid any potential accidents.
Lighting For Night Hiking
Good lighting is crucial when hiking at night. A hands-free headlamp with a red light setting can help preserve your natural night vision while keeping your hands free for other tasks. Pack multiple light sources like flashlights and headlamps, and remember to bring extra batteries.
If you’re in the desert, you may consider bringing UV flash lights. This could give you the really cool experience of seeing scorpions that light up under UV light, as well as rocks and minerals that turn bright colors (location dependent).
Tips for Staying Safe and Enjoying Night Hiking
Stay on Trail
I always stick to a designated trail to minimize the chances of getting lost. If you’re hiking in a new area or exploring unfamiliar terrain, research the trail beforehand, and consider bringing a GPS device or a detailed map and compass.
Keep Your Pack Organized
It’s worth noting that locating items in your hiking pack can be more challenging at night. To avoid unnecessary struggles, stow essentials like your water bottle and food in easily accessible spots. This way, you won’t have to turn on your headlamp and disrupt your natural night vision to find what you need. Keeping your pack well-organized will save time and maintain your focus on the trail, ensuring a smoother and more enjoyable night hiking experience.
Watch Out for Wildlife
While most wildlife encounters during your nighttime hikes are likely harmless, you must familiarize yourself with the animals commonly found in the area you’ll be exploring. Most of the time it will be small critters like racoons and opossums, but there’s the possibility of larger animals like mountain lions depending on your location.
Stay vigilant and attuned to your surroundings, listening and watching for any signs of wildlife. This will allow you to appreciate the beauty of these nocturnal animals and help you react appropriately if a situation arises. Knowledge and awareness are vital in ensuring a safe and enjoyable night hike.
Let your Eyes Adjust
When it comes to night hiking, getting your night vision up to par is crucial for navigating trails in the dark. I give my eyes a good 20-30 minutes to adjust to the darkness before heading out, and I focus on using my peripheral vision while avoiding overly bright lights during the hike.
Here are some tips to optimize your night vision:
- Allow time for your eyes to adapt: It can take up to 45 minutes for your eyes to completely adjust to the dark.
- Steer clear of light sources: Even a brief moment of looking at a light source can impact your night vision, forcing you to restart the adjustment process. If you come across other hikers using headlamps or flashlights, kindly request them to turn off their lights as they pass or look away as much as possible.
- Rely on peripheral vision: The rods in your eyes, which help you see in low light, are more abundant in the retina’s periphery. Using your peripheral vision can actually enhance your ability to see at night. Instead of focusing directly on an object, try a more relaxed gaze that takes in the entire visual field, including above, below, and to the sides.
Slow is Smooth, and Smooth is Fast
I’ve learned that keeping a slow and steady pace is key when night hiking. This approach not only helps you safely navigate through obstacles but also lets you fully immerse yourself in the tranquil nighttime atmosphere. The darkness can make familiar trails more challenging, as hidden rocks and roots pose potential hazards. Remember that you may cover ground slower than during the day.
Dinner and a Hike
Starting your night hike from a picnic or camping area adds a delightful twist to the experience. Consider packing a delicious picnic dinner to enjoy during your adventure. You could bring sandwiches, salads, or even a thermos filled with chili or stew to enjoy under the starry skies.
If you can access an established fire pit, why not build a small fire and have a cozy cookout with your hiking buddies? Roasting marshmallows, grilling hot dogs, or cooking up some delicious veggie skewers can be the perfect way to unwind after a night hike.
As the sun sets on our guide, it’s clear that hiking at night offers a refreshing escape from the summer heat and presents an opportunity to experience nature’s beauty in a whole new way. With the proper preparation, gear, and safety measures, your nocturnal adventures can be just as enjoyable and rewarding as their daytime counterparts.
As you venture out into the night, you’ll create lasting memories and deeply connect with the natural world. The tranquility of the nighttime trails, the mesmerizing beauty of the moonlit landscapes, and the exhilaration of conquering new challenges in the dark will surely leave you craving more. So, go ahead and embrace the thrill of hiking at night and add a whole new dimension to your outdoor pursuits!
Is it OK to hike in the dark or evening time?
In most places, it’s actually really great to hike in the dark or evening. Just make sure you’re safe by following these easy tips and tricks, and you’ll have a fantastic time under the stars and moon.
Is it smart to hike at night?
There are definitely ways that it’s not smart to hike at night, but it can generally be quite safe and fun if done correctly. Hike on wide open, well-established trails, bring proper light sources, and dress appropriately for a successful night under the stars.