A night hike is very different from a day hike and you need to prepare differently. You may be a seasoned day hiker but if you’ve never been hiking at night then you should definitely read through all of these tips for hiking at night and consider them carefully.
Tips for hiking at night
1. Don’t hike alone at night
Go with a friend, or better yet, go with a group. With a group of people, you can have one or even two leaders to help keep everybody together so that no one gets lost. One in the front and one in the back, wearing lighter clothing to set themselves apart from the others.
2. Tell someone you are going
Just in that off chance that you lose your way or something goes wrong, someone should know where and when you are going hiking at night.
3. Always night hike on a familiar trail
The dangers of hiking at night are much greater than hiking in the day time. Your visibility is much worse and the chances of getting lost or hurting yourself are much higher. So hike a trail that you already know, don’t do that new trail you’ve been wanting to try for the first time at night.
4. Pack the right gear
Make sure you are thoroughly prepared for a night hike and bring the right hiking gear. A lot of it is going to be the same as what you would typically need on a day hike but there are several items that are going to be essential to a successful night hike. A quality headlamp and maybe some warmer clothing are a couple of examples.
5. Scout your trail out in the day before you night hike it
Even if you’ve hiked this particular trail many times you should still scout it out a few days prior if possible. There could be fallen branches, flooded streams you’ll have to cross, or any number of alterations to the trail that wouldn’t be a big deal in the day time. However at night could mean a broken ankle or worse. Always play it safe.
6. Stick to the trail
Hiking at night is not the right time to venture off the main trail looking for a new path or following a noise you heard. Getting lost in the black of night could be really bad, even with a light. Which brings me to my next tip…
7. Stay illuminated
Bring a proper headlamp and a spare flashlight. Having said that, don’t use them the whole time. You want your eyes to adjust to the darkness and you don’t want to use your light as a crutch, only as an aide when you need it. You can also get glowing/reflective bracelets that may help keep your trail mates visible, I link to some good ones below.
8. Try to go on a full moon
The more natural light you can get the better. You’ll still get to experience the everything that a night hike has to offer but you will be able to see much better without the use of a headlamp or flashlight.
9. Check the weather forecast
Make sure you have good weather for your hike, the last thing you want is for it to start pouring rain. Rocks can be easy to trip on in broad daylight on a hike, imagine if it’s dark. And it’s raining. So make sure you are going to have clear skies.
10. Take an easy trail
Especially if you aren’t an experienced hiker or maybe not in peak physical shape. It doesn’t have to be paved or anything unless you want, but maybe stay away from anything marked moderate or strenuous. Also, be very wary of stairs. I can’t imagine tumbling down a staircase at night on a hiking trail.
11. Head out just before sunset
Starting just before sunset can help your eyes gradually adjust to the darkness. It can take around 45 minutes for your eyes to fully adjust to darkness so this helps to ease you into the dark.
12. Allow your eyes to adjust to the dark
Going back to the previous tip, you need to allow your eyes to adjust to the dark before trying to traverse a semi rough terrain. If you don’t, you risk injuring yourself and possibly even whoever you are hiking with. Think about when you turn your lights off at night in your room and it’s pitch black. Right at first you can’t even see your hand in front of your face, after 30-45 minutes you can see fairly well.
13. Use your peripheral vision
You are going to be relying on your other senses much more when hiking at night so you need to maximize the vision you do have. Your peripheral vision can be very helpful in remaining aware of your surroundings.
14. Take it slow
Don’t be in a hurry, enjoy yourself, and take it all in. Listen to the sounds of the night. Try and pick out animal sounds that you don’t normally hear on day hikes. Trying to rush your way through a hike when it’s completely dark out can result in injury if you aren’t careful.
15. Dress appropriately
The temperature is usually cooler and you may need to wear long pants and a jacket. This will also depend on the time of year. If you are going in the summer, it’s very possible the nights are still pretty warm where you live. Just something to consider, best not to be stuck outside for several hours and be cold.
16. Bring a phone or GPS if you have one
I recommend this for day hikes as well. When you are out in the wilderness and away from civilization you should have a way to make a call. I realize many hiking trails leave cell phone service behind, which is why a handheld GPS with 2 way texting could really save your butt if something unexpected were to happen. See the list below for a recommendation on a good one.
17. Stay close to your group
Whether you are hiking with one friend or a group, stay close together so that no one gets lost. This is why I suggested above to have a leader in the front and another in the back. They will kind of sandwich everyone in and not let anyone get left behind.
18. Walk carefully
As you know, your chances of tripping and falling at night are greatly increased. You can reduce your chances of busting your butt and hurting yourself by walking in a slightly different manner. Lift your feet up a higher on each step and try to bring the straight down. This will keep you from getting your toes caught on rocks, roots, and other things protruding from the trail.
Looking for some night hiking activities?
Dangers of night hiking
Below is a list of some the dangers of hiking at night in order of most to least concerning in my opinion, but not necessarily the most to least dangerous.
1. Tripping and Falling
In my opinion this should be your top concern. Tripping on a root or rock can result in a serious injury in the day time, but at night it can be much worse. Many hiking trails follow along the edges of steep drop offs that if you fell off of could easily result in a very serious injury or even death. So follow all of the tips in this article and even read back over it if you want. Do everything you can to protect yourself from falling.
Wearing proper footwear, taking careful and deliberate steps like I described above, and utilizing some good trekking poles like I linked to are just some of the ways that you can better prepare yourself for a safe night hike where you don’t end up on your face at any point.
2. Getting Lost
This should also be high on your list of things not to do when when hiking at night. Wandering off the trail and getting lost can be catastrophic under the right (or wrong) circumstances. If it’s an easy trail, one that you know very well, or maybe one where you aren’t really going to stray too far from the parking area then this probably won’t be a big concern.
A handheld GPS could remove this concern from your list. Especially if hiking in a large group, it’s probably a good idea for someone to have a GPS. Definitely if you are going a few miles out.
3. Getting smacked in the face by branches
Getting hit in the face by a branch that you didn’t see is pretty common when the visibility is poor. Probably not going to result in any serious injuries but possibly some scratches. If it whacks you just right one of your eyes could be damaged though so still be very careful.
Use your hands (like Frankenstein) when walking if you are unsure, make use of your headlamp any time you need to. Another reason why I highly recommend scouting out your trail that you are doing your night hike on in advance. You’ll find potentials threats like branches that could leave a nasty scratch on your face.
Also consider using a pair of infrared binoculars (also linked above) to stop and scope out your trail as you are walking as their range will be much further than the light from your headlamp or flashlight can reach.
4. The temperature
If you aren’t hiking in the summertime and the temperature is gonna get pretty cold then it could definitely pose a problem if you are dressed accordingly. A 50 degree day can easily become a 30 degree night in some cases, and that can be pretty darn cold when out in it for hours at a time.
Check your weather forecast as you would for any hike. If you decide to go on a night that is going to be cold then layer, wear some wool hiking socks, warm hiking boots or shoes, and bring a warm jacket. Don’t forget your gloves and a hat as well.
5. Nocturnal predators
This one may seem highly unlikely and that’s probably because it is. If you live in a region where there are no mountain lions or bears foraging for food at night then you might be safe. I bet that runner who was attacked by the mountain lion never thought it would happen to him either (link above). Not trying to scare you as this is extremely unlikely, just trying to cover all the bases here.
Stepping on a rattlesnake is also a possibility although also unlikely. Between the hiking shoes, trekking poles, long pants, and headlamp you should be covered.
Who should go night hiking?
Just because you are able to go hiking in the day time doesn’t necessarily mean that you should go hiking at night. As I’ve emphasized over and over in this article hiking at night is a different world. Someone who is elderly, disabled, or otherwise impaired should not attempt a night hike alone and possibly not at all.
Above all just use good judgement and common sense. If a person is obviously unfit and likely to trip and fall walking down their driveway to check the mail then they have no business on a rocky trail where there is a chance of falling literally every 2 feet.
Kids and night hiking
Again, using good judgment, hiking with kids at night can be a very fun and an enriching experience for everyone involved. There are boy scout troops, church youth groups, students, and regular families that do it all the time.
When it comes to kids you can never be too careful so definitely choose an easy, preferably flat trail in a familiar area. The LED bracelets I linked to above would be excellent for keeping track of your kids as you’ll easily be able to see anyone who has fallen or strayed from the path.
Can you bring your dog on a night hike?
Dogs see very well in both the day and night. You may notice their eyes glowing at night nime, this is due to a light-reflecting surface known as the tapetum lucidum, located between the optic nerve and the retina. It allows them to see much better than humans at night and in low light environments.
So we’ve determined that dogs can see very well at night time, but should you take them hiking at night? Again, it’s a judgement call. Personally I’m not so sure I would want to be responsible for a dog and have to hold on to a leash while also being extra careful to not fall walk into a tree. I would have to take into account the dog and his behaviour, the location of the hike, the weather and if it were going to be a full moon, among other factors.
If you have a very well behaved dog and you think he will do fine or has already been on night hikes and done fine, then by all means. Just be safe with your furry friend. Even though he can see better than you, he’s still susceptible damaging his paws on a hike.