Night hiking requires you to alter what you might normally pack on a day hike. Not drastically, but alter nonetheless. The additional items you need are important to a safe and successful night hike so pay attention to this gear list for what to bring on a night hike. Some are crucial to any hike, some important for night hikes, while others are merely suggestions and purely optional.
What to bring on a night hike
In this section I’ll go over some items you may want to add to enhance your night hiking experience and others that I think are going to be crucial to a safe and successful night hike. In addition, you’ll also see some basic hiking essentials such as plenty of water, food and snacks, and the right clothing and footwear.
1. A quality headlamp
One of the most important items to pack on a night hike in my opinion. You may be tempted to just leave it on for the duration of the hike, but you need to minimize the use of the headlamp. Your goal should be to let your eyes adjust and just use what natural light the moon and stars provide. Flip the headlamp on when you need it, flip it back off when you don’t.
There are many options out there for headlamps but I recommend you don’t skimp on this one and go for the cheapest one. The higher end ones are going to range from $50 – $100 or so and in my opinion are definitely worth the extra money. I made the mistake of buying the cheapest one I could find, it worked ok for one hike but then I started having problems with it.
This headlamp from Coast on Amazon is a great choice. The batteries last up to 64 hours, it has 3 brightness settings, varying distance settings, and a lifetime warranty. In addition it’s lightweight and adjustable for a snug fit and has great reviews on Amazon. Perfect for a night hike.
It also never hurts to have an extra flashlight as well. Something like this mini-tactical flashlight on Amazon would take up very little room in your pack and would be great to have on the off chance that your headlamp stopped working.
2. Protection from predators
This one definitely isn’t a requirement but I felt like it should be added on here after reading a recent article where a runner was attacked by a mountain lion. This guy was actually able to choke the large cat with his bare hands and kill it! I’m not sure many of us could do that though.
Bears are also know to forage at night so it is a possibility that you could cross one’s path, assuming they live in the area where you will be hiking. Typically a bear will not attack a human unless it’s a mother protecting her cubs, but a cougar could very well attack you. As you can see from reading the above article, it does happen.
If you have a concealed carry permit, and you have checked with your park office and double checked state laws regarding carrying a firearm in the specific area you are planning your night hike then it is an option. Personally, I would feel very safe with this tactical knife.
3. Night vision binoculars
This is definitely not a requirement and more of a luxury item. I think it’s an item you might want to strongly consider. You could use them for stargazing or finding that Barred Owl you keep hearing nearby.
Here’s one of the most popular pairs of night vision binoculars on Amazon.
4. Low light binoculars
The low light options are going to be your least expensive and are meant to be used in semi-dark conditions. Sure they will improve your vision somewhat at night but it’s not going to allow you to see everything perfectly.
Here’s an example of a popular pair of low light binoculars on Amazon. These will work good for just before sunset or possibly even if it’s a full moon. To be honest though they probably aren’t a great choice for pitch black.
5. Infrared Binoculars
Infrared is another option for night vision binoculars. These aren’t just made to be used in semi-darkness either. With these infrared binoculars from Amazon, you can see in pitch black darkness, record audio, video, and snap pictures. They only zoom up to 2x so don’t expect to see too far with them, but do expect to see very well in the darkness.
6. Thermal Imaging Binoculars
Now this option is the best you can get, and are also insanely expensive. I thought I would add them to the list anyway just so you can see what a pair of thermal night vision binoculars look like. That price probably made your jaw drop. With these you see an object from up to 2,000 yards away. The picture should be sharp down to the tiniest details and in pure darkness.
7. Fire starter
This is more of a just in case. My reasons for adding this are simple. If you were to somehow lose your way and be lost in the woods on a chilly night, you’ll need a way to make a fire. On top of this a fire starter like this one, or simply a bic lighter are both very cheap and small. They will take up virtually no room in your pack and it’s just something that’s nice to have.
8. Sleeping bag
This one is totally optional and being overly cautious. The chances of needing it are about as high as needing the fire starter.. slim to none. In that off chance though that you get lost and have to make camp, it sure would be nice to have something to sleep on.
When you think sleeping bags for backpacking you think of these huge rolled up things on the top of your pack that take up a ton of room. They make ultralight sleeping bags now that fit in the palm of your hand, like this lightweight sleeping bag that you can get on Amazon for pretty cheap.
9. Reflective or glowing bracelets
This is a cool idea for keeping track of your hiking buddies, especially in larger groups. Think about it, it’s dark, hard to keep track or everyone. If everyone had a glowing bracelet of some type it would be so much easier to stay in a group, and not lose anyone.
Some light-up bracelets would be absolutely perfect for a night hike.
10. A good backpack
Just like any other hike you’ll need a good backpack to keep your stuff in. On a night hike you’ll probably want something lightweight, one of the packs on this list of lightweight daypacks would would great.
I am personally using an Osprey backpack for my day hikes lately (would work fine for a night hike though). It has a ton of storage room and it’s great for a long day hike.
11. Proper footwear
A good pair of hiking shoes are crucial to any hike, night hikes included. I like shoes that protect my feet and keep them dry, so waterproof is preferred though not required. Proper footwear is doubly important on a night hike when the chances of tripping and falling are greatly increased. Here are some of the best hiking shoes for men and women, all are popular choices on Amazon.
12. A light jacket
The temperature is typically cooler at night. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll need a jacket though. Here in Tennessee, in the heat of summer it’s in the lower to mid 80s at night a lot of times. However it may be different at night where you are.
Or maybe you are doing your night hike in the fall when it will actually be pretty chilly at night. In which case you should definitely layer and bring a lightweight jacket. Check your weather forecast and dress appropriately.
13. Water and food
It almost goes without saying to bring plenty of water on any hike. Almost. I can’t emphasize the importance of staying hydrated on a hike. It may be much cooler, a bit less humid, and the sun won’t be blaring so you may not find yourself quite as thirsty as your would on a day hike in the middle of summer.
They say you should drink a liter an hour on a strenuous hike, this is undoubtedly referring to the day time with the sun and the heat. So this is a good metric to go by even though you may find yourself needing less.
Be sure to pack some high energy snacks as well. Some of my favorite snacks for hiking include protein bars, beef jerky, and trail mix. They don’t take up much room in your pack and give you a great energy boost. I’ll sometimes pack a sandwich and sit down on a rock or a log and enjoy it halfway through a hike.
14. Handheld GPS
Not a necessity but definitely nice to have. In many cases a cellphone will do just find if you know that you’ll have a signal on the trail you are going out on. But we all know that data service is spotty out in the wilderness. Having a handheld GPS when on a hike guarantees that you’ll never get lost.
So if you’ve been wanting one anyway then this is the perfect excuse to pull the trigger. The Garmin GPSMAP 64 is one the most popular options on Amazon. Pay a little extra for the Garmin inReach mini and have also have communication with the two way text messaging ability.
15. Trekking poles
Trekking poles are great for hiking at night. They will help you find sure footing when taking steps in the darkness and the added stability could save you from a nasty fall. Check out my article on the best trekking poles for hiking if you want a few extra options. But if you just want to find some great hiking poles then these Foxelli trekking poles on Amazon are well made, perfect for a hike, and won’t break the bank.
16. A loud whistle
A noisemaker of some type could help you in a couple of ways. If you get lost from the rest of your group it could help someone find you. Additionally, if you encounter a predator of some type, like the cougar that runner did in the article I linked to above, a loud noise like that might just be enough to scare them off. Or if I’m not mistaken, that firestarter above has a whistle attached to it so that would kill two birds with one stone.