If you have been on backpacking and hiking trips before, your itinerary probably included exploring during the day and curling up in your sleeping bag in your tent and dozing off just as the sun goes down. Obviously, right? What else are you supposed to do during the night? Well, Night hiking perhaps. If you haven’t ever heard of it before, you sure are missing out on some wonderful things!
Night hiking isn't as dangerous as it is made out to be. In fact, the experience of a night hike is completely different from hiking during the day. The trail that you might have hiked on a dozen times before would seem completely different and new during the night.
Table of Content:
- Why Night Hiking
- Night Hiking Tips to Follow
- Lighting for Hiking at Night
- Tips for Optimizing your Night Vision
- Tips for Using a Flashlight or a Headlamp
- Summing Up
Darkness would hide all of the familiar landmarks and all of the things would seem completely alien to you. When hiking on a dark night, depth perception is all about guessing. But, then it is fun, exciting and, if you are someone who loves to discover new things and are an adventurous soul, night hiking is definitely mad for you. But, before you head out, understand what you are getting into and then prepare for it accordingly.
Why Night Hiking
Most hikers and backpackers often do not consider it safe to hike after dark. This is true and hiking in the dark does have its share of dangers but then there are several reasons as to why you might want to head out.
The Views are Enthralling
Imagine walking with your friends on a beautiful trail with the sky lit up with the moon and the stars. By hiking at night, you would get to gaze at the Milky Way galaxy, look at a meteor streak across the sky and watch shooting stars. These are a few things that of course can never be experienced during the day. If you are someone who lives in the city where finding a star-filled sky is almost impossible, this can be a once in a lifetime experience for you.
It is Cooler During the Night
As is quite obvious, nights are cooler. If you have hiked during the daytime, you would know how hot it can get. The cool air of a night hike can be a welcome experience if you live in a hot region. During the summers, the temperatures can be quite high and this can make travelling quite uncomfortable. In such situations, hiking after the sun has gone down would be the best option.
Nature in a Different Perspective
When you are hiking during the night, all of your other senses seem to heighten because of the lack of sight. This means that all your other senses are attentive to the surroundings especially hearing. This can put you more in tune with your surroundings especially wildlife.
Also, there are lots of the animals in the forest areas that seem to like wandering at night time. It will actually surprise you how much of a difference the absence of the Sun can make to the wildlife of an area. It is literally like stepping into a different world, even if you’ve been on the same trail a million times before during the day.
Watch the Beautiful Sunrise
When you are hiking during the night, you would also get the chance to watch the mesmerizing sunrise. Imagine, hiking in a mountainous area and the sun rising from behind those mountains. That’s going to be once in a lifetime experience.
Night Hiking - Top 11 Tips to Follow
With Night hiking, you get the chance to look at awesome things, listen to new sounds and experience something that you might have never experienced before. But if you want your hike to be fun and exciting, there are a few hiking tips that you need to follow. If you haven’t prepared in advance, your trip can easily go south.
1. Groups are Good
The saying “the more the merrier” is especially true when it comes to night hiking. If there are more people with you, there is a higher chance of you being safe. Good friends would also keep on encouraging you and you can motivate each other in the group.
Also, with more number of people in the group, each one of them would have safety gears, communication devices and such things that you can use if yours doesn’t work.
Travelling with friends is always an exciting affair and hiking during the night simply adds to the fun. Just make sure that your group has the same number of people at the end of the hike that it had at the beginning.
2. The Wildlife is Not a Big Fan of Flash(es)
When you are hiking in the woods or mountainous areas, there’s high chance that you would come across wildlife. It is quite apparent to get excited and attempt to click their picture. And, as it is dark, you would be using flash. Just remember one thing: flash photography doesn’t go down too well with the animals. If something suddenly flashed in their eyes, they might attack, which isn’t something that you would want to happen.
3. Location is the Key
Night hikes can be done just about anywhere. It all depends on what you are after. Dense forests would allow your eyes to adjust to the night better and this way you would be able to spot nocturnal animals. It might seem a bit difficult and scary to walk in the beginning but gradually everything would seem fine.
On the other hand, areas that have reflective surfaces are easier to navigate. This would also give you a better opportunity to gaze at the stars. Hiking in open areas would be the best option for you when you are planning to do this for the first time. This would give you a fair idea as to what to expect.
If you want, you can search for "night hikes near me" if you want to go with a group and/or professional guides.
4. Bring Plenty of Food and Water
Understand the fact that you are going to be walking long distances. Even though it might be the night and the weather might be a bit cooler as compared to the day, you are going to be thirsty. Also, when you are hiking it is essential to remain hydrated. Pack a few snacks like granola bars, chocolates, biscuits etc. At night, you wouldn’t find any shops open. So, it is better to be safe than to be sorry.
5. Everything is Not as it Sounds
It is very hard to tell an animal by its rustle, even more so at night. What may sound like a bear may just be a rabbit or squirrel rummaging for food in the undergrowth. Hikers who have gone night trekking say that the bigger the animal is, the lesser noise it will make. So don’t get out your bear spray at every snap of a twig, but don’t be unaware of your surroundings either.
6. Carry Lots and Lots of Lights...
When you are night hiking, even if it is a full moon night but there is no guarantee if it being so throughout the night. The clouds might cover the moon or you might have to pass through dense forests devoid of moonlight. In such situations, you wouldn’t be able to see as to which direction you are headed towards. Hence, it is essential to carry flashlights and headlights.
Also, remember to carry loads of batteries in case the one you are using runs out of charge. Bringing some tinder and a lighter is also a good idea. You definitely do not want to be stuck in the forest in the middle of the night.
7. Dress for the Weather
Whenever you are hiking, be it the day or the night, it is essential to dress appropriately. Before heading out, check the weather and the approximate temperature of that region. You would want to make sure that you are ready to handle any adverse situations like heavy rainfall. Situations like these would not only ruin your hike but can prove to be dangerous too. Remain prepared and hike safely.
8. Choose a Familiar Trail
Okay, let’s be honest here. Night hiking might seem perfect and extremely thrilling but, it isn’t the time when you would want to travel on trails that you know nothing about. Choose trails that you are familiar with. But, then you might ask what fun is it to travel on trails that you have already seen.
However, seeing things appear completely different than what it seems like during the day is also a great experience. Hence, choose a trail that you have been on before just to be on the safe side.
9. Slow Down Your Walking Pace
When night hiking, you cannot walk at the same pace as you do during the day. Darkness makes navigation more difficult even on trails that you are familiar with. Even stepping on things like rocks or roots might scare you. Therefore, walk slowly and get a feel of the trail. This way you would also be able to enjoy the little things on the way.
10. Be an Organised Packer
As is quite obvious, it does become pretty difficult to search for things in your backpack during the night. It can be a challenge to pull out things from your bag if it is completely disorganized and you do not know where exactly you have kept them.
Keep batteries in the outer pouch so it is easy to find. Also, keep things like food and water in easy-to-reach places so that you wouldn’t have to spend ages in finding them.
11. Know Your Gear
Make sure that you know how to utilize the gear appropriately. Using brand new equipment for night hiking isn’t a good idea. You might not know how to operate it properly and this might turn out to be a problem especially when you need it the most.
Lighting for Hiking at Night
The most common perception that people usually have is that a brighter light is better for the darkness. Of course, bright lights might be essential when there is absolutely no source of natural light. However, the bright white light can ruin your night vision.
Don’t believe it? Try turning the lights off in your room, shut the blinds and try looking around. Your eyes would take some time to adjust to the darkness but it would. Now, turn your flashlight on to see things for some time. Now, turn it off. What do you notice? It becomes rather difficult to see things now as your eyes would take much longer time to adjust.
This phenomenon is called “tunnel vision”, and that is one thing you don’t want when you are night hiking.
Therefore, limit the use of headlamps and flashlights and rely only on the natural light like that of the moon. This way you would definitely have a better experience with your night hiking.
Tips for Optimizing your Night Vision
Follow the below-listed tips to optimize your night vision:
Avoid Looking Directly At Any Light Source:
Never look at a light source directly as this can greatly impact your night vision. You might come across groups of hikers who are using flashlights. Instead of looking directly at the light, focus elsewhere and keep an eye on the light in your peripheral vision.
Give Your Eyes the Time to Adjust:
It might seem pretty difficult towards the beginning but after half an hour or so, your eyes would definitely be adjusted to the dark.
Make Use of Your Peripheral Vision:
In your eyes, there are several rods present that are crucial for seeing things in low-light conditions. This means that when you use your peripheral vision, you can see things better. Instead of trying to look straight at the things, try blank gazing where you know as to what’s visible below, above and to the outside of the eyes.
Tips for Using a Flashlight or a Headlamp
Now, there are going to be times where you would have to use the flashlight. But, won’t it hinder with your night vision? Yes, it will. However, there are a few tips that you can follow when it comes to using a flashlight or headlamp.
1. Look For Flashlights with Various Brightness Setting
With different brightness settings available, you would be able to switch from high to low and vice versa. This would give you better control over how you would like the light to be like.
2. Follow Headlamp Etiquettes
Yes, there does exist something like the headlamp etiquette. It includes things like not shining the headlamp into someone else’s eyes directly. If you do so, it can ruin their night vision for a while. Therefore, work out your headlamp rules beforehand.
3. Choose a Flashlight that has a Red Light Setting
Along with the standard white-light setting, it is good if your flashlight or the headlamp has an additional red-light setting. But, why so? Well, this is because the human eyes are less sensitive to the red light’s longer wavelength and hence your night vision would be less affected by it.
Night hiking is not everyone’s cup of tea, and it's okay if it’s not yours. Try it out a few times, and if nothing, you’ll at least gain some extra skills for normal hikes. Just remember to have loads of fun, enjoy the whole experience, and stay safe.
Going night hiking shows that you are brave, but bravery doesn’t in any way imply that you could just simply skip all of the safety measures. Therefore, do make sure that you have considered all of the safety factors. Once you have done that, head out and be ready to have an experience that you would cherish for a lifetime.