If you’re trying to stay active during the winter when it gets dark sooner, night hiking may be unavoidable. Night hiking isn’t always intentional — sometimes, your day hike may take longer than you planned, especially if you’re exploring a new trail or get lost along the way. Or maybe, you just prefer hiking at night. By knowing how to handle the trails in the dark, you’ll be prepared for any possible scenario. Read on to learn what you need to enjoy an after-dark trip, including must-have equipment, hiking guidelines and safety tips.
Benefits of Hiking at Night
If you’re already an experienced wayfarer, you probably know what a positive impact hiking can have on your body and mind. Physically, it lowers your risk of heart disease and high blood pressure while helping you maintain bone density, blood sugar levels and manage your weight. It also builds endurance and strengthens your muscles and core.
Mentally, even a casual hike outdoors can have enormous side effects by improving concentration, making it easier to manage stress and anxiety and giving your overall mood a boost. Night hiking offers these same benefits, as well as several others that are unique to after-dark journeys. Those who enjoy hiking at night do so because of the:
- Experience: Sunny hikes are a great way to see all of nature’s wonders on full display — but it’s only half the show. Hiking at night gives you a new perspective on your favorite trail and a sweeping overhead view of the stars and moon. You might even see nocturnal wildlife, like fireflies, owls and night-blooming flowers.
- Peace: Popular trails can see thousands of visitors during the day, which is great for making new friends but not if you’re seeking a peaceful escape. Beat the crowds by sticking to less-popular hours, like in the evening or just before sunrise.
- Challenge: Some hike at night for the same reason they seek more strenuous trails — it’s just the next way to challenge themselves and their abilities. Night hiking requires a slower pace and reliance on more than just your sight to navigate. It lets you center your senses on different stimuli to keep your mind sharp and strengthen your ability to focus.
- Comfort: In summer heat and in desert environments, after-dark hiking is the safest way to journey if you want to avoid extreme temperatures and excessive sun exposure.
Night Hiking Equipment
When you’re planning an after-dark hike, pack your backpack with these night hiking must-haves:
- Lights: Though you want to be careful not to overuse them, flashlights and headlamps or lighted caps are essential. Look for lightweight, compact lights you can easily fit into your pack, like the FLATEYE™ Flat Flashlight from Panther Vision.
- Equipment: Consider bringing some protective gear, like eye protection or a billed hat, to keep you safe from rogue tree branches or plants you may encounter on the trail. If you want more balance and stability, a good pair of trekking poles will take some of the strain off your body and help you stay on the trails longer.
- First-aid: A hiker’s first-aid kit should include insect repellant, bandages, a pocket knife, a whistle, wound disinfectant, sterilizing cloth, a snake bite kit and over-the-counter pain relievers. Depending on where and when you’re hiking, you might also include bear mace and sunscreen.
- Clothes: It will be cooler at night, so wear light layers you can easily remove as you get warmer. Make sure each article of clothing, including your hat and jacket, has reflective elements on it. Invest in a good pair of hiking shoes that fit your feet comfortably without tightness or blistering. If space allows, pack some rain gear, including a poncho or rain jacket and a change of clothes.
- Navigation: A GPS, compass and map will help you find your way back to the trail if you veer off the path. A local field guide book with a plant and animal identification key inside may also come in handy.
- Snacks: Stock your pack with easy-to-eat snacks, like granola, crackers, jerky and trail mix. Don’t forget to bring plenty of clean drinking water and a flask or canteen to keep it accessible.
You’ll also need to bring your camping or backpacking supplies if you’re hiking overnight as a part of a camping trip.
How to Hike at Night
Follow these tips for a successful after-dark hiking adventure:
- Be aware of your surroundings, but don’t let your mind get carried away at every sound you hear. Wildlife activity is normal after dark, especially in areas that get a lot of daytime foot traffic.
- Pack your bag mindfully and keep it organized as you travel to avoid reassembling everything in the dark.
- Time your hike with the full moon for a well-lit path. Another popular hiking plan is to begin your trek in the evening, so you can catch the sunset while you journey before hiking back in the dark. You could also reverse this to catch the sunrise on the way home.
- Only turn on your flashlight and headlamp as necessary, since it takes your pupils 15 minutes to readjust to the dark each time. Your night sight will fully activate after 45 minutes. Always practice flashlight etiquette and never shine it at other hikers, animals or homes.
- Know your gear well and avoid trying new products or techniques during a night hike.
Night Hiking Safety Tips
Here is how to hike safely in the dark:
- Know the path: Stick to a trail you’re already familiar with — or hike your chosen path in the daylight first — so you can anticipate upcoming turns, inclines, dips or drop-offs. Take your route more slowly and use trail markers to guide you.
- Bring a friend: Never go night hiking alone. Instead, bring a friend or a group and let someone at home know where you’re going and when to expect your return.
- Research the risks: Safe hiking means knowing the risks associated with your trail and the local environment. Consult a local guide book to learn more about the animals, plants and natural phenomena you might experience on your hike. If you’re new to the area, research the local crime rate and ask locals how safe the trail is after dark. Check the weather forecast and dress accordingly. Never hike when expecting extreme temperatures or severe weather.
- Know your limits: Stick with trails that match your hiking experience and fitness level to avoid injury and keep a steady pace.
- Carry multiple lights: Never embark on a nighttime hike without multiple lights, including a headlamp or lighted cap and backup batteries. Invest in top-quality tools that provide ample light and don’t take up too much weight in your pack.
Shop and Headlamps at Panther Vision
The team behind Panther Vision are avid outdoor enthusiasts, which enabled us to create innovative, reliable flashlights, headlamps and lighted caps to help you navigate the trails. We manufacture all our products with recyclable materials and keep processes as minimally invasive to our environment as we can. Plus, we back every product with a limited lifetime warranty for quality and performance, so you know you’re getting the best.