If you’ve never tried night hiking, you should! Hiking after dark is completely different than hiking during the day time. The trail is completely new – everything familiar is suddenly gone, the forest sounds completely different, and it is exciting! There are a few things you should know before venturing out at night. Being prepared can make the difference between getting back to the trailhead safely and wandering around in the woods until sunrise.
Hike Somewhere Familiar
If you’re new to hiking at night, pick a trail that you know well for your first foray. Trails are harder to follow at night. Blazes are tougher to spot and the worn earth of the trail is less apparent. Staying in a familiar area will help as your gut will let you know if something is off. That’s not to say that you couldn’t hike somewhere new at night but I wouldn’t recommend it if you don’t have experience.
Lights and batteries
It should be obvious but bring a light and extra batteries (they aren’t that heavy). Even if the forecast calls for a full moon, bring a light source. I prefer a headlamp so I can keep my hands free. Also, your phone doesn’t count. Don’t burn through that battery using it as a flashlight! I recently picked up a new head lamp – the Princeton Tec Remix LED Headlamp. It has a high and low setting for both white and colored (red or green) lights. I went with the red lights as they’re great for preserving your night vision. I like that the Remix starts with the red lights when you turn it on each time – no blinding you on your way to the red light! You can read about the other gear I carry in my Gear List – I’m always updating it as I find new stuff!
Be sure you’re prepared with some extra clothing – especially in the colder months. In Fall and Winter, the sun sinking below the horizon can cause a sharp change in temperature. If you’ve been hiking for a while and have worked up a sweat, you can chill quickly. Remember to pack and extra layer to throw on after dark. I also bring a hat and a buff to put around my neck. They offer a surprising amount of warmth for very little weight.
Everyone needs snacks
Make sure you pack enough food and water. Water is harder to find at night (if you bring a filter) so don’t assume you’ll be able to find a source. Extra snacks are good, especially if it’s cool / cold out. Your body will burn more calories so grab an extra bar for the hike. If you get hungry or thirsty, you won’t be thinking as clearly. Hiking at night requires more focus so you need to keep your body fueled. Besides, who doesn’t love snacks?
Use common sense
Hiking at night doesn’t get you out of the basics. Make sure you tell someone where you’re going, your planned route, when you’re leaving, and when you expect to return. If you’re staying overnight, make note of your expected campsites. If you get lost, stop and have a snack. Assess your situation and make a plan. It’s much harder to retrace your steps in the dark so take that into account. If you’re not sure what to do, stay put – someone will find you.
All of the pictures on this post were taken with my iPhone so apologies for the tough quality… photography isn’t a strong skill of mine. They were taken in the Leadmine Mountain trail system in Sturbridge, Mass. I hike there all the time – you can read about the trails in this post.
Thanks for reading – please add a comment if you have any question or additional advice for hiking at night!