Whether you're a thrill-seeker or just plan on taking a long trek, hiking at night can be an exhilarating experience.
Being out in the wild and under a blanket of moonlight is a great way to fully connect with nature. It's a feeling of freedom.
But will parks allow you to go hiking at night? Some are perfectly okay with it. In fact, these are the types of trails recommended for night hiking beginners because they're marked and have people nearby. Think more of campgrounds and not smaller state parks, which often have a curfew.
But taking a hike at night isn't as simple as taking a regular day hike. There is a lot of prep work involved.
Prep-work for hiking at night requires extra care and consideration. Be sure to carefully read through this guide on hiking at night so you know how to properly prepare.
Why Go Hiking At Night?
Hiking in the dark is a great way to experience landscapes you've only seen during the day. The nightshade puts an entirely new perspective on the terrain.
Going for a nighttime hike is also a great way to enjoy nature in a way most people never will. A lot of animals come out at night, and it seems like an entirely different atmosphere. It's soothing, relaxing, and a little spooky sometimes (but a "fun" spooky).
Taking a trek at night is also a great way to connect with your fellow hikers and friends. Because most people don't partake in night hiking, there's a sense of a stronger bond between the people who do.
Another benefit of hiking at night is the view you will have, especially on a clear night. You'll be able to see stars that you otherwise wouldn't be able to see with all the nearby city lights.
Regardless of your own personal reasons, be sure you're taking the proper measures before you go out on your hike at night.
Is It Safe To Go Hiking At Night?
Don't let the darkness fool you; hiking in the dark isn't as dangerous as you might think.
Just like any hike, the safety of a night hike is going to come down to how safe the hiker is.
Sure, there are a few other variables like reduced vision and an increase in wildlife activity, but, for the most part, it's going to depend on how well a hiker conducts themselves under the shade of darkness.
For example, a hiker might be used to plowing through trails at a quick pace. This is a terrible idea for hiking at night.
Reduced visibility poses several risks, like tripping, falling, and getting lost. I don't need to tell you how spooky getting lost at night is—I freak out if I get lost driving at night!
It's best to set bravado aside and play it smart. Having said that, yes, it is safe to hike at night, so long as extra measures are being taken to provide a nice, safe adventure.
You'd expect hiking at night to be a fairly quiet experience.
Guess again, fellow hiker!
Most trails harbor nocturnal wildlife. Some trails will sound like a symphony of crickets. The volume and amount of chirping you'll hear at night will blow your mind.
Keep in mind that big cats and bears like to come out at night, too. Though they won't likely pester you. In fact, as with a daytime hike, most animals are going to do everything they can to avoid you.
Still, it's worth reminding you that you should always be observant of your surroundings and watch for any wildlife. Do not engage any of the animals you encounter, and definitely never try to feed any wild animals you see out on the trail.
Another good precaution to take to avoid wildlife is to make sure your food is properly sealed and stored in your pack. Why is it important to keep your food sealed? Well, bears can smell food from about 18 miles away. They'll likely know where you are far before you even see them. So keep that jerky sealed if you're not eating it.
It's not just animals you have to consider during an evening hike, though. Certain dangerous plants like poison oak can be easily brushed into during a night hike. At a distance, you wouldn't know the difference between poison oak and harmless shrubbery.
If you expect to come into contact with plants, be sure to study the plants first and know how to tell the difference between a harmless plant and a poisonous plant.
Even after your eyes have adjusted, your visibility is skewed during a night hike.
It's easy to trip over that rock or buried root when your vision is limited. Take the proper steps to optimize your night vision during an evening hike.
Vision tips for hiking at night:
- Use your peripheral vision: Staring intently into the abyss of the night does very little to help your vision. Using your peripheral vision is a good way to see better in the evening. Rather than focus on the objects directly ahead of you, try "spacing" your vision out a bit. Ironically, spacing out can help bring things into better focus during a dark hike.
- Give your eyes some time: It takes around 45 minutes for your eyes to fully adjust to the darkness. So take your time and let your eyes fully adapt to the lack of light.
- Don't look at lights: This might sound obvious, but it's easy to goof up on this. If you come across a pack of passing hikers, don't look at their headlamps or flashlights. Doing so will send a shock to your eyes and you'll have to readjust your sight again.
- Scan ahead, then back: Depending on how dark your trail is, you might be inclined to keep your vision fixed directly in front of your feet. Instead, scan the trail ahead, then back down to a few feet ahead of you. This will give you little cues (I call them "mental sticky notes") of what's ahead and prepare you to navigate accordingly.
Safety Tips For Night Hiking
When you go for a trek through the darkness, be sure to take the proper planning measures to ensure a safe hike:
- Don't hike alone: hiking alone at night puts you at serious risk of getting lost, injured, or something worse. Your vision will be reduced. If you end up incapacitated due to improper footing, you may be in serious danger. Always bring along a couple of other hikers for your evening hike.
- Take it slow: don't feel the need to complete your hike quickly. This is a recipe for injury. Pace yourself and always watch your footing. Take extra care when navigating trickier terrain. Remember: it's a hike, not a marathon.
- Hike under a full moon: the full moon will bask the landscape in soft, ambient light. This is perfect for hiking at night. It's just enough light to see where you're going for a short distance. Moonlight also helps you identify landmarks in the evening.
- Tell someone: just like day hiking, you should let friends and family know you're going hiking at night. Make sure to tell them the exact area you'll be in and how long you expect to be out.
- Layer up clothing: depending on the elevation and your location, some trails that are normally warm throughout the day can get bone-chilling at night. Trying to navigate the darkness while your teeth clatter together is no fun. Make sure to bring layers of clothing to keep you warm. Remember: it's easier to remove layers than it is to try and find warm shelter.
- Start with a trail you know: the nighttime isn't always the right time, especially if you're hiking a new trail. It's best to stick with a trail you're very familiar with and have completed several hikes on already. This will help your sense of direction if you do happen to get turned around and lost for a minute. Getting through a night hike on a new trail spells disaster. You won't know where you're going, and you won't know where you are if you get lost.
- Don't engage wildlife: isolated trails are crawling with nocturnal animals. It's not likely you'll come across any, but your chances are often greater in the evening. Stay clear of wild animals and don't attempt to feed them or engage them.
- Watch for plants: poison oak and other dangerous plants are difficult to tell apart from harmless plants in the nighttime. If you expect to go through any brush, study the plant first and make sure it's safe.
- Practice good headlamp etiquette: If you're coming upon fellow hikers, turn your headlight off as you pass. Yes, you'll have to slow down because your visibility will be reduced, but it's incredibly aggravating to have your adapted night vision ruined within a second. Likewise, don't flash your headlight or headlamp at anyone in your hiking group. If you need to face each other to talk, turn your lights off.
- Don't take flash pictures of animals: Unless you're planning on waiting minutes for an incredibly slow shutter to take that perfect night shot of an owl, don't take pictures of animals at night with flash photography. For owls, sudden flashes of light can cause temporary blindness for up to 30 seconds. Not only is this going to freak out the animal, but it's also going to agitate it. What's more, the flash from a camera or phone is going to screw up your and your hiking group's adjusted night vision.
How To Prepare For Hiking At Night
Taking a hike at night isn't as simple as adding a flashlight to your regular hiking gear.
Limited vision brings several challenges that require proper planning. Make sure you get your packing done right. Unlike a day hike, forgetting something for a hike in the dark is very difficult to deal with.
Pack your essentials, plus your gear that is specific to hiking at night.
What Gear To Bring For Night Hiking?
- Go for red light: If you're looking for a flashlight or headlight for hiking at night, pick one that has a red light setting and a white light setting. Our eyes are naturally less sensitive to red light, thus your eyes will adapt a lot better to it. Be sure you know how to properly operate your red light settings before you go hiking at night. For versatility, I go with this headlamp on Amazon. It has several options and the lifespan is longer than most. It's also waterproof, which is a nice plus!
If you want to bring a flashlight, I personally use this adjustable flashlight. It has options for red light, and the coverage is amazing!
- Extra batteries: Always bring extra batteries for headlights and flashlights. Even if you just popped a new pair of batteries into your device, someone in your party might have a light that goes out, which leaves your night hiking group slightly handicapped.
- Bring water + snacks: Not a night owl? No matter. You're still going to be burning up energy through the evening. Make sure to bring your hiking snacks and the right amount of water when you go hiking at night.
What Clothes To Wear For Night Hiking?
The darkness doesn't require any special type of clothing. Actually, it's a nice break from UV rays.
However, you should still plan accordingly as temperatures can drastically drop in the evening.
Be sure to layer up with warm clothes. Even during the summertime, it can get surprisingly chilly at night. And you definitely don't want to freeze on a trail, needing to wait for sunrise to thaw out.
- Layer up with warm clothes: Temps may come crashing down under the moon. Bring warm clothes.
- Wear the right hiking pants: Just like any hiking trip, make sure you're wearing pants specifically made for the outdoors. Though you don't really need any high UPF-rated trousers in the evening, they're still better than wearing jeans or any other materials that are poor for hiking.
- Wear gaiters: It blows my mind how many people don't mention gaiters when they talk about night hikes. Ticks are just as, if not more, active in the evening as they are during the day. And they especially like to feed at night. Gaiters also help if you're coming across wet foliage that you won't be able to see in the dark.
Map Out Your Night Hike
This is obvious, but I wouldn't feel right if I didn't mention it.
Map out and plan your hike accordingly. Don't try to "wing it" under the cover of the night just because you're familiar with the trail.
Plan your night hike with your hiking partners and settle on where you'll go and when you will stop to take a break.