Humans aren’t nocturnal creatures. We are diurnal creatures, with eyes made for the color vision with a lot of light. But, we are curious beings and, luckily, our senses are flexible and they let us explore nature beyond our initial possibilities. Why not exploring a whole new world which we usually miss while sleeping? Hiking at night is one of the most amazing adventures you can have. It is quite challenging, but with an open, fearless mind and several safety precautions, you can make night hiking an unforgettable experience.
The Benefits of Night Hikes
When you hit a trail at night, you will step out of your comfort zone. But, on the other hand, you’ll be able to see and feel surroundings in a way you might never experience unless you go hiking at night.
Stargazing – Stars and galaxies, for example. With no signs of artificial light impairing your view, you will experience the full brilliance of stars. You can even manage to go night hiking when annual meteor showers or other celestial events are expected.
Sharpening your senses – When you find yourself in the natural darkness, you start relying on other senses besides vision. Smell and hearing become sharpen, so you begin to hear sounds and smell things you can’t detect at the daytime. Eventually, your eyes adjust to the darkness and you start discovering the hidden and unknown side of nature.
Facing your fear – Many people feel uncomfortable or frightened in woods at night. This irrational fear is related to the fact that you can’t easily identify the noises that come from the surroundings. Your own mind becomes your worst enemy and even the smallest rustle in bushes may seem terrifying. When you face your fear, you will appreciate nature more than ever.
Relief from the heat – Night hikes can be more pleasant than day hikes because you avoid the uncomfortable and sometimes unbearable heat during warm, summer days.
Connecting with nature – Though you may think you know and understand nature, you’ll never understand it completely until you experience it in its wholeness. Seeing a hidden side of the world around us helps us to establish a deeper connection with nature.
Watch amazing sunsets and sunrises – Once you see a beautiful sunrise or sunset sky from a mountain summit, you will fall in love with night hiking immediately.
Tips for Safe Night Hikes
Hiking at night can be an amazing experience, but only if you follow some basic rules which will provide you the maximum safety. These tips will make your night hikes safe, comfortable and fun.
Optimize your vision – Your eyes will adapt to the darkness and low-light conditions in 30 to 45 minutes, but it only takes a second of looking at the source of light to reduce your night vision and you’ll have to start the process of adjustment over. Try to use a flashlight only when needed (to check a map for example). If you encounter other hikers with headlamps or flashlights, try not to look at the light, or simply ask them to turn the light off. Turn your own flashlight off when approaching a group of hikers, otherwise, you will impair their night vision which is quite frustrating.
Use your peripheral vision – The rods in our eyes which detect light are grouped in the periphery of the eye retina, so don’t look straight at the object. Use your peripheral, off-center vision.
Choose a proper flashlight or headlamp – Headlamps are very handy and useful. Headlamps are very handy and useful, but keep in mind that the perfect flashlights and headlamps are models with the additional red-light setting. Your eyes are less sensitive to the red light so your night vision will be less affected by looking at the source of red light than looking at the white light. Always bring extra batteries.
Hike under a full moon – Choose a clear night for night hiking adventure. Moonlight is the perfect source of light for night hikes – it will provide enough light to walk your trail safely.
Choose a familiar trail – Our perception is changed at night, so you can be easily disorientated and lost in unfamiliar places. A familiar trail is the safest choice for night hikes, and even if you passed it dozens of time, it still can be a whole new experience when you hit the trail at night. Choosing a familiar trail will minimize the chance of getting lost or injured.
Hike in groups – Never go solo on a night hiking. An unexpected situation is much easier to deal with when you’re surrounded by a group of friends or experienced hikers.
Learn about wildlife – Some animals are active only at night, so you’ll probably hear some unfamiliar noises or spot some unknown silhouettes in the dark. These nocturnal animals are mainly harmless to humans and even certain predatory species are afraid of humans and their noise, but it is recommended to do a research on wildlife common in the area you’re heading to. This way you won’t be surprised and you’ll be able to respond properly if necessary.
Slow down – No need to hurry and no need trying to reach your day hike tempo. Move slowly and cautiously to avoid any trips, falls, and injuries.
Organize your backpack – It’s difficult to find stuff in a backpack in the dark. Put the items you may need (map, water, food, batteries) in easy-to-reach places so you can find them not using a flashlight.
Bring warm clothes – Night air can be fresh and cold, especially in mountains. Dress properly (in layers) and always bring extra shirts – when the one you’re wearing gets sweaty and wet, change it.
And last, but not least – enjoy your night hike!