Come the end of the fall when the days are at their shortest, it can be a struggle to get your hiking fix in as frequently as you’d like. It’s that time of year when we’re in serious danger of succumbing to the lure of the sofa and giving up on anything adventurous in the outdoors – at least on week nights. But with a little planning and some sensible preparation, getting out hiking after dark could be just the adventure you need to not let the winter blues drag you down.
If hiking is new to you, then it’s important to apply all the usual safety precautions that you would on a daylight hike. Being prepared is key and these winter hiking tips can be easily applied to night hiking. Make sure you do a few hikes in daylight before you tackle anything with the loss of one of your senses.
As well as being a bit of a different way to get outside, night hiking is also the ideal opportunity to spy on some nighttime nature and also to experience your local trail without the noise and distractions of other people. So don’t put those hiking boots away for the winter just yet, but instead get out exploring the nocturnal world. These tips for hiking at night will fill you with the confidence you need to safely step out into the unknown.
Clothing and gear for hiking at night
Here are few essentials (on top of your usual hiking setup) that you will need to take and wear on a night hike:
01Headlamp and spare batteries
Having a flashlight is essential for night hiking. But having a headlamp is even better. It can live on your head for the duration of the hike, even when it’s not on, and frees up your hands for more important things, like keeping balance. Make sure you bring spare batteries and remember to turn the light off or away when you are talking to people – no-one likes being dazzled by a blinding beam!
02Use a GPS
Finding your way after getting lost when hiking can be tricky at the best of times. But in the dark it can be potentially impossible. Learning to navigate without the help of landmarks or obvious way-markers is an advanced hiking skill that can take a long time to master. Having a GPS will minimise the chances of getting lost in the first place and will seriously help you get back on track if you do go wandering off route.
03Layer your clothing
Needless to say, the temperatures at night will be lower than you are used to hiking in, so make sure you carry some spare clothing in your pack and wear layers that can be easily adjusted to the temperature.
04Take hot drinks and high energy food
If things are on the chilly side, then having a hot chocolate or soup to warm you up will be hugely welcome when you take a rest. Additionally, eating is a great way to keep warm, so keep snacking on high energy food as you hike.
05Wear boots with good ankle support
Even if you have a good flash light you won’t be able to see everything under foot all of the time. So make sure your hiking boots provide good ankle support to protect you if you do end up stepping down that hidden rabbit hole! It is equally likely that you will unknowingly step in some mud, a puddle or a bog. Boots that are waterproof are a must to keep your toes from getting soggy and cold.
06Wear reflective clothing
If you have a jacket with reflective strips on it, then wear it. It will make you much easier to spot with a flashlight if you become split from your group. Alternatively, a couple of reflective wrist and ankle bands are highly effective, light and low cost.
Planning a route for night hiking
The potential for getting lost when hiking at night is much greater than in daylight. So when planning your first couple of routes, try to make things as easy for yourself as possible. Consider the following when planning your route:
07Choose a familiar trail
This will minimise the chances of getting lost and if you do lose your way, then you will be much more familiar with the subtle landmarks on the trail. It will also give you a better idea of how long the hike will take. Everything will happen more slowly in the dark so a short familiar route will be perfect.
08Avoid difficult terrain
River crossings, cliff edges, ridges and other difficult hiking features should be avoided unless you are highly experienced. Although super exciting and fun, the risk of things going awry are greatly heightened in the dark. Best to stick to more simple trails.
09Choose a route with obvious landmarks
Of all the usual routes that you do regularly, pick the one with most amount of obvious landmarks. Things like distinctive hill shapes, unusual rock formations, isolated buildings, bridges, really tall trees, cliff faces etc. Then try to identify some of them on your map before you go so that you have a point of reference.
10Hike a hill
If the worst should happen and you get hopelessly lost, it can be helpful if you are hiking a route that starts at the bottom of a hill. It will give you an immediate point of reference for the general direction in which you need to go to get back to start – downhill!
11Avoid highly forested areas
Unless you like the spookiness of being in the woods at night, then it might be best not to spend too much time hiking through the forest. Being amongst the trees will also prevent the natural light of the moon from showing you the way.
12Choose a trail near a city
Much of the appeal of hiking is the reward of great views and vast vistas when you reach the summit. Obviously this will be missing from your night hike. So if this is important to you then hike near to a town or city and admire the twinkling lights from afar, smug that you are nicely removed from its chaos!
13Choose a route where there is known wildlife to be spotted
The wilder you go the better when it comes to spotting wildlife at night. But a little research into the best places to go to get a glimpse of nocturnal activity will heighten your chances of a rare wildlife treat.
14Check for wildlife warnings
Be sure to avoid areas where there are warnings of dangerous animals. They will be actively out and about at night and you will be on their territory. So don’t trespass at all costs. If you are hiking in an area of conservation then there may also be nighttime restrictions for nesting or breeding etc. Check up before you go.
Get the best out of your night hike
Planning an interesting and appropriate route is key to your enjoyment of hiking in the dark. But there are also a few other things you can do to make sure you get the best out of your nighttime adventure:
15Plan to go on a clear night
As all hikers will know, the weather is a law unto itself and can change at the drop of a hat – be prepared for that! It helps to keep a close eye on the forecast before you go, then choose a window where the chances are high of it staying fine. This will greatly increase your enjoyment of the night skies in all their glory. Better still, plan your hike on a full moon and you won’t need to waste your torch batteries.
16Hike in a group
Make an event of it with a group of friends. There will be sections of the hike where there won’t be much to look at to keep you occupied, so having a bunch of people to chat with along the way can be the perfect distraction. Plus, having people around will make the more nervous members of the group feel a little more at ease in the dark.
If you choose to hike in a group, make sure you stay together at all times. If there are a lot of you, then it might be a good idea to enforce a buddy system so that everyone has at least one other person to be responsible for.
18Start at sunset
Not only will you have some gorgeous lighting to enjoy for the first part of the hike, starting at sunset will also enable you to become accustomed to the dark more easily as the sun goes down.
19Take the time to pause and listen to nature
One of the best parts of hiking at night is the fact that you don’t have to share the wilderness with hoards of people. It’s your chance to totally appreciate the subtle noises of your wild surroundings, so make sure you take the time to stop and enjoy it. Put some layers on, sit down, be still and stay as quiet as possible. Who knows what you may see and hear!
With good planning and preparation, there’s no reason why hiking at night can’t be as fun and enjoyable as hiking during the day, and it’s a great way to exercise outdoors once the dark evenings set in. Take the kids along for short hike and do a nighttime scavenger hunt, or get out with some friends on Halloween to ‘enjoy’ what the forest at night has in store for you.
However you enjoy hiking at night, make sure you do it safely and sensibly and have loads of fun in the process.