Hiking at night is a real thing, and in this article, I will explain its benefits, the do’s and don’ts, share some tips and prepare you for your next hike… at night.
Some of you may think, why hike at night? Isn’t it dangerous? Is it really fun? The quick answer is: no, it’s not dangerous if you follow my rules and tips, and yes, it can be a real exciting and memorable experience. So, let’s begin and learn how to hike at night.
Know the Benefits of Hiking at Night
When the nighttime comes, most campers, hikers and backpackers prefer to set camp and rest before the next hiking day. However, there are benefits to hiking at night:
- The night sky: During the day, you will probably see the sun (but don’t look at it!) and sometimes a pale moon. However, when you hike at night, the view changes entirely. Hiking in dark places, where there is no light pollution, allows you to enjoy views of our Milky Way galaxy, stars and even meteor showers. And if you plan to hike when the sky is dominated by the full moon, just imagine hiking as the light from the moon guides you. It’s simply magical!
- Cool weather: It’s a known fact that it’s better and more convenient to hike during spring or summer. However it can be extremely hot and even scorching to hike during the day, especially during the summer. Hiking at night allows you to enjoy the trail and scenery after the sun has already set and the temperatures are cooler. You may even say that it’s much safer for your body to hike at night, when the air is cool, than during the hot daytime.
- Being aware of nature and the surroundings: When you hike at night, you have to use all your senses to successfully get by, not just your vision. You use your hearing and smell as well, you are more focused and concentrated. This is because hiking at night is different than hiking during the day, when everything is easily visible. This allows you to be a lot more aware of your surroundings and everything that is happening around you.
- It’s quiet: Because most people prefer to rest and sleep during the night, you can enjoy a peaceful and quiet hike. It will be free of people and urban noise, and all you will hear is nature itself. These are definitely the best hours to connect to Mother Earth.
- It’s not crowded: As stated earlier, because most people don’t hike at night, therefore the trails and routes will be less crowded and most probably empty. This way, it will only be you, the nature and the world at your feet.
Use Your Night Vision
Hiking at night does not mean you have to use the regular flashlight or even a lot of light. It’s actually the opposite. Bright light that comes from flashlights and headlamps are important for emergencies or trail running, but not when it comes to hiking at night.
When you hike during the night, it is best to rely on the natural light, like the light from the full moon (if possible). Using natural light helps you adjust to the surroundings and adapt your eyes to the darkness. You will enjoy hiking more, and even see it better than when you flood the surroundings with a flashlight or headlamp.
So, how can you optimize your vision during the night?
- Adjusting your eyes: It takes the eyes some time to adjust to the night, sometimes up to 45 minutes.
- Using peripheral vision: The human retina consists of two types of photoreceptors: cones and rods. Cones operate when the light level is high, while rods operate when light level is low. The number of the rods is higher in the periphery of the retina. That means that during the night, your vision is much better when you use peripheral vision. So, at night, don’t look straight at a certain object, but rather blankly stare ahead while consciously acknowledging the visible objects under, over and to the sides of your eyes’ looking direction.
- Don’t look straight at the source of light: Looking straight at a source of light during nighttime will affect your night vision and your eyes. If this happens, your eyes will need to re-adjust all over again to the night vision. If you pass by a group of other hikers who use flashlights or headlamps, avoid looking at their light or ask them to turn it off as you walk by, and then quickly pass them.
If you’re interested in learning more about seeing in the dark, here is a helpful video from Vsauce:
Use Flashlights and Headlamps
Previously I said that it’s best not to use a flashlight or a headlamp, and just enjoy the natural light during night hike. However, it is wise to have one of them with you, for a number of purposes: looking at a map, finding an object in the backpack, or when it’s too dark to see and there is not enough natural light.
With that said, I would like to share with you some tips when using a flashlight or headlamp, so here goes:
- Red light: When getting a flashlight for night hiking, make sure it has a setting for red light and not just the standard white light. The red light is known for longer wavelengths. The eyes are less sensitive to them, and your night vision remain intact thanks to the red. Remember to learn how to use the red light settings before you embark on your night hike.
- Shining a light: Please, do not shine the flashlight in someone’s face, even if they are your friends. It’s extremely rude and also impairs the night vision of that person.
- Brightness settings: Another important feature to have in the flashlight is multiple brightness settings. There are flashlights with at least 6 brightness and lighting modes. This means you can choose from high, medium, low, red and blinking modes to cover everything you need, from shining light on a map to brightening the trail ahead of you.
- The right fit: The variety of flashlights to choose from is very high, so get a flashlight that fits your needs and is easy to carry during the hike. When you choose a headlamp, get one that feels comfortable on your head. This means that the headlamp is not bouncing or squeezing the head.
- Know when to turn the light off: When using a flashlight or headlamp, please turn it off when you see or hear other people hiking near or approaching your way. Not only will you act politely, but you will also not impair their own night vision.
Recommended Flashlights and Headlamps for Night Hiking
Now that you know how to use light correctly and what to look for in a flashlight, here are some flashlights and headlamps on Amazon that I strongly recommend to take on your night hike:
Nitecore Thumb 85 Lumens: This flashlight features a red light for reading maps, gazing at stars, navigating and preservation of night vision. It has a built-in USB charger and a rechargeable battery. You can use it for 45 minutes on high mode and up to 22 hours on low mode. There are three brightness levels, it is superlight (less than 1 oz), super bright (85 lumens) and adjustable to more than 120 angle degree.
ThruNite Ti3 EDC Cree: A powerful yet small keychain flashlight that features max 120 lumens and can light to a distance of up to 50 meters. There are 3 modes of light and an extra strobe. Extremely durable, resistant to impact. You can attach it to your keychain, it can be held on a pocket, or you can use the 2-way reverse clip, even on a hat.
Nitecore TIP SS Stainless Steel Edition: Another great keychain flashlight, made of stainless steel. It is one of the brightest keychain flashlights available. It can produce up to 360 lumens, comes with 4 brightness levels and can shine a beam for a distance of up to 74 meters. On mode and a TIP SS mode with an auto-off 30 seconds timer to preserve battery power. A long-lasting 500mAh Li-ion rechargeable battery. Operating power for up to 90 minutes at 150 lumens and more than 46 hours when the flashlight is on lower light modes.
Vekkia Ultra Bright CREE LED Headlamp: Features 5 settings of light, including two red lights (full, low, strobe, full red light, strobe red light). The full light offers 160 lumens and shines the trail in the 262 ft range, allowing you to bypass obstacles and big stones. Adjustable angle of 45 degrees. It’s also lightweight, only 2.6 oz including the batteries.
Foxelli MX20 Headlamp Flashlight: Features white light as well as red light modes, and can shine a beam for up to 165 feet. You can tilt it in 45 degrees and its SOS and strobe mode are crucial and handy in emergency situations. This headlamp is durable and waterproof. It’s also comfortable and lightweight, only 3.2 ounces with batteries. Long-lasting working time (up to 45 hours).
OUTERDO Rechargeable Headlamp: This is a superbright headlamp that features no less than 6 LEDs. You can choose from 8 different light modes that produce up to 12,000 lumens! It can light the road up to 500 meters and can work for 4-9 hours, depending on the light settings. Rechargeable, comes with a USB cable, batteries and charge indicator. Made of aluminum alloy and ABS, durable and waterproof.
There are more recommended flashlights on my blog, feel free to visit my article about this year’s best flashlights.
Bring Appropriate Clothing and Gear
I mentioned flashlights and headlamps, but there are other crucial items you should have with you, especially when hiking at night.
The night hiking gear should be as lightweight as possible. Always make sure that you take only what you really need. A heavy backpack will only slow you down and make the hike more laborious and less enjoyable. Also, packing stuff you don’t need will make it difficult for you to dig for the stuff you do need inside the backpack.
So, with that said, here is the necessary gear for hiking at night:
- Hiking boots/shoes: Depending on the trail and its difficulty, decide if you need hiking boots, or whether you’re better off with running shoes. Hiking boots do a great job protecting your feet from rocks, debris and other obstacles on your path. Hiking boots also protect your ankle from getting twisted or hurt, and are great when the trail is wet, muddy and rocky. I have an extensive article on how to choose hiking boots, you should really check it out.
- Flashlight/headlamp: As I mentioned earlier, they are very useful when it’s too dark to see, or when you need to shine a light on a map or into your backpack. Remember to pack some extra batteries just in case.
- Clothes: It can get cold at night, so you better pack some extra clothes. This can be a fleece or a sweater, pants and basically something with long sleeves.
- Rainwear: If it happens to rain, consider bringing a light jacket or a pocket poncho. Make sure your rainwear is lightweight and reliably protects you from a possible rain.
- Gloves: These can come in handy during a hike in cold weather, as they will keep your hands warm. Gloves also protect your hands from possible cuts and other injuries. There are many gloves on the market, here is an article on choosing the right gloves for you.
- GPS: In case you lose your way in the dark, a GPS can guide back to safety. There are various GPS devices available. The high-quality ones are waterproof, and you can adjust their brightness settings. Other models sometimes feature backlight.
- Compass: A very helpful old-school item. You can navigate by compass whenever the GPS is not working or no signal is available. If you’re not sure which compass to get, here is a complete guide on how to choose a compass.
- First aid kit: Make sure the first aid kit includes at least the following: bandages, tweezers, pads, scissors, tape, antiseptic ointment. Professional kits usually include all these and much more. If you’re a looking for affordable yet versatile first aid kits, please check my list of the best first aid kids.
- Whistle: Helps in case you or your group get lost or separated. Also, if you find yourself in an emergency situation, whistle three times in a row for help.
- Reflective tape: Serves you in case a rescue is needed in the dark.
- Water: It is important to have enough water for everybody, so you won’t get dehydrated.
- Snacks/energy bars: In case you may be a bit hungry or need to boost your energy back, some snacks or energy bars will restore calories to your body.
- Personal items: It goes without saying, but you should also bring your ID, cell phone and some cash. You never know what might happen and where you will be stranded.
Here is a great video that teaches how to pack for night hiking:
Night Hiking Tips
Hiking during the night can be more difficult and challenging than hiking during the day, and not only because it’s dark. For instance, you may encounter animals that come out when the air is cooler and there are fewer people in the vicinity. So here are a few important tips to know when hiking at night:
- Hike during the day: Before you start hiking at night, practice first by hiking during the day. Get familiar with the activity, the trails, how much energy it takes from you, and so on. After you are familiar with the activity of hiking and what it entails, only then try hiking during the night.
- Don’t hike on your own: I have written an article about how to enjoy hiking alone. But when it comes to hiking at night, it is best not to hike solo, especially if you’re not yet experienced. Hiking as a group can be a fun and bonding experience. And should an unexpected emergency occur, there’s always someone to help or call for rescue.
- Full moon: Hiking during a full moon is an amazing experience. In fact, it’s highly crucial that you experience night hiking during the full moon. The scenery becomes amazing, and the trail and surroundings are washed with the moon’s reflective light.
- View of the sunset: Another tip I can give you is to set a goal to see the sunset. Another amazing scenery to experience just before you begin the night hike. Look at it as a morale boost before your hike.
- Wildlife: Research about common animals you may encounter during the night on your trail. Most of the time there won’t be any danger, but be prepared to meet some intriguing wildlife. Look and listen for animals around you. Enjoy the view, but also know to respond if necessary. Also, try not to scare or disrupt them.
- Location: Pick a location that answers your needs and abilities. There are a lot of places to hike during the night. Dark forests are an interesting possibility, with their nocturnal wildlife. Your eyes should quickly adjust to darkness, letting you see memorable sights. Another option is an open area, preferably filled with light-colors, reflective rocks. Such an area is perfect for stargazing and amateur astronomy. You can also hike in county parks and urban areas, but keep in mind that some of them are off the limit during the dark hours, so check ahead.
- Familiar trail: If night hiking is new to you, pick a trail that is familiar to you and that you’ve hiked plenty of times during the day. This way you will avoid unknown obstacles and surprises on the way.
- Stay focused: During the night, you can get lost or make a wrong turn even on a familiar trail that you’ve hiked on many times before. So, it is important to stay focused during the hike and be observant of the trail markers and turns.
- Slow down: It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve hiked a certain trail during the day, hiking at night is more challenging, even on a familiar trail. You may encounter some roots and rocks that are less visible during the night. They can trip and injure you, ruining the whole experience. So, hike at a slower pace than during the daytime. Hiking slowly will allow you to be safer while enjoying the peace and quiet. Also, you will be able to observe things that you may have missed during the day hikes.
- Map: Consider having a map of the terrain, just in case you’re not sure about your next move. You can also download maps from the Internet.
- Learn to navigate by stars: It’s an important skill for a night hiker. Know how to find the North Star or the Southern Cross, and use them to navigate during the night.
- Stay on the trail: Do not venture off the designated trail. There is usually a marked trail, and you should keep on it. This way, you protect both yourself and the natural environment around you.
- Organized backpack: Searching for things in the backpack when it’s dark can be somewhat challenging. So, put important stuff like the water bottle and snacks in places that are easy to access and reach. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, use your flashlight or headlamp.
- Update about your route: It’s important to update someone about your route and plans. It can be a friend or a family member. Let them them about your plans, the route, when you are starting and when you are planning to get back. In case you don’t get back on the time or encounter an emergency, there will be someone to call for help and rescue.
Recommended Trails to Hike at Night
The most beautiful and amazing hiking trails are also the ones who are the most crowded. However, because most people prefer to hike during the day, these spectacular trails will probably be completely empty (or a lot less crowded) during the night.
Here are some amazing and breathtaking trails in USA to hike at night:
- Old Rag Mountain Loop, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia: This is a 10 mile closed loop that features a river. It is a difficult trail, so hike carefully. The hike is not straight up, and there will be a lot of switchbacks. Please hike here only when you are experienced both with the trail and with night hiking. Best times to hike here is from April to October.
- Mirror Lake via Valley Loop, Yosemite National Park, California: This is a 9 mile loop trail that features a lake and is great for every hiker, no matter his or her skill. The scenery is stunningly beautiful. During the early months of summer, you will enjoy observing a great variety of wildflowers. The trail is well marked and is considered to be less crowded than the other trails of the park. It is best to use this trail from March to November.
- Ney Springs and Faery Falls, Shasta-Trinity National Forest, California: An easy 1.3 mile out and back trail. It features a waterfall and is perfect for hikers at any level. The trail is used for hiking, trips, bird watching, and even dogs can walk it.
- Ladybug Peak Trail, Toiyabe National Forest, California: A moderate 19.3 km out and back trail that features stunning wildflowers. Dogs are also allowed, but you must keep them on a leash. There are also camping sites along this trail all the way to its peak.
- Rock Peak Wash to San Tan to Rock Peak Loop, San Tan Mountain Regional Park, Arizona: An easy 20.6 km loop trail that features fabulous scenic views. This trail is great for any hiker at any skill level, and is used for hiking, walking, mountain biking, and nature trips. The trail is open and accessible all year.
To search for more trails by popularity, parks, cities, and countries, please visit AllTrails.
Hiking at night is a tremendous experience, like nothing else. Things look, sound and smell different when the night descends. Everything becomes quieter, as you the hiker become more focused and attuned to your surroundings.
But, just like for any outdoors outing, precaution and safety are required. Make sure you’re not surprised or even endangered by unfamiliar environments. Let someone know where you are heading, know how to navigate, and carry the appropriate gear and clothing.
As long as you are safe and aware of your environment, you will fully enjoy hiking at night. Happy trails!