Hiking at any time of day requires an understanding that it may pose risks. However, it is how you deal with those risks that is key. But while most hikers indulge in their hobby during the day, many people consider and partake in night hiking, but may wonder if it’s truly safe.
Night hiking is safe, but certain steps must be taken to ensure you can navigate the risks associated with hiking at this time. Also, being aware of potential problems in advance will prove useful, and you will need to bring specific gear, including lights or torches.
But going night hiking isn’t just a case of packing a torch and heading out on the trail. You must, as with anything of this nature, prepare and do your research to ensure you can approach it safely. Below, we will outline everything you need to know about hiking safely at night.
Hiking at night is dangerous, but that’s not to say it’s something to be avoided. Actually, it’s more a case of carrying out some additional planning, and not doing something deemed to be risky or beyond your abilities. By taking the right precautions, night hiking can be very safe.
Night hiking brings out the same dangers that hiking during the day brings, with uneven terrain, wild animals and potentially unfavorable weather being just a few of these. However, when you do anything under low or no light, you are clearly at a disadvantage, and there is also the issue of various animals hunting at night that are not out during the day.
To be honest, you could ask the safety question about hiking in heavy rain, strong winds, or snow if you live in an area where that happens, and the answer would still be the same. Hiking under any set of conditions can be dangerous, but it’s what you do with those dangerous moments that’s key.
I don’t want you to think that hiking at night is impossible. That is certainly not the case. Actually, it is far more accessible than most people realize. It’s all a matter of doing things right, and understanding how to do things safely.
Night hiking is normally legal, regardless of whether or not it is advised. The laws around hiking in general vary from place to place, so before planning your trip it’s best to find out what the laws are like in your area in terms of hiking at night.
The only thing I would like to point out is that some trails in various parks could be closed at night. However, that is more to do with the park and trying to care for the area rather than it being linked to trying to protect the hiker.
So, it’s not illegal to hike at night, but check if the trail you intend to hike is open all hours before you leave. That is the only piece of advice you really require in this instance, aside from checking your local laws. If you do have any concerns, contact local authorities just to double check before you even start planning.
If you live in an area where daytime temperatures soar and it becomes overwhelming, then one major pro of night hiking is you manage to avoid those high temperatures. This can make hiking at night far more comfortable than hiking during the day.
But at the same time, I also need to draw attention to something else regarding the temperature, and that is the way in which it can drop quite dramatically depending on where you live. As soon as dusk falls, the temperature can crash, so you need to have the correct clothing with you to make sure you don’t succumb to the cold.
People tend to prefer to hike during the day. They can see much more than when it’s night and light is either fading, or has gone completely, making day hiking key for most sightseeing.
Hiking at night therefore means you avoid the crowds. I’m not saying you will have a 5-mile-long trail all to yourself. After all, there will be others out there fully aware of the benefits of night hiking. However, you will certainly be able to avoid those crowds.
So, if you prefer some peace and solitude when hiking, then doing so at night could be a lucrative pastime. Plus, depending on where you hike, you might still be able to get some amazing views, either of the sky or perhaps city skylines.
This does sort of roll on from the previous point regarding quiet trails, but hiking at night also heightens your other senses. That is largely due to you interacting with nature at a time, and in conditions that you are not used to.
If you venture onto a trail during the day, you may look up and see blue sky and the sun beating down. Also, you see the scenery around you, and there’s no doubt it’s going to be spectacular.But at night, things change.
The blue sky and sun are gone. Instead, they are replaced by the moon and more stars than you might have ever seen! Your vision changes due to the different light levels, and you pick up on different things even on a trail you are perhaps very used to hiking.
Also, because your sense of sight has had to change due to night, you will suddenly discover your sense of hearing and smell become heightened. It then means you can interact with nature in a different way, and watch as you have a new appreciation for what it has to offer!
The final real pro associated with hiking at night is you do feel less rushed with things, and this is partly due to the very real need to take things slower thanks to being in different conditions.
But not being rushed allows you to really enjoy everything that is around you. Too often we can be guilty of wanting to just complete the hike as if we are ticking it off some sort of list, and that’s just the wrong way to approach hiking. So, hiking at night is a valuable thing simply because it allows you to hike in a different way to what you’re used to.
Due to the reduced visibility, you need to go slower when hiking at night than you normally would. While you may say to yourself that hiking at a slower pace allows you to interact better with nature, it does increase the length of time you spend on the hike itself.
This is entirely due to the need for greater care to be taken over your footing, and also ensuring you remain on the trail. There will naturally be an increase in the risk of tripping and falling, but going slower will manage to counteract that.
But what this also means is you may be required to change your plans and the length of your hike depending on the time you have available. Considering your actual safety is at risk here, it makes sense to take your time to avoid running into potential problems. This just means you’re not likely to be able to cover as much ground as you might on a day hike.
As it’s night, then it makes sense that you will fail to have the exact same view as you would do from a trail during the day. Now, that is certainly a negative, but as I said earlier on, it’s more a case of having a different view when you hike at night.
Also, the wildlife will change when you hike at night, so you won’t even see the same things in that respect. However, you do tend to have more of the rather scary side of wildlife such as various snakes and lizards coming out, along with larger animals that may be out hunting. This poses a very real danger, but it might also just make it unpleasant if you’re not a fan of these creatures!
It is also just easier to get lost when hiking at night. Trying to see those trail markers might be tougher, and you could easily miss a turnoff you were supposed to take simply because of how dark it is.
But while that’s certainly another negative, all that’s required is to plan and to take your time to ensure you do not miss the trail or take a wrong turn. Getting lost is not fun, and you should never go off the trail at any point when hiking at night (also good advice for day hiking). If you do, then you will struggle to find any natural landmarks due to it being dark.
I know that these cons do sound slightly scary and rather inconvenient, but they are problems that do exist so you must be aware of them before you even contemplate hiking in the dark. But if you do still decide to try out night hiking for yourself, there are some dos and don’ts to pay attention to as well, to make your trip as pleasant as possible.
So far, I’ve looked at the pros and cons, but they are nowhere near as important as the things you should do when hiking at night, and also those things you shouldn’t do. This is probably the most important section of the article!
Knowing the things you should do, and those things you should never do, when hiking at night is going to make it easier for you to then avoid the pitfalls.
Planning is the most important thing you need to do when hiking at night, but then any hike should involve an extensive amount of planning from a safety perspective.
However, when hiking during the day, you likely have people around you to help you out if you run into problems. Alternatively, you will have certain natural landmarks to pay attention to, but at night you have often nobody (at least other than your buddy or group), and you cannot see those landmarks.
Planning means knowing the exact route you will be walking. You should know the distance, inclines, any danger areas, and a digital map via an app, or even a printed version.
Also, tell people of your intentions. That way, people can be alerted when something goes wrong simply because you have not returned from your trip at the time you said you would. But this is something you should do with any hike, and not just one at night. So, in this respect, things have not changed too much from what you should be used to doing anyway!
Make sure you bring lights with you when night hiking. This should be in different forms, but a head torch should be the absolute minimum.
Also, make sure you have backup lights as well as battery packs to power them. Check each light is working well before you leave for your hike. You don’t want to get there and discover the light refuses to come on, or it runs out of power half way.
I would also suggest having something that is reflective as well. It helps you stand out should you run into problems, or if you find yourself on a road off the trail or before you get to it, so passing cars can clearly see you.
Not only does going night hiking with another person or multiple people make it safer, but it also means help is at hand if something goes wrong. While it’s not necessarily likely that something will go wrong, any hiker will tell you that it’s so easy to run into problems when you least expect it.
If something goes wrong, like you fall or twist your ankle, the other person can perhaps go off and get a better cell phone signal to call for help. If you are night hiking on your own, then you could be stuck there until someone else comes along, whenever that may be. So, you should ideally always go hiking with another person, or better yet as part of a group.
Night hiking is not the time for you to try out those new boots, or see how warm or how waterproof a certain jacket is. You may encounter enough surprises on your hike without your gear adding to all of this.
I would strongly recommend you only use gear you have used before. That way, there’s no surprises with how it performs, and you also know it is reliable. This will boost your confidence when heading out into terrain that is suddenly less familiar to you.
You should always avoid trying out a brand new trail when night hiking. You have no knowledge of where the trail may be more difficult, or more dangerous, than other sections. While a friend might tell you all about it so you can get a general idea of the trail, you don’t know what the conditions are truly like until you’re actually out hiking.
Trying a new trail at night increases the chances of either falling or getting lost, and you want to reduce the chances of this happening rather than increasing them. For this reason, it’s best to choose a trail you’re already familiar with.
Also, this is not the time where you should decide to venture off a trail and check out what else is going on elsewhere. Just as with a brand new trail, you are asking for trouble by doing this when it’s dark.
Stick to what you know is the path. If you get to a junction where you are unsure as to what is going on, then stop and check your map. Don’t guess your way around at night. It’s better to take a couple of extra minutes looking at the trail map to then go in the right direction, rather than going on a hunch and ending up lost.
Crossing rivers on a trail at night should largely be avoided anyway, but it becomes even more important to not cross them when you have never encountered that river before. It’s all too easy to lose your footing or for it to be deeper and harder to cross than you thought.
Once again, this is all about being sensible in your approach and not taking risks at any point. There are enough potential dangers out there with night hiking without you then adding to them. Avoid any kind of water, be it lakes or rivers, or even streams, as the danger just increases with nightfall.
The wildlife you will encounter in the evening can be completely different to a daytime hike. However, you should still never seek to disrupt any of the wildlife. Instead, do try to become hyperalert to your surroundings. Be aware that wildlife out at night is not used to having bright lights shone on them. It could scare them and disrupt their usual way of doing things.
So, if you do come across wildlife, leave it alone and just get on with your hike.
Don’t Rush Into A Night Hike
Perhaps the most important thing for you to avoid with a night hike is rushing into it. Don’t just get this idea into your head that you will head off to some trail and everything will be fine. You should not just decide you need to night hike. That is when you will become far more likely to run into problems.
Plan out your night hike carefully, and if it comes to the day of the hike and it has been particularly wet, perhaps postpone it until another night. It’s not worth risking landslides or uncertain terrain just because you planned to do it that night!
The first tip is connected to your pack as it should be organized and easy to get to different supplies without the need to tip everything out into the darkness. You should be in a position where you can get that drink or energy bar with ease, and without too much fumbling around.
Know exactly where your first-aid kit is in your pack, or batteries for your torch. If it’s getting cold and you need those gloves, then know how to get to them with ease.
Of course, your pack should be organized no matter the time of day, but it becomes even more important when hiking at night. It’s all too easy to lose things when you take them out of your pack and it’s dark. Staying organized minimizes the chances of this happening.
Another tip is to become a weather expert before you set out. Know what the weather is anticipated to be like for the entire trail, and also the length of time you will be out there.
Know the potential for rain and how the wind may change the temperature. Be aware of any ground frost or ice developing, to then allow you to have the correct equipment ready to be used when facing those particular conditions. Ideally, avoid wet and excessively cold conditions for night hiking, as it just adds unnecessary risk, and it’s usually less enjoyable too!
The temperature changes that can occur during a night hike may be huge, and that’s why I suggest you become familiar with the concept of layering your clothing. That means you will find it easier to change how much you are wearing at any given time to ensure you remain warm, but not uncomfortable.
This becomes even more important with longer hikes, or those that result in some additional effort due to steeper inclines. That can get blood flowing, and result in more energy being used so you feel warmer.
Knowing you have different layers you can adjust depending on the conditions should help to continue to make you feel comfortable, and that can make a huge difference in terms of how enjoyable the hike is.
A night hike will take longer than the same trail during daytime. This is because you will naturally go slower and take more care. That then means you need to carry extra supplies, but I would recommend going one additional step and taking even more on top of what you already think you need.
While you may plan for a night hike to take you two hours, you could get to the trail and discover it’s going to take you closer to three hours to complete. Or, what happens if you stumble and have to take longer because your ankle hurts? Having additional snacks will help keep your energy levels up and maintain those blood sugar levels.
My final tip is to embrace the night instead of fearing it. Yes, you need to be sensible in your approach, and it is more dangerous than a day hike, but it’s not something that is so dangerous that you should never think about doing it.
Instead, relax into your surroundings and take in what is around you. Also remember that it takes time for your eyes to adjust to there being next to no light. However, once they do adjust, it opens up a whole new world to you!
A head torch is absolutely essential. Do pay attention to the batteries required to power it, and I would even recommend going ahead and taking a second head torch with you on your hike. You never know when one can break, and you don’t want to be left out in the dark.
I would also recommend having trekking poles with you when night hiking. This is intended to provide you with a firmer footing, and it also helps your balance. Anything that has the potential for stopping you falling over when hiking is always a good idea.
This is linked to the simple fact it’s naturally harder to be fully aware of your surroundings and what you are walking on when it is dark. Trekking poles may provide additional confidence in what you are stepping on, and they allow you to test terrain before you move forward.
This piece of essential gear may only apply when going for a longer hike in a more remote area, but having an emergency shelter can also be seen as essential. Of course, I hope you never have to use it, but this is one of those items where it’s better to have it and never use it, then to need it and never have it.
An emergency shelter can fold up and take up little space in your pack. It will keep you warm and hopefully out of harm’s way until you either feel better, or people arrive to help you. So even if you think this isn’t really essential, it will certainly make you feel safer when night hiking.
A first-aid kit doesn’t have to include a whole host of medical supplies, but a basic kit for helping cuts, blisters and other minor injuries is something you should have on any hike, and not just a night one.
Once again, it doesn’t have to take up a lot of space, and yet it’s amazing how many hikers fail to take any kind of medical supplies with them on a hike. I cannot stress enough that you never know what could happen, so being prepared for as many eventualities as possible makes perfect sense.
Night hiking is safe if you take the necessary precautions, plan your route, and bring the right gear. While night hiking does have its own dangers, along with the same dangers that day hiking brings, it can be a very rewarding and enjoyable way to enjoy the outdoors.