If you like hiking but have only done it during the day, consider a night hike as a nice way to change things up. Whether you’re an experienced hiker or a novice, you can navigate a night hike if you take some things into consideration.
Night hiking is an excellent option for several reasons. Why?
- Ideal during summer. During hot months, there’s no need to worry about sun exposure.
- True solitude: If you like being alone, you’re unlikely to run into other people.
- Communing with nature: There are varieties of wildlife around at night that aren’t around during the day.
However, there are also some potential drawbacks you should consider before you go.
- Increased difficulty: If you have any physical limitations or night vision problems, hiking at night may not be for you. It’s harder to keep your footing in the dark.
- Wildlife: Depending on your area, you may encounter larger nocturnal predators like mountain lions, wolves, various types of bears, and coyotes. While usually, these animals leave humans alone, they can also be dangerous as they’re hunting for food.
- Bugs: Mosquitoes generally attack the most in the evening and night hours. If you’re someone who tends to be a mosquito target, this could make a night hike an itchy experience.
Moreover, with some preparation, even people who have reservations about night hiking can do one successfully. Here are some things to do in advance.
Pick a Buddy
Like swimming, hiking in the wilderness shouldn’t be done alone. While you may be an experienced hiker, emergencies happen—they wouldn’t be emergencies if they were predictable. You could slip on rocks and break your ankle or get a gash.
Take a friend with you. It’s also better for safety against wild animals or criminals to have someone with you.
Pack an emergency first aid kit. A small one for a shorter hike that’s not too far into the wilderness can include:
- Antiseptic wipes (A few will do)
- Gauze to stop bleeding
- Elastic tape in case of a sprain
- A few bandages of various sizes, plus a couple of butterfly bandages. These hold larger wounds together.
- Tweezers in case of splinters
- Benadryl in case you encounter something you’re allergic to (Liquid works fastest)
Choose a Trail
The trail you choose shouldn’t be too difficult or steep. Aim for an easier hike for the first time, perhaps choosing a path you’ve taken in the daytime.
When you go, make sure to park your car in a legal space. Some wilderness areas require permits. You may be able to purchase one online, or you may have to stop by a ranger station during their business hours to get one.
Check the Weather Report
You definitely don’t want to venture out when a thunderstorm’s about to roll in—besides lightning, there may be flash floods that will put you in danger. Always check the weather report before you head out. And of course, you can use your senses and nature to tell if the weather’s going to change.
Choose the Right Light
If the moon’s full or close to it, you may not need much of extra light, but you should always bring a light source or two with you just in case.
A headlamp is the best choice because it leaves your hands free. Headlamps range in price from a couple of dollars to a couple hundred.
For a headlamp, look for:
- Lumens: The lower the number, the lower the light. For hiking, you want brighter light, so look for one that’s at least 200 lumens.
- Waterproof: This may not be important to you if you never plan on being in the rain or a wet area like a cave, but you might want to consider it.
- Batteries: Make sure it takes a standard battery, like AAA. Read reviews to see how good the battery life is– you don’t want to run out of light before the end of your hike. Some models have a low light indicator. You can also bring spares.
- Different settings: Most headlamps have a few different settings that include one to shine out less light, a focused light mode, a strobe light, and a red light. Some may have a green light instead of red, but it doesn’t offer the same benefit.
- Good fit: We all have different sized heads, so make sure your headlamp fits snugly enough to not fall off yet is not so tight it hurts.
What’s a Red Light?
The red light gives out enough light to see with but won’t make your eyes dilate the way regular light does. Therefore your eyes will stay adjusted for the dark. This is the light used most by hunters and the military.
You may also want to carry a small flashlight with you in case something happens to the headlamp, or you need extra light to look at something beyond the scope of your headlamp. Look for a flashlight that’s adjustable so you can narrow or widen the beam.
Dress comfortably: If you’re starting out at sunset, remember it’ll cool off considerably after the sun disappears. It’s usually better to wear some light pants instead of shorts that will protect your legs from mosquitoes and sticks.
Remember to wear layers: Wear a T-shirt and put a sweatshirt on over it so you can remove a layer if you get too warm. Add a jacket (lighter for warmer weather, heavier for colder).
Choose the right footwear: Even if you’ve hiked this trail before in running shoes, a night hike is probably the right time to wear your hiking shoes or boots. You’ll want sturdy footing on loose rocks you can’t easily see in the dark.
Wear light-colored or reflective clothing: Put some reflective tape on your backpack. Choose lighter-colored clothing, so it’s easier to find you in case of an emergency.
Hiking Stick or Poles
Taking along hiking sticks or poles is also not a bad idea, especially if you tend to lose your balance more easily. This is especially important if the area has a lot of loose rocks. If your trail’s mostly flat and grassy, you won’t need them.
Gripping these can make your hands tired. Get the collapsible kind so you can store them if you’re tired of holding them or don’t need them for certain areas.
Insect repellent: Make sure to bring one that works for you. Some natural kinds aren’t as effective as the kind that contain DEET, so you may want to test yours in your yard before you depend on it for a longer hike.
Hunting knife: If you’re comfortable handling a knife and it’s legal to do so, you may choose to bring a knife with you. This can be used for self-defense or for cutting away trail overgrowth.
A multi-tool: A tool like a Leatherman comes in handy. It has a small knife, scissors, tweezers, and other handy implements.
Encountering Wild Animals
This is why it’s good to take a buddy with you. Chat and make some noise as you hike. Most animals don’t want to interact with humans and will scatter.
Animals like mountain lions, however, may see you as prey. If you see a mountain lion:
- Command it to go away as if you’re commanding a dog. If you show fear, it will think you’re food.
- Yell at it or just start making big noises. Blow a whistle. This hopefully will startle it into backing off.
- Make yourself as big as possible. Get your buddy behind you and wave your arms and flashlights and shout. If your headlamp or flashlight has a strobe, turn it on.
- Back away slowly. Never run or turn your back, as this will activate the big cat’s prey drive.
- If it attacks, fight back viciously using whatever you can. You may choose to bring a knife with you, if carrying one is allowed in your area.
Surprising a bear can make it react with defensive measures, so if you’re in bear country, really make sure you’re not hiking alone or silently. Also, make sure you’re carrying bear spray within instant reach.
If you encounter a bear, there are different ways to react depending on what it’s doing. Much like encountering a dog, you’ll have to read its body language to figure out the right response. Different types of bears also tend to respond differently. Grizzlies are more aggressive, and black bears usually want to be left alone.
- Bear is far off: Go back the way you came.
- You surprised the bear, and it goes after you instantly: There’s no time to break out the spray. Flop to your stomach and play dead.
- Bear ambles toward you: This can mean it just wants to see what you’re doing because maybe a human has fed it before, or you look interesting. Command it to leave. Prepare your spray and fighting tools.
- Bear huffs, paws the ground, and glares: This is what it does before it charges. It may be too late to back off to safety. Get out your spray and tell it to go away. Like with the mountain lion, don’t sound afraid.
- Bear charges: Whip out your spray and aim it at its head, then press the trigger. Bear spray can work from 10 yards away. Yell at the bear now.
- Bear attacks you: Play dead by flopping to your stomach— you want to protect your vital organs. Lace your fingers together behind your neck with your elbows and legs out— this makes it harder for the bear to flip you onto your back. Usually, if the bear was just defending itself, it will swat a few times and leave you alone after it determines you’re not a threat. For most people, this is a better bet than trying to fight a bear right away.
- Bear continues to attack: Fight back. Use any weapon you can grab. Punch its eyes and snout.
Remember, if you make noise as you hike, you’re much less likely to encounter any of these creatures in the first place.
A night hike is a wonderful way to get in touch with nature as long as you take a few precautions. Never try to push yourself beyond your physical limitations during a night hike, take a buddy, and use common sense, and you’ll be fine.