RESEARCH THE TRAIL AND CONDITIONS
When planning your hike it’s always important to research the trail conditions and forecasted weather. This is even more important if you will be hiking at night time.
If you are new to night hiking, I suggest that you choose a trail that you are familiar with. This will help to build your skills while feeling confident that you won’t get lost. Over time you will build that confidence to the point where you will be able to hike in the dark just about anywhere.
A simple google search is often not accurate enough for checking the weather in popular destinations, but I recommend using apps or websites with more accurate location-specific forecasts for remote areas. A few of my favorites include OpenSummit, Windy, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website.
HIKE WITH OTHER PEOPLE
It’s a fact that you are more likely to get lost and/or hurt hiking at night compared to during daylight hours. With that in mind, it’s a great idea to do any night hiking in a group.
You are far less likely to get lost in a group with multiple people who are keeping track of directions. Also, in case of an emergency (e.g. someone sustaining an injury), there are other people in the group to go and get help.
Hiking with other people is also the safest option when it comes to wildlife encounters… but we will touch more on that in the next section!
WATCH OUT FOR WILDLIFE
A lot of wildlife will sleep during the warm hours of the day and then come out at dusk to feed. Wild animals will typically not be a threat to you, unless you are hiking in bear country and not following recommended precautions.
Both you and wildlife can have decreased range of sight in the dark, so it’s especially important to make noise to let wildlife know you are coming. That way they can move on and you very likely won’t even see them. You can make noise in a lot of ways, but my personal favorite is talking loudly or singing amongst my hiking group, or a loud “heyo” every so often.
Insider tip: reserve the use of ‘hey bear‘ or ‘bearrr‘ for when you actually see a bear. An experienced hiking guide taught me that it’s the safest way to quickly tell the rest of your group there is a bear up ahead. If you call out ‘hey bear‘ all the time it can decrease your sensitivity to hearing that word shouted in an actual dangerous situation.
PACK ENOUGH FOOD AND WATER
It’s easy to fall into the trap of not drinking enough water during the cooler hours of the night. And while it’s true that we need more water during the hotter hours of the day, your body still needs water to keep going at night. Make sure to keep topping up as you would if you were hiking during the day. I like to add Liquid I.V. Electrolytes to my water on hiking trips.
It’s also important to keep eating to keep your body fueled, especially if you are trail running or hiking a strenuous trail. If you eat dinner and still plan to hike for many hours afterwards, you’re probably going to need another snack or two to sustain your energy. Make sure to factor this in when packing for your trip! I really like GoMacro bars for hiking.
Fun fact: There are certain foods that can help increase your night vision over time. Add some sweet potatoes, carrots, mangoes, apricots, and other foods packed with vitamin A into your regular diet and you’ll have an easier time seeing at night time.
DON’T WANDER OFF THE TRAIL
Sticking to the trail is important for all but the most experienced hikers and navigators, and it’s even more important at night. It doesn’t take much to get lost once you step off the trail, and this is exacerbated at night when you cannot see clearly to find your way back on track.
My favorite way to make sure I am staying on trail is by tracking my hike with the Gaia GPS app. This app provides topographic maps where you can follow the trail, track your mileage, and check for water sources. It’s free to download and use but you can only download offline maps if you have the premium membership (great for when you can’t rely on phone service!) Click here to get 20% off your membership.
It’s also a good idea to carry and compass and paper map (and to know how to use them!) Apps are great, but you may find yourself with a dead battery or a damaged phone. There are many great resources that can teach you how to use a topographic map, such as this one.
DO’S AND DON’TS FOR NIGHT HIKING
In summary, the key night hiking tips are:
- Bring adequate lighting such as a headlamp
- Dress for cooler temperatures
- Tell someone your itineary and when you will return
- Consider carrying an emergency satelite beacon
- Hike during a full moon for increased visability
- Adequately research trail conditions and weather
- Hike with other people for increased safety
- Be mindful of wildlife and follow bear safety guidelines
- Pack enough food and water
- Stay on the trail and bring along a compass + map
- As always, follow Leave No Trace Principles
NIGHT HIKING GEAR
This gear guide will cover items specific to night hiking.