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Night Hiking Tips

These night hiking tips are for the insomniac hikers amongst us.

You know who you are!

You're either too exhausted after a long exciting day on the trail to fall asleep, or you're a night owl by nature.

Don't stare at the ceiling of your tent or bedroom.

Go for a night hike, using these how to hike in the dark tips.

The other possibility? You're curious about what hiking in the dark would be like. And for good reason!

Why a night hike is recommended

There are two big reasons why hiking in the dark is something I highly recommend:

  • expansion of your customary outdoors mindset, and
  • connection to other people.

If you have never settled onto your back and let out a huge sigh of contentment as you gazed up at the stars and moon, you've deprived yourself of something beyond description.

Perhaps you haven't realized how we are losing the dark. This video with that exact title will open your eyes (yes, a pun).

And it's not just the night sky that is mind blowing.

It's amazing how your night vision kicks in and you can navigate without your binocular color vision.

  • Thank the plentiful rods in your eyes for that! They specialize in gray scale vision.
  • Although not as well as other life forms designed for night life.

If you enjoy a night hike with an open view of the sky with other humans, you will experience a connection that again, is beyond description.

Being in the dark together strips away a lot of barriers and separation between us, and unites us in feeling very, very small beneath the night sky.

Hiking in the dark in a group is also an excellent way to build trust and support. It's one of the best ways to unify a hiking group and prepare for a long hiking trip.

Night hiking tips for you

Taking a hike at night is not recommended if you're a beginning hiker.

You need to find your trail rhythm first:

  • Balance
  • Posture
  • Coordination
  • Depth perception
  • Stride
  • Pace

Tip: Find a full moon hike sponsored by a local park, to get a taste of what night hiking is like.

If you've been at this hiking thing for a while and feel comfortable on the trail, give these night hiking tips a try.

Select a well known trail with no hazards.

You want to focus on the night sky, not boulders or water crossings.

  • This is easy if you're base camping in an area and know the trails already.
  • You can also use a map to pick out a likely trail, if your map skills are strong and you understand map scales, symbols and topography.

If you can travel, go to the darkest spots on the map.

Dress in layers and be prepared for moisture (dew) and cold to settle into your bones.

  • And for insects to settle onto your flesh. 
  • Use repellents, rather than sun screen, before you head out.

Establish, and then don't ruin, your night vision.

  • The human eye is not well designed for seeing in the dark, so expect to wait at least 15 - 30 minutes for your vision to adjust to low light conditions.
  • Wear a headlamp with a red light option, and use it sparingly. Check your batteries before heading out so you won't lose a navigational option while hiking in the dark.
  • "Palm" your eyes occasionally, by closing your eyes and bringing your cupped hands up to them in a restful position. Seeing in the dark is hard work!
  • Relax your neck, shoulders and face as you gaze upward.

Use your peripheral vision, rather than looking at something straight on.

  • It's not the rods in your retina this time, it's the cones! They are centrally located and responsible for color vision, and leave no room for night vision rods in one area of your retina. So you have a blind spot at night!
  • Not looking at things straight on takes a bit of getting used to, but you'll quickly get the hang of it.
  • Speaking from personal experience, it's a frustrating but fun challenge for my brain.

A ridgetop hiking trail in the mountainsWhat would this winding trail feel like in the dark?

More tips for hiking at night

Don't rely upon your normal depth perception.

  • You will feel clumsy and uncertain in ways that may alarm you as you feel your way along.
  • Go slowly and trust yourself.
  • If you're with other people, you can elect a leader and hike slowly and cautiously by putting a hand on the shoulder in front of you. 

Make a little noise!

  • Alert the local wildlife of your presence, to avoid surprise encounters.
  • Unfortunately, this will scare off yetis and Big Foot ;)

Avoid panic when Big Foot shows up.

  • If you hear crashing noises, realize that you are in someone's living room.
  • Stand up tall, proud and LOUD. If you carry a whistle, now is a great time to blast it.
  • If you have a big voice, use it.
  • Don't run, because of the danger of tripping and falling.
  • Once your heart rate drops again, realize what a whopper of a good hiking story you have to share!

Take a hike at night
every chance you get

Humans used to sleep under open skies.

Now that we're safely boxed up and have light at our disposal 24/7, we've forgotten what it's like to hike in the dark.

Night hiking can open up a deep understanding of your place in the universe, or at least teach you a new way of relating to a hiking trail.

Use these night hiking tips to dip your toe into the fantastic world of hiking in the dark.

Happy Dark Night Skies!

P.S. Have some night hiking tips to share? Use this box to send them, and I'll post them here.

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And if you have photos of night hikes, or great night hiking tips, please share them here! They will be a great encouragement for other hikers to try night hiking.

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