How to hike safely at night

Every day we are presented with an opportunity, the sun heads over to the other side of the world and thus comes nighttime. Now, for most in the hiking world, this would mean finishing the hike and heading home. But, there are no rules saying hiking is only for daylight hours, when darkness set in an adventure presents itself, this being night hiking. 

In this article we are going to discuss how night hiking will present you with a new challenge, it will allow you to see more and in a different perspective than you may be used to. You are going to be able to connect more with nature. This will also be a self-discovery exercise, and you are going to see how your body (especially eyes and ears) adjust to being in a nighttime setting, finally, you are going to learn when to use torches. 

Why Night Hike?

As nighttime sets in most hikers are either long gone or packing up and starting to head home. But, there are a few reasons you may want to take this golden opportunity to gear up and head out.

1. The Wildlife Comes Out to Play

During the dark hours, the wildlife is very active, throughout your walk you’re going to hear rumbles from the trees, the hoo of the owls to name a few. Before setting off, it is worth researching what you expect to find in your local area. 

2. It’s Beautiful

Looking at the forest you’re going to see it from a completely different perspective, things you never saw before. Also, make plenty of time just to stop and look up at the night sky because you are in for a real treat seeing the sky without city light pollution. 

3. Connect with the Environment

By hiking during darkness, your body is in for a truly great experience. People think with the lack of light comes lack of vision. I am speaking from experience here, your eyes adjust to the darkness, this can take time may be up to 30 minutes to properly adjust but they will. You will be presented with a great vision of shapes, different degrees of darkness and you learn to be guided by moonlight if it is present. Also, you should notice the enhanced use of your ears. At first, you may feel a little paranoid but give it time.  

4. Uninterrupted Freedom

One of my favourite things about hiking at night is the uninterrupted freedom. The chances of bumping into anyone else is very slim. This gives you an opportunity to really enjoy and connect with the environment without being disturbed by others. 

Let’s talk about lighting

So, some may tell you that you will need some high powered torches, the brighter the better. Well, this is just purely wrong. The objective is for your body to adjust to nature, so especially In my case torches are only used when absolutely essential. 

Yes, of course, take lighting with you such as a headlight or a small torch in case of an emergency situation but is used when not really needed this is going reverse your eyes that have adapted to the night vision, when you turn the light off your eyes will have to start the whole process again. 

You should limit the use of your headlamp or torch as much as possible and rely on the natural light of the moon (if present). This will allow your eyes to adapt to the darkness and amplify your night vision so you can better observe the landscape, wildlife and starry skies under natural light.

How to optimize your night vision:

  • Give your eyes time to adjust: It can take up to 30 minutes for your eyes to fully adjust to the darkness.
  • Avoid looking at any light source: It only takes a second of looking at a light source to affect your night vision, and you’ll have to start the adjustment process over. If you are out and see a group of hikers approaching, take action, by either asking them to turn their lights off while they pass you on the trail, or look away as best you can.
  • Use your peripheral vision: The eyes are such a complex and amazing part of the body, for example, the rods in your eyes that are essential for seeing in dim light are more numerous in the periphery of the retina, which means you can actually see better at night by using your peripheral vision that you can during the day. Rather than looking straight at an object, try more of a blank gaze where you are aware of what’s visible above, below and to the outsides of your eyes.

How and when to use a headlight or flashlight?

  • So, at some point you may need to turn on a light source, whether that be for reading a map, you get lost on the route or an emergency situation. Make sure before you turn on a light that you really need to use it, as your eyes are going to revert back as discussed above. 

Let’s have a look at how to select a good light?

1. Try buying a torch with a red light setting. Red lights have lower wavelengths so your eyes will be less sensitive. 

2. Choose a torch with multiple brightness setting; this will be useful for the low light setting to cause minimal damage when the light needs to be used. Also, this gives you longer lasting battery life using these styles of lighting sources. 

  • 3. Get a secure fitting headlamp. Make sure it fits and is comfortable on your head without moving or falling off. 

Night Hiking Tips

  • • For safety reasons, you should never go night hiking alone. Your senses will be heightened, and paranoid will kick in, especially at the start. Also, if there is an emergency, it is better to be in a group rather than on your own. 
  • Leave no trace. The rule all outdoor explorers should know and should adhere. Leave only footprints, take only pictures. If you brought it, then take it home. Protect our lovely countryside. 
  • Head out while it’s still light. This will help your eyes adjust with the natural reduction of daylight and also give you a great view of the sunset if you find the right position. 
  • Start in an area you are very familiar with. This will give you comfort as it won’t feel too different at night. 
  • Select the right location. You can go anywhere, so it depends on your personal preference. Open areas such as moorland, or even the beach are easier to navigate and allow natural light on to the surface easier. But, the forest is far best for nighttime wildlife. 
  • Take it nice and slow. Darkness will make this hike more challenging, even somewhere that you know very well. In darkness, it is easy to miss dangers that may lay in your path.
  • Go when there is a full moon. This will allow you to see how powerful the light from the moon is also vastly reducing the chances of using non-natural light. 
  • Be aware of the wildlife in your area. Luckily in the UK, we do not have a great deal of dangerous wildlife, but there are certain animals that you should be aware of and maybe should be given a wide birth. For example, the wild boar that are increasing in numbers in the UK can be quite aggressive in certain situations. Research aminals where you will be walking, not just so you can enjoy them but also so you can be aware. 
  • Beware of where you light is pointing. As a courtesy to other hiking never shine your light at someone else. The is bad manners, and they also may be trying to adjust there eyes.
  • Turn it off: If you’re using your headlamp or flashlight, and you hear another group of hikers approaching, respect others by turning off your light, so you don’t affect their night vision.
  • Keep your pack organized: You can see how to correctly pack a bag here. It can be harder to find things buried in your pack at night. Stow important items like your water bottle and food in easy-to-reach places so you won’t have to turn on your headlamp.
  • Bring a mobile phone for emergencies: Thankfully, in the UK, We are lucky enough to have reception in the majority of places. 
  • Tell someone where you’re going, and when you’re due back: Day or night, you should let someone know where you’re hiking in case you don’t make it back in the time you expect to. 

What to expect during your first night hike

  • So if you want to read about my first night hike click here. On your first night hike, you are probably going to experience fear and paranoia. This is not something that in the period of time we are used to. We have comforts that our ancestors didnt have. 
  • It’s going to take some time to get used to so, I reccomend to go out for an hour or two on your fist night hike, set a limit to try to reduce your nerves, if you try to do an 8 hour hike first time, fear may stop you from even starting. 
  • Noises, you are going to hear them. Twigs breaking, animals, weird rumblings. and youre not going to know what a lot of them are. Dont worry, most of these are natural sounds that we are not use to hearing. 
  • One big concern would be safety, but let me ask you this; what are the chances of meeting other people (not hikers) on hike miles from civialzation in the middle of night, pritty low ill tell you that. This is not something I even give a second thought to. 
  • Trips and falls, the risk of this depends on where you are going, for example stiking to a hiking trails though a forest the chances are somewhat low, on a rocky moreland the risk increases considerably. This is why I discuss letting your eyes adjust and taking the journey a lot slower that you would during the day. 
  • The most import aspect are connecting with the enviroment around and making sure that you enjoy the trip. I have had so much fun when hiking at night, so much that I preferred it to hiking during daylight hours. 
  • Try it, youll love it. Happy Night Hiking. 

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