Night Hiking - Pros, Cons, and Dangers

Introduction

Hiking requires a set of skills and can be very demanding even during the day when there’s enough natural light; hence night hiking isn’t for everyone, especially for novice hikers. However, once they acquire some basic skills and gain enough knowledge about the trail, they will be prepared for some safe hiking at night.

Before going to the pros and cons, take a look at some basic rules for safe night hiking valid for both novice and more experienced backpackers:

  • Know the terrain/area

    Start on a familiar trail. Especially if you don’t have a lot of experience on the trail and/or you’ve never hiked at night, this isn’t the time to pick the hardest trail. It’s much better to start your night hiking on a terrain you know well - just to relieve your stress about the unknown. 
  • Bring a friend

    Hit the trail with a friend for your first a few night hiking trips. This way, you’ll get a double benefit of the hike – a shared experience will make the night hiking less scary and in case of emergency, you and your friend will be able to help each other.
  • Get a flashlight or headlamp

    Never hike without lighting, especially in an area you don’t know well. Even experienced hikers can feel uneasy when hiking in the dark without having a source of light at hand. Additionally, know your lighting well – how many hours it would function without needing new batteries, how bright you need your light to be. Since your eyes will adapt to darkness, you don’t need too bright illumination because this will reset your night vision and you’ll have to start adapting to the darkness again (it usually takes around 30 minutes, however on some occasions, this process can reach up to 45 minutes). Some form of light is needed regardless of the time of year. How much you need depends on where you are and when. Developments in LED lighting have been swift and are continuing. Lights are becoming more powerful, (especially Cree flashlights) and many lights have the option of a flood or spot beam. The extra power means that smaller, lighter headlamps and flashlights can now be used for hiking at night, saving weight in the pack. All but the simplest lights have variable light levels so you can have a very bright light for night hiking or for identifying distant objects and less bright lights for close-up use and longer battery.
  • Get your trekking poles

    You may need extra stability because in the dark even the most experienced hikers can feel off-balance. Trekking poles can be extremely useful when negotiating uneven terrain.
  • Hike on clear nights when the moon is bright

    Take advantage of the moonlight and you won’t go wrong. Hiking under the moon is safer (it’ll illuminate the trail and the woods) and more enjoyable.
Full Moon Glow
Photo by Scott Murdoch

Pros

  • Relief from summertime heat

    It can be really hot in some areas, especially in the summer. As we recommended in our post about summer hiking, night hiking can be a good solution to avoid the heat of the day. Be prepared with some spare clothes, however. Depending on the environment and the season, temperatures can fall really fast. Keep spare clothes near the top of your pack (especially a fleece, jacket or raincoat) where you can get to them without unpacking other gear because it will be difficult and time-consuming looking for the clothes you need in the dark.
  • Quiet Trails

    Finally a chance to be alone with your thoughts and reconnect with yourself. It's something that rarely happens in your daily life full of mundane activities.
  • Connect with nature

    Night hiking can be inspiring and ennobling. Just enjoy the stars in the night sky, breathe fresh air, and immerse in serenity. It’s your time to reconnect with nature. As a bonus, you’ll have a chance to observe the wildlife since a lot of animals are active at night.

Night Hiking Under Stars Northern Lights

Photo by Brodie Vissers

Cons

  • Go slow

    You’ll have to slow down your pace - it’s a natural reaction to slow down when walking at night without seeing your surroundings well. You need to avoid falls and other possible dangers.

Dangers

  • Getting lost

    Stay on the trail and don’t go off-trail for the sole reason of not getting disoriented and lost. Carry a map, a compass, a Cree flashlight (or another lighting), be observant and consider landmarks such as rivers and canyons. Use your navigation correctly and all you’ve learned about the area in the planning stage of your hiking trip.
  • Extreme weather

    Always check the weather forecast before hitting the trail. Especially if you intend to hike in an altitude. Bad weather can ruin your night hiking adventure. Extreme weather can lead to a life-threatening situation. Learn about precautions for weather, conditions, and terrain in your particular area. There are always details and dangers that are specific to the environment you will be hiking in.
  • Dehydration

    It will be dark and cooler and you may not feel any necessity to drink water. It’ll be a mistake if you don’t get enough fluids because you’ll get dehydrated. Try to maintain appropriate hydration and electrolyte balance, and you will have more energy to cope with the challenges of night hiking.
  • Feet problems

    You want to prevent any potentially harmful situation for your feet – from preventing blisters to sprained ankles. You need to wear comfortable hiking footwear because walking at night can be very treacherous. Hence your choice of proper hiking shoes or boots as well as socks is of prime importance.
  • Rivers and streams

    Fording rivers and streams at night can be very dangerous and isn’t recommended unless you know the terrain really well and/or you don’t have any other choice. In the end, only experience can tell you whether it's possible to cross.
  • Wild animals

    Research the potential wildlife. Depending on the environment, you would like to avoid some wild animals. Try to make some noise as you walk to avoid catching unaware any predators on your way. Many wild animals, including bears, are most active around dawn and dusk. Therefore, hiking early or late increases your chances of seeing wildlife, including bears. Like running on trails, hiking at night can be very risky. Bears are often more active after dark, and you’re less likely to see them until it’s too late. If you are in the bear country and choose to hit the trail at night, be sure to make lots of noise. Also, don’t forget to carry a bear spray, just in case. Snakes are among the most feared animals. Snakebites rarely occur above the ankle, so wearing boots and thick socks minimizes the chances of being bitten. Snakes will do everything possible to stay out of your way; the vibrations from your feet are usually enough to send them slithering off before you even see them. Do not walk at night barefoot or in sandals or light shoes without checking the ground first. While walking in the cool of the night can be a way to avoid the heat, it’s not a good way to avoid snakes (so carry with you some source of light).
  • Hunters

    In many areas the late summer and autumn see the backcountry fill up with hunters carrying rifles. Try to make sure they don’t shoot you. Hunting season is not the time to wear camouflage in the wilderness or to walk stealthily at night.

Conclusion

Night hiking can be very rewarding as it brings you closer to nature and allows you to reap some of the benefits nature has to offer you.

However, there are some dangers related to hiking at night as well. Having a map, a compass, and a reliable source of light will help you stay on the trail and not to get lost. Drink enough fluids, avoid encounters with dangerous wildlife and fording rivers, and check the weather forecast to avoid extreme weather.

To sum up, know the dangers, be reasonable, follow some basic rules, and you’ll enjoy night hiking.


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