The woods at night have long been the realm of psychological terror. From early settlers to the outdoorsmen of today, night is a time for lighting the lantern, stoking the fire and keeping vigil over your camp. However, with proper preparation and knowledge of your area, hiking at night opens the door to new perspectives, beauty, and fun for those bold enough to give it a try. Here are a few tips for getting started.
1. Know Your Area
Flashlights and headlamps go a long way, but nothing is as important as having an intimate knowledge of the place you plan on hiking, especially during your first nocturnal strolls. Knowing an area can be the difference between sticking to your route and blundering around the backwoods until morning. Staking out your path during the day, remembering landmarks and geographical features, and having a set place you plan on turning around — assuming you aren’t hiking a loop — all help insulate you from the biggest danger of hiking at night: getting lost.
It is important to pick terrain that is appropriate to your hiking ability and to the lack of visibility that comes at night. Some places will be naturally lighted by the moon and will remain highly visible, even in the middle of the night. Others will be pitch black and covered in loose rocks and brambles that can trip you and pose risks to your nighttime safety. Keep all this in mind and make sure you have a set route that avoids the worst hazards.
2. Bring Lights
It should go without saying that nighttime hikers need plenty of lights. However, the importance of having multiple flashlights and headlamps cannot be overstated. Waking on a road with a small flashlight to keep you on the pavement is very different from walking through the woods or up a mountain path under similar conditions. Your field of vision will be extremely restricted, with you only being able to see what is in your flashlight beam. Therefore, having a strong flashlight — as well as a headlamp — can go a long way.
Headlamps are particularly helpful in the woods, as they leave your hands free for balance and pushing through difficult terrain. Hiking up a steep ravine, for instance, can become much easier with the use of both hands, illuminated by an LED headlamp.
3. Tell Your Friends
Accidents happen, and this likelihood is higher when you are out in the woods at night. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that you let others know where you are going. If you are leaving others behind at camp, let them know which direction you are heading and about how long you plan on being gone. If possible, try to go in a group. If you are headed out solo, let others back home know where you’re going. In the case that you get lost or hurt in the woods, it is important that people know where to begin looking. This could be the difference between life and death.
While safety and preparation will ensure you come back in one piece, it is equally important to understand the benefits of hiking at night. For those living in the city, the woods at night offer amazing opportunities for stargazing and solitude. Beyond stargazing, though, nights on the peak of a mountain, or beside a still lake, are truly beautiful. Something happens to recognized areas once the sun goes down, and it takes walking through the night to truly understand.
Scott Huntington is a writer from central Pennsylvania. He enjoys working on his home and garden with his wife and 2 kids. Follow him on Twitter @SMHuntington