So, you’ve been hiking for a while and are looking for something a bit different to mix it up a bit; maybe a new trail, or a new location. But what if instead all you need is a new way to view that tired old trail you’ve been hiking for a while? And that’s where night hiking comes in. Night hiking provides additional opportunities to get out into the bush but it also represents additional risks. In this article, we discuss the pros and cons of hiking at night as well as the factors that need to be considered to ensure we do it as safely as possible.
This might seem obvious but the definition can vary. As an overarching statement night hiking is hiking at nighttime however what you see will vary depending on whether you do it just after sunset, in the middle of the night, or just before sunrise. My favourite time is the early morning before sunrise around 5:00am. If you don’t want to get up early hiking from daylight into the night also works really well.
First let us look at the reason(s) for hiking at night. In fact, I can hear many of you thinking to yourselves, ‘why on earth would you?’ Which doesn’t surprise me. The majority of hikers I know, including my wife, aren’t into night hiking. For me it’s just another excuse to do what I love and I take any opportunity I can get to hike at night. In most cases, many of my friends would prefer to be safely sitting in camp eating, drinking and not moving very much. For me night hiking is something I do on average at least once, if not twice or more a month, and it allows me to see the world in a different way, literally, and here’s why:
While there are always good reasons to do something there are also reasons for not doing so. These include:
When hikers first transition to overnight hiking one of their main concerns are ‘things that go bump in the night’. Noises seem to amplify at night time and your imagination can often run wild. In Australia, we have a number of nocturnal animals such as possums and wombats and it’s amazing how much noise they can make. One of the areas where I regularly night hike also has mobs of large kangaroos, some of them very large, and if you don’t realise they’re about it can be a bit disconcerting when you encounter large animals grazing just on the edge of the trail.
I suppose this concern over wild animals at night time is a remnant of our primal instinct to protect ourselves. No matter how far removed from those times we are, that concern still lurks in the back of our minds. Even after years of hiking I still am startled when I come across another hiker at night time as for me it’s just such a rare occurrence.
Like any activity there are always things you can do to improve the experience. The following list contains suggestions that are considered standard practice and if you are new to night hiking, I suggest you stick to them at the start:
If you are an experienced hiker with good skills then here’s a couple of alternate practices that will provide a very different experience. Please note that these fall into the advanced skill set and you need to use your experience and common sense in choosing when, or when not, to use any or all of these:
Most hikers these days will use a headlamp as it has the benefit of lighting up where you are looking. A headlamp also frees up your hands in case you need to grab something or are using trekking poles. I swap between two headlights depending on what I am doing. I don’t carry two lights; instead making my choice before I head out on a hike.
If you only want to have one light, look for one that has multiple features that suits your needs. There is no such thing as a perfect light and there will always be compromises in any choice you make.
These days most of the high end lights have so many features and functions its often hard to remember how to use them all particularly if you don’t use them that often. Whatever you choose, make sure it fits comfortably otherwise you will focus on the discomfort and not what you are doing.
Petzl eLite, my low intensity light choice for when I’m not way finding on an unfamiliar trail
Black Diamond Revolt. I use this light for when I’m hiking on an unfamiliar trail and need to find my way
This guidance is for whenever you are using a headlamp be it around camp or when you are hiking:
Reduce the beam intensity, change to the red setting that most torches have, and or angle the light downwards so you don’t blind your fellow hikers
So next time you head out on that hike that’s lost its gloss because you’ve done it so many times before, consider mixing things up and doing a night hike instead. This may not be a practice you come to love, and you may only ever do it once but give it a try; you never know you may come to love night hiking the way I have.