Hiking on its own is an exciting and exhilarating endeavor. Why, then, would anyone want to hike in the dark? What could it possibly add that regular hiking doesn’t already offer? Actually, hiking in the dark offers both unique obstacles as well as unique rewards.
Why Hike in the Dark?
There are a few different reasons that you might want to do some night hiking.
- Different Challenges
Hiking, as a sport, is often done by people who enjoy a little bit of a challenge. Sure, you get to see beautiful landscapes, but a lot of the fun of hiking is pushing yourself and seeing just what you are capable of. It is no wonder, then, that people enjoy hiking in the dark. The reduced visibility offers unique challenges that are sure to excite new and advanced hikers alike.
- Specific Goals
Sometimes, you have a specific goal that requires you to hike in the dark. For example, it might be that you want to be the first person in the US to see the sunrise by Hiking Cadillac Mountain. Maybe you want to catch some pictures of a bird migration at sunrise. Maybe you simply want to get dawn photos of a certain landscape or mountain range. There is a whole litany of reasons why you might want to go hiking in the dark.
- Longer Hikes
A lot of longer hikes require that you hike in the dark either at the beginning or at the end. There simply are not enough hours of daylight to complete some hikes. In these cases, you will need to decide whether you want to get an early start or have a late end to your day. We generally recommend getting up early and finishing in the daylight.
Although an incredibly advanced aspect of the sport, mountaineering almost always requires you to begin your hikes in the dark. Mountaineering is when you use a combination of boots, crampons, ice axes, and more, to climb up an entire mountain without the use of a trail. This is often done to some end, such as backcountry skiing, but it can also be done on its own. Almost none of these routes can be completed using only daylight hours.
- Fewer People
If you’re hiking at night, you’re unlikely to see even one other hiker on most trails. It’s simply not something that many people do. This is one of the most awe-inspiring aspects of hiking at night, and it truly makes the entire experience worth it. You get complete immersion with nature, without the distractions of daylight or other people.
- Winter Hikes
A final reason why people might want to hike in the dark is that they are hiking in the winter. In the winter, especially in some areas like Alaska, there are only a few hours of daylight. If you are hiking here, it is unlikely that you will find any worthwhile trail that you can start and finish in the daylight.
Tips for Night Hiking
Use a Headlamp
We have all tried at some point to go on an early morning or late-night hike using only a handheld flashlight. If you’ve tried this, you know just how hard it is to hold a pole and a flashlight at the same time, probably with gloves on. It’s a much better idea to just invest in a hiking headlamp and keep your hands free to worry about the hiking.
Dress for the Occasion
This might seem obvious, but temperatures at night are much colder, especially in mountains. You need to make sure that you are properly equipped not only for the cold conditions at the beginning of your hike but also for the warming conditions as the sun comes up. You don’t want to be stuck with full winter gear and have the day end up being 60 F.
Prepare for Wildlife
Although always a threat, it is far more likely that you will come across wildlife when hiking at night. You need to make sure that you have the proper knowledge and equipment to deal with crossing paths with an animal when you are hiking at night. The last thing you want is to be face to face with a bear and not have bear spray at the ready.
This is a mistake I am guilty of making on more than one occasion. When you start a hike early in the morning, you are going to need much more food than you would if you started it after a hearty breakfast. I don’t recommend relying on a handful of trail mix and a few granola bars. It is a good idea to bring an apple or two, as well as maybe even some quick protein like deli meat (depending on your ability to keep it cool).
Plan Your Route
This should go without saying, but you should plan your entire hike the day before you go. If you have to wake up early in the morning, you’re not going to have the ability to plan your route safely. Spend some time the day before checking conditions, looking at other hikers’ recommendations, and planning your entire course of action (including food, water, etc.).
Bring a Hiking Partner
Although this is something you should always do when hiking, it is especially important when hiking in the dark. With the increased risk of injury when hiking in the dark, it is very important that you have someone with you who can help if you get hurt. In an emergency, this person will be incredibly important in helping you to get out of danger.
Hiking in the dark can be an incredibly rewarding experience. From the isolation it offers to the unique obstacles you will face in the dark, it is truly a unique experience. It allows you to witness and capture incredible moments that almost no one else ever gets to see, such as sunrises from the top of a mountain. As long as you are safe and are prepared with the proper knowledge and gear, hiking at night can be easy and fun.