Now that daylight saving time has ended and we start the darkest stretch of the year, there is no better time to try night hiking. After all, most of the year you’d have to stay up past your bedtime to really explore this cool, slightly creepy, and entirely different side of life.
If you’re on the fence and need a little more incentive to walk on the dark side, we came up with 7 solid reasons why you should silence your inner Ichabod and go for a night hike.
1. Star Gazing at its Best
After hiking to an area where you have an uninterrupted view of the stars, you might be amazed by the amount of them that can be seen. In the city, we’re used to straining to see stars at all. Without the light pollution of the city, you’ll be overwhelmed with the majesty of the real night sky that is hovering over our heads every night. When heading out into the darkness, bring along a light blanket to cover the ground for a night picnic. Settle on your back to gaze at the stars and moon. There’s no way you won’t be completely stunned by how much is visible when it’s completely dark.
2. Heightened Senses
One of the best reasons to go hiking in the dark is that you’ll experience being outdoors with heightened senses (except vision, of course). Have you ever noticed at night how smells seem so much stronger? It might be a dinner being prepared or just the smell of fresh, cool nighttime air. It takes about 30 to 45 minutes for your eyes to fully adjust to night vision. When your sense of sight is diminished, the other senses will kick in to help you experience and understand your surroundings.
3. Nocturnal Wildlife
National parks understand that visitors don’t often get to see the best of the park until nighttime. Some parks have ranger-led hikes through parks after dark, so you can see all the animals that are often sleeping during the day. Great horned owls are just one type of animal that is only seen at night. There are plenty of others that you’ll want to see after it’s dark. Not many people are able to say they glimpse the nocturnal animals in the trees. On a night hike, nature changes. You’ll be looking at the same greenery and flowers, but they’ll appear completely different without sunlight.
4. Relief from the Daytime Heat
Okay, so daytime heat might not be an issue for you now, but we’d be remiss not to mention this obvious reason to hike at night. If you live in a warmer climate or during warmer months of the year, getting outside can be a challenge when temperatures are dangerously high. Just switch up your schedule and hit the trails after dark.
5. Be Alone in a Profound Way
We are rarely alone in our daily lives. At work, there’s always someone trying to get our attention. There are family obligations as well as work ones. We’re connected to our phones where people can reach us at a moment’s notice. There’s never time to really be alone with your own thoughts. Hiking in the dark gives you a chance to have profound thoughts and examine your life to a depth you might have never done before. The darkness and a starlit sky can help deep, philosophical questions to arise. Think of it as a chance to reconnect with yourself without all the chaos of daily life.
6. Alone Time with that Special Someone
Not too different from the just-you-by-yourself type of alone time, a night hike is a great opportunity to get away with the one person you want to be alone with. Maybe it’s a date night hike or just time away with your bae to reconnect, taking a stroll in the open-air and experiencing the solitude is a great way to get closer to the ones we love.
7. To Empower Yourself
There is no denying it; the woods can be spooky at night. Fear of darkness is a natural instinct and the scary movies we grew up with played up those fears. By overcoming small challenges like walking in the forest at night, we build confidence that we can handle any situation. Even if dark woods don’t scare you in the least bit, it’s still empowering to own the night. The more we open up to new challenges, slay some fears, and strengthen our belief in ourselves and what we can achieve, the less intimidated we feel by outer influences.
Night Hiking and Safety Tips
It’s important that you take precautions before beginning your hike in the dark as well as things you should do on your hike. Night hike safety should be a top concern whether it’s your first time or your fifth time.
Bring a Headlamp: Even if you plan to walk in the dark all stealth with no light, for safety reasons, it’s a good idea to bring a flashlight or, as we recommend, a headlamp so your hands are free. For the best experience, consider getting a headlamp with a red light mode. The red light preserves your night vision. It can also help with your peripheral vision and it doesn’t spook animals as much.
Pack a Bag: You should have a bag full of gear plus other items. You’ll need water, so you don’t get dehydrated. Snacks full of protein are good for long hikes too. Store important items in pockets to reach them easily without turning on a flashlight.
Pick a Safe Trail: If you’ve never hiked at night, this isn’t the time to pick the hardest trail. Walk an area that isn’t full of steep inclines or rocky places where you could turn an ankle. The place where you hike should be safe after dark too. A local city park might not be the best place to hike alone.
Research Wildlife: While you’re safe at home, research the potential wildlife that you might encounter at night. There will be animals that you’ve never seen during the day, but they might be animals you’ve never seen in person before either. You’ll need to know what to do if you run across a dangerous animal in the dark.
Start Slow: Along with picking a smooth trail in a safe location, you should head out for slow hikes that don’t last for hours. Take 15 minutes or a half hour to see if it’s an experience you want to repeat. You don’t want to travel 2 hours down a trail only to realize that you’re not enjoying the experience at all.
Full Moon: It’s safer to travel by the light of the full moon. It’ll illuminate the trail and the woods themselves without ruining your night vision. You’ll be able to see animals frolicking in the bushes quite easily instead of straining to see them at all.
Bring a Friend: You might want to experience a night hike alone, but for your first few hikes, it makes sense to bring a friend. A shared experience with a friend will make it less scary than if you were to be on a dark trail alone. After you’re more comfortable, you can make a solo trip.
Carry a Cell Phone: Whether you bring a friend or travel to the location alone, always have a cell phone to call for help. Unfortunately, you could become injured while outdoors quite easily. You might want to leave technology behind, but it’s not worth the risk if you become injured.