Night hiking can be an entirely different experience than day hiking. It can also be a lot of fun to go hiking at night.
But is it dangerous to hike at night? Hiking at night can be more dangerous than hiking during daylight hours. For this reason, it’s important to take extra safety precautions whenever you go night hiking.
In this post, I’ll cover the dangers of hiking at night and I’ll give you some safety tips that you can use to overcome these dangers.
The Advantages of Night Hiking
Before we get into talking about the dangers of night hiking, it might be a good idea to consider why you should go night hiking in the first place.
Here are some of the advantages of night hiking.
- The trails are less crowded.
- It isn’t as hot.
- You get to see more animals.
- You can make up for lost time.
- The views are different.
The busiest day-hiking trails are often completely devoid of people at night. You could end up hiking all night without ever running into another person.
This means you’ll always be able to move at your own pace and you won’t have to deal with the day hiking crowds. It could also mean that you have a much easier time finding parking at the trailhead. This is especially true if you go there near dusk as most people will have already gone home for the night.
Hiking in the heat of the day can be brutal. With temperatures high and the sun beating down on you the hike might end up being a lot less fun than you thought it would.
Go on the same hike at night and you won’t have either of these issues. The sun won’t be beating down on you and the temperatures will have dropped some.
As a result, you’ll have a more pleasant hike and you may even drink a lot less water. In fact, backpackers running low on water will sometimes rest during the day and hike at night until they can replenish their supply.
The wilderness comes alive at night. Go for a night hike and you’ll see all kinds of animals that you never get to see during the day.
Nocturnal mammals like raccoons will be running around in trees and toads and frogs will be hopping around below them. Look into the woods and you’ll most likely see a lot of eyes looking back at you. This can be scary for some and exhilarating for others. Personally, I’ve always found it to be a little of both.
If you’re hiking in the winter, late fall, or even the spring, you won’t have many daylight hours. Extend your hiking time past dark and you’ll get more hours out on the trail.
This can significantly increase the number of miles you get to hike each day. In fact, on long trails like the AT, it could mean the difference between you reaching Mt. Kadatin or having to call it quits because it was closed to hikers before you got there.
Tired of hiking the same old trail every weekend? Hit the trail at night and it will look completely different than it does during the day.
Depending on where you’re hiking, you may even get to see the stars and the moon. Your night hike will be a completely different experience than your day hike and it can bring new life to the same tired old trail you’ve been hiking.
The Dangers of Night Hiking
While night hiking does come with many benefits, it does come with some dangers as well.
Here are a few of the main dangers you’ll face when night hiking.
- You could face legal issues.
- Hunters may not be able to see you as well.
- Predatory animals are a lot more active at night.
- It’s more difficult to see at night.
- It’s colder at night.
It isn’t always legal to go hiking after dark. This won’t be a problem on the longer backpacking trails but it could be at your local hiking spot.
Fortunately, places that do not allow hiking after dark will almost always have a sign posted up at the parking lot. In fact, some of these areas will move a physical barrier into place so you won’t even be able to get to the parking lot after dark.
If there is a sign posted up, don’t ignore it. A ranger or local law enforcement agent could see your vehicle there and assume that a hiker is lost or injured on the trail. They’ll send people out to look for you who could have been helping people that are really in danger. On top of this you might even be fined.
The best time of day for hunters is right around dusk and dawn. As a night hiker, you’re bound to be hiking during at least one of these time periods. This doesn’t mean you should avoid night hiking, but it does mean you should take some extra precautions.
For starters, try to choose trails that are further away from areas that are frequently used by hikers. On top of this, wear reflective clothing and hunters colors so that they’ll be able to see you clearly. The best color for this task is usually bright orange.
Remember when we talked about how active the wildlife will be at night? Well, unfortunately, this goes for predatory animals as well.
Animals like bears, coyotes, wolves, mountain lions, and even snakes could actively be hunting along the hiking trail that you’re walking on. Remember, these trails make it easy for game animals to move around at night so their predators will be watching these areas with great interest.
One way to keep yourself safe from these animals is to take extra steps to alert them of your presence. Do this by talking to yourself, singing, or occasionally calling out so that animals can hear your human voice.
In some areas, you may even decide not to go night hiking at all. This is especially true in grizzly bear or mountain lion country. If you’ve read my post on mountain lions, you know that they actively hunt at dawn and dusk and moving through their territory during these hours just might not be worth the risk.
For those of you who do decide to hike through these areas at night, bring protection with you. Bear spray usually works and it’s legal to use pretty much everywhere.
If it’s legal in the area you’re hiking in, you may even want to bring a firearm with you. Most calibers will work on mountain lions and large rounds like 45s will generally be effective against bears.
You May Have Trouble Seeing
While large predators might be scary to think about, they generally aren’t the biggest threat to night hikers. The biggest threat is poor visibility.
Night hikers are more likely to get lost, more likely to trip and fall, and more likely to walk into something dangerous. For instance, a night hiker could accidentally walk away from a trail and end up in a river or a ditch.
There are a few ways to protect yourself against this ultimate night hiking danger. The first step is to make sure you bring enough lighting with you.
You’ll want to bring at least two sources of light. Most people accomplish this with a headlamp and a hand-held flashlight but a small lantern could also work as well. On top of this, you could also choose a moonlit night so you won’t be completely in the dark even if you do lose your light sources.
Another step you can take to protect yourself is to hike with trekking poles. Trekking poles offer many advantages to hikers and one of them is that they’ll help to keep you from falling.
For more details on the advantages of hiking with hiking poles, check out this post: https://www.carandtent.com/hiking-with-hiking-poles-the-pros-and-cons/.
Finally, take your navigation seriously and don’t be afraid to stop for the night if you feel like you’re lost. Bring backpacking gear with you and you’ll be able to set up camp for the night. In most cases, you’ll probably find it’s a lot easier to find the trail again after the sun’s come up.
It’s Colder at Night
The cool temperatures that come with night time hiking aren’t always a good thing. In some areas of the country, the temperature changes are extreme and you if you don’t like cold weather hiking, then night hiking might not be for you.
Protect yourself from this danger by dressing for the weather and by wearing layers so that you can strip some off should you get hot. Also, bring a sleeping bag and a tent or tarp with you in case you end up having to bed down for the night. These items will help keep you warm so that you don’t have to worry about continuing your hike after you’ve lost the trail.
Night hiking can be dangerous so it’s important that you take planning for your night hike seriously. This being said, the advantages of night hiking will often outweigh the potential dangers and if you’re up for the challenge, I’d suggest you give it a try.