The cover of night can add an extra sense of adventure or even danger to the hiking experience. It provides opportunities to stargaze, or to hear and see nocturnal wildlife. It is also a great way to get away from crowds in high-traffic areas or to escape the day's heat.
There are two schools of thought with respect to using lights on night hikes. Some feel that properly and fully experiencing the outdoors at night requires using one's natural senses alone, while others view this approach as too unsafe or inconvenient. The downside to relying on vision is that people's eyes are not well adapted to the dark, particularly around the fovea, or focal point [sources: Al-Azzawi, Cortel]. The disadvantage of using headlamps or even night vision equipment is that your field of vision will be impaired. If you intend to switch between the two, using red filters on your lights can lessen the time it takes for your eyes to adjust. Alternatively, you can keep one eye covered, pirate-style, and switch between the two.
Bear in mind that nighttime is colder than daytime, and night hikes require more frequent stops for listening and generally getting your bearings. You are likely to get cold during these stops, so it is a good idea to pack extra clothes, such as a sweater or fleece. In addition, rainstorms frequently roll in at dusk, so be prepared. A pocket poncho is a good, lightweight option for weather protection. Gloves and gaiters will help you minimize potential injuries from unseen thorns and other nuisances as you move around, and lanyards and ties will help keep you from losing your equipment.
Night hikes have an inherently higher danger level than their daytime equivalents. While night hiking, your visual acuity is greatly diminished [sources: Al-Azzawi, Cortel]. You must feel for your footing, which might not be as solid as it seems. Your nerves are more on edge, and you may tend to overreact to strange sounds or jump at objects, as they seem suddenly to lunge from the darkness. Nocturnal (night-active) and crepuscular (dawn/dusk active) animals may be more aggressive at night, too, especially if you stumble into them.
It is usually best to work up to night hiking once you have a fair amount of daylight hiking experience under your belt. Even then, be extra cautious. It is also a good policy to make sure someone knows where you will be when you're on a night hike.
For more information on hiking and other outdoor activities, check out the links below.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
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