How Night Hiking Works

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!: Night Hiking Safety

The buddy system's a good idea when you're hiking at night.
The buddy system's a good idea when you're hiking at night.

James Vlahos, who hiked the 211-mile John Muir Trail at night and waxed eloquently about the experience in his 2011 essay for National Geographic Traveler, says that "hiking at night isn't as dangerous as it may sound, but it's probably not well suited for novice hikers."

This is because hiking, even under normal light conditions, requires a number of skills, including physical, orienteering, first-aid, plant and wildlife identification, and survival skills. Once a hiker has acquired this basic knowledge, he or she is probably equipped to hike safely at night. However, there are a few safety tips that even experienced hikers should bear in mind:

  • Bring a Friend: It's always a good idea to hike in a group. However, this is even more important when hiking at night. Hikers make more noise in groups, which helps scare off the wildlife. A group will also help keep hikers safer from any human predators that may be lurking under cover of darkness.
  • Know Your Surroundings: Hiking at night, especially if you've never done it before, can be creepy and disorienting. It's best to hike at night with a guide or on a trail with which you are already familiar.
  • Go Slow: Depth perception is tricky at night; you'll need to move more slowly to avoid trips and falls.
  • Watch for Wildlife: While it's true that certain predatory species (mountain lions, coyotes) are nocturnal, these animals will generally be more afraid of you than you are of them. Avoid catching them unaware by hiking in groups and making noise as you walk.
  • Share the Moon: Especially if you're a beginner, hike on a clear night when the moon is bright and waxing.
  • Know Your Gear: When Debbie Ramirez found herself unexpectedly night hiking, she had a headlamp in her pack, but she couldn't find it in the darkness. Even if she had found it, would she have known how many hours it would function on its highest setting? Knowing your gear is important for all hikers, but this is doubly true for those hiking at night.

Speaking of gear, will night-hiking provide you with the excuse you need to invest in those fancy infrared goggles you've been coveting?