How Night Hiking Works

Leave the Kitchen Sink at Home: What to Take on a Night Hike

Experienced hikers are usually pretty proud of their backpacks. They pare them down to the barest of essentials, imagining themselves as modern-day naturalists like John Muir, messiah of the Yosemite mountains, who reportedly hiked alone for weeks on end carrying nothing but a stale loaf of bread [source: Vlahos].

It's no surprise then that experienced night hikers like James Vlahos spend little time talking about their gear. In fact, when they do make mention of essential items like headlamps, it's to caution hikers against overusing them. (Take note: ruining a hiker's night vision by accidentally shining your flashlight into his eyes is about the worst breach of etiquette you can make on a night hike.)

This doesn't mean that would-be night hikers should rush out and buy expensive night vision monoculars or infra-red goggles, however. You are certainly welcome to invest in these, but they are definitely not a night-hiking necessity. The fact is, a night hiker's pack is about the same as a day hiker's pack. Both should include basics like tools for navigation (map, compass), extra layers of clothing, light source, batteries, small first aid kit, matches, water and snacks, rope, a multi-tool and a tarp that can serve as an emergency shelter. There are a few items, however, that night hikers can't live without.

  • Sturdy Hiking Shoes or Boots: Park rangers at Bryce Canyon require proof that you are wearing boots or shoes with lug traction soles before they'll allow you on their popular full moon hikes. Trips and falls are common while night hiking. The proper shoes can save you from an ankle sprain or worse.
  • Bug Spray: Many insect species are active at night, so be sure you wear insect repellant.
  • Light Source: Headlamps are great for night hiking. Even the inexpensive ones come with three settings: low, high and red light. The red light setting is great for navigating in the dark without totally ruining your night vision.
  • Warm Clothing: Layered clothing is recommended on all hiking checklists; however, you will be especially grateful for that extra jacket after the sun goes down.
  • GPS: Though not absolutely essential, a GPS with a backlight is handy since it's much easier to lose the trail in low light.

Think you're ready for a night hike? Learn how to choose an epic night-hiking destination next.