For a New Way to Experience Nature, Try Hiking at Night

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The world is different at night. Traced by moonlight shadows, even familiar figures and forms are transformed into something magical and strange. Nowhere is that truer than in the wilderness. But night hiking is no joke, especially if you aren't experienced. Here's how you can plan a fun, safe excursion into the midnight wilderness.

Group of bats sleeping in a cave

When to Go

  • At the full moon. Your best bet is to hit the trail under the light of the full moon, especially if you're pretty new to night hiking. The silvery light won't just make it easier to see — it will make the whole experience more magical.
  • Under a clear sky. This isn't just because you don't want to get rained on. That full moon won't do you much good if the sky is overcast. Find out what the cloud cover is going to be like beforehand.
  • Summer, ideally. In the summer, nighttime weather is cooler and less overpowering than it is during the daytime, but it's also not chilly like it might be in other seasons. Pace yourself, and enjoy the cooler environment.

Baby oppossum learning how to climb

Where to Go

  • A place you know. Everything looks different at night, so try visiting a trail that you're familiar with. It will be a whole new experience, but not as disorienting as an entirely new trail.
  • Somewhere light-colored. Sandy dunes or a bright meadow are both great choices for a night hike — the higher contrast between the light-colored ground and the darkness will make it easier to navigate.
  • Somewhere your phone works. It never hurts to be prepared, and in the worst-case scenario, you're going to want to be able to call for help. If your favorite trail is far from civilization and cell towers, maybe choose a path that's closer at hand.

How to Do It

  • Go slow. Even if you're familiar with the trail, you'll probably find that it's full of uneven roots and sudden drops that aren't so obvious under moonlight. Take your time — you'll enjoy it more, anyway.
  • Bring your friends. There's safety (and better times) in numbers. Plus, a larger group can mitigate some of the other needs — a cell phone might not be so important with all those helping hands, and if most of the people are familiar with the area, you could get away with exploring new territory.
  • Stay on the path. Or at least close to and in full view of it. If you want to take a breather to stargaze in a meadow, make sure you know exactly how to get back.

Red fox roaming through the forest

What to Watch For

  • Stars. Obviously. A dark, clear sky is an increasingly rare commodity these days, so take a minute or 60 to appreciate it when you can.
  • Wildlife. A lot of animals are more active at night, and you might run into some critters you weren't expecting. Read up on what lives in the area — that way, you'll enjoy the encounters you have more, and you'll know how to react to an encounter if necessary.
  • The sunset. For the best experience, leave in time to see the sunset early in the hike. Your eyes will then have time to acclimate to the growing darkness and you'll discover even more along the way.

What to Bring

  • A light source. Don't plan on traveling the trail by flashlight, though. Whether you bring a headlamp or a lantern, make sure it's got a red-light setting that won't interfere with your night vision. And if you're comfortable, try using it only when necessary.
  • Batteries. If you're saving your lights for when you really need them, you don't want them to flicker out when that moment comes. Make sure you've got extras on hand, just in case.
  • Warm clothes. No matter where you are, the temperature is likely to drop at night. In some places, that could mean a major change. Look at what the weather is going to be like beforehand and plan accordingly.

Written by Reuben Westmaas July 12, 2018
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