Disclosure: I am compensated for purchases made through some links on this site. Click for details.
Night hikes offer unique opportunities for experiencing nature with unique dangers. To prevent mishaps, here are some night hike rules and safety tips. Your hiking group or park may also have specific rules for your particular hike as well. These may differ depending on if it is a standard night hike or a unique night hike like full moon, stargazing, firefly, glow-worm, or owl.
Participating hikers must be physically capable to hike the chosen terrain, elevation, distance, and climate. Most group night hikes lead by local parks and outfitters are likely to be easy to moderate hikes. Some may even be paved and handicap accessible. Make sure you’re capable of completing the hike.
Don’t Night Hike Alone
Hiking alone and especially at night can be dangerous. It’s best to go with a hiking buddy or hiking group. Guided hiking groups are often best. Check out your favorite parks, social hiking groups, and local outfitters for guided hikes.
Insist on hiking alone at night? Though discouraged, non-technical trails with which you’re familiar are best.
Related Content: Solo Hiking: 12 Things To Consider Before Hiking Alone
Stay with Your Group
No wandering off or lagging behind. Stay with the group at all times. No one wants you getting lost on a trail in the dark.
Gear and Clothing
Flashlights and Headlamps
Flashlights and headlamps aren’t always allowed on night hikes or must have a red light option or be covered with red plastic wrap. Once your eyes adjust to the darkness additional light isn’t needed on many night hikes like full moon hikes.
Red light is more useful than white light because your eyes adjust faster after a red light is turned off. It’s also good to have a light with multiple brightness settings.
Avoid looking at a light source. It will impair your night vision and it takes time for your eyes to adjust to the dark.
Practice light etiquette. Be respectful of other night hikers. Flashlights and headlamps will disrupt the vision of hikers whose eyes have adjusted to the dark. If you hike with a flashlight or headlamp, keep it pointed down or turn it off when around others. I once had a night hiker shine a flashlight in my face and ask me directions. Instant night blindness. I couldn’t see to hike for while after. Just spots.
If flashlights and headlamps are allowed, be sure to bring extra batteries.
Dress in Layers
Temperatures drop at night and with elevation change. This may be a welcome change in warmer months yet harsh in others. Be sure to wear appropriate hiking clothes and dress in layers to best accommodate falling temperatures. You may need to bring your hat, gloves and an extra jacket or coat in your backpack.
Do not wear open-toe shoes when hiking. Sturdy, water-resistant hiking boots with great ankle support are best. And don’t forget a great pair of wool socks. Wool socks are best for comfort, warmth, and wicking away moisture.
It’s easier to lose your balance or trip on a trail at night. A set of trekking poles can provide stability on uneven terrain. Also, trekking poles can take stress off your knees and joints.
Don’t forget the bug spray in warmer months. Miquitos can be nasty at night.
GPS and Compass
To avoid getting lost, consider taking a GPS device and compass.
Avoid Difficult Terrain and Dense Forests
When hiking at night it’s best to avoid difficult terrain and trails that are heavily forested. Heavily forested areas will block natural light and prevent you from seeing the moon and stars. Roots along trails in heavily forested areas will also create tripping hazards at night.
Hike Trails You Know
When hiking at night, it’s often best to pick a trail you know especially if you’re going alone. You’re far less likely to get lost or encounter dangers on familiar trails. Your knowledge of known hiking trails can also help you pick the best trails for your particular night hike.
Water and Snacks
You’ll likely need water and snacks on your night hike. You don’t want to get dehydrated while hiking and you’ll need to replenish your energy.
Children and Infants
Some night hikes are not suitable for children and infants. Others are appropriate and stroller-accessible. If you’re hiking with a group, check to see if children are welcome and if the difficulty of the trail is appropriate for your child.
And all minors should be accompanied by an adult and don’t lose track of your children on a night hike.
Pets are not always allowed. Our pets may be a part of our family but they can be disruptive on night hikes. If allowed, dogs must be on a lease which can be a tripping hazard in groups at night. And remember to always pick up after your pet.
Related Content: A Helpful Guide For Hiking With Small Dogs
Some parks are open to tripods for night photography some aren’t. It’s hard to see tripods set up in the dark. You don’t want to trip people or have your camera and equipment knocked to the ground.
No flash photography. You will blind fellow hikers and animals will be startled too.
No loud talking or noises that will disturb the peaceful mood of the night hike or nature.
Smoking is discouraged and in many cases not allowed. I’ve been on night hikes with people who smoked cigarettes and cigars. The other hikers were angered.
Trailhead parking is often limited. If you’re coming with other buddies, consider carpooling.
Be extra careful in trailhead parking lots after dark. Limited visibility increases the danger of an accident and can lend itself to other trailhead safety issues.
Stay alert. Many wild animals come out at night to forage for food. Leave them alone and give them a wide berth. Coyotes, deer, raccoons, opossums, and skunks are just a few that you might run across.
Bring Your Cellphone
Cellphones can be a great safety tool though cellphone use during your hike may be discouraged due to light pollution or annoyance to other night hikers.
Share Your Plans
Let friends and family know where you will be hiking, when you will be hiking, and when you will return.
Your odds of tripping on a night hike are greater than during the day. Be sure to bring a first aid kit.
Night hikes may be canceled due to weather. If the weather is questionable, consider night hiking another time.
It’s best to night hike on a clear night and always check the weather forecast before heading to your trailhead and again at your trailhead.