Walking around the countryside during darkness can be a unique and exciting pastime with little risk if you practice good night hiking safety. In this article we are going to cover some of the key points to remember along with some other tips we have picked up during our many years of nighttime hiking.
Taking your Time
Covering ground at night is always going to be a longer process than doing the same route during daylight so give yourself more time and don’t rush. Even with good flashlights the level of vision is never going to be the same as in the day and even the smallest fall in the wrong place can put an abrupt to your hiking activities.
Sweat is the bodies way of regulating your core body temperature by drawing the internal heat generated by exercise outwards in the form of sweat and is very wasteful on the bodies water reserves. Always carry just as much water at night as you would in the day because even though higher temperatures in the day will speed up the sweating process a vigorous night hike will still present problems of dehydration.
Understanding the temperature difference of your body between day and night hiking is important. Even on a cold night you can work up a sweat when hiking especially with a heavy pack and its OK to remove a layer or two to try and cool down. Just make sure to add a layer when you stop as the sweat will turn cold very quickly lowering the bodies temperature. Not covering up the moment you stop is a sure fire way of giving yourself a chill.
Wind can be refreshing but also does a very efficient job of taking moisture away from the skin which your body will always try to replace making it easy to suffer from dehydration on cold and windy nights almost as much as sunny days.
For us there is nothing better than a bit of night mountain hiking but we always stick to the places we know very well along with taking the easier routes. Not knowing what lies around the next corner can be a problem even on a day hike so its unwise to break new ground at night.
Some routes you hike easily during the day could become a serious health risk when attempted at night, try to avoid high drops, walking around lakes or ponds and unstable ground.
Hiking alone is always going to bring its own dangers not only from the terrain but other people you might meet along the way. We would always advise having someone with you when night hiking if at all possible.
Whatever the size of the group one recognized safety feature is to tag each member by fitting a long lasting durable LED light to their backpack or clothing. This will help to locate them quickly after a fall in the dark and can also aid any rescue attempt by giving a handy locator beacon should the need arise.
With an increase in group size comes the need to carry more basic first aid supplies to cover multiple injuries. Loading up one person with all the emergency equipment is a bad idea and its best to share the key bits of survival equipment between a few people, if everything is in one backpack and it gets lost or damaged the safety of the entire group is put at risk.
Always a firm believer in redundancy when it comes to safety gear carrying at least two methods (per person) of lighting along with enough spare batteries for both is the bare minimum, this can be scaled back with larger groups helping to lighten pack weights.
The mobile phones is the most popular method when contacting the emergency services but as a piece of safety kit they do have a few problems.
Even though mobile phone coverage is getting better all the time many rural or mountainous areas have huge black spots where a mobile just isn’t going to function. For example the UK has a wonderful (and beautiful) network of coastal paths but most of these trails run where the land slops into the sea with hills blocking the inland phones signals and creating huge sections of trail with zero phone coverage.
It doesn’t take much to stop radio signals at the frequency that mobile phones use and even though the providers of these services understand their crucial use in emergencies providing a complete guaranteed coverage would require installing a huge amount of booster stations.
Type of Mobile Phone
The new “computer in a box smartphones” offer lots of features but wont take as much punishment as an older more basic phone and have a shorter battery left. Part of our kit is an old Nokia 3310 which will happily give days of operation from a fresh recharge and after a few mishaps we know that it can survive being dropped very well. Waterproofing any emergency communication equipment is also a good idea even if just wrapped in a bin liner but using a resealable plastic bag would offer much more protection.
Someone Who Cares
Another important aspect of communications is to let a reliable person know where you’re going and how long you should be. Having someone to notice when you’re overdue is one of the deciding factors in any timely rescue which becomes even more essential during colder weather conditions.
With a little planning and forethought nighttime hiking can be a very rewarding safe experience that we think everybody should try at least once.