Backpackers and hammockers spend plenty of time in the wilderness after the sun goes down, but in most cases that time is spent curled up in a sleeping bag, wishing away monsters and things that go bump in the night. Night hiking reveals a whole new wilderness. For real night hiking, avoid constant use of flashlights which give you tunnel vision and discourage communing with nature after hours.
On your first few hikes, choose nights that are clear and have at least half a moon shining down. Whatever extra light you can get from great flashlights in the sky will help you and get you acclimated to the idea of hiking at night. Beyond simple light issues, just getting comfortable moving in the dark is difficult. Moonlit nights can make that transition period more manageable.
Choose areas that have large open spaces that are easy to see in. Sure it’s fun to navigate through a few trees now and again, but no one wants to bushwack in the dark for several hours. Besides, wielding a hatchet while being essentially blind is a recipe for disaster. It’s ideas like that which start great movies, not great backpacking trips.
Rods and Cones
Your eye’s rods and cones are responsible for seeing color and light. Your rods are located on the outside edge of your eye and are responsible for picking up light. Because they are on the outside edge, objects in the center of your vision are the least well lit. Try looking just to the side of the trail in order to see it best in the dim light.
Things to Avoid
Avoid bright white lights like LED flashlights that overstimulate your rods. More importantly, avoid using the phrase ‘overstimulate your rods’. Use flashlights that have red or blue lights which are more gentle on your night vision, so you don’t have to keep acclimating to the darkness every time you check the map.
You should always have a map and a flashlight with spare batteries on you as a backup. Getting lost in the dark is definitely not ‘part of the experience’ and is not encouraged. Beyond equipment backup, always let someone know where and when you are night hiking. Taking a hiking companion is extremely encouraged, especially if that companion is of the opposite sex and you are attempting to woo them. Night hiking encourages snuggles.