The following originally appeared on Nov. 5, 2009. It reappears as our available daylight disappears.
For maybe the fifth time in five minutes Alan stopped to comment on the trail. “This is a great trail,” he commented. And for the fifth time in maybe five minutes I reminded him that we had hiked this same trail maybe a half dozen times. His sense of discovery was justified, though. This was the first time we’d hiked the trail in daylight.
Several years ago, we both despaired at the end of Daylight Savings Time. The end of DST meant a sharp decline in our outdoor activity. Long workouts only on weekends? That just seemed silly.
And it was. For just as advances in lighting have made it possible to ride a bike in the woods at night, so have these technological advances made it relatively simple to hike at night. And unlike the light systems for mountain biking that can set you back $200 to $600 or more, you can get a decent light set for hiking for less than $30. Most of the more simple systems run on AA or AAA batteries, power an LED light, and strap to your head, leaving your hands free. For more information on lights and what to look for, go here.
Some advice before you head out:
- Pick short hikes to start. It’s a different game out there under the lights and it takes some getting used to. For one, your world is confined to the glow of your headlamp; beyond that is a dark world short on sights and long on curious sounds. Curiously, it can be sensory overload.
- Hike trails you’ve hiked in daylight. Even though it’s dark, familiarity is a huge plus. You’ll be amazed at how things you didn’t think you noticed during the day will pop out as key markers of where exactly you are on the trail.
- Hike by your feet. One thing you’ll notice immediately: There aren’t as many blazes on the trail as you think. The best way to tell whether you’ve wandered off the beaten path? If you’re boots are suddenly sinking into soft, untrodden leaf litter. Backtrack and seek out firm footing.
- Bundle up. It cools off at night and your daytime hiking partner Ol’ Sol won’t be there to counter the chill of winter.
- Don’t hike alone. I do a lot of soloing, but not at night.
- Take extra batteries. Your light goes out, you’re in for a really long evening.
- Take a backup light. Even a $5 keychain light can be a lifesaver if your main torch goes out. Even if you take extra batteries, take a backup light. (Ever try to change batteries in the dark?)
- Take a map and compass. You should be packing both in your daypack anyway, but make extra sure you have them at night.
- Take a cell phone, just in case.
One last thing. A lot – most, probably – of land managers don’t like you hiking their trails at night. N.C. State Parks, for instance, maintain daylight hours and officially close at 6 p.m. from November through February. Gamelands and national forests are the notable exceptions. Inquire before you hike.