Try night hiking once and you’ll fall in love with it forever

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The end of daylight saving time marks the end of after-work excursions for many hikers, but it doesn’t have to be. Short days can mean fewer hours of daylight to see the sights, but a day is still 24 hours long, and there’s a lot to love about hiking in the dark. Make the most of long nights and beat the seasonal blues with these tips.

Standing Equipment

It’s hard to convince yourself to go out at night knowing you’ll be terribly cold. Wrap yourself in cozy layers, a hat and gloves. Sure, bring a headlamp (make sure it’s charged or bring spare batteries) but if you can, start your hike without it and let your eyes adjust. A lamp with a red light setting helps maintain night vision.

Many runners opt for a waist lamp instead of (or in addition to) a headlamp. Securing around your torso, they illuminate obstacles on the trail while keeping your head held high. In addition, they alleviate the pressure on the skull during long hikes. Hiking with a puppy? Equip them with a light and a reflective harness so you can let them roam comfortably.

At night, it is especially important to carry navigation tools such as a map and compass, a GPS device or mapping app. You won’t be able to rely on landmarks like you would on a day hike.

Pack for morale. A thermos mug with hot chocolate, tea or soup and your favorite snacks can make your night hike an occasional one.

Choose the right path

Night hikes are a great opportunity to see the Milky Way. (Photo: Anton Petrus/Moment via Getty Images)

For your first night hike, choose a shorter trail and take your time. You won’t be running at sunset anyway. Since your navigation skills will be reduced, it’s a good idea to start with a familiar hike and stay on the path. Look for open paths above – meadows, lakeshores or beaches, and hikes above the treeline are preferable to dense forest, which will be darker (and scarier). Avoid trails with hazards such as river crossings or technical terrain that is difficult to navigate without lights.

Change your attitude

Sure, day hikes are great for soaking up scenic vistas and vitamin D, but there are plenty you can only see at night. Pick the right time and you can watch the moon set and rise on your after-work getaways. During a new moon, turn your hike into stargazing outing, or take a hike on a full moon to see silver light bouncing off the landscape. In some areas you might even be able to catch the northern Lights.

Some wild species only emerge in the dark hours. Spot bats, owls, foxes and more on your night safari. Are you afraid of the dark? Bring some friends and make it a party on the trails (or check out your local hiking club for full moon group hikes). Hike to a campsite for s’mores around the fire, then go out and come home at bedtime.

Not convinced that night hiking is for you? You still don’t need to hibernate during the dark season. Use downtime to repair equipmentexperiment with backpack meal prepimprove your skills and dreaming of adventures for those long days ahead.