Our Top Tips for Hiking in the Dark Safely

If you’re a big fan of sunrise or sunset like us, you might be trying to plan an adventure but be worried about hiking in the dark. We’ve come up with this list of our top tips for hiking in the dark to hopefully inspire some of you to chase the sunset or sunrise and feel comfortable hiking after the sun goes down. Being prepared, having the right gear, and taking precautions before hitting the trail can make your experience so much better and safer!

Our first time hiking in the dark was nerve-wracking, but by being prepared we felt so much better and could enjoy our adventure! Enjoying sunrise or sunset on our favourite hikes has made some of the most spectacular views even better and I want the same for you in 2023. So, here we are sharing our top tips for hiking in the dark safely!

How to prepare before hiking in the dark

Proper preparation before hiking in the dark is key to a successful adventure! Whether I’m hiking in the morning before sunrise or hiking in the dark after sunset, we always make sure to prepare a day in advanced and make sure that we have everything we need. Packing ahead of time, planning your route, checking the weather and letting someone know are all great ways to prepare ahead

Hike a trail you’re already familiar with

This is such an important part of hiking in the dark and especially if you’re hiking in the morning for sunrise, I suggest choosing a trail you’re already familiar with. Navigating the trail in the dark is much more difficult than during the day and it can be easy to get lost. If you’re hiking after sunset, you’ll have an easier time navigating because you’ve already hiked up during the day and know what to expect.

Prepare & Plan for the weather

couple watching the sunset at saint marks summit North Vancouver

The weather can be hard to predict in the mountains, but it is so important to choose a day to hike in the dark that’s going to give you nice weather. We check the weather app CONSTANTLY before planning our hikes and we’re always prepared with a backup plan if the weather suddenly changes. Sometimes the weather app can be wrong, so you’ll need to make sure you’re prepared with appropriate gear, clothing and survival tools in case you’re faced with bad weather unexpectedly.

Share your hiking plans with someone

This is an important consideration on any hike, but it’s especially important with the added risk of hiking in the dark. Let someone like a family member or a friend know about your plans in advanced, and give them an approximate time that they will hear back from you letting them know you’re safe and you’ve finished your hike.

Packing the right gear (and extra gear)

Packing the right gear is SO important, and for sunrise/sunset hikes we always bring our 20L Osprey Packs and pack them a day in advance. We use our 2L water bladders to ensure we are carrying enough water and have easy access to it while hiking. We make sure to pack extra gear and plenty of first-aid/survival gear just in case something happens unexpectedly. Here’s the top things you need to make sure you’re packing for hiking in the dark:

Clothing & Layers

Packing proper clothes and layers is the key to having an enjoyable hike. If you already enjoy hiking, you’ll know you need your base layers, warm fleece mid-layers, and your outerwear. I often wear a long-sleeve hiking top, a fleece sweater, leggings, wool socks, and either an insulated jacket or shell jacket. When you’re hiking, you’ll be removing/adding layers as you start to get warm/cold. Packing a rain jacket and an insulated jacket is key to being prepared, and packing things like extra socks, extra gloves, warm toques and layers will keep you comfortable while hiking in the dark.

Headlamp & Extra Batteries

You will 100% need a headlamp for hiking in the dark. It’s almost impossible to navigate trails without proper light to see where you’re going, and if you’re hiking long distances you won’t want to hold your flashlight or phone for light. Your headlamp will secure on your head and guide you with plenty of light, we use the Petzl Aktik and it’s one of the brightest and best on the market. Bringing extra batteries with you is key, as you never want to be stuck in a situation with dead headlamp batteries.

Extra Food & Extra Water

This is important on every hike, but with the added risk of hiking in the dark it’s good to be prepared with extra food and extra water in case of emergencies. Having snacks and electrolytes will keep your energy up on your hike and fuelling your body on your hike is going to help you in the long run. We often pack 2-3L of water each and carry plenty of snacks such as energy bars, trail mixes, and sandwiches.

Hiking Boots & Hiking Poles

Hiking boots are my favourite gear suggestion because they will give you proper ankle support, have impressive tread to grip the ground and keep you from sliding, and protect your feet from hard rocks and roots. My hiking boots often keep me from tripping and falling over during my hike, but with the addition of hiking poles for support I can hike faster and longer without needing a break. Hiking poles are great for uphill climbing and to keep your footing on the path!

Packing Smart & Light

While I’ve mentioned plenty of great ideas to help you pack for hiking in the dark, it’s also important to pack smart and keep your pack light. With too much weight on your back, your backpack will add extra weight to every step and make it harder to hike. Make sure you have your essentials and consider leaving things that aren’t important at home.

Hike in Groups of 2 or more

I know I say 2 or more, but realistically the more the merrier! By hiking in groups of 2-4 (or more) you’re increasing your chances of scaring away animals, navigating the trail proper, and solving emergencies if they come up. It’s even better if you can hike with someone that’s familiar with the trail already, and experienced members of your hiking group will often bring enough gear, supplies, or first aid to cover everyone. Knowledge is power, and hiking in groups is SMART.

Be Aware of Animals & BE LOUD

sunset at Mount Brunswick in Vancouvers north shore

This might just be our number one tip for hiking in general when you are hiking in an area with wild animals like bears, moose, cougars, ect. If you’re talking loud enough on the trail, animals will hear you coming and will try to avoid crossing paths with you. Being loud on the trail also makes animals aware of your presence so they are not spooked if you run into each other. I don’t recommend playing loud music, but this is also a technique used to keeping loud on the trail.

Being aware of animals means looking out for clues of recent activity. This could mean looking out for animal tracks, animal droppings and other signs such as trees that are scratched or bark ripped off. These signs can be inspected further to figure out if the tracks are fresh or not, and these signs help you be aware of possible animal activity in your area. Being aware of animals also means bringing your bear spray on hikes and being prepared to use it.

Navigation & Staying on Trail

Once you’re on the trail it can be difficult to navigate in the dark. For this reason, it’s important to have your navigation system ready to continuously check your path and make sure you’re going the right way. This can mean using your satellite GPS, your maps, or downloaded trail guide to follow the trail and stick to the proper path. It’s important to not take shortcuts while hiking in the dark, because it can be easy to get lost and difficult to find your way again.

Staying Awake & Alert

saint marks summit sunset with guy walking on the cliff

Hiking in the dark can become boring and drag on because you’re not able to see what’s around you and are essentially staring at your feet while you walk on the trail. By not paying attention and staying alert, you can cause a misstep or follow the wrong path and could cause problems. My simple solutions to this are to boost your energy with caffeine and sugar! I know this sounds obvious, but a coffee, energy drink or even bringing candy on the trail can keep you alert and moving quick on the trails. I always carry sour candy in my pockets!

Respect Others on trail

This is my final tip, and you won’t often encounter others while hiking in the dark in the morning or at night. If you do encounter others on the trail, it’s polite to turn your headlamp to red light settings or lower the brightness so you don’t blind each other as you’re sharing the trail. Another great tip is to make your presence known by speaking loud so others on the trail can hear you coming and you don’t surprise them!

Final Thoughts about hiking in the dark

If you ever feel uncomfortable or scared before your planned hike in the dark, know that it’s completely reasonable and you do not have to! If you’re feeling safe, prepared and have taken appropriate steps to ensure a good hike you will likely have a great time hitting the trails in the dark. I wish you the best of luck on your sunrise and sunset adventures!

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