Oh Winter, so dark and cold. I find it so disheartening and so difficult to get outside when it gets dark before dinnertime, and especially when it’s cold but there’s no snow. I find that we get caught up in routines and lose sight of the importance of time outside together. An entire week will go by and I’ll think back and realize that we ran one too many errands between school and home, we argued at bedtime every single night, and we didn’t get outside even once. And it makes me sad, and it makes me angry, but it also makes me put plans into action!
Just because it’s cold and dark doesn’t mean we can’t get outside! Yes, riding a bike down the driveway is not really doable nor safe in the dark, but exploring the yard with headlamps is! Maybe we can’t set up the hammock and watch the clouds, but we can hang and stargaze! There are plenty of easy ways to get outside after dark, and our favourite way is to “night hike”! I use the term “hike” loosely here, because we’re working with a toddler and hiking doesn’t always have to be a 10km struggle over rough terrain, it can be a simple meandering. Perhaps the term “night hike” sounds intimidating to you, or foreign, or just weird. Well, let me tell you a little bit about what a night hike looks like for us and how YOU, yes YOU, can take your first night hike AND enjoy it!
I only went on my first night hike last New Year’s Day, as a way to kick off the new year with something special and outdoorsy. It was just me and my mom, Kirby the Trail Dog and some crappy flashlights and a headlamp we found at the cottage. We “hiked” up the cottage road for about 20 minutes and then turned back. It was exhilarating and rejuvenating and a lovely chance to bond with my mom. I knew I needed to gear up and make it happen again!
Since then, we’ve been decked out with brand new DIVIDE™+ 225 LED headlamps* and a DIVIDE™+ 350 LED flashlight* (thanks, Coleman Canada*!) and we’ve been on a night hike adventure 3 more times! While camping in Forillon National Park, we went to investigate a tree we’d seen a porcupine hanging around in earlier, and we got to see him in action – stuffing his face with a leafy branch! Then in November up at the cottage, with Huckleberry on his own two feet, my mom and I joined him for an evening adventure just down to the end of the long cottage driveway and back (we might’ve gone further had my mom not started telling scary stories!). And most recently, a few weeks ago, we found a little clip-on light that Huckleberry ABOLSUTELY INSISTED we try out, so, despite a wicked rainstorm, we headed out and played hard in the yard!
Each time that we have ventured out after dark, I’ve been a little nervous and a lot excited, and each time I’ve come back desperate for the next chance to get out for a night hike. And Huckleberry asks for it now, too! How cool is that?!
Alright, onto those tips, because I know you’re just itching to go on your first night hike…
7 Tips for Your First Night Hike
1. Embrace a healthy fear of the dark.
This comes from two trains of thought. 1. If you haven’t gone on a night hike yet, it is likely because you have some fear of the dark – there’s no point denying it, as that will only make for an awful time trying to hike in the dark. 2. In the same way that you should have a healthy fear of the water, you should also have a healthy fear of the dark, it’s what keeps you safe.
For those who are afraid of the dark, try to address the “why”. See if there’s a way that you can take care of some of the reasons before you even head out the door. I promise you that the tips below will help, but you have to get past some of the fear on your own first. Try to embrace it, push past it, forget about it, etc. and see the fun, the learning, the growth.
As for a healthy fear of the dark, well yeah, there can be scary things out there but simply being aware of them and knowing how to address to can keep us safe. Know the animals in your area and bring appropriate gear (bear bells*, bear spray, rubber boots, etc.). Educate yourself a little bit and you’ll feel a whole lot better about it all!
2. Start small.
Our backyard is our favourite testing ground – for new gear, for new activities, for new routines. If you’re not up for checking out a trail on a night hike just yet, then don’t! Start with something small, like your yard, your street, your local park. On your first night hike, try to simply “test out your new headlamps*” with 15-30 minutes of play in your yard. You can make shadow puppets and have them dance and tell stories along the wall of your house. Better yet, pitch the tent in the yard and play in and around it! When you’re ready, you can venture further and for longer periods of time. We are more likely to enjoy and repeat activities when they go well the first time, starting small is a simple way to set yourself up for success! Before you know it, you’ll be a night hike pro!
3. Choose a familiar location.
I don’t know about you, but I have little desire to explore new places in the dark! And I’ll own that with pride. When I’m out in the dark, I want to be somewhere that I’ve been before. Everything looks different, sounds different, even smells different at night, so keep some familiarity by choosing a place that you know. We’ve only gone for a night hike in our yard, on the cottage road that we’ve walked dozens of times before, and in a campground that we’d spent several days exploring in daylight. Beyond simply choosing a familiar location, you’ll want to choose on you are comfortable hiking in. If there’s a trail that you love, but even hiking in the daylight makes you nervous, I would not recommend a night hike there.
4. Find some friends.
Everything is more fun with friends! And there’s safety in numbers. The more people there are, the more conversations to be had, the more noise will be made, the fewer bears you’ll run into. Friends = no bears. Right? Hopefully! Anyway, you will honestly enjoy yourself more with your pals by your side, and laughter squashes nerves better than anything else (except maybe a sneaky flask of something fun…but this wouldn’t be a family-friendly blog if I recommended booze for every night hike, now would it?)!
Friends can be anyone from your actual besties to folks from a fun group like Hike it Baby, or just your own family. I say, the more the merrier!
5. Gear up.
In much the same way as you’d prepare for a day hike, you need to prepare for a night hike. Think about how long you’ll be out, how far you’ll go, where you’re going, the weather, who’s coming, what you’re doing, etc. A First Aid kit and a whistle are always great ideas. Are you going to need snacks? A telescope? Extra layers? Rain gear*? For a night hike, specifically, I highly recommend reflective clothing! This is an easy way to keep an eye on everyone and be seen by passersby (whether other people hiking or vehicles). If you’re out with little ones, a carrier is a great way to keep them close, or a tether and hiking harness if they’re insistent on exploring on their own two feet. And don’t forget that bear bell*!
6. Go for a reason.
The best way to motivate yourself for your first night hike, and future night hikes too, is to find a reason to get out there. It can be as simple as testing your new headlamps* or as thrilling as watching the super moon rise or wishing on shooting stars during the year’s biggest meteor shower. Maybe you want to hear your first owl or find some creepy crawlies, catch lightning bugs or watch the sunrise. Find something that interests you and let it guide you out into the dark.
7. Light up the night.
Now, what would a post sponsored by Coleman Canada* be without talking about lights? They are the lantern people! So, last but not least, when heading out on your first night hike, and every night hike after that, you’ll want to light up the night!
We absolutely LOVE our Coleman DIVIDE™+ 225 LED headlamps* for so many reasons. Quickly, they have 5 different light settings, including a red one for not blinding your tent mates or waking a sleeping baby when you’re looking for something in the dark (see photo below). They are ridiculously adjustable such that they fit our toddler’s wee head and my husband’s enormous head (even over a hood and hat!). Also, they can be adjusted to direct up or down, which is very handy when using them for a variety of activities. They are easy to use, have a battery lock feature so that they won’t accidentally turn on in storage and drain your batteries, and no tools are required when it’s time to change those batteries. We also love our Coleman DIVIDE™+ 350 LED flashlight*. It also has a battery lock and 2 different light modes.
But the real fun for little ones comes when you bust out some Coleman Ilumistick Glow Sticks*. The kids have a blast and you have a much easier time keep an eye on them. Spice up your night hike adventures by hiding the glow sticks along the trail in advance (they stay lit for 6 hours) and having the little ones find them. These also make great additions to your emergency kit.
Make the most of these dark days and gear up for summer adventures!
Maybe you’re an avid night hiker and you read this out of curiosity, maybe you’ve been thinking about night hikes but found the idea daunting, or maybe the concept of night hiking is brand new to you. Either way, I hope that you have learned something that will help you and your little ones feel a little more comfortable, confident, and even excited, to be out on the trails in after dark. I would love to hear about your first night hike, especially if you have tips to add!
Share your night hike experiences in the comments below!
I received product in exchange for this post, all opinions and experiences are true and my own.
*Denotes an affiliate link. I make a very small commission when you shop through my affiliate links. Thank you for supporting the blog.