OUR GUIDE TO NIGHT WALKING
When the sun takes its daily dip below the horizon and night falls, there’s no rule saying you have to stay inside for the evening. Anyone who has gone for a walk in the dark will know that night time is full of subtle shades of light, capable of inspiring a sense of reconnection and wonder. Walking at night can feel like discovering a new world on your doorstep, one that allows you to roam beyond the duration of winter’s short days.
Walking at night can pose new challenges, but with the right kit and preparation it can open up a whole new aspect to your walking. So, if you’re looking to extend your daily window of time for getting outdoors, here’s some inspiration and information to get you started on your after-dark adventures.
Start somewhere familiar: If it's your first time night walking, start with a route you've done plenty of times before, for two reasons: you're less likely to find yourself lost, and you'll appreciate the familar environment at this totally different time of day. Win-win.
Take someone with you: If you’re just starting out, take a friend with you - but even if you’re confident enough to go it solo, it’s always a good idea to tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back.
Take it slow: Darkness makes even familiar paths more challenging. Slow down and don’t expect to walk at the same pace or cover the same distances that you would in daylight. Picking shorter routes in favourable weather is going to help make your first night walk a great one. Before long, you'll even notice that your reduced speed allows you to observe things you might otherwise miss.
Sunsets and full moons: Starting your evening walk with a goal of seeing the sunset can be a great motivation at the end of the day when your body would usually be winding down. Another good time to go is on a night when the moon is at its fullest as you’ll be able to see much more and depend on your headtorch a lot less. Open areas with reflective surfaces like light-coloured rocks are easier to navigate and provide a great view of the sky for stargazing, whilst darker areas like forests will allow your eyes to fully adjust to the night so you can spot nocturnal animals.
Keep an eye out for wildlife: Any night time wildlife encounters in the UK are almost certainly likely to be benign, but if you’re worried it’s worth researching which animals are common to your local area so you know what to expect. Foxes, owls, bats, badgers and deer are more common at night, but the main thing is just to try to be aware of your surroundings. Listen and look for animals, not only so you can enjoy seeing them but also so you can respond if necessary.
Keep the kit in your pack organised: Take only what you need and organise it in order of when you expect to need it - you only realise how hard to navigate a stuffed pack is when you can't see anything. Keep your food and water at the very top so you won't need to use your headtorch, and make sure you've got layers and waterproofs in case the weather turns.
It makes sense that having your headtorch on all the time is going to improve your night vision, right? Wrong. Using it extensively can actually wreak havoc on your vision.
Try to think of your headtorch as fallback aid to finding your way rather than a guiding light. If you can, try to limit the use of it and rely on the natural light instead to allow your eyes to adapt to the dark and amplify your night vision so you can better observe your surroundings in natural light. Whilst it can take up to 45 minutes for your eyes to fully adjust to the dark, it only takes a second of looking at a direct light source to affect your night vision, meaning you’ll have to start the adjustment process again. Naturally, there are times when you’ll need to use your headtorch - to navigate tricky sections of trail or find something in your pack. But having worked hard to achieve maximum night vision, before turning it on, it’s worth considering if you really need to. And finally, be a good citizen - don't go shining your light in someone else's face if you can help it.
When choosing a headtorch, look for one with a comfortable fit and a red-light setting as your eyes are less sensitive to the longer wavelengths of red light meaning your night vision will be less affected by it. Another good feature is to be able to switch from low to high brightness settings as this gives you more control over preserving battery life.