A 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.
Why walk at night?
When darkness falls, most walkers aren’t rushing to pull on their boots and head outside, but there are plenty of reasons why you might want to. For a start, night walking will give you a startlingly fresh perspective on a city or countryside walk that was previously familiar. At night, you’re deliberately reducing your ability to use your vision to navigate, forcing you to focus on your other senses, especially your hearing, putting you more in tune with the environment around you.
On a practical level too, walking at night is a quieter time to be outdoors and can offer relief from the heat of scorching summer daytime temperatures. More than anything though, night walks can be exceptionally beautiful. Landscapes are transformed into a place of subtlety and shades. Gazing up at the stars, watching a meteor shower or finding your way by the light of a full moon can be transformative experiences. There’s a magic to darkness that’s well worth exploring.
Tips for walking at night
When you’re starting out, walking after dark can feel more intimidating and challenging than going during the day. But try not to let any initial pangs of trepidation put you off. If you follow these expert tips, walking at night can be both a comfortable, rewarding and exciting experience.
Start somewhere familiar: If you’re new to night walking, start with a route that you know well. This might be around well-lit local streets of villages and towns, or as you get more comfortable and confident with it, you may want to take your after-dark adventures beyond urban boundaries into woodlands, hills and fields. In this instance, pick a route you’ve walked many times before during the day. This way it won’t feel quite so foreign at night, whilst at the same time highlight how wonderfully rewarding and different the experience is after dark.
Take someone with you: Walking at night can be intimidating at first and your mind can sometimes be your own worst enemy if you’re out there alone. Every small sound or looming shadow can feel like a threat. If you’re just starting out, take a friend with you. Even if you’re confident enough to go it solo, it’s always good practice to tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back.
Take it slow: Darkness makes terrain a little more challenging, even on familiar paths. 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. On the plus side, you’ll soon 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: It can be harder to find things buried in your pack at night. Stowing important items like your water bottle and food in easy-to-reach places means you won’t have to turn on your headtorch unnecessarily. If you’re starting out before sunset, remember with the setting sun comes cooler temperatures. Check the forecast and make sure you’ve got layers and waterproofs, hat and gloves in your pack, just in case. And if you’re walking at night in more built-up areas or near roads, then reflective elements on your pack or clothing are a good feature to have.
Tips for using a headtorch and optimising your night vision
It’s easy to think that having a bright light is better for exploring the darkness. However, for short night time walks, their extensive use can wreak havoc on your night vision.
When you start out, it’s going to feel tempting to have your headtorch on all the time but try not to. You’re definitely going to want a headtorch when walking at night, but try to think of it 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. This will 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.
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. Trying your best not to shine your light in another person’s face is also good practice as doing so will impair that person’s night vision. If you can, turn your light off if you encounter others on your walk.
Give it a try!
Darkness needn't be a thing to fear and shy away from. By doing so, we are in danger of cutting ourselves off from the night. Especially in winter when the days are short, it’s worth embracing the possibilities that darkness brings - an immersive call to reconnect with the natural world. Because you only need to step outside to find that, in darkness, the world lights up.
As winter approaches and the nights draw in, it can be tempting to hang up your waterproofs and put away your walking boots. But with frosty landscapes, the magic of low winter sunlight and the promise of a warming pub fire at the end of a walk, we think there are plenty of reasons to carry on getting out and about this winter.
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