Sooner or later, intentionally or by accident, one will be trudging down a trail as darkness falls. When that happens, will you be equipped with the skills, knowledge, and gear to hike comfortably and safely at night?
Obviously, some sort of light is a good idea. It should be dependable, relatively easy to operate, and with you when you need it. A hand held flashlight will work, but even better is a headlamp, often held in the hand. Why is that?
especially on a smooth trail, a light on your head will not cast a shadow over the trail surface, leading to disorientation. I experienced this for the first time on the Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon, during an early morning start (3AM or so). The problem disappears when you hold your headlamp in your hand. But there are times when a headlamp is preferable, if not required, so back on your head it goes...
The ability to vary brightness of your light is extremely useful, both to extend battery life, and also to not overwhelm your night vision. In normal circumstances, I like a floody beam of around 100 lumens or even less, so that I can still see, at least to some extent, my general surroundings, like the opening in a tall forest that the trail makes - very useful in staying on route. So use those ultra bright settings cautiously, they wipe out your night vision and recovery will require about thirty minutes.
Ideally, I would start a hike at sunset, so that my night vision can develop as daylight dims. With a clear sky and negligible pollution, you may find you can do well without a light at all, or at least just occasional use, especially if the moon is up.
In dim light, other senses come into play. your feet will inform you immediately when you leave the relatively smooth trail and blunder off the end or a switchback, etc. In general, you become more aware and in touch with your surroundings.
I began hiking at night when carbide lamps were in general use, and I miss them. They gave a good, floody light and with a life flame in your hot little hand, starting a fire was easy. Eventually, I became involved in local search and rescue operations for a number of years, and it was typical for SAR gigs to either begin or end in the dark, to say nothing of adverse weather.
Today, there are lots of generally reliable lights available. You can get involved with tints, color temperature, battery chemistries, etc., but the single most important characteristic of your light is that it gives a beam when you press the button.
IMHO, alkaline batteries are essentially obsolete, rather costly in use and prone to leakage. They are better replaced by more advanced chemistries, preferably rechargeable modes, like lithium-ion. Lots of new developments in this area, generally leading to better lighting instruments. Things look good!!
Comment are welcome....
@hikermor Lighting is super important when hiking at night, and I agree that headlamps are my preferred option. Having two sets of batteries is important too, in case the first one dies on you.
I personally love the PETZL Actik Core headlamp, for these main reasons:
Here's a photo of the lighting performance info from their website. Just look at the # of hours the batteries last!
I also highly suggest if anyone plans on hiking at night, or doing any outdoor activity at night, that they know the trail/area very well, carry minimally a map of the trail (although I prefer having a GPS tracking map on me, which tells me if I am off trail), and ideally have a friend/buddy with them.
Moreover, if going into the outdoors, even if it's just for a day hike, I always recommend people be prepared for hiking in the dark or having to stay the night in the wilderness (i.e. if the temps will be chilly, be sure to have a jacket; bring a small first aid kit; bring some food/water; #1 - bring a source of light!) It's better to be over-prepared and have stuff you end up not having to use, then be under-prepared and be missing something you really end up needing.
Always, always, always bring a light source with you hiking. Not only can it save your life should you become benighted but it can also save you from becoming extremely embarrassed. Recently a group of novice hikers set out for a long hike in the Adirondack High Peaks completely unprepared. They were still in the woods when night fell and had no food, water, and no lights. They were reported missing and when the rangers found them the next morning they were huddled together in their underwear, their clothes burned to unwearable rags. It seems they had decided to fashion torches using their clothes wrapped around sticks during the night. Seriously!