Seeing the Trail in a New Way While I’m Night Hiking

Have you ever night hiked?

It’s one of the most exhilarating feelings in the world.

Imagine it. It’s pitch black. Your senses are heightened. Your headlamp is turned up to 250 lumens. Your only vision is the tunnel of light shining from your forehead. You can see the stars close to perfect.

For me, night hiking is fun. But it is also an integral part of my thru-hike. Here are some reasons why night hiking is awesome:

Break up your miles

For me, big miles come easy when I take breaks every so often. I cover way more ground the days I include a night hike. I only night hike when I feel energized to do so, so I can’t really plan it ahead of time. It also depends on the weather and season. Currently, I stop in camp around 4-5 p.m. to rest and eat dinner, and then I hike out around 6-7 p.m. Normally I can cover an additional six to eight miles at night, which really helps bump up my overall mileage for the day/week.

You’ll see the trail in a way you’ve never seen

We are now approaching fall and we lose the sun by approximately 7:30 p.m. The lighting on trail from 6-7:30 p.m. is beautiful. It’s soft but shines through the forest in a seemingly magical way. As the sun goes down, shades of pink and orange peer through the trees. Rays from the setting sun guide my steps. The day finally cools off, and I fly down the trail, barely breaking a sweat.

Once we lose light, the backcountry at night can be enchanting or spooky. The sections with the crazy tall skinny widow-makers are the creepiest. The trees sway with the wind, many of them creaking above your head. All I can think is, “I gotta get out of here,” and suddenly my legs are moving faster than I thought they could. Hopping from rock to rock, stepping over roots, all I can see are my feet as I shine my headlamp down. My legs conquer the terrain before my mind has fully processed it. Pretty much, I feel like Superwoman.

The stars without light pollution from town are incredible. I could not believe my eyes in the Smoky Mountains in NC/TN and the 100-Mile Wilderness in Maine. At Mollie’s Ridge Shelter in the Smokies, it looked as if I could reach up and grab the stars. They were so bright and appeared to be right above my head. In the 100-Mile Wilderness, the view north of the Nesuntabunt Mountain summit was unbelievable. The trail opens up to an exposed rock slab, which was perfect to lie on for stargazing. I have never seen so many stars so clearly before. I even saw a shooting star! I felt like I was in an IMAX theater; it was surreal.

Fresh legs

Night hiking gives me fresh legs. When the days get monotonous, it’s refreshing to change things up. I feel recharged after a night hike; it’s exciting to experience the trail at night. It’s also a haven when it’s 90-95F+ degrees during the summer, and hiking between the hours of 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. is scorching hot.

One hot June evening in Southern Virginia, I found myself in the middle of a 14-mile stretch with no water. I was too tired to keep pushing miles but I was too dehydrated to camp there for the night. I decided to night hike to the next water source, and I quickly set up my hammock for a nap. I woke up to a ridgerunner with the brightest flashlight I’ve ever seen. He hollered at me, “There’s a bear right there!” and flashed his light into the woods. I saw a four-legged shadow run by me within five feet of my hammock. I jumped up, packed up, and night hiked out of there so fast. I hiked until 4 a.m. that night; it was epic!

Many of my favorite memories on my thru-hike so far have been while night hiking. Most importantly, I’ve gained confidence and I have also increased my pace. Experience it for yourself if you haven’t already. It may help improve your hikes too. 🙂

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