What should the hiker consider regarding hiking and navigating at night?
First, let us decide that this is not in a “lost hiker” scenario. If lost, the best thing to do is to
just stay in place. This makes the job much easier for the searchers.
At night the term used to describe our ability to see is “night vision.” Good night vision is important. Therefore, avoid bright lighting. Flashes of bright white light will ruin night vision. Recovery can take about 30-45 minutes. Low level white light and low intensity red light are better.
Care should be taken with the use of a GPS. The normal white backlight function of the GPS receiver will impair night vision. The good news is that the backlight can be adjusted.
Here are a few recommendations about hiking and navigating at night:
Stay on the trail and thoughtfully use flashlights and head lamps. A head lamp may be of more use than a handheld flashlight. Two free hands are better than one. Have extra batteries.
Examine the topographic map of your planned route. Study the contours to evaluate the terrain. Your visual cues will be gone so you will need to establish new ones, larger objects. Lanes of extraction might present themselves on the map such as a power grid line, a road, a lake or an old jeep track.
Discuss your plan with all involved so that you are all on the same page.
Follow your trace on a map. Plot your position frequently. Agree in advance how often you will do that. Take your time with your navigation.
For night time travel a consideration may be to have one person designated to read maps (with dim lighting) while others in the party preserve their night vision and lead the way.
Move forward deliberately and cautiously. Move more like you are stalking.
Others might be moving too. Be alert for bears, coyotes, cougars and in some areas perhaps wolves.
Trekking poles or a walking staff provide support.
Sound travels well at night. Be alert for audible clues to roads and running water.
If you don’t have a GPS and are navigating with just a map and compass it is very important that you start from a known position. Navigating without getting position fixes from a GPS or by visual sighting is called dead reckoning. Such navigation requires you to plot your compass heading and distance traveled. Distance is accounted by pacing (counting your steps) as you move
Night time navigation is not something to be taken lightly. From reviewing my books, US Army field manuals and conversations with experienced backcountry travelers it should be carefully considered and practiced before an actual outing. Practise your navigation at a local park with map and compass. Consider geocaching to improve your GPS skills.
It just gets down to being careful when hiking and navigating at night.