As the snow on trails continues to melt and all of us can enjoy the benefits of a later sunset, this creates an environment where it's much safer to participate in another one of my favorite outdoor activities - Night Hikes for Star Gazing. Night Hiking can be treacherous for inexperienced hikers, and I would never recommend someone to go on a night hike if they're not intimately familiar with the landscape. However, if you have somewhere you prefer to go on a quick day hike and frequent that path often, that may be something you can consider trying to night hike in. The primary reason I enjoy night hikes are the destination visages I normally seek, coupled with the still silence that only night provides, my only intention being to get a clear, light-pollution free view of the stars and constellations that are visible in the night skies.
Night Hiking is not an activity I would recommend to those with a fear or anxiety of dark environments, but if you are looking for a way to overcome those fears, this activity can help with that, as it certainly did for me. Growing up in the city of Boston, true darkness was not an easy thing to experience, as streetlights stay lit throughout the night, polluting the night sky, allowing me to only visualize the stars in books or other media. Needless to say, this is something I always wanted to do, and strove to do it myself when I was capable of doing so.
Of course there are plenty of places that provide great views of the night sky, the choice of where to go is dependent on your location and what is most accessible to you. Using a car, you could simply drive to some of the scenic points in your local town and probably find a decent view of some constellations. What I'm talking about is a bit more in depth - as it requires you to hike into the darkness, emerging into a clearing to view the cosmos above in full splendor. For those who haven't spent much time in the woods at night - it can be extremely daunting knowing that visibility is near none. Under a canopy of trees, light becomes even more faint, and this darkness is amplified 10 fold once the sun sets. Because of this, a flashlight is completely necessary, and specifically for night activities, hands-free options like our Solar Cap Light are perfect for keeping both of your hands available, while still providing much needed light to guide your path.
The interesting thing about night hiking is that your other senses will take over in the absence of good visibility. This can be a skin-crawling, yet awe-inspiring experience. Now I personally choose to do this in areas where predatory animals are infrequent or entirely non-existent - as that's a true danger that we should be cautious of. Safety is always going to be your number one priority on any outdoor excursion, and for night time trips you definitely want to take extra precautions - for most areas in the country, animal repellent sprays and noise alert systems are popular methods to scaring would-be predators away.
Lighting, communication devices, and personal protection are going to be necessities, but these are all to help you ensure a safe journey to and from your destination. This is why I would heavily recommend starting with night hikes on paths you are very familiar with, as getting lost in the dark is extremely, extremely easy. However, once you find an open clearing, you'll be rewarded with the out of this world view of far-flung stars, the light of far away star systems captured by your eyes after their thousands-year journey.
Star gazing is one of the oldest past times in human history - as we can't help but look up, wondering what else may be out there. Conspiracies aside, what is out there is an array of stars, much like our Sun, visible thanks to the light that has travelled its way across the galaxy. While most of the stars we see with the naked eye are within 10,000 light years away, some of the stars you may see are from already extinct stars. Adding things such as a telescope to your pack can help you find harder to see stars, although this takes a little bit of knowledge in astronomy.
Perhaps one of the most relatable memories for all of us is the first time someone may have pointed out a constellation, such as the Big and Little Dippers, for the very first time. Connecting the dots, our collective imaginations have painted images from a series of stars, adding our own lore and stories as to why they present themselves to us in the night sky. On top of regular stargazing activities, special astronomical phenomenon that are unique to certain areas, such as shooting stars or the Northern Lights, which draw millions of visitors to visages around the world where they can be seen.
While we like to focus on what's tangible and within grasp, stargazing is an activity, when coupled with a night hike, that takes the physical aspects we love of the outdoors, and combines it with something completely out of our reach, leaving the reality of the stars entirely up to our own imaginations.
As always, be sure to plan accordingly and never push yourself past your means. If you do plan on undertaking a night hike, make sure you have extra food, water, and light sources, as well as at least one form of communication.