Map, Compass & GPS

Map, Compass & GPS
Wild flowers along Fall Creek on the way to the Green Lakes - Oregon

Friday, September 30, 2016

Hiking and Navigating at Night

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.


  1. Travel at night is not a big deal It is that many are afraid of the dark.Yes I know many will not fess up but they are. The Idea of a park is bad If you are in a park after 10pm you will be noticed and well I hope It Is the COPS and not THUGS. To gain a feel for night time travel practice in your home turn off all the lights and night lights open currtins wait and see what you see. After you have survived take different typs of fabric and place over a common dallor store flash light(when light is on with good batterys) just to see what happens. After some time you will be ready to walk outside at night BUT BE CAREFULL AT NIGHT REMEMBER THE THUGS MAYBE OUT TO!!!!!!!!! But you have been pacticing at home so you will see the thugs sooner then with out the practice.

    1. Thank you for the comments.
      Great points. I live in a very rural area with limited THUGS. That said I did live in the "big city" for ten years and can really appreciate your comments.

  2. Let me add a suggestion to have a means of shielding your lights, either shadow cones (think toilet paper cardboard rolls) or wrapping a piece of cardboard around the flashlight. Head mounted lamps, while convenient, are also easily seen and hard to shield. At least make some attempt to not throw the beam from head lamps when you don't want to be seen.