How to walk safely in the dark

How to walk safely in the dark
On Ben Nevis

Photo: Sean Gerald

At the end of October each year the clocks go back.

After that, an 11:00 am Sunday morning start for a fifteen mile walk starts to look less feasible if the undertaking is to be er . . undertaken in daylight. (Don't worry, no undertaker jokes follow)

The bottom line is, make sure you're prepared for it by praticising and having a torch of some sort with you, with batteries and spare bulbs and stuff like that.

Finding your way around under a sparkling canopy of twinkly things isn't always all that easy. So, what do you do if Mr Moonlight starts to beam before you're ready?

First of all, it is best not to panic.


Before you got yourself in to this mess, you'll have practised won't you?

You'll already have gone for some walks 'in the dark'.

If you haven't, why not plan your next walk to include some easy bits at the end which you can do 'in the dark' - or start early so it is 'dark' when you 'set off' and it gets lighter as the day goes on.

Easy places can be those long grassy lanes, quiet roads, pastures with no holes in them, moorland tracks and so on. There are records of individuals walking the Aonach Eagach ridge in Glen Coe by moonlight, but I'm not recommending that as a starter!

If you do get caught out by the time:

a) First have a scoff (the grey cells need sugar).

b) Work out where you are.

c) Plan the easiest/safest way to a road or lane.

d) To save batteries, leave turning any lights or torches on till the very last minute. Under certain conditions - for instance under snow and/or in bright moonlight - you might find that you don't even need a torch (but still take one anyway).

e) Stick together.

If you're using a GPS, use the backlight very sparingly - it devours the batteries. It is best just to use it to give you positions - and then turn to your compass for guidance. This should have fluorescent markers on the needle and at the end of the direction pointer so you can see them. Just make sure you keep the compass away from your torch, GPS and/or mobile phone or it will lie to you.

Do not sit it out and wait for rescue. You don't need rescue. You're not exhausted or injured. You planned this all along. You practised for it. You brought torches and batteries and things.

You did didn't you?

Besides a long overnight wait on a cold night without shelter might well have worse consequences than an easy walk down. And that's not accounting for the reception you will get from the rescuers themselves when they find you.

Like all the other aspects of our chosen pursuit, being ready and prepared is the key. If you are fully prepared - you might even enjoy walking in the dark.

Just watch out for those huge green-eyed monsters and ghoulies that follow, silently, behind you. And things that go bump in the night. Oh and warm breath on the back of your neck, and the bats that suck your blood, and dead, squashy things laying in the path, and things that growl in the bushes, and sheep who's slitty devil eyes shine back at you in the torchlight . . . ooooer!

“Beware walking through a cow field at night with a head torch switched on. I once had a herd of cows running towards me while solo walking at night. I was near the gate fortunately. Skiddaw is a good mountain for night walks (usually done at the beginning of the 4 peaks walk). I have also enjoyed walking the Carneddau at night as part of the 15 peaks walk (either North to South or as a circuit.)”

Andy Williams, Salford

“Take 2 torches - one to wear and one as a spare. Night walking is fantastic, it will give you confidence and improve your navigation skills. There is something very special about being out in the dark - often having the hills to yourself. Start with someone to build up your confidence - then try it on your own. If you have never done it before try some local woodland during the day - visibility is often difficult in woods so it is an excellent training exercise. Then work up to paths in the woods at night - if you walk 'through' the woods at night - watch out for branches and twigs going in your eyes. Orienteering courses (permanent courses) could be used at night - I use these a lot during the winter months. Always take your time when navigating at night - keep legs short - and enjoy!!”

Steve Good, Windsor

“Use a head torch with a red beam where possible as this will not affect your night vision as much”

Steve Tyler, Pickering

“Take a torch yes... but try to avoid using it to illuminate your path. The areas outside of your pool of light look much darker and scarier, it will attract lots of biting insects and it will prevent your eyes doing their job of getting accustomed to the dark and helping you see more and further. Even walking through forests there is usually enough light for your brain and eyes to work with. The main uses for my torch are map, compass reading and GPS reading (saves those batteries), letting people know I am there (especially traffic when I get to a road), picking out the eyes of animals, from mice and voles to badgers, foxes, deer etc., and occasionally looking at particularly rough, wet or difficult bits. Enjoy the dark, it is beautiful.”

Carlo Gilmour, Owslebury

“I've just started night walking. I've done Winhill [Pike] in [The] Peaks [District] and now I'm planning Kinder Scout. Anyone got any tips for me.”

John White, Doncaster

“I've learnt not to trust too much to those windup torches. They're OK when they're working but if the winder mechanism fails or the internal battery refuses to hold a charge you can be left in the middle of nowhere in the pitch dark as I found out once myself. I always carry one main headtorch plus a spare and spare batteries for both. I've also just switched to lithium batteries in my main torch which last about 5 times longer than standard alkaline anyway.”

Ian Middleton, Oxford

“I'm a walker/scrambler nearing 60 and have ascended several of our wonderful UK summits under the stars. I'm only surprised that there are not more people doing it. To lie on my back, beneath a clear night sky atop the shelter on Cader Idris [sic] gives a pleasure that can't be explained. Likewise to watch the sun sink into the west from Sca Fell. Basic rules to apply are these. Carry a map and compass and know how to use them. Do your homework beforehand regarding route, time and weather. Don't underestimate the difference between day and night, it will surprise the unwary. A reliable headlight is essential, with extra batteries and a backup torch. Remember the temperature can drop dramatically due to both night and altitude, so wear proper clothing, including hat and gloves, even in summer. Carry sufficient provisions, but not more than you need. Finally, if you're of a nervous disposition, stay home, because numerous creatures are nocturnal and you may see and hear much that you failed to anticipate. On the positive side, it is an experience that everyone should taste, at least once, for if you love the mountains as I do, you will view them in a different light, literally.”

Bill Fox, Bolton

“I always have a 'wind-up' LED flashlight in my rucksack, which I bought in Robert Dyas for about a fiver. You get loads of very bright white light for the sake of a few turns of the handle, with no batteries to run out. I was surprized at just how good it is was when I tested it in some caves. As far as I'm concerned, it's a must-have for being out and about in the dark. Another safety tool we carry is the little PMR446 radios (readily available and not expensive)just in case we get split up...”

Harry King, Bexleyheath, Kent

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