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Embrace the Dark Pt. II: Essential Gear for Exploring at Night

Sunset marks the starting gate for a whole new genre of adventure, although with one major caveat: it's dark outside. Have no fear, outdoor enthusiasts - you will #EmbraceTheDark in no time with the following gear essentials for fueling your next nocturnal venture.

Every adventure-seeker has been there at least once. You've done your research, selected the route, and are ready to hit the trail. Then, naturally, life intervenes. You receive an unexpected business call, a project falls through, family matters need attending to, and the net result is that your timely adventure plans become unfeasible - especially during these shorter, darker days.

While many recreationists who fall victim to these circumstances opt to bail on their original plan, stocking your closet with the right gear can significantly mitigate the effect of daylight on your plans. Wait, let's rephrase that - the right gear will enhance your expeditions well beyond the constraints of daylight. Nighttime hikes, bike rides, runs, and even paddles just simply add an element of adventure that identical daytime ventures can't match.

But there's obviously one glaring catch: you need the right gear to facilitate these nocturnal activities. A headlamp or flashlight is a clear necessity, but which variety or style of headlamp is best suited for our region? Which reflective gear is preferred for running, hiking, biking, or kayaking? Is it legally required to have certain gear for a particular activity?

Don't worry, friends - we will answer all of those questions and more in this article.

Expedition Essentials: Night Gear

This article is a little bit of a "two-for-one special" since we're covering an #ExpeditionEssentials gear review for nighttime exploration. Unlike our typical gear reviews, we'll be breaking this category down by essentials for the following specific activities: hiking, running, mountain biking, and paddling. Yes, we at Expedition Detroit recognize that a lot of the following gear items can be used interchangeably between recreational activities. That being said, even items as fundamental as a headlamp vary in utility for sports like mountain biking vs. hiking. More on that in a bit.

Hiking Gear

Planning for a nighttime hike involves the lowest barriers to entry and most versatility of gear choices for new nocturnal adventurers, so we recommend starting with acquiring special hiking gear for exploring your favorite local trail post-sunset.

Layered Clothing

Start with the basics: you should always dress in layers, especially for the cooler-to-freezing temperatures that fluctuate in the Detroit region this time of year. If you start out before sunset, bring along an extra layer to pull on when the temperature inevitably starts to cools off.

Here's a crash-course on layering:

  • Base Layer ("underwear layer"): Arguably most important layer; goal is to wick sweat off your skin.

  • Middle Layer ("insulating layer"): Should retain body heat to protect you from the cold

  • Outer Layer ("shell layer"): Largely weather-dependent; shields you from wind and rain and provides extra insulation.

Any of these layers can be readily purchased from your local outdoor retailer or a leading national retailer like REI. Specifically for nighttime hiking, however, your outermost layers should be well-suited for the elements and have reflective qualities. We live in the north, so your middle layer at a bare minimum should provide enough warmth to handle freezing temperatures. Likewise, your outer layer should be waterproof for sleet and snowy conditions. For visibility purposes, also look for jackets that have reflective attributes like reflective logos and other hits that light sources will pick up.

The final clothing items that you should include in your pre-night hike checklist are for your extremities. Regardless of whether your middle or outer layer features a hood, we always recommend a warm beanie or similar hat to cover your head and ears. Gloves or mittens are also an essential, especially if you plan to carry trekking poles with you. Last but certainly not least, don't forget warm and durable hiking socks to ground your trek.


There are very few absolutes in life, but this is certainly one: night hiking requires a good headlamp. Yes, you can also carry a flashlight (and may want to include a back-up one in your pack), but we strongly recommend a headlamp due to the versatility that it provides for your hands.

As you may have noticed during past trips to your local outfitter, not all headlamps are created equal. Volumes of research exist breaking down the different attributes of hiking headlamps, with the key differentiators being beam type, light (lumens) output, beam distance, battery life, light modes, charge input (batteries/rechargeable), and weight. Black Diamond's "Spot 400" and Petzl's "Actik Core" headlamps are the two market-leaders, although BioLite's 750 lumen headlamp has also recently been making waves into the hiking headlamp market.

Snowshoe Bonus: Your night hiking gear will also suit for any snowshoeing adventures that you should definitely plan for this winter! The only caveat is that you should also purchase snow pants with reflective qualities, but otherwise your night hiking gear will serve you well despite trading the hiking boots for snowshoes. Who doesn't love a two-for-one special.

Running Gear

While running and hiking certainly belong in the same recreational family - let's call them "trail sport cousins" - night running vs. hiking gear differ in several major ways. The bulkier gear required for night hiking is both impractical and potentially hazardous for running. Night running gear includes the same reflective qualities as hiking gear, but otherwise must be lighter and better suited for extensive cardio workouts.

The three most important factors for night running gear are visibility, warmth, and comfort. With visibility, a runner's goal should comprise of 360-degree visibility with equipment beyond just a headlamp. Especially if you prefer road running to trail running, you will significantly diminish the likelihood of injury from passing cars or distracted pedestrians if you wear equipment like one of the headlamps referenced earlier, plus additional illuminating gear like a reflective vest, LED "slap wrap" arm band, LED waist belt