Night-time Navigation: Top 8 Tips

Night Navigation

Night-time navigation is making your way through a landscape at night. Though it’s irresponsible and dangerous to hike at night, sometimes medical emergencies and the adventure-seeking itch forces one to do so. 

Problems faced in night-time navigation

The techniques involved in night-time navigation are the same as daytime navigation. However, due to the following factors, navigation at night becomes very challenging.

Low Visibility

Due to the darkness, a hiker may get fearful as it is a primeval human character. It does not help that the low or zero visibility at night hinders you from recognizing the landscape clearly, thus making it more difficult to find your way.

Bad weather conditions

The sudden change in weather conditions, especially if you are navigating a mountain or hilly area is another vital problem faced by hikers during the night.

Tips for safe night time navigation

Safe night navigation depends on how much practice and planning one has put in. Practising not only improves your skills and calms your nerves,  it also enhances your navigational techniques. Besides practising other factors for safe night time navigation are: 

1.Using a good head torch

Since visibility is a great challenge when navigating at night, one should use a brighter head torch with a powerful beam and more lumens. It will not only ease your navigation at night but also assist you in reading maps efficiently and see some of the terrains.

Also, make sure that you never run out of light. It’s better to keep a spare torch or a charged battery with you.

2.Using maps and compasses

Proper usage of maps and compasses is significant, especially during the night as you can’t easily see the land features. Also, at night, it’s a bit challenging to recognize your surroundings and confirm your location. Maps and compasses help you to:

  • Take bearing and measure the distance from one point to another.
  • Help you to identify features of the terrain so that you can make an efficient navigation plan.

3.Following the contours

Following contour lines on the map helps you to pinpoint your position. It also assists you in visualizing the various landforms like rift, valleys, slopes, peaks, cliffs, and so on.

Hence “contouring” will always support you in planning your night navigation and to know whether you are descending or climbing.

4.Pacing or counting steps

Pacing is a navigation skill that informs you how many paces or steps you need to cover 100 meters of distance. By using the pacing technique, you reach your measured distance through the number of paces you have taken. This helps you get an idea of the vicinity you want to be in.

5.Timing

Use Naismith’s rule to calculate the time taken for hiking from point A to point B at any hiking leg. Also, you can use a stopwatch to keep your navigation elapsed timing more accurate.  

6.Using landmarks

After you find landmarks with contour features like ridgelines, valleys, streams, and cliffs on the map. You can use these landmarks to take the bearings on the map which will guide you during navigation.

7.Keep an altimeter

To know your elevation more precisely keep an altimeter with you as it eases your navigation. However, if you go pass the land feature, make sure to reset it.

8.Knowing how to use a GPS

Though it’s better to navigate with a compass and a map as GPS technology can’t be used everywhere due to the limitation of signals, you should still learn how to use one as it can come in handy. 

GPS technology is helpful in navigation as it is easy to use and doesn’t require extra navigational equipment, provided you have access to a signal.

Night-time navigation without a compass

Sometimes, you may face a situation whereby your compass is damaged or you are unable to use it due to poor visibility. Do not panic as here we will discuss some techniques to find the directions at night without a compass.

Moon Navigation

To find the south direction with the help of the moon you need to draw 2 imaginary lines between any 2 points of the crescent moon and follow it till horizon. The intersection point of horizon and the imaginary lines will give you a south direction. 

moon navigation
Photo by Marcus Löfvenberg on Unsplash

Find North Star (Polaris)

To find the north direction you need to locate the North Star also known as Polaris. To find the North star, make an imaginary arrow pointing outwards from the ‘Spoon shape’ of the ‘Ursa Major’ constellation. The first ‘brighter’ star will be the North Star.


Final words 

These tips will help improve your night time navigational skills. However, we have to warn you against making any unnecessary hikes at night and only do so in the case of emergency. If you do not have a compass on hand, use the moon and stars to find a direction.