Snowshoeing at night is an activity not to be missed. Under a full moon, the snow sparkles and the quiet solitude is emphasized. As peaceful as a daylight snowshoe adventure can be, nightshoeing is much more.
Before you head into the mountains there are some things to think about.
Of course, you’ll need snowshoes. Some use poles, too. You’ll also need a light source. Consider a headlamp for hands-free operation. Since the snow will reflect the light far more efficiently than plants or rock will, you’ll find you don’t need as powerful a light as when you’re hiking at night. Remember to bring extra batteries, though. Unless the moon is bright, you’ll need that light to get home safely.
The best time to go to the mountains is when you’re invited. The mountains will always be there, don’t force a visit. Safety should be your primary concern. Consult your local avalanche center for a current forecast to be sure the risk is low. You can find a list of U.S. and international centers at avalanche.org.
Although there are great adventures to be had in the falling snow, the best nights are the ones with clear skies. Even better are nights with bright moons. Plan your trip around the phase, moonrise, and moonset. Select your location on timeanddate.com to find the best times to be out. The moon will appear bigger near the horizon, but remember that ridges and peaks may obscure the moon if you’re in a valley.
Don’t despair if the only clear nights are ones when the moon won’t light the snow. If you’re far enough from light pollution there’s no better time to stargaze. Look for the auroras (Borealis or Australis depending on your hemisphere), the Milky Way and other constellations, meteor showers, or satellites and the International Space Station. (If you want to try for a picture, bring your tripod and a lot of patience.)
Just like any snowshoeing adventure you need to prepare for the cold. At night, though, it can be significantly colder. Doubly so if you decide to stop to look at the night sky or just enjoy the silence. Layer like you would for a daylight snowshoeing trip, but carry an extra down coat and thicker gloves, too.
A closed-cell sleeping pad, like a Therm-a-Rest Z Lite, will give you a comfortable place to rest without getting chilled by contact with the snow. For true comfort, dig yourself a lounge chair and use the pad as a cushion.
A fire, when permitted, can provide not only warmth and light, but a psychological boost. You’ll probably need to carry all your own wood, so choose wisely. An artificial log (like Java Logs or Duraflame Roasting Logs) can get your fire started quickly and easily. Be cautious, though. Not all artificial logs are safe for cooking and you’ll probably want some s’mores if nothing else.
In addition to fuel, you’ll need something to burn on. Without some sort of a platform, your fire will melt down through the snow. The easiest way to make this work is to snowshoe to a campground or picnic area and dig out a BBQ stand or pit. Pro tip: Make sure you know where the BBQs are before you arrive. It’s frustrating to dig up five mounds only to find none of the BBQ stands you were looking for.
As always, make sure you practice the principles of Leave No Trace when burning a fire.
The first time you venture into the snow after dark you’ll find that even the most familiar routes are mysterious and confusing. Even experienced adventurers have been known to come across their own tracks and <i>start following them as though they belonged to someone else.</i>
Plan your first after-dark trip in an area you know well. Choose an established route with trail markers rather than blazing your own trail and travel in the open if you can. Roads make excellent beginner trails, especially if you have a map with you. (A GPS won’t hurt either, but should never be relied upon exclusively.)
More than anything else, you must be prepared for an accidental overnight in the snow. You could get lost in the dark, break a snowshoe, or your car could refuse to start when you’re ready to head home. You should always have the 10 essentials and know how to use them to survive the night. Always leave a trip plan with someone who can call for help on your behalf if you don’t return and don’t deviate from that plan.
Next time the forecast is for a cold, clear night take advantage of it and head to the snow. You’ll find that nightshoeing can be a magical experience well worth the extra preparation.