Snowshoeing at Night: How to Plan, Prepare and Navigate

Snowshoeing at night is an activity not to be missed! Under a full moon, the snow sparkles, and you can feel the emphasis on the quiet solitude. As peaceful as a daylight snowshoe adventure can be, nightshoeing is much more so.

Before you head into the mountains, there are some areas to keep in mind during your planning and preparation:

kids snowshoeing at night

Snowshoeing at night offers a unique experience!

The Basics

Of course, you’ll need to bring snowshoes on your adventure. Some snowshoers choose to use poles, too. Of course, you’ll want to bring your regular daypack and accessories, just like a day hike.

Since it will be dark out, you’ll also need a light source. Consider a headlamp for hands-free operation. The snow will reflect the light far more efficiently than plants or rock will, so you’ll find you don’t need as powerful of 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.

Read More: Snowshoeing For Beginners: The First-Timer’s Guide

girl with headlamp snowshoeing at night

Snow reflects light far more efficiently than rocks or plants.

Timing

The best time to go to the mountains at night is when you’re invited. The mountains will always be there, so don’t force a visit. Safety should be your primary concern. Make the avalanche forecast to make sure your risk is low. For U.S. avalanche forecasts, visit avalanche.org, and for Canada, visit Avalanche Canada. In the UK, check out the Scottish Avalanche Information Service website for avalanche forecasts.

Read More: Avalanche Safety Basics For Snowshoers: Warning Signs and Danger Zones

Although there are great adventures to be had in the falling snow, the best nights are the ones with clear skies. Even better snowshoeing is on nights with bright moons. Plan your trip around the moon 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.

snowshoeing at night- snow and night sky

Clear nights, as seen in the distance, are incredibly beautiful at night!

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.)

Warmth

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 enjoy the silence. Layer like you would for daylight snowshoeing, but carry an extra down coat and thicker gloves, too.

fire while snowshoeing at night

There’s nothing like a fire at night for a physical and psychological boost while snowshoeing.

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 real 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.

people by fire

Warming up by a fire during a night snowshoe outing

In addition to fuel, you’ll need something to burn on. Without some 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 in the first place.

As always, make sure you practice the principles of Leave No Trace when burning a fire.

trees at night

Navigation

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 tracks and start following them as though they belonged to someone else.

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. Additionally, 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.)

Read More: Compass and Map Reading 101

snow sparkling at night

The snow really sparkles at night!

Contingency Planning

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 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.

Read More: Top 5 Safety Tips For Snowshoeing

Trees with first light

Appreciating first light

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.

Have you ever been snowshoeing at night? What was your experience? Do you have any other recommendations?


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About the author

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John Soltys

John Soltys is a father, a husband, an adventurer, and a hacker. He grew up in the Pacific Northwest and never considers leaving, even when it rains for 100 days straight. He dreams of days when he can turn off the computer and explore our amazing world with his family.
You can find him where the road heads up into the mountains, tucked against the river, at the end of a dirt road. He writes at moosefish.com, tubbssnowshoes.com, and wta.org. He's also on twitter as @moosefish.

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