“The heat of the day can be deadly,” says Lilia Menconi, the author of a guidebook for hiking in and around Phoenix, where temperatures have already reached 118 degrees this summer. Skip walking in the midday sun and start your hike at dusk instead, when a cooler world opens up around you. “You can hear coyotes and see scorpions and bats and all kinds of nocturnal animals,” says Menconi, who sometimes brings along a black light that makes scorpions glow blue-green in the dark.
Trek after hours only on trails you know well. Opt for wide, easy-to-navigate paths. Tell someone else where you’re going and when you plan to be back. Walk with at least one other person; if you feel unsafe being out at night, go with a larger group.
Check the weather forecast; you don’t want to get caught on a mountaintop in a storm. Always carry a headlamp, a backup flashlight and extra batteries. The light on your phone will do in a pinch, but it’s best to have your hands free in case you fall. If you pass other hikers, cover your headlamp so as not to hurt their eyes. Some evenings your vision will adjust and you won’t need a light at all. “Full-moon hikes are absolutely stunning,” Menconi says.
Wildlife tends to be more active after sundown, so anticipate what creatures you might encounter and the threats they might pose. Around Phoenix, Menconi prepares for rattlesnakes but isn’t worried about run-ins with mountain lions or bears. Bring a first-aid kit and water. Menconi carries a liter of water for every two miles she plans to walk, night or day. “Sometimes it’s like 9 p.m. and it’s still over 100 degrees outside,” she says. As high-temperature records keep being set year after year, night hiking can give you a new way to be outside in this hotter world.
You’re unlikely to be alone. Piestewa Peak is visible from Menconi’s house. Every summer she sees more and more flashlights bobbing along its trails in the dark. When you go out, notice how landscapes look different under the moon, how streetlights shimmer and shadows stretch. Sometimes things that dominate the day go entirely undetected. “At night, you can’t see the smog,” Menconi says.