Nighttime Survival: Navigating the Darkness and Cold in the Great Outdoors

Nighttime Survival: Navigating the Darkness and Cold in the Great Outdoors

When the sun dips below the horizon, the wilderness transforms. Temperatures drop, visibility decreases, and what was once a familiar landscape can become a challenging environment in the dark.

Join us as we delve into essential tips for surviving dark, cold nights outdoors, and what tools will serve you best when the lights go out.

 A small tent set up in the woods.

1. Create a Safe Campsite Before Dark

You always need to establish a safe place as your home base. Don’t leave it to the last second or you may run out of daylight.

As dusk approaches, find a suitable spot to set up camp. Look for an area sheltered from the wind and away from bodies of water that can drop temperatures further.

Now it’s time to set up a shelter. A tent or a tarp is ideal, but if you find yourself without, nature offers a few alternatives.

Natural shelters (such as a group of bushes, a fallen tree, or a rock outcropping that can block the wind and retain heat) are an excellent choice if you are in a hurry. If you have time to build a shelter, you can create a lean-to shelter using branches and leaves. In snowy conditions, a snow cave or a quinzhee (a shelter made by hollowing out a pile of settled snow) can be a lifesaver.

2. Maintain Body Heat

In cold environments, hypothermia is a serious risk. Even if wherever you are does not seem very cold, temperatures can drop drastically when the sun goes down depending on your location.

A great place to begin is by layering clothing. Start with a moisture-wicking base layer, add an insulating layer like fleece, and top it off with a waterproof and windproof outer layer. You can always remove layers if you find yourself overheating.

A sleeping bag is also a must for keeping warm at night. The Emergency Sleeping Bag by Ready Hour is a compact option that will help you retain your body heat.

If you had to build your shelter, remember that the smaller the space, the better it will retain your body heat. Also, try to insulate yourself from the ground (whether with blankets, a camping pad, or leaves), as the earth can sap warmth from your body.

A person wearing a headlamp outdoors to navigate through the dark. 

3. Light Up the Night

Visibility at night is not just about convenience. It’s a critical safety measure in outdoor survival. When the sun sets, the familiar terrain can become disorienting and hazardous. Being able to see clearly is essential for avoiding injuries, setting up a safe campsite, and even signaling for help if necessary.

Headlamps, like the Ready Hour Rechargeable Sensor Headlamp, are invaluable tools in these situations. They allow for hands-free operation and are perfect for setting up camp or navigating in the dark.

Keeping a reliable flashlight like the 9-in-1 Multi-Function LED Solar Rechargeable Flashlight handy is a must when you need higher intensity lighting. These can cast a stronger and farther-reaching beam, making them ideal for scouting your surroundings or signaling for help. 

4. Fire is Your Friend

Fire is so much more than just a heat source when it comes to outdoor survival. Its glow brings light to dark surroundings and a sense of comfort to an otherwise daunting environment. Which means having reliable tools to actually start a fire is crucial.

Carrying a variety of ignition sources is always smart to ensure you’re prepared for any situation. Great options are waterproof matches, a lighter, or a ferro rod.

An excellent addition to these tools is the InstaFire Granulated Fire Starter.  It ignites easily and burns in wet conditions while being compact and easy to add to your bug-out bags and camping gear.

5. Stay Hydrated and Nourished

It is easy to think you aren’t thirsty when the weather is cold. The chilly environment, however, can trick your body and mask the signs of dehydration. In cold weather, your body works harder to maintain its core temperature. This can lead to increased water loss through respiration and urination. This makes it essential to consciously keep up your water intake.

Keep yourself hydrated with clean, unfrozen water. Portable filters like the Aquamira SHIFT Insulated Filter Bottle paired with their S-IV Backcountry Replacement Filter make it easy to access safe drinking water.

Food intake is equally important in the cold. Your body burns more calories to generate heat, making high-energy foods vital for maintaining energy levels and body heat. High-energy, no-cook items like energy bars are a great choice for on-the-go eating.

For a more substantial option, consider ready-to-eat meals like Beyond Outdoor Meals, which provide 710 calories per pouch plus ample protein.

 A woman holding a compass to help navigate.

6. Navigate Smartly

Traveling through the wilderness at night poses unique challenges and risks, making it wise to avoid moving in the dark unless absolutely necessary. The lack of visibility can disorient even the most experienced survivalist and increase the chance of accidents or getting lost.

If you must move at night, do so with caution. A good compass, like the Survival Compass by Ready Hour, will help you maintain a sense of direction when you cannot see landmarks.

A GPS device is also a great backup, but don’t rely too heavily on it as it can lose signal and power quite easily in remote areas.

Related Read: Navigating Your World Without GPS

7. Stay Calm and Rested

Mental well-being is as crucial as physical preparedness. Stay calm and rested. If you’re struggling to sleep, techniques such as deep breathing exercises can help. Remember, a well-rested mind is more capable of making sound decisions.

8. Wildlife Awareness

Wildlife awareness is a critical aspect of nighttime survival. The key to coexisting safely with any animal in your area is to minimize attractants and maintain a respectful distance.

Keep food stored in airtight containers. If you do not have a container, you can bag your food and hang it from a tree branch at least 10 feet above the ground and eight feet away from the trunk.

Additionally, it's crucial to keep your sleeping area and food prep area separate. Prepare and store all food at least 100 yards away from where you sleep. This distance will help keep any curious animals attracted by the smell of food away from your sleeping area.

Related Read: How to Protect Your Food from Bears