While we use headlamps and other flashlights a lot on the homestead, (see Headlamps: Don’t Leave Home Without Them!) we also practice seeing in the dark. I promote this not only because it’s practical, using less energy, requiring less equipment, but because I believe it’s safer.
Using a light to walk a trail through the forest after dark restricts one’s vision to that light’s limits. We only see as much or as far as the light can illuminate. In most cases, the beam is concentrated to allow us to see farther ahead. Unfortunately, that severely restricts our peripheral vision.
If one tries, one soon realizes that without the light, one’s eyes will collect what little light is available, permitting a full-range view: ahead and around, primary and peripheral.
Admittedly, it’s not as clear as illuminated vision. Our eyes evolved to see colors, which require light to reflect. It’s much more difficult to gauge depth in the dark. Detail is pretty much invisible.
I’m not advocating doing without a light completely—I’ve forgotten a headlamp or lost battery power far too many times to suggest that. I carry the light, but go without it until it becomes too dark to see. Or, if I’m very adventurous, I’ll continue on through the dark, keeping the light ready to use momentarily should I need it.
To me, this is another case of people using something that’s convenient to the point that we assume we must have it. The truth is, however poor human eyesight may be when compared to some of the animals around us, it’s still pretty good. It has evolved to work best in daylight, but it can and does work in the dark. But, like any other ability, it must be used to develop. During World War II, Japanese pilots reportedly practiced until they could identify constellations in the sky during the day. I don’t doubt that—we are capable of far more than most of us ever attempt.
Incidentally, in reviewing the headlamp essay linked above, I see it’s about time for an update. Watch for that sometime in the future.