Natural Night Vision

Richard L.
by Richard L.

Night vision goggles are a great tool but are not always practical. Sometimes we simply have to utilize our natural night vision. In order to get the most out of our natural night vision we should understand how our eyes see at night.

While dual tube night vision is very beneficial it is not always practical. Photo Credit: @sweetmarlena87

Anatomy and Functions

Our eyes see in a vast span of lighting conditions, from a bright sunny day to the darkest night. This is accomplished by different parts of the eye working together. These parts are the pupil, rods and cone cells, and photopigments. The pupil is responsible for how much light is allowed into the eye. Like the aperture on a camera it grows and shrinks to allow the proper amount of light. This can be seen when someone is exposed to a bright light and their pupil quickly shrinks.

As the pupil grows or shrinks it increases or decreases the amount of light allowed into the eye.Source:

The rod and cone cells determine the color and perceived detail. With enough light cone cells pick up color and fine details for the image we see. In the dark rod cells allow us to see better but provide a black and white image with poor detail.

The rod and cone cells determine the color and perceived detail.Source:

Reaction to Light

Photopigments are light-sensitive chemicals in both rods and cones. Light causes a chemical reaction with the photopigments that convert the light to electrical energy our brain can interpret. Rhodopsin is the photopigment that enables night vision. However, it is very light sensitive and will decompose when exposed to bright light sources. Some animals that need to see in the dark have many more rods than a human eye.

Light is allowed into the eye through the pupil and is converted to electricity by the rod and cone cells which is a visual signal sent to the brain.Source:

If decomposed, rhodopsin can be regenerated in darkness as the eye again attempts to adjust to its surroundings. It can take over half an hour for the human eye to fully regenerate Rhodopsin and have peak night vision. This is in sharp contrast to cones that only take 5 to 7 minutes to attain maximum sensitivity.

The eye being set up in this fashion is extremely beneficial. The pupil allows in a regulated amount of light and the discs containing rhodopsin or photopsin are continually recycled. This ensures your visual system remains healthy. The discs are next to the epithelial cells (retinal pigmented epithelium: RPE) in the back of the eye. This makes it so that parts of the RPE are easily carried away. RPE is also able to take in scattered light. This clarifies your vision for a much cleaner image. Light can have damaging effects on the eye and having the pupil limiting light with the rods and cones at the back of the eye helps to protect them from damaging amounts of light.

Why is this Important?

It is no secret that a large portion of crime happens under the cover of darkness. While we prefer to train when it is 70 degrees and sunny, we must realize that it is likely we could get into an engagement in the dark. If we understand the eye and how it functions we can better prepare ourselves and allow ourselves to see what we need to see.

One tip that helps us protect our night vision is to wear sunglasses during the day. A few hours of bright exposure can increase the time it takes the eye to adjust to darkness by as much as 10 minutes. Wearing sun glasses will reduce the brightness over extended periods and help protect your night vision.

Tinted eye protection is a great way to protect your night vision as well. Photo Credit: @sweetmarlena87

Before going into a low light environment, wearing red lenses for 20-30 minutes will help improve night vision as the rods do not react to the color red. This is also why there are often red filters used on military lights to allow for a small amount of light that is not easily visible at a distance. Lowering the brightness on electronic devices also helps reduces the amount the eye has to adjust. Also realize the effect of light on an aggressor.

Situational Awareness

By maximizing our natural night vision we are enabling ourselves to have better situational awareness and may be able to simply avoid an incident all together. However, when necessary light can also be used as a positive tool just light during transitions between white and IR light with NVGs.

Seeing what you need to see is important when assessing unknowns. Photo Credit: @sweetmarlena87

Light will also negatively impact the rods in your opponent’s eyes and can help provide you with an advantage. Carrying a quality light with a good hot spot will also help with controlling an unknown or a known threat.

Putting the hot spot of the light in the eyes of the unknown and using the spill to assess what is in their hands can be an effective use of a light. Photo Credit: @sweetmarlena87

What’s Up Doc?

How do carrots affect your eyes? From what grandma told you growing up you probably thought you would get super vision powers from eating them. Photoreceptors contain a pigment molecule called retinal. Light enters the eye in the form of photons which is absorbed by retinal. Through this process retinal is destroyed. Vitamin A is needed to regenerate retinal. While carrots provide vitamin A and this is healthy for your eyes, getting vitamin A from carrots or other foods will help with eye health but will not improve vision clarity.



We often don’t think of getting enough vitamin A, not smoking, or wearing sunglasses outdoors as a tactical decision. However, each of these factors help improve eye health and together will increase our night vision and give us an advantage.

A normal pocket dump does not contain night vision. Whether running aided or natural night vision, understanding how the eye works and taking small steps to maximize ocular health will provide you with an advantage. Photo Credit: @sweetmarlena87
Richard L.
Richard L.

Richard lives in southern Indiana and has a strong interest in training, modified pistols, optics, and low profile gear/tactics. Some may consider it hoarding or some form of addiction, but he never tires in his pursuits as a stamp and lumen collector!For any corrections, input, or interest in posts, you can reach him at

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13 of 34 comments
  • Fred Weller Fred Weller on Jun 04, 2018

    Stop relying on the latest fad "torch" flashlights. Short cuts don't work.
    Practice using all your senses. And use proper tactics. I'm never going face to face with an adversary, so that BS about shooting a light in their face? No.
    Observe. Flank. Strike.

    • See 10 previous
    • Wow! Wow! on Jun 10, 2018

      @Fred Weller Part of being proficient is keeping up with the profession. We don't forget what we are taught but we certainly should not be oblivious to better tactics that have been developed over the years. Proper use of a flashlight IS part of operating a weapon, it is a very big fundamental. Since you served you have plenty of options available to get very good training at moderately low costs. It can be a bit hard to find good trainers depending on where you live but aside from searching online or word of mouth, call up your local police department about low light training opportunities. Usually it is LEO only but if you have a CCW permit issued from that area they are sometimes receptive to opening a slot to you depending on the classes they have running that month. That or they can direct you to trainers the department works with.

      Force on force is basically sparring like MILES or pugil stick sparring. It is the term to encompass training involving fighting actual people rather than an inanimate target. Most force on force drills involve a role playing opfor, but competitive scenarios are done occasionally. Look it up on youtube and you will get the general idea on what it is about. It isn't new by any means. Probably the oldest example I can think of are the handloaded glue stick rounds used with revolvers and shotguns in the 80's. Airsoft has been used as a fantastic training aid for well over a decade now. Your average paintball skirmish doesn't match the training value of a proper force on force scenario (although still beneficial I am sure). I'm sure you could wipe the floor with me in paintball, but maybe not at night.

      You talk about thinking for yourself. So do it. Like I said, mock up a scenario with a friend (DON'T USE YOUR FIREARM) and actually try using a red light versus short flashes with a white light. Maybe afterwards you will still think white light is silly. That is fine, but at least you know from experience.

      Or heck, talk to guys LE/Mil who are currently serving or just got out/retired. As far as you know, I'm a nobody on the internet so if you can't trust me, talk to them and see what they are doing right now for low light tactics.

  • Zebra Dun Zebra Dun on Jun 05, 2018

    Good article! They used to check our night vision in the outfit I was in, seeing who had what, most are average some are poor to blind and that few who were part cat could see very well.