How to Prepare for High Altitude Hiking

high altitude hiking

There are many types of hikes you can take, from walking the trail around your local park to hiking over a steep mountain. If you’re ready to take your adventures to the next level and start getting into the higher altitudes, there are some steps you need to take to ensure that you’re ready and safe before heading up into the clouds. Below, Ranger Mac will go over some tips and tricks to help you get ready to tackle high altitude hiking!

Understanding High Altitude Hiking

If you’ve never taken a hike above 6,000 feet, you need to understand and prepare for what that will feel like before you attempt it. As you climb higher, there’s less oxygen and less moisture in the air. Even slightly lower oxygen in your body can affect your physical performance. You may be just fine lugging that hiking backpack up an incline at 1,000 feet, but at 6,500 feet, your balance and agility will be tested and that extra weight will make it worse. So what can you do to make sure you’re physically and mentally ready to do this? Ranger Mac will go over some basics to help you make your high altitude hiking trip more enjoyable and safer.

Training for High Altitude Hiking

Even if you’ve been on plenty of hikes before, there are some steps you need to take before you tackle those high altitude hikes, in addition to simply hiking around at low altitudes. First, you need to focus on aerobic fitness by cycling, running, and swimming. This will help your cardiovascular system absorb and transport oxygen more efficiently through your body. If you’re able to train at altitudes above 5000 feet, that would be ideal. For many of us, this is not an option, and that’s ok too. In that case, there are a few things you can do to better train for those high altitude hikes while at lower altitudes:

  • Find some steep hills and hike and bike them regularly. Adding this to your routine, you should do the steep hill training 3-5 times a week. If there are no steep hills around you, find some tall stairs in a building or a stadium for this type of training.
  • Train with your backpack loaded. Even if you’re not planning on carrying more than a day’s worth of items in your backpack, it’s best to be accustomed to the weight as you hike. Both walking and running with the backpack as you train 3-5 times a week will get you ready for the weight you'll be carrying when the hiking gets tougher.
  • Maintain a strong pace, whether you’re walking, running, cycling, or swimming. This will build up your endurance and strength. That being said, you should also make sure to take rest breaks as you need to and not hurt yourself by training too strenuously.

Hydrate as you Hike

Once you hit the higher altitudes, you'll need to up your intake of water. It’s better to get in the habit of drinking that much water before you go on that hike, so it becomes second nature. Once you hit an altitude of 6000 feet, you will notice a need to urinate more often, and that will take the water out of your body faster. Start drinking more water now and help your body get used to flushing itself out more often.

Prepare to Brave the Elements

Even if you’re not naturally prone to getting sunburnt, you will need to make sure you have a good SPF sunblock, and don’t skimp on applying it in the higher altitudes. A good hat is always important to have on a hike as well. Aside from sun protection, you need to prepare for the wind and temperature extremes. Make sure you have the necessary weather/wind-resistant gear for the area. The temperature drops quickly as you hike up a mountain, and the wind becomes fiercer. Also have waterproof clothing, thermal gloves, extra hand warmers, and wool socks. All of these things will help protect your body from the extreme elements of the higher altitude. Most importantly, make sure you have high quality hiking boots that fit well.

Bring a First Aid Kit

Before you climb into these higher altitudes, make sure you have what you need in case the elements start to get to you. The medication Diamox is the most often prescribed altitude medicine and is often used for treks that go above 8,000 feet. You’ll also want to have ibuprofen, cough drops, and indigestion pills in case you have a situation that makes you uncomfortable. Not to mention the usual emergency first aid supplies such as bandages. To combat the lower moisture content of the air, you might also want to bring some moisturizer, especially if you're prone to cracked skin.

Know Your Limits

Before you venture out on a high altitude hike, make an appointment with your doctor. Have them give you a thorough physical examination and go over any concerns you may have about your physical ability to go on the hike. They will be able to help you set a goal that you can physical attain on your hike without over-doing it.

As you go on the hike, know that it’s okay for you to turn around and descend back down early if you feel unwell. It’s especially important to stop if you get chest pains. If you find yourself dragging too much, you may just need to train a bit more before you try high altitude hiking again.

Take It Slow

There’s no way for you to know just exactly how your body will react to the higher altitude until you get up there. Some people can truck right along with minimal reaction, leaving others to huff and puff and drag along behind even though they felt prepared. Your body will naturally move slower the higher up you go, and that’s okay. Go with it and don’t push yourself too hard. Take your time and enjoy the process of tackling that higher altitude hike. Don’t forget to take in the beautiful scenery!

High altitude hiking is something that will take time to prepare for, and it’s best to not rush the process. Your body will thank you and you will enjoy the hike and the views so much more if you take the time and prepare for it correctly.