How to Train For High Altitude Hiking – 15 Ways
Hiking Made Easy – High altitude hiking can be fun and challenging. However, first, you may need to know how to train for high altitude hiking?
The air is thinner and contains less oxygen while you are hiking at a high altitude (measured as over 10,000 feet), making it more difficult to breathe.
It is critical to give yourself enough time to prepare for your high-altitude hike in order to complete it in the best possible condition. Preparing for a high altitude hike is not easy and requires some extra effort.
The higher you go in altitude, the more significant the threats become. It is unfortunate that there are no particular risk factors that might lead to the development of altitude sickness or acute mountain sickness – it does not discriminate on the basis of age, gender, or physical fitness.
It is not more likely for someone who has experienced in the past to suffer in the future. Knowing that these dangers exist, you should do all in your power to minimize any additional risks and prepare to become as physically fit as you possibly can in the weeks leading up to your simulated altitude hike.
If you follow these preparatory guidelines for your high-altitude trek, you will appreciate it much more since you will have more time to concentrate on your wonderful surroundings and breathtaking air, which will allow you to enjoy it even more.
How to Train For High Altitude Hiking – 15 Tips
Due to the fact that appropriate training can help to mitigate some of the symptoms of high altitude, many climbers devote a significant amount of time to training before leaving on a high-altitude trek.
If you’re new to high-altitude hiking, you might be wondering where to begin your preparations for the journey.
We will not provide you with an exhaustive fitness schedule to prepare for your next hike because every individual is unique. As a substitute, here are 15 tips for high altitude hiking training:
Consult With A Medical Professional
Before beginning a new training routine, consult with your doctor to ensure that you do not have any pre-existing illnesses that might prevent you from hiking at high altitudes. Let’s get this party started if you’re all clear.
Concentrate on Your Cardio
As a result of climbing at higher altitudes, your cardiovascular system will be operating at its utmost capacity.
We gain height, and the atmospheric pressure in the air around us drops as a result. When compared to the air at sea level, this indicates that there is a proportionately lower amount of accessible oxygen in the air. So, this is how to train for high altitude hiking.
When hiking at high altitudes, your body will have a difficult time getting enough oxygen into your bloodstream to keep you going. As a result, having a stronger cardiovascular core will help you achieve more success while you’re at high altitudes.
Generally speaking, you’ll want to improve your aerobic fitness to the point where you can trek all day at a brisk pace in lower-level mountains without being too tired or hot (up to 6,000 meters).
If you’re having too much difficulty down there, things aren’t likely to get much better as you get to the top of the mountain.
In the case of those who live near hills and smaller mountains, you’ll want to get out as much as possible during your training for longer walks (6-10 hours).
In the event that traveling out of the city is not an option, any sort of cardiovascular exercise will be useful. Moreover, it can be good to incorporate a variety of sports, such as running (particularly uphill! ), bicycling, and swimming, to avoid overuse problems.
Increase Your Water Consumption
It is very crucial to stay hydrated when hiking at altitude.
At high altitudes, dry mountain air mixed with more intensive breathing can quickly lead to dehydration. Once you’ve arrived, you’ll want to drink more water, but sadly, that’s easier said than done in this situation.
Begin gradually increasing your daily water consumption a few weeks before your journey so that your body has time to adjust to the additional volume of water you will be drinking. So, staying hydrated is important.
So, increasing your water intake will help you how to train for high altitude hiking.
To enhance your aerobic fitness, you should include a significant amount of cardio at a sustained intensity in your fitness routine.
Even though many people swear by interval training to increase cardiovascular fitness, you should be certain that you will be able to keep a steady pace for the number of hours you will be walking each day.
The VO2 max (the greatest amount of oxygen that your body can consume) is improved by aerobic activities such as running, riding, and swimming.
The importance of this is increased while trekking at high altitudes since there will be less oxygen in the air for you to inhale, and each breath will be critical. Whatever form of exercise you pick, make sure to incorporate hill training into your routine.
Hike With A Heavy Pack
At higher heights, even a lightweight pack might seem like a tonne of bricks, especially if you’re hiking in a group.
As a result, while you’re preparing for high altitude hiking, you’ll want to become used to carrying a pack that’s far heavier than the one you’ll be carrying on your trip.
Although it is not harmful to the human body, carrying a heavy pack can be exhausting. What is the solution? It is possible to carry jugs of water or MSR Dromedary bags full of upward water sections of a climb and then dump the water when you reach the top.
This allows you to benefit from the training effects of hiking with a large load while limiting the harm done to your knees, hips, and body when going downhill at a fast pace. So, this is how to train for high altitude hiking using a heavy pack.
Deep Breathing Exercises
At high altitudes, deep breaths are more efficient than short breaths because they provide your body more time to efficiently exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen.
Deep breaths also assist in calming your heartbeat and stabilizing your blood pressure, which is beneficial. It can also assist you in calming down on the hill if you become anxious. It can be a side effect of shortness of breath.
In order to expand your lungs, practicing deep breathing requires strengthening your respiration muscles like the intercostal muscles and the diaphragm, which may be done alone or as part of a yoga routine.
Laying on your back and taking long, steady breaths through your nose is a good way to improve your deep breathing skills. Take deep breaths into your abdomen, back, and sides, and make sure you’re exhaling completely.
Increase Training Trek Distance and Altitude Gradually
As you train, you should aim to increase the distance and duration of your walks. Even if it is difficult to raise the altitude of your training treks.
Start out slowly and gradually increase your walking time until you are walking approximately one hour less than you would be expecting to walk on the longest walking day of your trip.
Exercise at least a couple of weeks before you want to go on your high-altitude trek to allow yourself enough time to recuperate from it. If you want to learn more ways how to train for high altitude hiking, continue reading.
If you are unable to get away from the city, you may always engage in some stair training. While jogging up and down staircases isn’t nearly as enjoyable as going on a walk, it is some of the most effective training you can receive on flat ground.
Staircases are commonly seen in high-rise residential buildings, high-school football stadiums, and ice rinks.
If you’re having trouble finding a staircase to run up, you may always hunt for a hill to train on by making hill sprints.
What is our recommendation? Begin with interval training on stairways and gradually progress to exercising with a backpack on your shoulders and back.
A weighted backpack is preferable to a weight vest when it comes to training because it more closely resembles the circumstances you’ll encounter on your trek.
Take A Rest Between Arriving and Hiking Time
In order to maximize your chances of having a successful trek at high altitudes while you reside at or near sea level. The essential thing you can do is allow for adequate time between arriving at your location and starting your hike.
If you take Everest as an example, climbers spend a month or more in Everest base camp before attempting to summit. However, even if you’re only flying into Colorado, it’s important to take a few days to relax before you begin climbing.
Many travelers neglect this phase, and as a result, they may find themselves spending more time in bed than they did on the trail. So, this is how to train for high altitude hiking while taking a rest.
Yoga Breathing Techniques
It is possible to become out of breath at a high altitude after only a brief burst of physical activity. In order to gain control over your breathing again, it is recommended that you practice yogic breathing.
The simple act of being accustomed to breathing in a rhythm and taking deep abdominal breaths might be beneficial. You will feel less scared on your walk if you have a better understanding of how to keep it under control.
Don’t Forget About Strength Training
Hikers and outdoor enthusiasts frequently place so much emphasis on improving their aerobic endurance that they fail to perform any weight training.
Although spending time in a gym lifting weights isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. However, weight training may help you build stronger muscles and give more stability and support to your body when you’re working in a demanding setting.
Additionally, weight training can help in the prevention of injuries and the improvement of anaerobic ability in your muscles. They both are beneficial at higher elevations.
As a trekker, you are unlikely to desire to develop into a hulking bodybuilder. But a well-rounded training regimen that incorporates weight lifting may make a significant impact on your performance in the hills.
A certified personal trainer or fitness specialist at your local gym can assist you in developing a customized weight lifting regimen that is tailored to your specific requirements.
So, this is how to train for high altitude hiking using strength training.
Maintain A Steady Pace on the Trail
When you’re ready to tackle the path, be prepared for a completely different experience than you’re used to having on your regular hikes.
No matter how much trekking you’re used to, you’ll never know how your body will react to being at a high altitude unless you’ve experienced it.
Slow down, be willing to take breaks, carry a water bottle to promote regular hydration, and bring food to keep you fueled throughout the day.
The most effective strategy to avoid altitude sickness is to acclimatize adequately to higher altitudes before traveling.
You should avoid gaining more than 1,000 feet (304 meters) of elevation every day from campground to campsite until you’ve climbed beyond 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), especially if you’re at the beginning of your trek.
With time, you’ll become more adjusted to the altitude and gain more experience at higher elevations. Moreover, you’ll be able to make your own judgments about how much elevation gain you’re comfortable with every day.
For the most part, hiking and trekking guides will keep their daily elevation gain plans reasonable. Moreover, they make sure that no one campsite is more than 1,000 feet (304 meters) higher than the preceding.
Ascending slowly is another way that can help you with how to train for high altitude hiking.
Stay Away From Alcoholic Beverages
Despite the fact that we all like a celebratory beer at the end of the day, alcohol is respiratory depression. It means it might slow down your acclimatization process.
Furthermore, because alcohol is a diuretic, it accelerates urine and dehydrates the body. It is not something you want at high altitudes when you’re already short of fluids.
What is our recommendation? Avoid consuming alcoholic beverages during your first several days on the road.
Depending on how you’re feeling, you may be able to have a drink or two throughout the day later in your trip. However, you should be extremely cautious about how much you consume and drink responsibly.
Supplements and Medications
Supplements and medications are used by many high-altitude hikers to help them cope with the effects of high altitudes.
When someone is going on a lengthy high-elevation trek, many doctors may prescribe Diamox (acetazolamide) to them. It can help prevent and decrease the symptoms of altitude sickness.
Although Diamox is an effective treatment for altitude sickness, it should only be used in combination with other measures such as prudent decision-making and training.
FAQs – How to Train For High Altitude Hiking?
How do you train for a high altitude hike?
You can train for a high altitude hike in the following 15 ways:
- Consult With A Medical Professional
- Concentrate on Your Cardio
- Increase Your Water Consumption
- Aerobic Training
- Hike With A Heavy Pack
- Deep Breathing Exercises
- Increase Training Trek Distance and Altitude Gradually
- Stair Training
- Take A Rest Between Arriving and Hiking Time
- Yoga Breathing Techniques
- Don’t Forget About Strength Training
- Maintain A Steady Pace on the Trail
- Slowly Ascend
- Stay Away From Alcoholic Beverages
- Supplements and Medications
How long does it take to train for high altitude?
Generally speaking, most coaches advise spending a minimum of two weeks at altitude, although this is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
Even if you just have a week to spare, exercising in the mountains may provide physical and mental advantages. Those advantages will persist for several weeks after you return to the lower altitudes.
What is considered high altitude hiking?
Hiking at a high altitude requires a mountain that is between 8,000 and 12,000 feet in altitude. Moreover, extremely high altitude hikes take place on mountains are between 12,000 and 18,000 feet in altitude.
Do you burn more calories hiking at high altitude?
Your metabolic rate improves as a result of the altitude training. An exercise at a higher altitude increases your calorie-burning capacity for the following 12 to 15 hours.
So you can continue to burn calories even while watching television. In addition, you will be able to get greater outcomes in half the time.
So, we have discussed 15 effective tips for how to train for high altitude hiking. Now, it is up to you how you prepare yourself for high-altitude hiking. If you have been to any high-altitude hiking, then share your experience with us in the comments.
How to Train for High Altitude Hiking at Sea Level
Despite our love of the mountains, many of us live in coastal cities. Whether it’s a job, family, or the lifestyle that keeps us entrenched in the hustle and bustle of city life, living in a major city can make it difficult to get out and explore wild places.
Although many of us city dwellers get away to the mountains every weekend, when it comes to training for a longer trip at high altitudes, living in a coastal city can be a major disadvantage. Indeed, if you live in a city but want to get out and explore the world’s highest mountain ranges, you might be wondering how you can train for high elevations in a concrete jungle.
So, how do you train for high altitude hiking at sea level? Ideally, one trains for high altitude hiking by spending a lot of time exercising at high elevations. If this isn’t possible, training for peak physical fitness is critical. Additionally, if you have the time and resources, an altitude adjusted room for training or tent for sleeping can help you prepare for your trip to higher altitude.
We understand that the thought of training for a high altitude hike while living at sea level can be a bit daunting. So we’ve put together the ultimate guide to training for high elevation expeditions, complete with top tips for flatlanders and advice for avoiding altitude sickness. Here we go!
What is considered a high altitude for hiking?
Okay, first things first, what is considered a high altitude for hiking? Unfortunately, it’s difficult to give just a single answer to this question as “high” is a relative concept.
For those of us who live at (or below) sea level, we may well start to see the effects of altitude sickness when we get above 6,000 feet (1,828 meters). However, others who live in the mountains may find that they feel as strong and confident as ever until around 10,000 feet (3,048 meters).
Top climbers and mountaineers that live at high elevations and spend a lot of time in the mountains, however, may not feel the effects of the elevation until even higher, perhaps around 14,000 feet (4,267 meters).
Really, it’s all relative to the individual. While we can all agree that Mount Everest (29,029 feet / 8,848 meters) is tall, everyone will have a different opinion on what is considered “high elevation”.
In general, novice climbers from sea level may have difficulty above 6,000 feet (1,828 meters) while most climbers will start to feel the effects of elevation above 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). Pretty much everyone will feel the elevation above 14,000 feet (4,267 meters) and above 20,000 feet (6,096 meters), no amount of training will fully eliminate the effects of altitude on your body.
Finally, above 26,000 feet (7,9240 meters) – also known as the death zone – there is not enough atmospheric pressure to sustain human life for extended periods of time.
Training tips for high altitude hiking
Since some of the effects of high elevation can be reduced with proper training, many climbers spend a lot of time training before heading out on a high altitude expedition.
If you’re new to high altitude hiking, you may be wondering where to start with your training. Since everyone is different, we won’t give you a day-by-day workout plan to get ready for your next adventure. Instead, here are some of our top tips for high altitude hiking training:
Focus on the cardio
When you’re hiking at higher elevations, your cardiovascular system is going to be working at its maximum. As we increase our elevation, the atmospheric pressure in the air around us decreases. This means there is proportionally less available oxygen in the air when compared to the air at sea level.
When you hike at high elevations, your body will struggle to get enough oxygen into your bloodstream to sustain itself. Thus, a stronger cardiovascular base can better set you up for success when you’re at higher elevations.
Generally speaking, you’ll want to get your cardio fitness to a point where you can comfortably hike all day at a fast pace in lower elevation mountains (up to 6,000 meters). If you’re struggling too much down low, things generally don’t get any better when you venture up high.
If you live near hills and smaller mountains, you’ll want to get out as often as you can for longer hikes (6-10 hours) during your training. If getting out of the city isn’t feasible, any type of cardiovascular exercise will be beneficial and it can help to have a mix of different activities, such as running (especially uphill!), biking, and swimming, to avoid over-use injuries.
Hike with a heavy pack
When you’re hiking at higher elevations, even a light pack can feel like a ton of bricks. So, when you’re training for high altitude hiking, you’ll want to get comfortable with a pack that’s quite a bit heavier than what you expect to carry during your trip.
However, carrying a heavy pack can take a toll on the human body. The answer? You can carry jugs of water or MSR Dromedary bags full of water on the uphill section of a hike and dump the water out when you reach the top. This gives you the training benefits of hiking with a heavy pack while minimizing the damage to your knees, hips, and body on the downhill.
Alternatively, if you can’t get out of the city, you can always do some stair training. While running up and down staircases isn’t nearly as fun as going on a hike, it is some of the best training you can get in an otherwise flat environment.
You can generally find staircases in tall apartment buildings, high school football stadiums, and ice rinks (great during the middle of the summer!). If you’re struggling to find a staircase to run up, you can always look for a hill to do hill sprints on for training.
Our advice? Start with interval training on stairs and work your way up slowly to training with a backpack on. Generally speaking, training with a weighted backpack is better than training with a weight vest as the backpack better simulates the conditions you’ll face during your adventure.
Don’t forget weight training
Oftentimes, hikers and outdoor enthusiasts focus so much on their cardiovascular endurance that they neglect to do any weight training. Although spending time lifting weights in a gym isn’t everyone’s idea of fun, weight lifting can help strengthen your muscles and provide stability and support for your body in harsh environments.
Plus, weight training can help prevent injuries and improve the anaerobic capacity of your muscles, which is helpful at higher elevations. As a trekker, you’re not going to want to become a bulky bodybuilder, but a well-rounded training plan that includes weight lifting can make a huge difference in the mountains.
A qualified personal trainer or fitness expert at your local gym can help you create a personalized weight lifting plan that best meets your needs.
High-end altitude training tools
If you’re looking to further your high altitude trekking training beyond just physical exercise, there are a few other training tools you might want to consider:
Altitude adjusted training rooms
These days, some top-of-the-line fitness facilities offer specialized rooms within their gyms that are oxygen-controlled to mimic the conditions at certain elevations. These training rooms allow you to lift weights, run on a treadmill, bike, or even use an indoor climbing wall all at a specified simulated altitude.
Many gyms, such as Fusion Physical Therapy and Sports Performance in New York City, Evolution Health Care and Fitness Center in Portland, and True North Cryo in Los Angeles offer altitude adjusted training rooms. Of course, these facilities come with a premium price tag, but it may be worth the added cost, based on your objectives.
These days, you can get your own high altitude chamber for high elevation climbing and training purposes. The company Hypoxico offers a variety of different altitude simulation products, including masks, tents, and chambers for training and sleeping to help your body prepare for a trip to a higher elevation.
Due to their cost, these products are targeted to people who frequently venture into high altitude environments and are training for difficult objectives.
Tips for avoiding altitude sickness
At the end of the day, one of the main reasons we train for a hiking trip to high elevations is to avoid altitude sickness. High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), and High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) – both life-threatening illnesses – are the two main fears of any high altitude hiker or climber, so avoiding altitude sickness is imperative during your adventures.
However, more often than not altitude sickness presents as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), which can have a range of different signs and symptoms, including:
- Sleep disturbance
- Swelling of hands, face, and feet
- Nose bleeds
- Shortness of breath
- General malaise
Of course, the ideal situation would be to avoid all forms of altitude sickness on your travels. While training and exercise can, indeed, help one perform better when exerting themselves at high elevations, they are not a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, any high altitude hiker should take a number of steps to prevent altitude sickness on their adventures.
Here are our top tips for avoiding altitude sickness:
1. Ascend slowly
The best way to avoid altitude sickness is to acclimatize properly to higher elevations. In general, once you’re above 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), you want to avoid gaining more than 1,000 feet (304 meters) of elevation per day from campsite to campsite, especially if you’re toward the beginning of your trip.
As you grow more accustomed to altitude and have more experience at higher elevations, you can make your own decisions about how much elevation gain you’re comfortable with each day. Many hiking and trekking guides will be conservative in their daily elevation gain plans, ensuring that no one campsite is more than 1,000 feet (304 meters) higher than the previous.
2. Hike high, sleep low
A good way to acclimatize during the first few days at a high elevation is to hike up to a high point (perhaps a peak ascent) during the day while sleeping at a lower elevation that night. This allows your body to get used to the effects of higher elevations while also providing it with ample time to rest and recover at night.
3. Drink lots of fluids
At higher elevations, the air can be incredibly dry and you will be breathing more frequently to accommodate your body’s cravings for oxygen. Every time you take a breath, you exhale water vapor, which, over time, can dehydrate you.
Thus, it’s incredibly important that trekkers at high altitudes drink plenty of fluids (preferably water) throughout their hike. Often, the cold temperatures and nausea from the altitude make people avoid fluids, but it’s important that you drink as much water as possible during your trip.
Keep in mind, however, that a common side effect of Diamox (an altitude sickness medication) is a metallic taste when drinking carbonated beverages, so perhaps just stick to water and tea!
4. Avoid alcohol
Although we all love a celebratory beer at the end of the day, alcohol is a respiratory depressant, which means it can slow down your acclimatization process. Plus, alcohol is a diuretic, so it stimulates urination and causes dehydration – not something you want at high elevations when you’re already dehydrated.
Our advice? Avoid alcohol during the first few days of your trip. Depending on how you’re feeling, you can have a drink or two during the day later in your trip, but be very mindful of your intake and drink responsibly.
5. Supplements and medications
Many high altitude trekkers look to supplements and medications to help them deal with the effects of high elevations. Many physicians will prescribe Diamox (acetazolamide) to people heading out on an extended high-elevation trek as it can help prevent and reduce the symptoms of AMS. However, Diamox alone is not the answer to altitude sickness and must be used in conjunction with responsible decision making and training.
Alternatively, supplements and natural remedies for altitude sickness include:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Lipoic Acid
- High-Carb Diets
- Milk Thistle
- Rhodiola rosea
That being said, there is little conclusive information about the effects of these supplements and there have been few, if any, sufficiently randomized and controlled studies to determine the effectiveness of these treatments.
6. Go downhill
At the end of the day, if you’re experiencing symptoms of altitude sickness, the only cure is to move downhill – and to do so quickly. Moving to a lower elevation can completely alleviate the effects of AMS and may be the only way to stop AMS from developing into HAPE or HACE – both immediately life-threatening conditions.
When in doubt, hike down before things get worse.
Popular High Altitude Destinations for Hiking and Trekking
High altitude trekking and hiking can be an amazing experience. Not only do you get to be up in the mountains, you often get to experience the beautiful cultures of some of the most remote communities on Earth during your travels. If you’re not sure where to go on your next high altitude hiking trip, check out these great destinations:
The Himalaya (Nepal, Tibet, India)
If you want to experience high altitude trekking at its finest, there’s no better place than the top of the world. The Himalaya is the world’s highest mountain range and is home to almost all of the world’s 8,000 meter peaks (K2, Gasherbrum I, Broad Peak, and Gasherbrum II are located in the Karakoram range) and has a wide range of different trekking regions.
Northern and Eastern Nepal are probably the most popular trekking locations, with most visitors opting for Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Base Camp trips, though there are plenty of off-the-beaten-track treks for the more adventurous among us.
The Andes (Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina)
The Andes are home to some amazing and diverse hiking opportunities, the most popular of which is Machu Picchu. While we wouldn’t call a Machu Picchu trip a “wilderness experience,” at an elevation of 7,972 feet (2,430 meters) it’s still pretty high up there, which means you can be at risk for altitude sickness.
Plus, most visitors to Machu Picchu start at Cusco, which is at an elevation of 11,200 feet (3,400 meters), making it a prime location for altitude illnesses.
The tallest peak in Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcano that rises 19,341 feet (5,895m) above the Serengeti below. The mountain is incredibly popular among outdoor enthusiasts, thanks to its relative easy trekking route. However, its lofty summit is well within the range for altitude sickness, so any would-be Kilimanjaro climbers need to be prepared for their journey to a high elevation.
The North American Rockies
The 1,900 mile (3,000 km) long Rocky Mountains stretch from the northernmost parts of British Columbia all the way to Northern New Mexico and are home to a significant number of peaks above 12,000 feet (3,657 meters) in elevation. The Rockies are, as the name suggests, rocky, but also feature beautiful glaciers and alpine meadows, making them the perfect place for a backpacking trip.
If you’re looking to do some peak ascents in the Rockies, however, keep in mind that you’re likely headed to a high elevation, which warrants extra care and attention to prevention and training, especially if you’re headed out on a long backpacking trip in the mountains.
Here are our answers to your most frequently asked questions:
At what altitude do you need oxygen while hiking? Whether or not one needs supplemental oxygen while in the mountains is a purely individual decision – however, there are no true “hiking” trails or routes on Earth that are high enough to truly warrant bottled oxygen as a standard precaution.
Instead, the only times you’ll see people using bottled oxygen in the outdoors is when they are attempting to climb a substantial peak, generally above 7,000 meters. Anyone attempting a peak of this size is on a mountaineering expedition that requires technical gear to complete and wouldn’t be something you’d encounter on a typical trekking trip.
How much water should I drink at high altitude? On average, humans should consume at least 2 liters of water a day, though this figure varies based on individual differences, climate, and physical activity. In the mountains, you will likely have to drink more than this, due to exertion and the dryness of the air.
However, over-hydration is also a problem, so one should aim to drink enough water only to the point at which they are sufficiently hydrated, which is the point when one’s urine is clear and copious.
How long does it take to adjust to high altitudes? The acclimatization period to high altitudes varies greatly from individual to individual. For a trip between 11,000 and 18,000 feet (3,352 to 5,486 meters), most humans can acclimatize in about 1-3 days, however, any given individual may acclimatize more quickly or more slowly than this average.
How to train for high altitude hiking: top tips for when you’re adventuring way above sea level
Let’s face it: if you love hiking, many of the places in the world that you’ll want to explore are at high altitude. High altitude hiking can get you some of the best views you’ll ever see, but it also increases your chances of experiencing unwanted symptoms, or even altitude sickness, especially if you live at sea level.
Our guide to how to train for high altitude hiking helps you prepare physically and mentally so that you can enjoy a successful hike into thin air.
What is high altitude hiking?
You’re probably aware of the risks and gear involved with summiting a peak like Everest, but you actually don’t have to be on top of the world to be affected by altitude. High altitude for humans is considered any elevation above 8,000ft (2,438 meters), which means that if you’re hiking in the UK, you’re safe. But many popular peaks in the US, Canada, Europe, South America and of course the Himalayas will take you well up into high altitude zones.
At 8,000ft, it’s not uncommon to experience shortness of breath, light headedness and subsequently feelings of weakness and fatigue in spite of your fitness level. You might find that the terrain looks similar to hikes you’ve done in lower elevation, but you’re having a harder time keeping your normal pace or even reaching the summit here. Elevations above 12,000ft such as 14ers in states like Colorado and California are considered very high altitude, and once you reach 26,000ft you need supplemental oxygen to survive.
As you go up in altitude, the pressure and density of the air decreases. The spread-out gas particles mean you’re taking in less oxygen with each breath – which is why the air is sometimes referred to as ‘thin’ – and your body has to work harder to make up for this lack in resources. Experts say it takes up to four days to initially acclimate to high elevations, and up to four weeks to fully acclimate. If you venture above 8,000 feet without acclimating first, you are at risk of experiencing altitude sickness. Altitude sickness varies from person to person. It can be moderate or severe, and symptoms include dizziness, fatigue, nausea, headache and shortness of breath.
Suffice to say, high altitude hiking entails a little more than just slinging on your hiking boots, so we take a look at some training you can undertake to be amply prepared and confident on the trail, and of course, make it to the summit safely.
How to train for high altitude hiking
Assuming you’ve been given the all clear by your doctor for high altitude hiking, there are a few things you can do before and during your trip to make your experience more enjoyable.
Ramp up your cardiovascular training
Increasing your cardiovascular training for at least a few weeks before you go is a good idea. Even if you hike regularly, doing so at higher altitudes will put more strain on your body so the fitter you are to begin with, the better. Increase the duration of your aerobic activity and make sure you’re doing it on an incline, whether you’re walking, biking or running up a hill or on the treadmill.
Start drinking more water
Dry mountain air combined with breathing more heavily can easily lead to dehydration at high altitude. You’ll want to drink more water once you arrive, but unfortunately that can be easier said than done. Start gradually increasing your daily water intake for a few weeks before your trip so that your body has time to get used to the increased volume.
Practise deep breathing
Deep breaths are more efficient than shallow breaths, allowing your body time to properly exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen, slowing your heartbeat and stabilizing your blood pressure, helpful at high altitude. It can also help calm you down on the hill if you start to feel panicked, which can be a side effect of shortness of breath. Practising deep breathing can be done by itself or in a yoga setting and involves strengthening your respiration muscles like the intercostal muscles and diaphragm to allow for more expansion of your lungs. You can practise deep breathing by lying down on your back and taking long, slow breaths through your nose. Imagine that you’re breathing all the way down into your abdomen, back and sides and make sure you’re breathing all the way out.
Leave time between arriving and hiking
If you’re going hiking at high elevations and you live at or near sea level, the most important thing you can do is to build in some time between arriving at your destination and beginning your hike. In the example of Everest, climbers spend a month or more at base camp before attempting to summit, but it’s worth spending a few days relaxing before you start climbing even if you’re just flying into Colorado. Many travellers skip this part and sometimes find they spend more of their trip in bed than on the trail.
Slowly increase your elevation once you arrive
Once you arrive at your destination, try to hike lower peaks and easier trails first. For example, start with trails that stay in the 7,000 to 10,000ft zone then work your way up to climbs that take you above treeline. Avoid trails that involve scrambling until you’re sure you’re not feeling lightheaded. It can be tempting to want to bag the biggest peak around on day one, but better to save the best for last.
Pace yourself on the trail
Once you’re ready to hit the trail, be prepared for a different experience from your usual hikes. Even if you’re used to hiking a lot, you have no idea how your body will respond to high altitude until you’re there. Pace yourself, be willing to take breaks, carry a hydration pack to encourage frequent sipping and bring snacks for fuel.