10 Steps To A Safe, Successful Altitude Hiking Adventure

Grant Allen/Adventure Tribune
When you set out to conquer a mountain on a Saturday morning, you often envision the conditions on the hike to be similar to the conditions of the city you woke up; however, that usually isn’t the case.

It’s important to recognize the increase in altitude on a hiking adventure so that you can prepare adequately. There’s nothing worse than experiencing altitude sickness at the top of a hiking trail. Instead, prepare for the altitude effect so you can enjoy the beautiful view.

1. Drink Water 24 Hours Before You Hike

The easiest way to combat altitude sickness is to prepare for it in advance. By drinking plenty of water before you embark on your adventure, you’ve already begun to fight the battle.

The day before you plan to hike to high altitude, drink half of your body weight in ounces of water. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, drink 100 ounces of water. Drink water consistently throughout the day so that it absorbs into your system. Being hydrated before you leave means that your body will be better prepared to handle a potential lack of oxygen throughout the day.

2. Eat Before You Hike

Ensure that you fuel yourself with quality nutrients before embarking on an altitude-increase adventure. Eat plenty of fruits with natural sugar and quality protein. This gives your body plenty of nutrients to draw from while on your hike.

If you don’t have time to eat before your hike, bring a bar with some sustenance to eat while on you drive to the base of the trailhead.

3. Stretch Before You Hike

After you exit your adventure destination vehicle, take a short warm-up stroll to acclimate your body to the starting altitude. After your blood is flowing for a while, stretch your legs, arms, and core.

By stretching before the hike, you allow your blood to flow more fully, which pushes oxygen into your body. When your body is more oxygenated, you’ll be less inclined (see what I did there?) to feel the effects of altitude on your hike.

4. Take Breaks

Avid hikers tend to be overconfident in their  physical abilities. Some see stopping during a hike a a sign of weakness. Here at The Adventure Tribune, we view a hiking break as a sign of intelligence.

When you feel your lungs begin to devoid themselves of oxygen, stop and collect your air. If you continue to push yourself to the point of exhaustion in an environment with little oxygen, you’re inviting altitude sickness to ruin your day.

Stop as often as you need to. Take short breaks often. This also gives your adventure crew a chance to enjoy the view that is so often missed from midway hiking points.

5. Drink Water While You Hike

Since you brought your large-capacity water bottle as part of your hiking essentials, use it. While you’re taking these small breaks to catch your breath, drink small amounts of water as well. Even in the cold, your body needs to the oxygen that comes from drinking water.

Dehydration comes quickly; when you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. So, drink small amounts of water while you climb in order to sustain your hydration levels and combat the oncoming effects of altitude.

6. Breathing Techniques Matter

While you’re hiking, be sure to breathe deeply and fully. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Proper breathing techniques while you hike will allow your lungs to fill with necessary oxygen to fight off altitude sickness.

When you take your short breaks, put your hands on your head and breathe deeply. This allows your lungs to open up more fully so you can gather as much oxygen as you can, which is crucial in an environment that lacks it.

7. Bring Bottled Oxygen

Now, this one sounds crazy, but trust me, I learned from experience. Bring a small bottle of oxygen with you when climbing to high altitude. The bottle feels empty, but it’s full of pure oxygen that will bring your body’s levels back to normal.

Use your emergency supply when you begin to feel light headed, or when a headache begins to creep. This small, seemingly silly addition to a hiking backpack can be the difference maker between a view of a lifetime and the worst day of the week.

8. Recognize Light-Headedness

When you begin to feel light-headed, admit it. Us adventurers are a proud people, but it’s crucial to our safety to recognize when our body needs a break. When you begin to feel light-headed or when a headache occurs, tell your hiking partners.

The worst-case scenario is that you’ll have to turn around and decline in elevation. Though it might seem like a terrible idea to a seasoned hiker, know that turning around allows you to live to hike another day, while continuing the climb could lead to the disasters of altitude sickness.

9. Drink Water After You Hike

Altitude sickness doesn’t just affect those on a current hike; it can affect you on the decline, the ride home, and throughout the day if not properly treated.

Drink water on the ride back and when you arrive safely home. Continuing to hydrate will fuel your body with oxygen that has been depleted during your adventure. Even if you feel fine when you return home, continue to drink water.

10. Stretch After You Hike

Your body will tense up more than usual after a major altitude increase hike. Be sure to stretch and loosen your muscles.

This allows your body to flow oxygen more efficiently to areas that have been depleted of oxygen due to extensive strain and lack of supply while on your epic hiking adventure.

Hiking to high altitudes can bring some of the most incredible views in the world, but only if you make it to the top. Prepare yourself for the journey that comes with a high-altitude adventure and experience the world like you never have before. With adequate preparation, the sky's the limit (sorry, I had to throw that line in there).


Tom Malone is the Editor-In-Chief of The Adventure Tribune and author of adventure novels, like Across Americana. He is based in Denver, Colorado, where he adventures through the Rocky Mountains while not traveling abroad.
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