Adjusting To Altitude: Beginner Hiker Guide

When we go out on a hiking or backpacking trip, mountain biking, mountaineering, and climbing are some of the activities we look forward to. But the higher you go, the more every part of your body hates it.
If you are not used to being at an elevation of say, 8000 ft. and above, you may experience a shortage of breath, exhaustion, nausea, and cerebral edema, a condition commonly known as altitude sickness.
This illness is serious business and even though it probably won’t kill you, you can, without doubt, expect a wrecked trip. The only way to treat altitude sickness is by moving to a lower altitude.
But it doesn’t have to come down to that. If the symptoms are not so severe, then you can easily adjust to altitude sickness without ending the fun and leaving the mountains.
This handy guide will make acclimating to high altitudes quick and safe for you so you can go on enjoying your hiking trip. But first, let’s get down to the basics.

What Exactly Is Altitude Sickness?

Altitude sickness is simply a group of symptoms that strike when you climb or walk to a higher elevation too quickly. It occurs when the pressure of the air around you drops causing a dip in oxygen levels.
If you reside in a moderately high altitude area, your body gets used to the pressure levels. But if you move to an area with an altitude higher than that, it will take some time for your body to adjust to the changing pressure.
Anyone can experience altitude sickness, regardless of how healthy, young, or active they are. Being more physically active at higher altitudes puts you at risk of developing it.
Luckily, there are many ways through which you can prepare your body for acclimating to high altitudes smoothly. Read on!

1. Stay Hydrated

Your body loses water and sodium faster as it adjusts to altitude than it does when doing a normal workout. This combined with the drier air found at higher altitudes can lead to serious dehydration. Your skin will feel drier too.
The most important item in your hiking backpack, therefore, should be a water bottle, or rather, water bottles. You need to drink plenty of water to replace what your body loses, sometimes twice as much as you are used to, and bringing enough water with you is the only way to win this.
It would also be a good idea to use a humidifier when you are inside, to help get more water into your body. This will enable you to deal with the dry air more effectively when you hit the mountains.

2. Eat Healthy Meals

Just like drinking enough water, eating a healthy diet when hiking in high altitude areas is quite important. Your backpacking food ideas should include meals rich in carbohydrates. These will enhance your body’s ability to take in more oxygen, which will give you the energy you need for adjusting to the altitude.
You may also want to throw in some vitamins too. Iron supplements, for instance, have been shown to make it easier for outdoor junkies to perform aerobic activities at high altitudes. Taking your vitamins before your trip and maintaining the right dosage during the trip can help reduce the time required to adjust to the altitude.
Avoid salty foods at all costs, as these could increase your blood pressure, exacerbating the symptoms of elevation sickness.

3. Go Easy On Alcohol

If you are touring areas of higher altitudes, minimize your alcohol intake. Some hikers will hammer back more alcohol on backcountry trips than they do on a normal day.
Sure, alcoholic beverages will keep you warm and let the good times roll, but will certainly make adjusting to altitude an uphill task for you.
For starters, drinking will leave you dehydrated, and this coupled with the dehydration you get from the dry air alone can significantly enhance the effects and symptoms of altitude sickness.
Additionally, when you take alcohol, you won’t just be dealing with the lightheadedness and wooziness of intoxication but also that of altitude sickness. So it’s a double whammy of giddy! Some researchers even argue that you get drunk much faster at higher altitudes than at lower altitudes.

4. Get Enough Sleep

Honestly speaking, when you strap into your hiking shoes and head to the mountains, you are not going there to watch others have the time of their life; you are going there to have your share of pleasure.
You will want to try camping, mountain biking, exploring, and anything else the great outdoors have to offer. Okay, all these activities are fun to undertake and we would never tell you not to take advantage of Mother Nature’s playground.  However, we highly recommend that you get enough rest before and after.
Being at a higher altitude can seriously affect your sleep patterns, one of the effects of being sleep apnea. If you are in a higher elevation and start experiencing sleep apnea, it means you need to get more rest.
Having a good night’s sleep can help you alleviate the problem. We suggest descending to lower altitude areas to sleep at night (whenever possible).

5. Moderate Your Physical Activity


Like we just mentioned, whenever you prepare a hiking checklist, one of the top items on the list is the activities you plan to undertake.
However, out in the mountains, there is less oxygen, and the higher you climb, the faster your heart is forced to pump to keep up with the demand for oxygen in your body. When you climb faster, your heart is forced to work even harder. As a result, you will develop altitude sickness and have trouble acclimating to high altitudes.
So, when we say that you should moderate your physical activity, we mean it. At higher elevation, your body works twice or even thrice as hard to accomplish the same thing you would easily accomplish at sea level.
To help it adjust effectively, go easy on yourself in the first few days of being in high altitudes. It will only take a few days of moderated activity to get back up to full control.

6. Talk To Your Doctor

If you are planning to hike in high altitude areas, it would be wise to check with your doctor before you leave.
This is crucial especially if you have suffered from altitude sickness before or you have a severe medical condition like lung, heart, or respiratory disease.
Also, find out if there are any medical clinics available in or near the area you plan to visit. This will be your backup plan in the unfortunate event your symptoms worsen and you need immediate medical attention.

7. Shield Yourself From The Sun

The higher you go, the closer you will be to the sun. Also, you will find that the air is much thinner here than it is at sea level, which means you will be more exposed to the sun.
Therefore, you will need to bring some sun protection with you. A sunscreen with a higher SPF would be a great place to start. Invest in a good pair of hiking sunglasses as well so you can shield your peepers too.
You may want to bring a sunhat that covers your ears, neck, and face too, and any other sun-protective clothing you may deem necessary to keep your skin safe from the harmful UV rays.
Exposure to too much sun can cause fatigue, dizziness, nausea, and dehydration, which can worsen the symptoms of altitude sickness. Bringing enough sun protection is one of the most effective ways to make adjusting to altitude easier. You will also lower your risk of skin cancer.

When To Seek Medical Help

Sometimes, people with elevation sickness may not realize when their symptoms are deteriorating. If you are hiking with someone who is suffering from altitude sickness, help them descend to lower altitudes and call for medical assistance immediately.
How to treat altitude sickness depends on how fast the person is moved to lover elevation and how severe their symptoms are. In most cases, symptoms of altitude sickness will disappear in a few days, and the person can resume activities at high altitudes. However, the illness can be life-threatening if the symptoms get serious and the person continues to stay at high altitudes.

Globo Surf Overview

We believe that every outdoor enthusiast should be able to enjoy the experience the backcountry offers regardless of how high or low the terrain they are on is above sea level. That said, you must take all the necessary measures to make sure that you can effectively adjust to the altitude.
Drink enough water, eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, wear sunscreen, and moderate your physical activity. And don’t forget to talk to your doctor if you have a pre-existing medical condition. But if things get really bad when you are out there, descend to lower altitudes and seek medical attention.


Globo Surf
My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!