How To Prepare For High Altitude Hiking


There is nothing more delightful than climbing up to the summit of a hill or mountain during a hike. The stunning views, fresh air, and sense of accomplishment will create memories that will stick with you forever. But such an achievement can only occur if you have prepared adequately i.e. brought the right gear, had enough training, and executed the climb successfully.

When going on a high altitude hike, this planning becomes even more essential. This is because, at higher altitudes, the air is much thinner and contains less oxygen, making it harder for you to breathe than when at lower altitudes. You, therefore, need to be able to adjust effectively to high altitude, to avoid developing altitude sickness or acute mountain sickness.

The following tips on how to prepare for high altitude hiking will help you acclimate to altitude excellently, allowing you more time to focus on your awe-inspiring surroundings.

1. Train For Your Hike

Your high altitude hiking preparation should begin with a good amount of training to increase your aerobic fitness. Activities such as trail running, swimming, and biking will, therefore, be a great place to start because such exercises maximize the volume of oxygen your body uses.

Whenever possible, train at a height of 5000 ft. and above, so you can create the ideal situation for the hike. If this is not an option for you, try biking up steep hills or mountains whenever you can. But if the closest mountain is still miles away, find a tall building or stadium and use the stairs to train. Whatever training routine you take, make sure to visit an elevated area at least 3 or 4 times a week.

You may consider adding a loaded hiking backpack to your routine to make the workout a little more intense. Even if you won’t be carrying many items, doing your runs with a weighted pack will prepare your body for lower oxygen levels and keep the physical output high.

Aerobic fitness is extremely important when hiking at high altitudes because, up there, the amount of oxygen in the air you consume is much less, which means every breath you take has to count.

Important Tip: Before training for high altitude hiking, check with your doctor. This will help you identify any pre-existing conditions that could stop you from trekking at high altitudes.

2. Plan Your Route Beforehand

In addition to training, how to prepare for high altitude hiking and the amount of time you will need for it will also depend on where you intend to hike. If you will be using a well-known trail, you can ask for maps or safety information about the route from the agency responsible for its maintenance. If you plan to hike through an uncharted area, however, then your route planning may require more attention.

Find out if you are allowed to trek in the area in the first place. Reach out to the local area commissioner to know if you will be breaking the law by hiking here.

Consider the season in which you will be hiking too. During winter, for instance, days are shorter, which means, you won’t be able to trek for long like in summer. You will also need to dress for the weather. Invest in warm base layers, mid-layers, and a good waterproof outer layer like a rain jacket for when hiking in the rain.

On the other hand, if hiking in summer, avoid doing your hikes during the hottest times of the day. You will also need sun protective clothing like a hiking hat or sunhat, a pair of hiking sunglasses, hiking pants, etc. Don’t forget to wear some sunscreen before you head out.

Read and understand all the map symbols to ensure the route you plan to take doesn’t lead you to the terrain you can’t cross. Besides, have at least one or two detailed alternative routes in case of an emergency or your original route is not accessible.

3. Tell Someone About Your Planned Trip


You should never go high altitude hiking alone. Ideally, you will be hiking with a group but even then, make sure someone else knows about your exact hiking plan. This includes when you plan to begin the hike, your scheduled return date, and the route you plan to take.

Also, give the person a number where they can contact you. This way, if something happens to you and you don’t show up at your expected arrival date, they will try to reach you.

4. Arrive Early

Get to the area you plan to hike a few days before the date your hike is scheduled to begin. This will give your body enough time to adjust to the reduced levels of oxygen in the air. You can use this time to make sure your equipment is packed properly and its weight is distributed evenly throughout the backpack.

Try some moderate exercises too so you can ready your body up for the trek. This could also be a good time to take a tour around the trailhead and meet other people who may also be going for the same hike.

5. Bring Enough Food And Water

Hiking, being an active activity, will require you to keep your body fueled up and hydrated all the time, so pack plenty of food and water. If you will be doing a multiday hike, consider bringing a camping stove and food to prepare and refill your water bottles with clean water.

During high altitude hiking, your body will be burning energy more quickly, so bring high carbohydrate foods like sandwiches, dried fruit, chocolates, and candy to snack while you walk. These will help replenish the lost energy quickly.

Remember to stay hydrated too. Before you begin your hike, drink at least 2 liters of water to prep your body for the hike. Put an extra water bottle in your backpack and drink during the hike to keep yourself hydrated. Top-up your water whenever you come across a refill point even if you feel like you don’t need the water.

6. During The Hike

Go Slow

Hike slowly so you don’t burn out quickly, especially if you are beginning your trek at a lower altitude. You will notice that as you climb, you will begin to fatigue more easily and may experience shortness of breath.

If this happens, reduce your walking pace and take regular breaks to recover. Once you have reached about 5000 ft. above sea level, consider taking a rest for a day or even two so you can give your body enough time to acclimate.

Listen To Your Body

When going on a long hike, you can easily forget to pay much attention to your body and how you are feeling physically.  But when at high altitudes, you must remain aware of everything that is happening in your body especially as you climb higher up the mountain.

If you start experiencing nausea, extreme dehydration, dizziness, shortness of breath, a severe headache, or if you notice that you can’t control your coordination anymore, stop. Let someone from your hiking group know about how you are feeling.

Don’t ignore these warning signs, as they could be indicators of altitude sickness. Take a moment to rest. Most of these symptoms will lessen with a bit of inactivity or rest, but could also worsen and become more life-threatening if you are not careful.

Be Prepared To Call It Quits

When hiking at high altitude, you should always be ready to abort the trek if any one of your group members begins to feel the symptoms of altitude sickness. Yes, it will be frustrating to turn around but it’s better to be safe than to be stuck in the middle of nowhere or on the top of the mountain with a person suffering from severe altitude sickness.

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Taking a hike up the mountain is an amazing way to enjoy the great outdoors. Unfortunately, the higher you walk uphill, the deadlier the associated risks become.

But now that you know how to prepare for high altitude hiking, those treks in the mountains will be less life-threatening and more pleasurable. As long as you train adequately, carry the right gear, and take the necessary measures while you hike, you will be able to adjust properly to higher altitudes and make your trip memorable.

More Backpacking/Hiking Reviews:


  1. A Guide To Staying Well At High Altitude,
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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!