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Inside The Outdoors

Preparing for High Altitude Hiking – Top 8 Tips

09.08.2016 | Hiking

When you hear the phrase “high altitude”, it probably conjures up some grand vision of the Himalayas or maybe Patagonia. It may come as a shock to us mere mortals to find out then that high altitude by definition begins a smidge above Ben Nevis. It spans the height zone between 1500m and 3500m.

This means that high altitude hiking enters a zone where oxygen levels in the atmosphere begin to reduce rather noticeably, as oxyhaemoglobin  (red blood cells carrying oxygen) in your blood begins to fall. This usually happens at around the 2100m mark. Luckily, your body can react to this and adjust itself accordingly though this is only through time spent acclimatising properly at altitude.

So for those who are keen to try high altitude hiking, here are our top 8 tips to get started.

1. Acclimatise efficiently – Give your body a fighting chance by allowing it to adjust to the changes in the environment sufficiently before tackling anything above the 2100m mark.

2. Altitude sickness – Learn the signs of altitude sickness (acute mountain sickness) and be aware of them. The symptoms of Mild AMS include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea & Dizziness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Disturbed sleep
  • General feeling of malaise

If any of these symptoms occur stop the hike and descend to a lower altitude immediately to prevent it becoming more serious.

Through their nature higher altitude mountains are physically more demanding, they are often more challenging and definitely much more serious than their smaller cousins. Because of this you need put your body through a lot more strain, so make sure you are fit enough to cope with the demand it throws at you.

3. Correct fitness. Prepare your body for the rigors of higher altitudes. You don’t have to head the gym and become a gym bunny, just make your walks longer and increasingly challenging. Start by adding a few miles each time you head for the hills, increasing the height gained through ascent as well. Carrying a heavier load full of the kit required for higher altitudes also helps build up your fitness. Lots of aerobic activities such as swimming, running and cycling all help with lung capacity and the ability to absorb oxygen – vital in the fight against altitude sickness.

When at altitude, the air is often much drier than at lower altitude, resulting in a high loss of fluids just through each breath you take. Causing you to become severely dehydrated when paired with all the sweating from the physicality of hiking at these heights.

4. Stay Hydrated. Dehydration can seriously affect your body at the least you’ll feel lethargic and have a slight headache and at worst you’ll die. In between these two extremes, dehydration can play havoc with your faculties. This causes you to be unable top perform basic tasks such as tying your bootlace back up, to making important navigational decisions.  Little and often, even if your not thirsty is the best way to stay hydrated.

Higher altitudes don’t only put extra strain on your body they put your kit through its paces pretty efficiently too. Your kit needs to be able to stand up to the rigors of what higher altitudes can throw at it. It also needs to be much more versatile, so if as much of it is as multifunctional as possible the better. At altitude your mantra towards kit must always be “light is right”. Hydration packs are great if you want to stay hydrated on the move and perfect for when you’re on a high altitude hike.

Click here to find our range of hydration packs.

5. Have the correct kit. With altitude comes a multitude of different terrains that simply aren’t found at lower altitudes, glaciers, snowfields and large loose rock faces. Having kit that can cope with these environments and the knowledge to use them is vital. If you’re unsure on the skills needed to use the kit the best way to learn is to hire a guide for a few days they can teach you the basics of how to go about using the equipment. But also the general etiquette you need follow in a higher altitude environment.

Unsure what to bring hiking? Have a look at our hiking checklist.

6. Use a Guide. Using a guide is a great way to experience your first high altitude hike. They will be knowledgeable of the local area, know the best routes to help you acclimatise and be able help you stop any bad habits before you get to higher and more serious situations.  They will also help take any stress out of the initial route planning to begin with.

7. Go on training courses. There is a whole plethora of training courses out there to help improve your skills and help take your hiking to the next level. They are all great fun, most are relatively inexpensive and most all you meet new like-minded friends!

The last tip I can give you is to just simply HAVE FUN. Its what being in the mountains is all about at the end of the day. Whether your fun is the exhilarating adrenaline rush you get from a good scramble, or the peace and serenity you gain from summit plateau of an isolated peak. Just remember to enjoy it.