wikiHow to Prepare for a High Altitude Hike

Four Parts:Training For Your HikePreparing For Your HikePacking For Your HikeDuring the Hike

Hiking at altitudes higher than 6,000 feet (1,828 m) is more difficult than hiking at low altitudes. This is because at this point, the air contains less oxygen than it does at lower altitudes.[1] Therefore, if you want to do a high-altitude hike, you will need to spend time training for your hike, you will need to pack the right equipment for your hike, and you will want to take precautions during your hike to ensure that you have a safe, enjoyable high-altitude hiking experience.

Part 1
Training For Your Hike

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    Begin training well in advance. Plan the amount of training you will do based on the difficulty of your hike, and your current fitness level. If you are reasonably fit, and attempting a challenging hike, then you will probably want to schedule at least 5 months of training before your hike is scheduled. If you are really out of shape, you may need to train for much, much longer.[2]
    • Remember that you can never start training too early, but you can start too late.
    • Have a talk with your doctor to make sure that you will not be endangering yourself by taking on this challenge.
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    Train for your hike at higher altitudes. If possible, train for your hike at altitudes at or above 5,000 feet (1,524 m). This will create the ideal training situation, as your body will get used to performing in low oxygen conditions.[3]
    • If this isn’t an option for you, don’t worry. There are several other steps you can take to train yourself for your hike.
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    Use biking as a way to improve your cardiovascular endurance. Biking is one good way to improve your cardiovascular fitness. If you are not training at higher altitudes, you can still improve your fitness by biking up hills whenever possible.[4]
    • Be sure to wear protective gear while you are biking. A helmet should not be optional. You won’t be able to enjoy your hike if you seriously injure yourself because you chose not to wear protective gear while training.
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    Go swimming to improve cardiovascular endurance. Another excellent way to improve your cardiovascular fitness is to swim. An added advantage of swimming is that it forces you to control your breathing (since you have to hold your breath during certain strokes).[5]
    • Stick to strokes such as the crawl stroke (also known as freestyle), which will require you to keep your face in the water for a few strokes before you turn your head to breathe. Practice holding your breath for up to 5 or 6 strokes before taking a breath if you can.
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    Run to improve cardiovascular fitness. Another great way to train for your hike is to get into running. Next to actual hiking, running will be the most similar type of training in terms of movements, so this will be a great way to get your legs prepared for what lies ahead.[6]
    • If you have never run before, you will have to start out slow, but eventually you will want to work your way up to 3 to 5 days of training for 30 minutes to an hour each training session. During each session, you will want to train at a pace that keeps your heart rate at 70% to 85% of your maximum heart rate.
    • You can calculate what your maximum heart rate should be by subtracting your age from 220. Therefore, if you are 20 years old, your maximum heart rate would be 200. Meaning that you should try not to ever let your heart beat faster than that. 70% of your maximum heart rate would then be 140, and 85% of your maximum heart rate would be 170. Thus, during your training, you will want to keep your heart beating between 140 and 170 beats per minute (BPM)
    • A heart rate monitor is perfect for this. Typically, a heart rate monitor is a strap you can purchase at online or at sports supply stores. The strap wraps around your rib cage, just below your chest. The strap then, typically, reports your BPM to a watch that you wear on your wrist.
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    Climb stairs to strengthen leg muscles and lungs. This is another great way to do something that resembles what your hike will be like. You can find a tall building, put your pack on, and simply start walking up the stairs. Try to do something like this at least one day per week.[7]
    • If you can’t find a tall building, look for a local high school football stadium. Here, you can walk up and down each row of stairs over and over again. Aim to train for 30 minutes to an hour.
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    Train with your pack on. When you are hiking, you will likely be carrying all of the supplies you need for your entire trip in a big backpack, which means it could be pretty heavy. Pack in everything you will want to take on your trip and wear it while you are training (or at least the weight of what you plant to pack), this way you will know what to expect, and whether or not you can manage the weight you have packed.[8]
    • If you are struggling to carry the weight at a low altitude, then you need to reduce the weight significantly, as you definitely won’t be able to manage it at a higher altitude.
    • Obviously you can’t wear the pack when swimming, but you can wear it on the bike, while running, or even while out for a walk.

Part 2
Preparing For Your Hike

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    Take a Gingko Biloba supplement. While there is not much scientific evidence that Gingko Biloba makes a huge difference, some believe that it helps their performance while hiking by improving circulation. If you decide you would like to take this supplement, follow the instructions on the packaging, and begin taking the supplement at least one week before your hike. Again, the scientific evidence regarding this claim is limited, but it won’t hurt you to take it, if you want to.[9]
    • Some hikers also recommend taking vitamin C supplements to help reduce free radical circulation during the hike.[10]
    • If it won’t add too much weight to your bag, consider taking the supplements during your hike as well.
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    Visit your doctor. Though you may think you are the picture of health, it would be wise to visit your doctor for a check up before you go. Explain that you are about to take on a high altitude hike, so you want to make sure there aren’t any underlying health issues you should be concerned about.[11]
    • Ideally, you should schedule this visitation before you begin your training so you don’t set yourself up for a disappointment a week before your hike.
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    Plan your route well in advance. How much planning you need to do depends on where you are hiking. If you’re following a well-known hiking trail, you can contact the organization responsible for it’s maintenance. They will usually send you maps and safety information about the routes you are interested in (sometimes in exchange for a minimal fee). If you are planning to hike through relatively uncharted territory, then planning your route will require considerably more attention.[12]
    • You need to ensure that you are allowed to hike in the area. The land you want to hike on may be privately owned, which means there may or may not be an agreement allowing you to hike there. Therefore, you should contact the local area commissioner. Tell them about your planned route, and ask them if you will be violating any laws by hiking there.
    • Don’t forget to consider the time of year. During the winter, the days are shorter, and you won’t have as much daylight so you won’t be able to hike for as long. On the other hand, if you are hiking in a very hot climate, it may not be advisable to hike during the hottest part of the day.
    • It is recommended that you do not hike for more than six hours each day.
    • Be sure that you understand what all map symbols mean, and ensure that your planned route does not take you through terrain that you cannot cross. For example, if you plan to cross a river, where will you be able to cross safely?
    • Have at least one detailed, alternative route. Ideally, you will have two or three routes, but you must have at least one. In case of emergency, you need to know how you can find help quickly. You also need to have alternative routes in case your planned route is not accessible for some reason.
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    Let someone know where you’re going. You should not take on a high altitude hike alone. Ideally, you will be going in a group of two or more. In any case, let someone at home know your exact hiking plan. When you will begin the hike, when your scheduled end date is, and the exact route of the hike. Give them a number where they can reach you (if you have one), and let them know when you will get in touch.
    • This may sound scary, and in most cases, it will be for nothing, but it is better to be safe than sorry as nature can be very unpredictable.
    • If you are hiking from place to place each day, let someone in the town know when you will be arriving. For example, if you plan to sleep at a hostel one night, tell them what your planned arrival time is, and what trail you are hiking. This way, they will be more aware if you don’t arrive within a couple of hours of your expected arrival.
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    Arrive 2 to 3 days before your hike is to begin. This will allow your body to acclimate to the reduced amount of oxygen in the air. During this time you can make sure all of your gear is packed properly.[13]
    • During your waiting time, do some moderate exercise to get your body ready for the hike.
    • You can also enjoy a short vacation before your hike, enjoying the area around the starting point, and meeting some other people who might also be doing the hike.

Part 3
Packing For Your Hike

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    Pack extra clothes. On a hike, the weather can vary greatly. At higher altitudes especially, temperature can fluctuate greatly. Therefore, try to be prepared for several scenarios. Have long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, a hat, and a pair of gloves that will protect you from several potential weather scenarios.[14]
    • Consider the time of year as well. If you are hiking in the summer, be prepared for higher temperatures, but be aware that temperatures can still drop below freezing at night. During the winter, be prepared for potential freezing temperatures, as well as snow.
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    Don’t forget sunscreen. The sun’s rays are more powerful at high elevations, so make sure you have plenty of sunscreen to apply to any skin that will be exposed during your hike.[15]
    • Make sure to choose a sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 30.
    • Remember that the sun can still affect you even if it is overcast.
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    Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. Just like sunscreen protects your skin from the harmful rays of the sun, sun glasses protect your eyes. Without them, you will likely be very uncomfortable hiking all day if it is sunny and/or snowy.[16]
    • Squinting into the sun for a long time is likely to give you a headache.
    • Snow can be very blinding, especially when it is sunny.
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    Bring a hat. If it is winter, make sure the hat is warm. In summer, the hat will be mainly to protect you from the sun.[17]
    • If you have the space, pack a warm weather hat and a cool weather hat. That way you will be prepared if the temperature drops significantly.
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    Pack a sturdy pair of hiking boots. Probably one of the most important things you can pack is your hiking boots. Don’t try to break in a brand new pair of hiking boots on a long hike. It could leave you with painful blisters. Instead, opt for a pair you have already been using, who’s comfort and sturdiness can be relied upon.[18]
    • If you don’t have any hiking boots, and have purchased some new ones for your hike, be sure to break them in before the big hike. You should be wearing the boots you want to hike in during your training so that they will be broken in, and you will know that you can comfortably wear them for several hours.
    • Don't forget to pack plenty of fresh socks. In the winter, make sure the socks are thick and warm. In the summer, make sure the socks are designed to wick the sweat away from your feet.
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    Pack a tent and sleeping bag. If you are going on a hike that will last longer than a day, make sure you have the proper sleeping gear. Temperatures can drop significantly overnight at high altitudes, so make sure you have a sleeping bag that will keep you warm enough to sleep comfortably.
    • Newer tents and sleeping bags can be folded up in to a remarkably small package, and weigh very little. Consider investing in a good one if you plan to go hiking often. If not, rent or borrow a tent and sleeping bag.
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    Bring a sleeping pad. A sleeping pad is an inflatable or foam pad that goes between the ground and your sleeping bag. The purpose of these is to add additional comfort, but also to help keep you warmer. Using a sleeping pad will help keep you from losing heat into the ground.[19]
    • Some people prefer the more expensive inflatable pads, but be aware that these are typically heavier than foam pads, and can puncture if you don’t pay attention to where you put it.
    • Foam pads are less expensive, but may also offer slightly less support. If you have room in your bag, consider taking both a foam and inflatable pad. This will give you double the comfort, and will provide the best insulation.
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    Have food and cooking supplies. If you are going on an overnight hike, and won’t have a place to stop for meals, be prepared by packing a cooking unit (available at nearly all outdoor stores), as well as food to prepare. Many outdoor stores sell dehydrated food packs that you can carry with you, and either eat straight out of the pack or heat on the stove.
    • You could also pack food such as sandwiches, fruit, and other high carbohydrate foods. These may work fine if you will only need to have a snack on your hike, and won’t need to prepare any meals.
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    Don’t forget insect repellent. Especially in the summer, there may be lots and lots of mosquitos and other bugs that may bite you. Therefore, you should be prepared by having an insect repellent that you can apply to any exposed skin.[20]
    • Be sure not to put your fingers in or around your mouth if you have applied insect repellent. Not only will it taste bad, it could possibly make you sick.
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    Bring a map. You might have a GPS device, or maps loaded onto a smart phone, but sometimes electronics fail. Have a map of the area, and maps of the trails you will be taking just in case.[21]
    • Most of the more popular trails offer free guides. Enquire about this online or over the phone before your hike begins.
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    Pack a first aid kit. You never know what will happen out on the trail, so it is good to be prepared with some of the basics. Kits are very small and light these days, so don’t worry about it taking up too much space.[22]
    • Make sure that your kit contains the following: bandages, gauze, moleskin (to be used on blisters), pain medication, and allergy cream.
    • You should also consider packing Diamox in your kit. Diamox is a medication that is commonly used to treat symptoms of altitude sickness if, for some reason, you are not able to ascend slowly (which is the best prevention for altitude sickness).[23]

Part 4
During the Hike

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    Stay hydrated. Before your hike begins, you should be well-hydrated. During your acclimation stay, you should be drinking 2 to 3 liters of water each day to prepare your body for the hike.
    • During the hike, keep a 1 liter bottle of water in your pack, and drink often to keep yourself hydrated. If there are stops along the way, refill your bottle, even if you think you won’t need it.[24]
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    Have snacks to keep your energy levels consistent. At higher altitudes, your body will burn energy more quickly, so have some snacks such as dried fruit and nuts, fresh fruit, or a bag of chips to eat as a snack.
    • You will want the snack to be high in carbohydrates, so you can quickly replenish your lost energy.[25]
    • Beef jerky, chocolate, and hard candies offer good, light weight snack solutions.
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    Climb slowly to prevent burn out. This is especially important if your hike begins at a lower altitude and increases steadily. You will notice as you hike that you begin to tire more easily, and you may feel short of breath. Take frequent breaks to recover, and go more slowly.[26]
    • Once you have reached an altitude above 6,000 feet (1,828 m) consider resting for a day or two to give your body some time to acclimate.
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    Remain aware of your physical condition. On a long hike, it can be easy to slip into a state where you aren’t really paying much attention to how you’re feeling physically. However, when you are hiking at high altitudes, you should remain aware of what is going on with your body, especially as you ascend higher and higher.
    • If you begin to experience nausea, a lack of hunger, a lack of thirst, or if you notice a headache, are feeling dizzy, having trouble breathing, or losing control of your coordination, stop. Tell another member of your hiking group. Don’t ignore these symptoms, as they may be early signs of altitude sickness.[27]
    • Don’t try to tough it out. These symptoms may subside quickly with a bit of rest, but they could also turn into something more deadly if you aren’t careful.
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    Focus on deep, even breathing. If and when you start to notice some shortness of breath, stay alert. Focus on taking deep breaths in and out, and make sure that the breaths are even. This will help you avoid over-exerting yourself.[28]
    • If you feel that you are over-exerting yourself, stop and take a break for a few minutes to regain control of your breathing.
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    Stop and rest every 1,000 feet above your normal altitude. Each time you ascend another 1,000 feet above the altitude that you live in normally, you should stop and rest for 2 hours. This will give your body a chance to acclimatize, and will help you avoid dangerous consequences of ascending too quickly.[29]
    • This may mean taking more time than you hoped, and may mean camping over night, so be prepared for this reality.
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    Avoid sleeping at altitudes that are too high. If you are on an overnight or multi-day hike, you should not sleep at an elevation that is more than 1,500 feet higher than the elevation at which you slept the night before.[30]
    • For example, if you slept at 6,000 feet the night before, you should not sleep above 7,500 feet the next night.
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    Be prepared to turn around. With high altitude hiking, it is important that you be ready to turn around and call it quits if any of your hiking group begin to experience symptoms of altitude sickness.[31]
    • It may feel disappointing, but it is better to be safe than stuck on the top of a mountain with a person who is suffering from severe symptoms of altitude sickness.


  • Make sure that you are training for your hike 3 to 5 days per week. You can choose the exercise that suits you, but try to mix it up, and be sure to include at least some running, walking, or stair climbing. If you are new to climbing, you should start training several months before your hike is scheduled to begin.[32]


  • If you begin to feel disoriented, uncoordinated, unusually exhausted, or experience a headache or nausea, you may be suffering from Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). If you begin to experience any of these symptoms, you should not continue your hike. Instead, you should descend as quickly as is safely possible.[33]
  • Difficulty breathing while resting, chest pains, weakness, excessive coughing, and fatigue are symptoms of High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE). This is a condition in which excess fluid is in the lungs. Seek medical assistance immediately if you or anyone in your group experiences such symptoms, as this condition is potentially fatal.[34]
  • Disorientation and erratic behavior are a sign of High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE). This is a condition in which excess fluid puts pressure on the brain. It may result in unconsciousness and/or death if left untreated. Seek medical assistance immediately if you or anyone in your group experiences such symptoms.[35]

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Categories: Backpacking and Hiking