There’s nothing quite as exhilarating as hiking up a mountain. If you’ve never done it before, there are a few things you need to do to properly prepare for hiking up a tall mountain. High-altitude hiking requires different preparation than regular trail hiking. The body needs specific training to acclimate to the thin air associated with high altitude.
If you fail to prepare for high-altitude hiking, you may find yourself in a medical emergency. Also, if you don’t bring the proper supplies, you will not be ready to deal with the situation you’re in.
Preparation for high-altitude hiking includes training your body, acclimating to thin air, staying well hydrated and fueled, managing your oxygen, perfecting breathing exercises, and most importantly, taking your time and not rushing your body into a dangerous position.
In this article, we’ll look at how you can hike at high altitudes safely so you can enjoy those beautiful views and the feeling of victory you gain from hiking a tall mountain. You can never be too prepared when attempting something you’ve never done before. Take the time to learn as much as possible and plan for any instance that can come up.
How To Train for High-Altitude Hiking
Training your body to adjust to the increased physical strain is essential to prepare for your mountain trek. Starting a few months in advance is optimal as soon as you decide to hike to a high altitude; set the date as far out as possible.
You should give yourself at least three months of training time before you attempt a high-altitude hike. If you aren’t in good health and physical condition right now, you should take even more time than that. This way, you have the most chance for success as it gives you time to prepare yourself thoroughly.
The first way to train your physique to adjust to this hike is to practice working out using hill-type terrain. If you use a treadmill, gradually increase the incline over time until you can easily handle running uphill. If you live in an area where you can hike up hilly terrain, that’s even better.
Find a trail that goes up to around two thousand feet and hike this trail regularly to get your body in optimal shape for your future high-altitude hiking. Locating a path that goes up at least 5,000 feet or higher and completing this hike multiple times will give you the best results for training.
Another great suggestion is to increase the weight of your pack when hiking your usual route significantly over time until it is about double the weight you were used to before. Combining carrying a heavier load with hiking or even running uphill or upstairs is best. Remember not to push yourself too hard at first. Listen to your body and know when you are too fatigued to continue. You’ll do better next time.
If you plan to hike to a height of over 10,000 feet, it’s critical to acclimate yourself to the thin air as you go up. You should never try to hike from sea level to above 10,000 feet without stopping often. Many hikers have tried this in the past without proper acclimation, and it has led to severe medical issues. Hiking to a high altitude without acclimating can cause your brain to swell, leading to several serious problems.
Most hikers suggest you stop around 8,000 feet before beginning acclimating. At 8,000 feet, make a camp and sleep at this height. Sleeping at new heights accommodates the body much quicker than adjusting as you hike further. You might even consider camping for two or more days around this height for better results.
Once you reach over 10,000 feet, you should only hike 1,000 feet more at a time before sleeping to continue to acclimate safely. This might sound very slow going to you. However, it’s always important to stay on the side of caution than to push your body further than it can handle.
Stay Hydrated and Fueled
The body requires both more water and more food at higher elevations. You need to take this into account when planning for your hike and bring ample supplies with you to cover the amount of time you will be spending in the mountains.
The air is drier in the mountains, and oxygen levels are lower. This causes the sweat on your body to evaporate quickly, and you lose more moisture this way than you usually would. Also, because of the low oxygen levels, you will be more out of breath which causes you to lose body moisture through your mouth and nose by drying them out breathing more. You need to drink at least an extra liter of water per day when hiking at high altitudes than you would normally.
You are also exerting much more energy for this type of hike. You will need to eat a more considerable amount of food and more often to keep up with the calories you’re burning off. If you feel hungry, don’t question it; just take a break, and have a snack. Eat at least three large meals a day with snacks in between each meal.
The oxygen levels at high altitudes decrease the higher you go. At 10,000 feet, oxygen levels get down to about two-thirds of the oxygen at sea level and decrease as you get higher. You’ll feel tired much easier, and fatigue will hit you faster. Some hikers hiking up much higher than 10,000 feet will even consider bringing spare oxygen with them for emergencies.
Low levels of oxygen in the thin air at higher elevations are the reason why you must acclimate your body. If you fail to acclimate slowly enough to the decreased oxygen, you won’t enjoy yourself much at all. The body is used to the oxygen levels of the elevation that you spend most of your time in. For many of us, that’s sea level or at least close to. At sea level, oxygen levels are at the highest, and our bodies must learn to adapt to less when going to higher altitudes.
A great way to manage your body’s oxygen levels is to learn breathing exercises prior to your hike. There are many yoga breathing exercises that you could research to prepare for a high-altitude hike that would be effective for controlling your body’s oxygen. Most breathing exercises have been around for quite a long time and repurposed over the years for different reasons. Many are used for both health purposes and for fitness training, even by professional athletes.
One great technique used by many who climb mountains is a combination of diaphragmatic breathing and pressure breath. Diaphragmatic breathing is how we breathe when we are born, and it’s easy to retrain your body back to this way of breathing when necessary. You usually breathe into where your lungs seem to be in your body.
With diaphragmatic breathing, you pull your breath into your lungs all the way down to your diaphragm so it will feel like you are breathing air all the way down to your stomach. Breathing in this way and exhaling forcefully through pursed lips (known as the pressure breath) is the best breathing exercise to combat the effects of high altitude on your oxygen levels.
Take Your Time
The absolute most crucial thing to remember about preparing for a high-altitude hike is to take your time. You might have just come up with this idea and are here searching for advice on how to prepare. You’re so excited to get started, and you want to go tomorrow and hike to the very top of a mountain as quickly as you can. That’s a bad idea.
Remember how I mentioned that your brain could swell at high altitudes? Brain swelling is never something you want. In fact, if you fail to prepare your body properly before hiking into higher elevations, you can even cause high-altitude cerebral edema. If you’re wondering how bad that is, it couldn’t get much worse. You could potentially die in this type of situation. It’s better to do all the preparation you can and be able to enjoy yourself safely.
Mountain hikes can be exciting and rewarding at the same time. It’s essential to prepare for the thin air you’ll experience at high altitude and not rush into this. The longer you take to prepare your body and make the best plan possible, you’ll be better off.
Make sure to train your body to be in peak physical shape, acclimate to higher altitudes slowly, bring enough food and water and maybe even some oxygen, teach yourself new breathing techniques, and above all, take your time. Remember that it’s always better to over-prepare than to under prepare. If you follow this guide and make a foolproof plan, you’ll be on your way to even greater new heights.