How To Train For High Altitude Hiking

There are many challenges surrounding hiking. First, you must be fit enough to conquer the trail. You must also be strong enough to carry your backpack with all the equipment you need for the hike. However, one often overlooked challenge of hiking is the altitude. Altitude sickness is a genuine concern among hikers and can happen to anyone. So, how do you train for high altitude hiking?

There are many ways you can train for high altitude hiking. Ensuring you do enough cardio and strength training is a great start. Staying at a higher altitude before starting the hike is another good tip. You can also train in altitude-adjusted environments to prepare for high altitude hiking.

We have compiled a how-to guide to help you train for high altitude hiking based on expert advice. Altitude sickness is not something you should take lightly. It can cause headaches, nose bleeds, vomiting, and in extreme cases, it can lead to death. Therefore, you must be trained and prepared to deal with the altitude changes when hiking.

Training For High Altitude Hiking

Although you will always be at risk of developing altitude sickness, being prepared and training properly beforehand will make your hiking trip much more pleasant and will make altitude sickness less likely to happen and more durable if it does happen. This is how to train for high altitude hiking.

Step 1: Ensure You Are Fit For The Hike

Altitude sickness occurs when the air gets thinner at higher altitudes. In some cases, your body cannot adjust to the changes in air pressure and oxygen supply, and you develop symptoms of altitude sickness. Altitude sickness can occur regardless of your fitness level or experience with hiking at higher altitudes. Altitude sickness can happen at any time, to anyone.

However, if you work on your cardiovascular endurance, your body will be able to use the available oxygen more effectively. Swimming, running, and cycling are all exercises that help to improve your VO2- max (the maximum oxygen your lungs can use from the air you breathe).

Therefore, if you train your body to use the available oxygen more effectively, you won’t have such a hard time adjusting to the thinner air at higher altitudes. As a result, your body will be better able to use the oxygen it has access to, and your chances of developing altitude sickness will decrease.

Step 2: Don’t Neglect Strength Training

Although cardio is essential to help prevent altitude sickness, strength training also plays a critical role in ensuring you can complete the hike. When your body gets tired, your muscles require more oxygen to function. Otherwise, they start to cramp and release lactic acid, causing muscle stiffness.

However, if you train your muscles adequately before hiking, they will already be stronger, and your body will take longer before it starts requiring additional oxygen for muscle function. Therefore, by ensuring your muscles are strong enough to complete the hike, you will not need as much oxygen, and your chances of developing altitude sickness will be less.

Remember that you will also be hiking with a loaded backpack, so you must train and get stronger to carry the additional weight. Focus on your lower body and core when doing strength training, as these are the primary muscles you will be using when hiking. Stop all rigorous training a week before the hike to ensure you are well-rested and in peak condition when you start hiking.

Step 3: Practice Breathing Techniques

A big part of preventing altitude sickness is practicing proper breathing techniques. By breathing correctly, your lungs will get an even and constant supply of oxygen, fueling the rest of your body. Cardiovascular fitness also comes into play when we talk about breathing. Being fitter will enhance your ability to breathe easily.

Yoga breathing techniques are a magnificent tool for helping you practice proper breathing. Adequate breathing will not only help you get more oxygen in thinner air, but it will also help you remain calm in stressful situations while hiking.

To practice proper breathing while under stress, you can climb stairs with a loaded backpack. Although stairs aren’t as adventurous as a mountain, they are a good simulator of what you will feel when hiking at a high altitude. Remember to employ your breathing techniques when you start to feel tired. Training on stairs is beneficial for people who live at sea level.

Step 4: Ensure You Are Properly Hydrated

Dehydration is another concern when hiking. Higher altitudes have lower humidity, meaning you won’t feel sweaty as quickly as you would in areas with higher humidity. This can often lead people to become dehydrated, as they don’t feel inclined to drink as much water.

However, altitude sickness paired with dehydration is a deadly combination. Ensuring that you are properly hydrated at all times will help you avoid becoming ill from dehydration and ensure your body is in prime condition and able to fight the effects of altitude sickness.

Practice drinking enough water while training to help you adjust easily while hiking. Drinking electrolytes will also help combat dehydration and help to keep muscle cramps at bay. 

Step 5: Hike High And Sleep Low When Training

You will likely go on some shorter hikes beforehand in preparation for a high altitude hike. When doing so, hike up to a higher point during the day but sleep at a lower point. Doing so will help your body adjust and acclimate to the altitude.

If possible, it is advised that you do this when on the high altitude hiking trip as well. Also, remember to hike slow enough to allow your body time to adjust to the altitude. This is true both when ascending and descending the mountain, as altitude sickness can occur at any time.

Step 6: Acclimatize Before Starting To Hike

While this is not part of the training, it is part of the preparation to help you avoid getting altitude sickness while hiking. Arrive a day or two before you start the hike to give your body time to adjust to the altitude you will begin hiking.

Often, especially if you live close to the coast, the hike’s starting point might already be at an altitude you aren’t used to. Therefore, if you don’t give your body time to adjust to this altitude without doing any activity, you will have a much harder time when starting the hike.

Be sure to arrive a few days before the hike and do minimal activity during this time to allow your body to adjust to the starting altitude. Doing so will help alleviate some of the shock you put on your body when hiking and higher altitudes and help prevent altitude sickness.

Conclusion

Altitude sickness is a genuine concern for any hiker facing a high altitude hike. However, ensuring you are adequately trained before hiking makes you less likely to develop altitude sickness. In addition, stay hydrated and hike slowly to give your body ample time to adjust to the altitude and thinning air.