hiking at altitude

Whether you’re a novice hiker or you’ve trekked through thousands of trails, your first time hiking at altitude can be a shock to your body. It’s important to know the risks involved with exercise at high elevation. Before your next hike at altitude, read these seven tips for keeping yourself safe in this different environment.

1. Get into Shape

hiking in the mountains

Many people think hiking is just a “walk through the woods,” and in some cases, it is. But when you’re journeying to the peaks, you’re facing a whole different animal.

The biggest difference between hiking at sea level and hiking through the mountains is the oxygen in the atmosphere. With less O2 in the air, breathing can become more difficult, and you’ll have to work harder to get to your final destination.

You can prepare for these harder trails with some good old-fashioned cardio. Some work on the treadmill, stair climber or stationary bike combined with hiking your local trails can prep your body for harsher conditions. If your heart is in good shape, you will find that those high elevation trails become much less laborious.

2. Stay Hydrated

hiking at elevation

Another factor you have to consider in high altitudes is the thin air. In preparation for your hike, be sure to drink lots of water.

Then fill your pack with plenty of liquids to keep you hydrated along the trail. Remember, it’s better to pack too much water than too little.

3. Load Up on Sunscreen

hiking at altitude

Thin air can also make you more susceptible to UV rays. Before you start your hike, cover your skin with SPF (and don’t forget your scalp – you’ll thank me later).

Also, remember to keep your lips hydrated with a good chap stick. The atmosphere at high elevation tends to dry your skin. So to prevent chapped lips, keep some moisturizer nearby.

4. Hiking Boots are a Must

hiking in mountains

If you don’t have hiking boots already, it’s critical that you visit your local sports and outdoors store and purchase a pair. Trails with a steeper incline make traction vital, and hiking boots are built for just that.

To learn more about finding the right hiking boots for you, read my blog post: Finding the Right Hiking Shoe.

Don’t risk an ankle injury by wearing the wrong footwear. Invest in a proper pair of shoes to tackle the trail.

5. Prepare for the Worst

hiking at elevation

Although it’s always important to check the weather before a hike, mountain weather can be unpredictable. This means that you have to always prepare for the worst case scenario on the trail.

Pack a rain poncho or jacket in case of inclement weather, and be sure to dress in layers so you are prepared for the heat or cold.

If you are worried about bad weather, try starting your hike earlier. At the peaks, storms are more common in the afternoon, so completing the trail before noon can give you a better chance of avoiding it all together.

6. Take a Breather

hiking in colorado

Even with enough physical preparation, limited oxygen will cause you to get tired more quickly. Combine that with steep inclines and you’ll soon feel out of breath.

Don’t be afraid to pull over to the side of the trail and take a break. Catch your breath and grab a sip of water. And be sure to take the time to look at the beautiful views!

7. When in Doubt, Go Back Down

hiking at elevation

If you are starting to feel extremely ill, with symptoms like nausea, confusion or headaches, turn around and get back to a lower elevation immediately.

Altitude sickness can occur unexpectedly and be detrimental to your health. Listen to your body and don’t take any risks if you start experiencing symptoms.

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Hiking through the mountains can be unforgettable, but don’t let the environment at high altitudes ruin your experience. Although changes in oxygen and air quality can make the trip more physically demanding, with the right preparation, you can face these new challenges with no problems.

If you’re planning a trek to the summit, be smart and follow these tips. That way you can focus on what you came for: the beauty of the mountains.

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